Top seed outlook: Can No. 1 Virginia exorcise last year’s demons now that the team is currently at full strength? Our version believes. The Cavaliers have a 49 percent probability of cracking the Final Four and a 31 percent likelihood of reaching what would be the program’s first national title match.
With De’Andre Hunter, who wasn’t on the court last year through UVA’s historical loss to No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County, the Cavaliers were dominant on both ends — the sole team ranking in the top five in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and protection metrics. Yet more, Tony Bennett’s package line shield is suffocating most every offensive chance and successfully turning games into rock fights. But this year’s group is better on the offensive end and ought to breeze to the Elite Eight, where it could meet Tennessee. Thanks to Grant Williams along with the wonderfully named Admiral Schofield, the No. 2 Volunteers are playing their best basketball in program history. We give them a 22 percent probability of reaching the Final Four.
Sneaky Final Four select: No. 6 Villanova. Can it be”sneaky” to select the team that’s won two of the past three national titles? Not. But this has not been the same team that coach Jay Wright guided to those championships. After losing a ton of its best players from last year’s title-winning team, the Wildcats had an up-and-down season and lost five of their final eight regular-season Big East games. But they also got hot over the past week, capping a year where they won the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament titles — and still had among the 20 best offenses in the country according to KenPom (powered by an absurd amount of 3-pointers). Our power ratings think that they’re the fourth-best team in the South despite being the No. 6 seed, and they have a 5% chance of making it back into the Final Four for a third time in four seasons.
Do not bet on: No. 4 Kansas State. Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats nearly produced the Final Four last season, but they may find it tougher this time around. K-State has an elite defense (it ranks fourth in the nation according to Pomeroy’s ratings), but its offense is more prone to struggles — and may be down its second-leading scorer, forward Dean Wade, who missed the team’s Big 12 tournament loss to Iowa State with a foot injury. A brutal draw that gives the Wildcats tough No. 13 seed UC Irvine in the first round, then puts them contrary to the Wisconsin-Oregon winner at Round 2, could restrict their potential to progress deep into another successive tournament.
Cinderella watch: No. 12 Oregon. In accordance with our model, the Ducks have the best Sweet 16 chances (24 percent) of almost any double-digit seed in the tournament, more than twice that of any other offender. Oregon struggled to string together wins for most of the regular season, and its own chances appeared sunk after 7-foot-2 phenom Bol Bol was lost for the season with a foot injury in January. However, the Ducks have rallied to win eight consecutive games going into the tournament, including a convincing victory in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship. Oregon matches a similar mold as K-State — great defense with a defendant crime — but that’s telling, given that the Ducks are a 12-seed and the Wildcats are a No. 4. Should they fulfill in the Round of 32, we give Oregon a 47 percent chance at the upset.
Player to watch: Grant Williams, Tennessee
The junior has come a long way from being”a fat boy with some ability.” Williams, the de facto leader of Rick Barnes’s Volunteers, has bullied the SEC over the previous two seasons, amassing two consecutive conference player of the year honors.
The Vols might just feature the very best crime of Barnes’s training career — and we’re talking about a guy who coached Kevin Durant! A lot of the offensive potency could be tracked to Williams, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, who ranks in the 97th percentile in scoring efficiency, according to data courtesy of Synergy Sports.
Williams possesses an old-man match you might find in a regional YMCA, a back-to-the-basket, footwork-proficient offensive attack that manifests mostly in post-ups, where he positions in the 98th percentile in scoring efficacy and shoots an adjusted field-goal percentage of 56.1. He can find the Volunteers buckets from the waning moments of matches, too, as he positions in the 96th percentile in isolation scoring efficiency.
Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Oklahoma over No. 8 Ole Miss (53 percent); No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Wisconsin (45 percent); No. 10 Iowa over No. 7 Cincinnati (34 percent)