Predicting the 2018 NCAA Tournament:
Villanova. I don’t fully trust Jay Wright’s Wildcats in March Madness (six exits on the first weekend in the past seven NCAA appearances), but of all the number one seeds, ’ Nova has the most manageable path in the East Region to the national semifinals.
Duke. The Midwest Region will be decided in the round of 16 matchup between the Blue Devils and Michigan State — and Mike Krzyzewski is 11-1 in head-to-head coaching matchups against Tom Izzo (though MSU’s one win did come in the NCAA tourney round of 16 in 2005).
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Gonzaga. After years of failing to make the Final Four, Mark Few and the West Region No. 4 seed Zags are going back-to-back — if they can overcome blistering-hot No. 3 seed Michigan in the round of eight.
Arizona. Perhaps the chip on the shoulder from a season filled with off-the-court turmoil coupled with the presence on the Wildcats’ roster of the most-talented player in college basketball, DeAndre Ayton, will allow Sean Miller to emerge from the South Region and finally shed the label “best active coach never to make the Final Four.”
Duke over Gonzaga. One year after archrival North Carolina earned its sixth NCAA title by vanquishing Gonzaga in the finals, Duke will replicate the feat.
Kentucky. John Calipari and the No. 5-seed Cats will handle No. 12 Davidson in a rematch of a 1986 round-of-64 contest (which UK won 75-55). However, Kentucky will fall to Arizona in the round-of-32 in a rematch of the 1997 NCAA title game (which the western Wildcats claimed 84-79 in overtime).
Murray State. Matt McMahon’s No. 12 Racers will ride a big game from star guard Jonathan Stark to upset No. 5 West Virginia in the East Region before falling to No. 4 Wichita State in the round of 32.
No. 12 New Mexico State — which will be playing in its seventh NCAA tourney in the past nine seasons — will shock No. 5 Clemson in the Midwest.
No. 10 Butler —- which has won its round-of-64 game in six straight Big Dance appearances — will eliminate No. 7 Arkansas in the East.
No. 11 Loyola of Chicago — which beat Florida in Gainesville during the regular season — will bounce No. 6 Miami (Fla.) in the South Region, then stun No. 3 Tennessee to earn a berth in the round of 16.
1. If you average the Pomeroy Rating for the top four seeds in each region, the Midwest (top four seeds average rating of 8.5) is the toughest, followed by the South (9.25) and the East and West (both 9.75).
2. Xavier, the top seed in the West Region, is 14th in the nation in the Pomeroy Ratings. Coach Chris Mack’s team actually ranks behind No. 2 seed North Carolina (seventh), No. 4 seed Gonzaga (eighth) and No. 3 seed Michigan (10th) in the Pomeroy Ratings.
3. Since 2002, 10 of the 16 teams that won the NCAA championship finished the regular season in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency in the Pomeroy Ratings. This year, there are only three teams that meet that criteria — Duke (No. 3 in adjusted offensive efficiency, No. 7 in adjusted defensive efficiency); Michigan State (9, 9) and Gonzaga (12, 17).
If seeds hold, Duke and Michigan State will play in the Midwest Region round of 16.
Ratings Percentage Index rankings from the NCAA for all 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament:
4. North Carolina
13. Rhode Island
14. Wichita State
15. Michigan State
20. Ohio State
21. Texas Tech
23. St. Bonaventure
25. Texas A&M
27. Miami (Fla.)
28. Loyola Chicago
29. West Virginia
31. Seton Hall
38. New Mexico State
46. South Dakota State
50. Murray State
52. Florida State
53. Kansas State
57. Virginia Tech
61. Arizona State
62. N.C. State
63. San Diego State
73. UNC Greensboro
99. Wright State
104. Stephen F. Austin
131. Georgia State
134. Cal State Fullerton
227. Texas Southern
235. LIU Brooklyn
282. N.C. Central