March 13, 2017
The bracket is out, and the road to a second consecutive national title for the Villanova Wildcats is more or less known.
On the plus side, Jay Wright's team is the No. 1 overall seed this year – last year they knocked off No. 1 overall seed Kansas as a 2-seed – meaning they earned the right to chose the region in which they wanted to play. Wright opted for the East, meaning the Wildcats will play their potential Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games at Madison Square Garden.
On the other hand, the selection committee didn't do the reigning champions any favors with how it filled out the rest of that East Region. Before a possible marquee matchup against Vegas-favorite Duke in the Elite 8, 'Nova will likely have to face either Virginia or Florida in the Sweet 16. And just to get past the first weekend, the Wildcats would face the winner of Wisconsin and Virginia Tech in their second game
In short, it's going to be a tough road.
Here's a look at just how tough it might be according to a variety of sources and experts. Since nearly everyone picking games has some sort of biased based on where they went to school, let's start by taking emotion totally out of the equation...
According to KenPom's formula, here's a look at the five most-likely teams to win it all (as well as their percent chance of advancing to each round).
Am I surprised that Villanova isn't the favorite here? No. But I am a little blown away but just how much of an edge Gonzaga has here.
Based on ESPN's numbers, Villanova has the third-best chance to win the whole thing.
Finally, someone's algorithm has Villanova repeating.
And it's Nate Silver. He's never been wrong before, right?
This is where things start to get really interesting. Obviously, these numbers are far more subjective than the ones above, but they're also the numbers I would trust most. These guys typically know what they're doing. And while the Wildcats have the third-best odds, keeping them more or less in line with what we've already seen, there's something very different about this list.
That's the team with the best odds to win it all, Duke, who didn't appear in the Top 5 of any of the first three projections. Unfortunately for Villanova fans, the Blue Devils are also in the East Region.
Villanova appears to be The People's Champ, based on the brackets that have already been submitted to ESPN's Bracket Challenge.
Now, let's take a look at how far some college basketball analysts and writers think Villanova can go this year.
|Matt Norlander||Elite Eight||Duke||Kansas|
|Chip Patterson||Sweet 16||Florida||Kansas|
|Jerry Palm||Elite Eight||Duke||Duke|
|Howard Megdal||Final Four||Arizona||Arizona|
|Dennis Dodd||Final Four||Arizona||Arizona|
|Rob Dauster||Elite Eight||Duke||Kansas|
|Terrence Payne||Final Four||Gonzaga||Gonzaga|
|Scott Phillips||Elite Eight||Duke||Duke|
Villanova is the rare modern champion that returned mostly the same core and supplemented it with a couple of shiny new toys (sophomore Mikal Bridges and freshman Donte DiVincenzo). Sure, somebody else could win it, but are any of them a safer choice than the No. 1 overall seed?
If it’s my money, I’ll take Villanova to cut down the nets again. Even with Duke and all of its first-round picks in training potentially lurking in the Elite Eight. The Blue Devils are the anti-safe pick. They could roll through this tourney like they did last week’s, or they could lose to Marquette in the second round. [foxsports.com]
Since the field expanded there has been two repeat champs in 32 seasons (Duke in '90 and '91; Florida in '06 and '07). In the recent past, defending champs usually haven't backed it up with great regular seasons or deep tournament runs, probably the result of the one-and-done era making teams load up for a push to the title and then sliding back the next year. (Like Kentucky's title team in 2012 turning into its 2013 NIT team.) Duke was a No. 1 seed in its 2011 title defense but lost in the Sweet 16. Louisville was the No. 1 team on kenpom in the second year of its back-to-back bid and was also upset in the Sweet 16. In this new era of college basketball, winning two straight is tougher than ever. I think Villanova's the best team in the country and the best bet to win it all, but the best bet rarely wins in March. [foxsports.com]
This is a different era, even from the one Florida dominated for those two seasons. The most talented college players stay for one season, so it is just about impossible to construct a super team with NCAA tournament experience. And the best talent is always very young, with the very best at two schools, Duke and Kentucky.
Villanova still has five players who had key roles last March and April - Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds, Jalen Brunson, and Mikal Bridges. Villanova was a really good team for three straight seasons, but absolutely brilliant during that six-game run to the title. These players, three seniors and two sophomores, were right in the middle of all that basketball played as well as the game can be played. [philly.com]
Bracket pool motivations aside, no one much likes rooting for chalk. But if the seeds hold in the East, we could get an absolute treat of a regional final between Villanova and Duke. Last season’s champion and this season’s preseason No. 1, meeting at Madison Square Garden with a trip to the Final Four on the line, just as both teams seem to be peaking into top form? Sign us up. [si.com]
In the end, it's looking like many believe that Villanova has at least a chance to repeat, but almost no one sees their road to the Final Four being quiet as smooth as it was last year – their average margin of victory was almost 21 points/game and just two of their six games, both against No. 1 seeds (Kansas, UNC), were decided by fewer than 19 points.
It's likely going to be a long time before we see another performance as dominate as that. But that hardly means that 'Nova is incapable of becoming just the third team since the field expanded to win back-to-back national titles.
[NOTE: Not everybody has revealed their bracket predictions yet, so check back later for updates.]
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin