Villanova. Jay Wright’s Wildcats have a legitimate chance to become the first repeat NCAA men’s hoops champion since Billy Donovan, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Florida did it in 2006 and ’07.
Arizona. After losing in the region finals three times as Arizona head coach, Sean Miller finally sheds the lable “best current coach never to reach the Final Four.”
Iowa State. I always pick against Kansas as a No. 1 seed and the No. 5 Cyclones, led by ex-Murray State head man Steve Prohm and star guard Monte Morris, beat the Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season.
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North Carolina. It took Malik Monk scoring 47 points for Kentucky to beat North Carolina in December. If it is Cats-Heels for the Final Four, the powerful UNC front line will not allow itself to be outrebounded by UK as it was (39-35) in the Wildcats’ 103-100 win in Las Vegas.
Arizona over North Carolina. Arizona will give the “conference of champions” its first men’s basketball NCAA title since ’Zona edged Kentucky in overtime in the 1997 finals and make Roy Williams and UNC the first repeat national runner-up since Butler in 2010 and ’11.
No. 12 Middle Tennessee State, with three starters back from the team that stunned Michigan State in last season’s NCAA tourney, will upset No. 5 Minnesota and its coach, former Louisville assistant Richard Pitino, in the South.
No. 10 VCU, which has won at least one game in five of its last seven NCAA tourney appearances, will oust No. 7 St. Mary’s in the West.
No. 10 Wichita State will beat No. 7 Dayton in the South. That’s not as much of an upset as a case of Gregg Marshall’s Shockers being woefully underseeded (see below).
No. 12 seed North Carolina-Wilmington will oust No. 5 Virginia and No. 4 Florida and advance to the East Region round of 16. The Seahawks will then lose their head coach, former Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts, to a power five conference job.
Kentucky. John Calipari and the Cats will beat Northern Kentucky, Wichita State and UCLA. In the East Region round of eight, however, North Carolina will avenge its 103-100 loss to UK in the regular season and its 76-69 loss to the Cats in the 2011 East Region finals.
Louisville. Rick Pitino and the Cards will beat Jacksonville State (and ex-Western Kentucky head coach Ray Harper), Michigan, and Oregon. In the Midwest Region round of eight, however, Iowa State (and former Murray State head man Steve Prohm) will upset the Cardinals.
Northern Kentucky. In its first NCAA tourney appearance as a Division I school, Coach John Brannen’s Norse will put up a respectable fight before submitting to Kentucky’s superior talent in the round of 64.
1. Since 2002, every NCAA champion except Connecticut in 2014 has finished in the top 25 of basketball statistics guru Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency. This year, there are 10 such “dual qualifiers” — Gonzaga, Villanova, North Carolina (barely, 25th in adjusted defensive efficiency), Kentucky, Louisville, Wichita State, Baylor, Purdue, Oregon and Florida State.
Among the teams that are not in the top 25 are three considered prime national title contenders: Midwest No. 1 seed Kansas (30th defense), East No. 2 Duke (39th defense) and South No. 3 UCLA (78th defense).
2. Wichita State (30-4) is the No. 10 seed in the South Region. Coach Gregg Marshall’s Shockers are ranked eighth in the country in the Pomeroy ratings.
3. In four years as an Indiana player, Steve Alford was a part of eight NCAA Tournament wins, including the 1987 NCAA championship. In 22 years as a Division I head coach, UCLA head man Alford has been part of nine NCAA tourney victories (9-9, though he’s 4-2 with two trips to the round of 16 as Bruins head coach).