Top seed outlook: Can No. 1 Virginia exorcise the past year’s demons now that the team is currently at full strength? Our version believes so. The Cavaliers have a 49 percent probability of cracking the Final Four and a 31 percent likelihood of reaching what would be the program’s first national title game.
With De’Andre Hunter, that wasn’t on the court this past year during UVA’s historical loss to No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County, the Cavaliers were dominant on both ends — the sole team ranking in the top five in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. Yet more, Tony Bennett’s pack line shield is suffocating most offensive chance and successfully turning games into stone fights. But this year’s team is better on the offensive end and ought to breeze to the Elite Eight, in which it could meet Tennessee. Due to Grant Williams along with the superbly appointed Admiral Schofield, the No. 2 Volunteers are enjoying their very best basketball in program history. We provide them a 22 percent probability of reaching the Final Four.
Sneaky Final Four select: No. 6 Villanova. Can it be”sneaky” to select the team that has won two of the past three national titles? Not. But this has not been the exact same team that coach Jay Wright advised to these championships. After dropping 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. However they also got hot over the past week, capping a year where they won the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament names — and had among the 20 best offenses in the country according to KenPom (powered by an absurd number of 3-pointers). Our power ratings believe they’re the fourth-best team in the South despite being the No. 6 seed, and they have a 5 percent chance of earning it back to the Final Four for a third time in four seasons.
Don’t bet on: No. 4 Kansas State. Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats nearly produced the Final Four last season, but they might find it harder this time around. K-State has an elite defense (it ranks fourth in the nation based on Pomeroy’s evaluations ), but its crime is prone to struggles — and could be down its second-leading scorer, forward Dean Wade, who missed the team’s Big 12 tournament loss to Iowa State with a foot injury. A barbarous draw that gives the Wildcats tough No. 13 seed UC Irvine in the first round, then puts them contrary to the Wisconsin-Oregon winner at Round 2, could restrict their capability to advance deep into another successive tournament.
Cinderella watch: No. 12 Oregon. According to our model, the Ducks have the best Sweet 16 chances (24 percent) of almost any double-digit seed at the tournament, over double that of any other offender. Oregon struggled to string together wins for most of the regular season, and its own odds seemed sunk following 7-foot-2 phenom Bol Bol was lost for the season with a foot injury in January. However, the Ducks have rallied to win eight straight games going into the tournament, such as a convincing victory in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship. Oregon fits a similar mold as K-State — great defense with a defendant offense — but that’s telling, given that the Ducks are a 12-seed and the Wildcats are a No. 4. Should they fulfill in the Round of 32, we give Oregon a 47 percent chance at the upset.
Player to watch: Grant Williams, Tennessee
The junior has come a very long way from being”just a fat boy with some ability.” Williams, the de facto leader of Rick Barnes’s Volunteers, has bullied the SEC within the previous two seasons, amassing two successive conference player of the year honors.
The Vols might just feature the best offense of Barnes’s coaching career — and we’re talking about a guy who coached Kevin Durant! A lot of that offensive potency can be tracked to Williams, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, that positions in the 97th percentile in scoring efficiency, based on data courtesy of Synergy Sports.
Williams owns an old-man game you might find at a regional YMCA, a back-to-the-basket, footwork-proficient offensive attack that manifests mostly in post-ups, where he positions in the 98th percentile in scoring efficacy and shoots an adjusted field-goal percentage of 56.1. He can get the Volunteers buckets in the waning moments of games, too, as he positions in the 96th percentile in isolation scoring efficiency.
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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