Best seed outlook: Could No. 1 Virginia exorcise the past year’s demons now that the group is currently at full strength? Our model thinks. The Cavaliers have a 49 percent probability of cracking the Final Four and a 31 percent probability of accomplishing what is the program’s first national title game.
Together with De’Andre Hunter, who wasn’t on the court last year through UVA’s historic loss to No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County, the Cavaliers have been dominant on both ends — the sole team ranking in the top five at Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and protection metrics. Yet again, Tony Bennett’s package line defense is suffocating most offensive opportunity and successfully turning games into rock fights. However, this year’s group is even better on the offensive end and ought to breeze into the Elite Eight, where it could meet Tennessee. Due to Grant Williams and the wonderfully named Admiral Schofield, the No. 2 Volunteers are playing their very 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 has won just 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 year and lost five of their final eight regular-season Big East games. But they also got hot over the last week, capping off a season in which they won the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament titles — and still had among the 20 greatest offenses in the country based on KenPom (powered through an absurd amount of 3-pointers). Our power ratings believe they’re the fourth-best team at the South despite being the No. 6 seed, and they have a 5% chance of earning it back to the Final Four for a third time in four seasons.
Don’t bet on: No. 4 Kansas State. Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats almost produced the Final Four final season, but they might find it tougher this time around. K-State comes with an elite defense (it ranks fourth in the nation according to Pomeroy’s ratings), but its offense is more prone to battles — and could be down its second-leading scorer, forward Dean Wade, who missed the team’s Big 12 championship loss to Iowa State with a foot injury. A barbarous draw that provides the Wildcats tough No. 13 seed UC Irvine in the first round, then places them contrary to the Wisconsin-Oregon winner at Round two, could limit their potential to progress deep into another consecutive tournament.
Cinderella see: No. 12 Oregon. In accordance with our model, the Ducks have the very best Sweet 16 odds (24 percent) of almost any double-digit seed at the championship, more than twice that of some other candidate. Oregon struggled to string together wins for the majority of the regular season, and its odds appeared sunk after 7-foot-2 phenom Bol Bol was missing for the season with a foot injury in January. However, the Ducks have rallied to win eight straight games heading into the championship, such as a convincing victory in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship. Oregon fits a similar mould as K-State — excellent defense using a suspect crime — but that’s telling, given that the Ducks are a 12-seed and the Wildcats are a No. 4. Should they meet in the Round of 32, we provide 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 skill.” Williams, the de facto leader of Rick Barnes’s Volunteers, has bullied the SEC within the previous two seasons, collecting two successive conference player of the year honors.
The Vols might just feature the best offense of Barnes’s coaching career — and we are talking about a guy who coached Kevin Durant! Much of the offensive potency can be traced to Williams, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, that ranks in the 97th percentile in scoring efficiency, according to information courtesy of Synergy Sports.
Williams possesses an old-man game you might find at a local YMCA, a back-to-the-basket, footwork-proficient offensive assault that manifests primarily in post-ups, where he ranks in the 98th percentile in scoring efficacy and shoots an adjusted field-goal proportion of 56.1. He can get the Volunteers buckets in the waning minutes of matches, too, as he positions from the 96th percentile in isolation scoring efficacy.
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)