Best seed outlook: Can No. 1 Virginia exorcise the past year’s demons now that the group is currently at full strength? Our version thinks. The Cavaliers have a 49 percent likelihood 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 was not on the court this past year during UVA’s historic loss to No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County, the Cavaliers have been dominant on both ends — the only team ranking in the top five at Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and protection metrics. Once again, Tony Bennett’s package line shield is suffocating most offensive chance and successfully turning games into stone fights. However, this year’s team is even better on the offensive end and should breeze into the Elite Eight, where it might 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 provide them a 22 percent likelihood 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 hasn’t been the same group that coach Jay Wright advised 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 the final eight regular-season Big East games. But they also got hot over the past week, capping off a season in which they still won the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament names — and had one of the 20 greatest offenses in the nation according to KenPom (powered through an absurd amount of 3-pointers). Our power ratings think 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.
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 harder this time around. K-State comes with an elite defense (it ranks fourth in the country based on Pomeroy’s ratings), but its crime is more prone to struggles — 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 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 in Round 2, could limit their potential to progress deep into a second successive tournament.
Cinderella watch: No. 12 Oregon. In accordance with our model, the Ducks have the best Sweet 16 chances (24 percent) of any double-digit seed in the tournament, over double that of any other candidate. Oregon struggled to string together wins for most of the regular season, and its odds appeared sunk following 7-foot-2 phenom Bol Bol was lost for the year with a foot injury in January. But the Ducks have rallied to win eight consecutive games heading into the championship, such as a convincing victory in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship. Oregon matches a similar mold as K-State — great defense with a suspect offense — but that is telling, since the Ducks are a 12-seed and the Wildcats are a No. 4. If 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 ability.” Williams, the de facto leader of Rick Barnes’s Volunteers, has bullied the SEC within the past two seasons, collecting two successive conference player of the year honors.
The Vols might just feature the very best offense of Barnes’s training career — and we’re talking about a guy who coached Kevin Durant! Much of the offensive potency can be tracked to Williams, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, that ranks in the 97th percentile in scoring efficiency, based on information courtesy of Synergy Sports.
Williams owns an old-man match you might find in a local YMCA, a back-to-the-basket, footwork-proficient offensive attack that manifests primarily in post-ups, where he ranks in the 98th percentile in scoring efficiency and shoots an adjusted field-goal percentage of 56.1. He can get the Volunteers buckets from the waning moments of games, too, as he positions in 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)
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