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March 13, 2017

2017 NCAA Tournament: Villanova’s tough bracket will make repeat attempt even harder

When the 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket was released Sunday night, it came as no surprise at all that the Villanova Wildcats had earned the top overall ranking. ‘Nova had just played excellent basketball en route to a Big East championship after a 31-3 season.

In fact, let’s look at the committee’s so-called S-curve followed by the official bracket:

As you can see, outside of the Mount St. Mary’s-New Orleans opener, the committee doesn’t strictly follow that curve. But before we get to a potential clash with Duke in the Elite Eight at Madison Square Garden — on a related note, CBS might do a half-decent number if that matchup were to materialize — Villanova’s potential second-round game is what initially stood out to me. This is March.

With all due respect to an old Villanova foe in Buzz Williams and Virginia Tech, Wisconsin feels like a potential scary matchup in the second round. The Badgers finished second in a down Big 10 both in the regular season and tournament and via Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, they profile closer to a six seed in this particular bracket.

As always, the Badgers boast a ton of size in the frontcourt with 6’10” Ethan Happ, 6’8” Nigel Hayes, and 6’8” Vitto Brown. Wisconsin doesn’t play the particularly pretty offense we were treated to from those Frank Kaminsky teams, but they are ranked 23rd nationally by rebounding 35.4 percent of their missed shots. The offensive glass is an area where an undersized ‘Nova team can get hurt.

If they’re able to survive Buffalo, Villanova will likely have to play Virginia or Florida, two Top-9 KenPom teams on the four and five lines of the bracket respectively. If their Sweet 16 opponent is the Cavaliers, that would be a rematch of a game that Villanova was honestly pretty fortunate to win. THE BIG RAGU!

And then there is the prospect of facing Duke, which would pit the last two national champions against each other. The Blue Devils, with a loaded recruiting class joining a core group of players with plenty of tournament experience, were easily the preseason No. 1 team. After an up-and-down season for both Duke, Coach K, and Grayson Allen, it feels like the Blue Devils are putting everything together at the right time. The ACC was by far the best conference this season, and Duke just beat Louisville, UNC, and Notre Dame on three straight days.

It’s a tough draw, especially for the top overall seed.

Yet after last year’s title run, Villanova should be over complaining about a tough road. Wisconsin is prone to long offensive droughts, Virginia is prone to longer offensive droughts, and Duke doesn’t have the type of big men that give Villanova fits. And even though it seems like most of the experts are picking Duke, Villanova is good enough to run through the bracket again.

I wouldn’t be totally stunned if Villanova lost in the second round, but they’re also capable of repeating. Following the Wildcats should be fun.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann