In this week’s edition of Around the Dorm, our panel of three experts — Malcolm Luck, Alexander Reich and Michael Battista — debate which four teams will be in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Division I tournament Final Four.
Malcolm: After two rounds, I’d set my Final Four at Kentucky, Texas A&M, Villanova and Duke.
I think Kentucky has way too much experience to be kept out of the Final Four at this point. Head coach John Calipari has been in the Final Four six times in his career, including four with Kentucky since 2011. This program is saturated with success. I remember watching Calipari in an interview after Selection Sunday. Given a fifth seed in the South region, Calipari was on ESPN being interviewed about the questionable seeding and team expectations. The guy was oozing composure and poise which is when I realized that the regular season record didn’t matter. I knew that this team had a special run in it and I don’t think it will end in the Sweet 16 or the Elite Eight. This will happen especially after second seed Cincinnati, third seed Tennessee, fourth seed Arizona and sixth seed Miami were all eliminated from the South. I’m willing to bet that this is the easiest path Calipari has had to a Final Four appearance.
When former president George H.W. Bush published his bracket having Texas A&M winning it all, I couldn’t help but think that they would get bounced in the first round. Seven vs. 10 seed games are often hard to predict, and Texas A&M barely escaped Providence in the final minutes of the game. Impressive win, but it could have been a fluke. However, Texas A&M absolutely dominated second seed North Carolina and this victory really put them on the map as legitimate contenders. I think Texas A&M will have some trouble with Michigan in the Sweet 16, but Michigan has not impressed me. They almost got knocked off by Bucknell in the Round of 64, and only advanced to the Sweet 16 due to poor clutch free throw shooting from Houston and a miracle shot from freshman guard Jordan Poole. That gut feeling arises every time I see Texas A&M’s name — they will advance to the Final Four.
For the few years prior to Villanova’s championship run, the program was notorious for spoiling favorable seeds and matchups with early tournament exits to poorly seeded teams. I remember a few years back, North Carolina State knocked off first seed Villanova in the round of 32. My friends and I watched together and all three of our brackets predicted the upset, which is typically uncommon, but we knew it was coming. Things have changed though. The program has taken a positive turn and I’m a big fan of Villanova’s offensive and defensive balance. Most college teams that have the ability to put up 80-plus points a game are weak defensively, usually at the fault of their fast-paced offense that leads to increased possession time for its opponents. However, Villanova can play at any pace and still find a high-percentage bucket before the shot clock expires. The team chemistry is impressive and there aren’t any teams in the East region that can beat them. Plain and simple.
Duke is the only team living up to its expectations in the tournament right now. They’ve put up 89 and 87 points against their first two opponents and I don’t think any team in the tournament right now could hold them under 80 or put up enough points to run with them. Duke has the potential to run the table.
Alex: Since thirteenth-seed University of Buffalo knocked off third seed Arizona in the South region, my bracket on the ESPN tournament challenge has been messed up. However, I still have first seed Villanova winning it all and beating Xavier in the national championship game.
I picked Villanova because of how good their offensive team effort is and dominant three-point shooting. The key players to keep an eye on are Brunson and junior guard/forward Mikal Bridges. Brunson averaged 19.3 points and 4.7 assists a game during the regular season this year. Meanwhile Bridges averaged 17.9 points with 2.1 assists. They are really talented shooters who can easily get hot and cause trouble for the opposing team.
On the other side of things, I picked Xavier because they are a No. 1 seed and I thought that since they are the real deal, they will advance to the Final Four and to the national championship game. The key player on Xavier is senior guard Trevon Bluiett. He averaged 19.5 points a game in the regular season and could be a big threat to his opponents. Another player on Xavier that could help them win is graduate student forward Kerem Kanter, who posted 18 points against Providence.
I picked Duke to be in my Final Four because head coach Mike Krzyzewski, known as “Coach K” is very good at making his team compete at the most advanced playing style. He knows what it takes to win important games. The two main guys on this Duke squad to watch out for throughout the tournament are Allen and Bagley III. Allen averaged 15.7 points a game with 4.6 assists. Bagley III averages 21.1 points despite only averaging 1.5 assists. It’s going to be one heck of a run for these teams, and I am hoping for the best.
Michael: After an incredible first round that included the first ever sixteen seed beating a first seed, my bracket is pretty wrecked and one of my Final Four teams is gone. The teams I picked to go to the big dance in my standard bracket are Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Duke and Villanova.
The easy one is Villanova, who won the whole tournament two years ago and is the overwhelming favorite to win after Virginia’s loss with 14.6 percent of NCAA sponsored Bracket Challenge users picking them. It’s easy to see why when the team went on a 13-game winning-streak to open the season and only lost four times in the regular season. All the big success comes from talent that still has time to develop like junior guard Jalen Brunson and sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo. This young core honestly looks unbeatable.
My next pick goes to the dogs, Gonzaga that is. Last year’s runner-up are of course from the west coast so for a true blue Atlantic Ocean guy like myself, it was hard for me to constantly be in tune with what the team was up to all season. Turns out I was missing a lot. The team dominated in the West Coast Conference, winning the conference tournament against Brigham Young University, 74-54. This team can score, with five players averaging at least 11 points a game while the team as a whole is averaging 84.5 points per game. Statistics like these make the team ninth in the nation, and can also boost the team into the Final Four.
Next up is Cincinnati, but Nevada will instead make an appearance in San Antonio. The American Athletic Conference housed three tournament-bound teams this year and I felt the conference champion Cincinnati was the team to watch out for. I should have realized that any team from Cincinnati will choke in the second half of games. The team let up seven turnovers and made only one three-pointer in the second half courtesy of junior guard Justin Jenifer. This is a team that hit nearly every one of it’s offensive season averages, like Jenifer and senior forward Kyle Washington. But in the end, they forgot how to play defense and Nevada overran them into the Sweet Sixteen.
Finally, I see Duke making another Final Four appearance. The team entered the season as the top team in the country but lost to schools like Boston College, St. John’s University and North Carolina State. The team’s defense also made me question its practicality when it allowed at least 89 points for three consecutive games in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season. But, call it conspiracy or luck, I feel Duke can beat any team in their region. They easily handled Iona and the University of Rhode Island. Syracuse’s fast offense will be their biggest challenge, but if they can beat them, I believe the team is set. With freshman forward Marvin Bagley III and senior guard Grayson Allen, this team can go to the Final Four, as long as Allen can stop tripping people.
My championship game is still a possibility, with Villanova taking on Gonzaga on April 2. The final will be an defensive showcase, with long buckets raining down like cats and dogs. Villanova will be winning by two points because the offenses will be mute against one another. The immovable force versus the unstoppable object. In the end, I will once again fail to win it all in a heartbreaker, 67-59.