March Madness has arrived, and we are here to help you make the best bracket picks. The following is a breakdown of my Final Four picks heading into the NCAA tournament.
One of the first things you notice is that my picks are absent of surprises. March Madness is often pegged as complete craziness, but the truth is the Final Four (even the Elite Eight) is typically full of favorites. Teams like Loyola-Chicago do sneak in from year to year but trying to predict this year’s Cinderella team that will make a deep run is likely to ruin your bracket.
Many people spend agonizing hours stressing over picking the correct No. 12 over No. 5 seed, but whether you win your bracket pool will depend largely on your Final Four predictions. Most major bracket pools give you more points for correct picks as the rounds progress. This means nailing the correct first round picks is a lot less important than picking your champion.
What are we looking for when picking our Final Four teams? Veteran teams with tournament experience tend to perform well. Teams that shoot the ball well from the free-throw line and long-range is another sign of a potential contender. Jump shots do not always fall in March, so a team with a stout defense give themselves a chance to string together wins even if their offense is not firing on all cylinders.
Feel free to reach out on Twitter @JonDAdams with any March Madness bracket questions you have or with your Final Four predictions. Here are my Final Four picks based on the latest bracket projections.
Your bracket mates may be fading the Zags after their surprising loss to St. Mary’s in the WAC title game, but don’t follow the crowd. Unless the committee pulls a surprise, Gonzaga is likely going to be in the West region. No path to the Final Four is easy, but Gonzaga is likely to have the path of least resistance. Geography does play somewhat of a role in the regions, and the Zags could benefit from a weaker Pac-12 this season.
Pathway aside, Gonzaga has consistently been one of the best teams in the country. Gonzaga was the lone team to defeat a full-strength Duke team during the regular season. The Zags only three losses came to NCAA tournament teams: Tennessee, North Carolina and St. Mary’s. Gonzaga has wins over Washington, Creighton, Texas A&M, Illinois, Arizona and St. Mary’s.
Gonzaga is a veteran team with their top players having made multiple March Madness appearances. Rui Hachimura is a legit star who is likely heading to the NBA after the season. Hachimura is a shooter with length that is a matchup nightmare for defenses. Gonzaga also has Brandon Clarke, Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins to lead a balanced scoring attack. Not to mentioned Gonzaga’s defense can also shut down opponents’ offenses.
Florida State and Syracuse are two teams to watch as potential pitfalls in the west. Overall, I like Gonzaga chances to bounce back from their recent loss and make the Final Four.
Midwest: North Carolina
Despite beating the Blue Devils in two of their three matchups, Duke has received the majority of the attention. North Carolina does not have the star power of its rival, but the team has the makeup for a deep run in March. The Tar Heels enter the NCAA tournament-tested by an ACC schedule, arguably the best conference in college basketball. UNC has wins over Gonzaga, Duke (twice), Virginia Tech, Florida State and NC State.
The Tar Heels have plenty of March Madness experience led by Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye. Coby White is playing his best basketball of the season heading into the NCAA tournament. Nassir Little could be an X-factor for North Carolina thanks to his defensive ability. The Tar Heels can bring him in to guard the other team’s best playmaker for spurts. Whatever he adds on offense will be a bonus.
It rarely goes as planned, but North Carolina could have an Elite Eight matchup with Kentucky. Look for the Tar Heels to narrowly edge out the Wildcats thanks to their experience in crunch time postseason play.
Duke is not invincible like we may have thought when they dominated Kentucky to start the season, but they are still more than capable of cutting down the nets. Duke is the most talented team in the country, but the question is whether that talent works together in a cohesive unit in March.
Zion Williamson shows no ill-effects from his knee injury. The play of Tre Jones and Cam Reddish could determine how far Duke goes in the tournament. Williamson and R.J. Barrett are going to provide the best one-two punch in the tournament. The challenge for Duke is they go through cold spells, then appear to flip a switch like the Golden State Warriors. We have seen talented teams play with fire and get burned in the tournament.
Despite being one of the higher seeds, Tennessee is likely going to be absent from a lot of your competitors’ bracket picks. The Vols don’t have the kind of recent tournament success of some of the other teams on our list. Tennessee still comes in tested thanks to a solid SEC schedule.
Tennessee has wins over Gonzaga, Louisville, Mississippi State among others. Senior guard Admiral Schofield is the engine that keeps the Vols train moving. Schofield does a little bit of everything including shooting 41 percent from the three-point line. Tennessee is far from a one-man show with five players averaging double-digit points.
National Championship Pick: Duke Over UNC
The battle for Tabacco Road continues for the fourth time this season. The Tar Heels have controlled the majority of these games but lost the lone time Duke played them with Williamson in the lineup. I expect this to come down to the final minute, but give Duke the edge with the way their team is clicking.