Mark Story

NCAA picks: Two sets of Wildcats will make the Final Four; Murray State will pull an upset

Predicting the 2018 NCAA Tournament:

FINAL FOUR

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).

Mark Few kneeling
After years of frustration, Mark Few coached Gonzaga to its first Final Four last season. Can Few lead the Zags (30-4) to a return to the national semifinals in 2018? Rick Bowmer Associated Press

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.”

CHAMPION

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 TEAMS

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).

Jonathan Stark
The presence of star guard Jonathan Stark (2) makes Murray State a potentially dangerous NCAA Tournament round-of-64 matchup. Stark averages 21.8 points and shoots 41.7 percent on three-point shots for the Racers (26-5). Ryan Hermens Associated Press

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.

UPSET SPECIALS

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.

Kelan Martin
Former Ballard High School star Kelan Martin will try to lead Butler to its seventh straight victory in an NCAA Tournament round-of-64 contest when the No. 10 seed Bulldogs face No. 7 Arkansas in an East Region matchup. Michael Conroy Associated Press

CINDERELLA

No. 11 Loyola of Chicagowhich 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.

BRACKET BREAKDOWN

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.

Charles Matthews
Former Kentucky Wildcat Charles Matthews (1) averages 12.6 points and 5.4 rebounds for Big Ten Tournament champion Michigan (28-7). Nick Wass Associated Press

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.

RPI rankings

Ratings Percentage Index rankings from the NCAA for all 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament:

1. Virginia

2. Villanova

3. Xavier

4. North Carolina

5. Kansas

6. Duke

7. Cincinnati

8. Tennessee

9. Purdue

10. Clemson

11. Auburn

12. Michigan

13. Rhode Island

14. Wichita State

15. Kentucky

15. Michigan State

17. Arizona

18. Houston

19. Nevada

20. Ohio State

21. Texas Tech

22. TCU

23. Gonzaga

23. St. Bonaventure

25. Texas A&M

26. Buffalo

27. Miami (Fla.)

28. Loyola Chicago

29. West Virginia

30. Arkansas

31. Seton Hall

32. Providence

35. UCLA

37. Butler

38. New Mexico State

39. Syracuse

40. Missouri

41. Alabama

43. Creighton

43. Florida

46. South Dakota State

47. Oklahoma

50. Murray State

51. Texas

52. Florida State

53. Kansas State

57. Virginia Tech

59. Davidson

60. Charleston

61. Arizona State

62. N.C. State

63. San Diego State

73. UNC Greensboro

81. Montana

83. Bucknell

87. Marshall

99. Wright State

102. Lipscomb

104. Stephen F. Austin

108. Iona

116. UMBC

124. Pennsylvania

131. Georgia State

134. Cal State Fullerton

136. Radford

227. Texas Southern

235. LIU Brooklyn

282. N.C. Central

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