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Chronicle Sports Staff makes 2018 March Madness picks
The first round of the 2018 Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament will tip on Thursday afternoon. With that, some of our Chronicle editors and staff writers have made their predictions for March Madness.
Logan Reardon, Sports Editor:
Final Four: Kentucky, North Carolina, Villanova, Duke
National Championship: Villanova beats North Carolina
March Madness always comes down to coaching, guard play and upperclassmen leadership.
The South is the toughest region of the bracket, and with teams like Arizona and Kentucky underseeded, No. 1 overall Virginia will have its hands full. I think Kentucky gets by both of them only to play Cinderella Nevada in the Elite Eight. The Wolf Pack have clear path to go far in this region. They play seven players 20 or more minutes per game (four juniors, two seniors and a sophomore) and tournament experience after last year’s first round loss. Look out for the Wolf Pack (this could backfire in the next 24 hours…).
The East should be Villanova’s region to dominate. I believe the experience of head coach Jay Wright and junior guards Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges will put the Wildcats into the Final Four.
In the Midwest, Kansas, Duke and Michigan State are three of the toughest teams in the nation. Ultimately, give the Blue Devils the nod because of Coach K, senior Grayson Allen (yes, he’s still there) and freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III. Michigan State freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. could also be a breakout player.
Out West, I have North Carolina topping Gonzaga again in a rematch of last year’s title game. Senior Joel Berry II and junior Luke Maye will reach a third straight Final Four, cementing their legacy in Chapel Hill. The Zags just don’t have enough this year after losing key players from last season.
In the title game, Villanova defeats North Carolina in a matchup of powerhouse programs that met in the 2016 title game. Junior Phil Booth had 20 points against UNC in the title game two years ago, but sat out last year with an injury. I think he comes back strong to push the Wildcats to glory yet again. Quinnipiac head coach and Villanova alum Baker Dunleavy will be happy.
Conor Roche, Associate Sports Editor
The NCAA Tournament is always one of the best times of the year because it’s one of the few events where you truly never know what will happen.
Except for me, I know what’s going to happen because I just do.
Starting in the South region, I have the No. 1 overall seed Virginia winning the region and advancing to the Final Four. I know that the Cavaliers lost their sixth man in De’Andre Hunter, but this team is still a force to be reckoned with as it not only lost just two games this season, but they also have the most complete team in the nation. Virginia has the top defense in the country, allowing just 53.4 points per game. To add to that, it still has its top three scorers, even with Hunter out. I think the well-rounded Cavaliers will be too much for Arizona, who hasn’t played an elite team since November, in the Sweet 16 and Tennessee in the Elite Eight.
I think defending champion North Carolina comes out of the West region. The Tar Heels got a great draw for a two seed as they’ll face the Michigan Wolverines in the Sweet 16, a team they already defeated by double digits this season, and I think they’ll face the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the Elite Eight in a rematch of last year’s championship game. The star power of Luke Maye and Joel Berry will be too much for the rest of the bracket to handle.
I believe the team with the easiest path to the Final Four is the Villanova Wildcats. Villanova comes into the tournament fresh off of winning the Big East Tournament. The Wildcats boost the nation’s best offense, carried by juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. The Wildcats’ toughest task will be against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Sweet 16. The Mountaineers have shown all season that they can hang in there with the best teams, but they went 9-9 in their last 18 games and haven’t been able to beat the great teams on the road.
And finally, I think this is another year that America’s favorite team, the Duke Blue Devils, makes the Final Four. The Midwest region looks to be the toughest region in the bracket as it’s home to blue bloods like Duke, Kansas and Michigan State. Of all the teams in this bracket, Duke is certainly the most talented. But the Blue Devils are also pretty young. With that being said, I think that Marvin Bagley’s dominance in the post, along with perimeter scoring from Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr., will be too much for Michigan St. to handle in the Sweet 16 and Kansas in the Elite Eight.
In the left side of the bracket, we have a rematch of the ACC Championship game between Virginia and North Carolina. And I expect a similar result as the Cavaliers defense gave the Tar Heels offense fits in both matchups. I also expect Kyle Guy and Devon Hall to provide enough offense to bring them to the title game.
On the other side, Villanova’s offense will prevail over Duke in what would be a high-scoring matchup.
In the title game, the saying “defense wins championships” comes to fruition as the team with nation’s top defense, Virginia, defeats the team with the nation’s best offense, Villanova.
So, yeah, I expect Virginia to finally get over the hump this year. And if you believed what I said earlier about me being right all the time, then it looks like I already fooled you.
Peter Dewey, Opinion Editor
March Madness. The most wonderful time of the year and with that, the most stressful time of the year as well when it comes to making your bracket. You can crunch numbers, or you can just go with your gut, but I like to do a little bit of both.
Let’s start in the South Region. Top seeded Virginia, No. 4 Arizona and No. 5 Kentucky are forced to battle each other to make it to the Elite 8. This may be the hardest road for any team in the entire field, but I think it will only make the survivor better. While Virginia only gives up 53.4 points per game, I believe they will struggle against the winner of the highly anticipated Kentucky and Arizona matchup. As for that game, I decided to listen to the numbers. Since Kentucky lost four games in a row for the first time under John Calipari, the Wildcats have won seven of eight, including the SEC championship. In addition to that, KenPom’s matchup predictor gives Kentucky a 52 percent chance to beat Arizona on a neutral court. Now I’m not discounting Arizona, but after watching UCLA lose to St. Bonaventure, I began to wonder if the PAC-12 was any good at all this year. Either way, Kentucky beats Arizona and upsets Virginia on its way to its second consecutive Elite 8 appearance.
As for the other half of the South, expect upsets to be key. Not only do I believe No. 11 Loyola-Chicago will beat No. 6 Miami, but I expect No. 10 Texas to make a run all the way to the Elite 8 for a matchup with Kentucky. Sure, Cincinnati is great defensively, but I think Shaka Smart is going to pull a little something from his VCU days and bring some magic for the Longhorns. Freshman Mo Bamba, sophomore Kerwin Roach II and company upset the Bearcats, who didn’t face as a stiff of competition in the AAC as Texas did in the Big 12, and Tennessee for a date with Kentucky.
In the end, I think Kentucky’s length and depth, especially with the improved play of freshman guard Quade Green and sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel, help the Wildcats get over the hump and back to the Final Four.
Moving to the West, I think this region is more cut and dry. Expect North Carolina and Michigan to breeze through, even though the Wolverines haven’t played in almost two weeks, and find themselves matched up in the Sweet Sixteen. The Tar Heels clearly played the toughest schedule (No. 1 in the country) and have the senior leadership of guards Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson. But it is really hard to repeat, and my gut tells me Michigan pulls it out.
As for the top of the region, Xavier and Ohio State find themselves on a collision course for the Sweet 16 should the Buckeyes make it passed No. 4 Gonzaga. Xavier’s senior guard Trevon Blueitt and Ohio State’s junior forward Keita Bates-Diop both average over 19 points per game and lead their teams in rebounding, but I like the defensive minded Buckeyes, leading to a Big 10 showdown in the Elite 8 with Michigan.
Michigan vs. Ohio State is one of the most historic football rivalries in college sports, but here we get the basketball version. I’m gonna roll with Michigan, who dominated the Big 10 tournament to stay hot and find themselves in the Final Four.
In the East, there is one team to beat: Villanova. The Wildcats, led by junior guards Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges, are going to roll through the East, with West Virginia the only team that I think can give them trouble. The Wildcats find themselves back in the Final Four for the second time in three seasons. Also, watch out for No. 13 Marshall upsetting No. 4 Wichita State who is coming off a rather disappointing performance in the AAC tournament.
Lastly, the Midwest, highlighted by No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Michigan State. While I think No. 12 New Mexico State is going to find its way into the Sweet 16, I think the top three seeds will take care of business to meet them there.
Duke’s guard play has struggled as of late, with freshman Trevon Duval (0 points in ACC semifinal) and senior Grayson Allen both playing very inconsistent, I think Tom Izzo’s club led by sophomore forward Miles Bridges has the upper hand. New Mexico State’s magic run will come to an end against senior guard Devonte’ Graham and Kansas. When it comes to March, guard play always seems to win games and Kansas has that in Graham, fellow senior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, junior Lagerald Vick and sophomore Malik Newman.
Kentucky vs. Michigan and Villanova vs. Kansas. These four teams should produce two extremely entertaining games, but I see a Wildcat dominant final.
Kentucky vs. Villanova and your winner is…Villanova!
Ryan Chichester, Staff Writer
Final Four: Arizona, Gonzaga, Villanova, Duke
National Championship: Villanova over Arizona
Yes, I was one of those who shredded my bracket after hearing about the injury to Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter. He has been huge for the Cavaliers on both ends of the floor, and unfortunately for Tony Bennett, his string of untimely injuries will continue in 2018.
That being said, the door is open for Arizona, who was criminally underseeded (no pun intended) as a four in this region. FBI distractions aside, the Wildcats boast the most talented player in the tournament in Deandre Ayton, who will lead them all the way to the National Title game, where a more experienced and balanced Villanova team will await them.
Elsewhere, I see Providence shocking North Carolina in the second round. The Friars looked like a force to be reckoned with in their conference tournament, and the Tar Heels are a shell of what they were when they won it all last year. Duke will somehow make a big run like they always do, but it won’t come easy. It also won’t come easy for Gonzaga, but Killian Trille is an absolute beast, and he will lead the Bulldogs past Xavier and Michigan to get to San Antonio.
Sean Raggio, Staff Writer
So I’m coming into this knowing really just three things about college hoops.
1. The only team I could name five players on is the QU Bobcats.
2. I’ve been a Duke fan since always, just because I read a kids book years ago and Coach K was one of the main characters, so I always latched on to the Blue Devils.
3. I’m a HUGE underdog guy. That being said, here’s my final four: No. 4 Arizona taking on No. 3 Michigan and No. 10 Butler taking on No. 2 Duke.
Arizona is an offensive juggernaut with Deandre Ayton leading the way (20.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG) and there’s also four players averaging over 12 PPG and three starters shooting above 50 percent. I have them beating Nevada, in what may have been my toughest decision, in the Elite Eight to get there.
Michigan will cruise past Montana and San Diego State (who I have upsetting Houston) and then come to face UNC in a game that will come down to the wire, if not, overtime. This momentum-building win will propel them over Gonzaga who just came off a win against No. 1 Xavier, but lack of depth in Zags (only seven players average more than 10 minutes per game) will cause them to fall short.
Butler is my wild card, my gut feeling, my golden child of this tournament. I have them upsetting everyone en route to the Final Four. Arkansas, Purdue, Florida and even Villanova will fall to the Bulldogs who come into the tournament almost under the radar as their record isn’t the prettiest, but they are good with the ball and have veteran leadership in senior forward Kelan Martin who averages over 20 points a game. They will however fall to Duke in the Final Four.
Duke. As I said I’m a huge Duke guy, kind of by default. But there’s no arguing the offensive powerhouse that is this team. Eight players (min. 25 games played and 50 shots) are shooting at least .415 from the field. Leading the way is Marvin Bagley III, who averages a double-double, and, like him or not, Grayson Allen, who leads the team in minutes, steals and is second on the team in assists…all while averaging 15.7 PPG.
The championship game will be between Duke and Arizona. It will be a shootout between two highly offensive teams. The final score 82-74 with Duke being this year’s national champions.
Justin Cait, Web Director
OK, obviously saving the best for last. I see you, Logan.
Listen, aside from the Robinson twins and Rich Kelly, I don’t know a lick about college basketball. That being said, my predictions from last year probably would’ve won myself some money if I was confident enough to bet.
This year I’m coming back with the heat. I have no tiebreaker in my natty championship round because my bracket will be perfect. I have a pretty bold winner’s predictions and a couple of sprinkled Cinderella stories along the way too. We can start with those.
As I look into my crystal ball I see No. 11 Loyola-Chicago making some noise with a huge first round upset over No. 6 Miami out of the South. From the West, I’m calling another first round upset with No. 10 Providence over No. 7 Texas A&M. From the midwest I predict that No. 11 Syracuse will somehow find a way to beat the best mascot in the tournament, the No. 6 Horned Frogs of TCU.
But my real Cinderella pick comes from the East side of the bracket. Folks, remember Stephen F. Austin now.
With a 28-6 record, the Lumberjacks earned an NCAA Tournament bid by winning the Southland Conference Championship. Its fearless leader Shannon Bogues — I’m still believing that he’s Muggsy’s kid even though I know for a fact he’s not — will be play huge part in getting Stephen F. Austin an upset over in-state opponent No. 3 Texas Tech and well into the Sweet 16 round.
While it’s not a Cinderella story, my other major upset comes out of the South, wher DeAndre Ayton’s No. 4 Arizona will beat No. 1 Virginia in the Sweet 16 before ultimately losing to No. 3 Tennessee.
What a perfect little segue into my National Championship pick.
No. 3 Tennessee is going to shock the nation. Everyone has been talking like, ‘Oh, Virginia. Their defense is too good, they have to win.’ — because that’s how people talk about college basketball, I think.
Well I’m here to tell you, ‘NO!’
If you have a team led by a kid named Admiral Schofield, you’re guaranteed at least a spot in the Final Four. Look back at history. Teams that have kids with sick names always do well. I have no evidence to back that up, but I’m standing by my claim.
Along with the Volunteers — what a nice mascot, they have to win — I have No. 4 Gonzaga, No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Duke all in the Final Four.
I do know that Grayson Allen definitely wants to win before he has an irrelevant professional career and Marvin Bagley III — shouts out to Sierra Canyon in the Valley — can ball. Duke is going to make it to the National Championship game, but my gut is telling me that the Blue Devils just can’t win it all.
Especially when you’re playing the Admiral’s troops.