When the calendar turns to the third month of the year, we as Americans have so many reasons to celebrate. We have Pie Day on March 14, which this year was celebrated with a woman discovering 31 trillian (with a t) digits of the world’s most infuriating number. We celebrate a leprechaun on March 17 every year; and Saint Patrick too. But as sports fans, there is one word that immediately comes to mind when thinking of March: Madness.
The craziness is back folks. 68 teams will try to top the others to claim the title of NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champions. Stars are born, legacies are defined, and memes are made in the greatest tournament this country has to offer.
This year marked the second time ever a conference has earned three number one seeds. The ACC joined the Big East in 2009 (UCONN, Pittsburgh, Louisville) with three teams, Duke, Virginia, and UNC on the top line. Gonzaga earned the number one seed out in the West region to round it off. Before you have chalk to the Final Four in Minneapolis, make sure to remember these points.
Trust the 1 Seeds
Telling you to trust the four best teams in the country is not expert analysis. Anytime there’s a one next to your name in any sport, that’s usually a good thing. Yet it is still important to remember that number one seeds are good teams. Since 2012, there has been at least one number one seed in every Final Four, including three in 2015 (Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Duke). A number one seed has won the whole darn thing in five out of the last seven years, and it took perhaps the greatest college basketball shot ever to prevent a sixth one winning.
In terms of team to trust this year, it’s hard not to pick the Dukies to reach another Final Four. RJ Barrett led the ACC in scoring with 22.9 points per game. Tre Jones is a defensive menace that could play his way into Duke lore with a similar tournament run as his older brother Tyus. I’d talk about Zion Williamson, but you could just check ESPN’s Instagram feed to see what time he took a shower this morning.
North Carolina in the Midwest region is another team that could make some serious headwaves in March. The Tar Heels have been to the Sweet 16 every year since 2015, including two national championship game appearances in that stretch. The squad has experience in 2016 hero Luke Maye and 47% 3-point shooter Cam Johnson, a transfer from Pittsburgh. Coach Roy Williams always plays his fast-paced, deep bench style of basketball no matter the situation, and it has brought success to Chapel Hill. Look for Carolina to make a deep run into Minneapolis.
Just Don’t Trust Them Too Much
It’s only been one time that all four 1 seeds made it to the Final Four (2008 in San Antonio) in the 80-year history of the NCAA tournament. Crazily enough, in five out of the last six tournaments, a one seed has lost before the round of 16. Last year produced the greatest single-game upset in NCAA history with UMBC’s shock win over Virginia. Not all one seeds usually go far, and if I was a betting man, I would put money on that trend continuing this year.
One of the prime targets to fail is those same Cavaliers. With the ACC regular champions, this issue is not for a lack of talent. According to Kempom rankings, Virginia is rated 1st in offensive rating and 5th in defensive rating for the entire country. First-Team All-ACC guard Kyle Guy is and Second-Team All-ACC forward Ty Jerome form a 1-2 punch that rivals any in the country.
What worries me about this team is the mental roadblock it has. Basically, it always finds a way to not advance to the final four. Notably, in the Elite Eight they blew a 16-point second lead to Syracuse in 2015. The 2014 squad featured a loss to Michigan State in the 2014 Round of 16. Virginia needs to prove they can win when the pressure is on the most; until then, it’s hard to trust the Cavaliers.
Similarly, Gonzaga doesn’t scream credibility this year. A 30-3 record looks great on paper, and they do feature a neutral court win over Duke in Hawaii in late November. What’s concerning though is who they have played overall. Their only other non conference win over a tournament team was vs #8 seed Washington in early December. While they played Tennessee and UNC also, they lost both of those contests, one on a neutral court and one in Chapel Hill. Most alarmingly was their WCC Championship performance vs Saint Mary’s where they lost by 13 points to a team they had beaten by 48 points a month earlier. With a pending Round of 32 matchup vs the vaunted 2-3 zone of Syracuse pending, trust the Zags at your own risk.