The 2017 NCAA tournament features plenty of potential to be one of the most exciting in recent years. Sure, there are plenty of teams that seem destined to make it out of the first round, but there are also plenty of match-ups that have all the makings of an upset.
This year’s field consists of perennial powers like Kansas and North Carolina, but it also features first-time appearances from schools like Northwestern and North Dakota. Is this the year that a No. 16 seed upsets a No.1 seed or a No. 9 seed wins it all? With the tournament officially starting on Tuesday, March 14, here’s what to know for this year’s March Madness.
Entering as the No. 10 seed, the Golden Eagles have compiled quite the resume. They have wins over tournament teams Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Vanderbilt and Creighton (twice). Marquette ranks first nationally in three-point shooting and eighth in offensive efficiency. With a potent offensive and a so-so defense, it wouldn’t be unfathomable to see Marquette take down South Carolina and if they catch them on an off day, Duke.
South: Seton Hall
Seton Hall is an odd team. It can’t hit free throws, but it makes up for it with defense and rebounding. Its beaten South Carolina, Creighton and Xavier as well as winning at Butler. Seton Hall has solid, balanced scoring with four players in double digits, but they’re more forward-heavy than most teams. Teams with talent at the guard position might be their downfall, but favorable match-ups in the frontcourt could seem them advancing further than expected.
West: Florida Gulf Coast
Florida State should be favored to knock the Eagles out in the first round, but it wouldn’t be surprising if FGCU brought back some of their magic from 2013 when they started the tournament by upsetting a two-seed. The Seminoles' tournament résumé is less than impressive with their best win coming against UT Arlington. FGCU averages more than 40 points per game in the paint, so Florida State will need to limit FGCU's inside game. If they don’t, it could be a 2013 repeat.
The only thing stopping Xavier from full Cinderella status is Maryland’s Melo Trimble standing in its way. Still, Maryland is far from perfect and Xavier was ranked early in the season. Sure, the Musketeers were blown out by Villanova early in the season, but defeated ranked conference foes Butler and Creighton. Junior guard Trevon Bluiett is a problem for teams and if his 40-point game against Cincinnati is any indication, he’ll have no trouble scoring against tournament teams.
East: No. 13 East Tennessee State
The 13 seeds are surprisingly strong this year. SMU is a good team, but East Tennessee State has a surprisingly solid roster. East Tennessee State has three players shooting over 50 percent while also averaging over 20 minutes per game. Florida has had a rocky season while, not perfect, East Tennessee State finished with just seven losses. Senior guard T.J. Cromer shoots over 40 percent from three, highlighted by going 9-for-12 against Samford earlier this month. Florida is dealing with the loss of their best defensive big man, junior John Egbunu, and senior guard Canyon Barry has been dealing with an injury that’s limited him.
South: No. 13 Winthrop Eagles
When you look at infamous upsets in NCAA tournament history, there’s often one overlying common theme: one star player. From C.J. McCollum at Lehigh to Steph Curry at Davidson, when a low-seeded team has one player capable of an explosive performance, their odds at an upset increase dramatically.
Enter Keon Johnson. The senior guard is Winthrop’s leading scorer, and at 22.5 points per game, the 10th-highest scorer in the country. He’s had several huge games this season, logging seven games with more than 30 points. In the Eagles’ biggest win, an 84-80 overtime victory over Illinois, Johnson put up 38 points on 71.4 percent shooting. He’s an elite scoring threat on the perimeter, and will certainly give his opponent, No. 4 Butler, significant trouble. Don’t be shocked if Johnson’s name is everywhere on Thursday after leading Winthrop to victory with another high-output performance.
Midwest: No. 12 Nevada Wolf Pack
When Iowa State was announced to be in Kansas’ region, many fans salivated at the potential rematch between the two Big 12 foes. But before that can happen, the Cyclones need to get past a high-powered Nevada offense.
Going into the tournament, the Wolf Pack currently hold the No. 38 scoring offense in the country at an even 80 points per game. Iowa State, meanwhile, sits just above Nevada, at 80.9 points per game. So, needless to say, this one is going to be a shootout. Their defenses are comparable as well, as they both allow averages in the low-70s. What separates the Wolf Pack is their depth and the strength of it. Four Nevada players average more than 14 points per game, including two that both average nearly nine rebounds per game as well.
Leading the charge is senior guard Marcus Marshall, who sits at 19.8 points per game on the season. It won’t be easy for Nevada to upset Iowa State, but if the right combination of their strong scorers gets hot, it could definitely happen.
West: No. 10 VCU
St. Mary’s played one team from a Power 5 conference this year and they won, but they lost all three games they played against ranked opponents. Meanwhile, VCU at least has exposure to Power 5 teams, despite going 1-3 in those games. VCU’s offense isn’t great, but the defense still got them to the tournament. The downside of St. Mary’s weak schedule is that they haven’t seen a swarming defense like VCU. For that reason alone, St Mary’s is on upset watch.
East: No. 1 Villanova
Villanova entered the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, after a very impressive season that netted it the Big East title and a 31-3 finish. The Wildcats face either Mount St. Mary’s or New Orleans, a pair of 16-seeds that will face off in the First Four. No 16 seed has ever beaten a one, and don’t expect that to change here.
East: No. 2 Duke
Duke has lost in the first round as a two-seed before, dropping its 2012 opener to 15-seed Lehigh. The difference now is that this year’s Troy team doesn’t have a player close to two-time All-American and current starting guard for the Portland Trail Blazers C.J. McCollum, who scored 30 points in Lehigh’s upset. It should be smooth sailing for the Blue Devils this time.
East: No. 3 Baylor
Baylor hasn’t won a tournament game since 2014, after dropping games to 14-seed Georgia State and 12-seed Yale in the first round over the past two seasons. Fortunately for the Bears, it seems like that streak will come to an end this year. New Mexico State had a decent season but doesn’t have much by way of quality wins. Expect Baylor to roll.
West: No. 1 Gonzaga
The narrative of Gonzaga being an illegitimate one-seed may have some merit, but to suggest that the Bulldogs are going to become the first one-seed to lose to a 16-seed is ridiculous. The Bulldogs will face South Dakota State, who barely finished above .500 and placed No. 5 in the Summit League. The Gonzaga upset predictions will have to wait for another round.
West: No. 2 Arizona
Arizona faces North Dakota in the first round, a team that is playing in its first-ever NCAA tournament since entering Division I competition in 2009. The Fighting Hawks won the Big Sky Conference, but stand no match for the war-hardened Wildcats who have battled in one of the nation’s top conferences all season. Arizona will coast to victory.
Midwest: No. 1 Kansas
It’s unclear as to who Kansas will play, as potential opponents North Carolina Central and UC-Davis will play in a First Four matchup early in the week. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter which one wins, as neither is capable of keeping up with the Jayhawks. Don’t expect the Jayhawks to be the first one-seed to fall to a 16-seed.
Midwest: No. 2 Louisville
Louisville has impressive wins this year against Notre Dame, Kentucky, Duke, Indiana and Purdue. Jacksonville State finished 20-14 and only made the tournament because of a surprising conference tournament win. The Gamecock’s roster features some high scorers, but not a lot of defense. Combine that with the fact that the school’s never made an NCAA tournament and things don’t look great for Jacksonville State.
Midwest: No. 3 Oregon
Not only is Iona 1-11 in NCAA tournament, but Oregon is also great both offensively and defensively. Iona finished fourth in the MAAC, while Oregon had the second-best record in the Pac-12. Iona can score from range and that’s about it. Oregon ranks 23rd in the nation in three-point defense, so that shouldn’t be a problem for the Ducks.
South: No. 1 North Carolina
This is quite possibly the clearest mismatch of the tournament. Texas Southern is undersized while North Carolina’s frontcourt is the best in the country. Texas Southern is yet another low-seeded team that can’t hit three-pointers. There’s no conceivable way that the Tigers can tame the Tar Heels’ offense in what looks to be a blowout in the making. Aside from two of their starters, there’s no offense to be found on Texas State’s roster.
South: No. 2 Kentucky
Kentucky had a stretch where it looked like it might be an easy win for most solid teams. Unfortunately for Northern Kentucky, who might not be considered particularly solid, Kentucky has bounced back to look like a very dangerous team. Lead by its guards, Kentucky should have no trouble dispatching Northern Kentucky, whose starting point guard turns the ball over three times a game. Northern Kentucky's best scoring chances will be in the paint where Kentucky has more than enough forward depth to stop whatever the Norse throw at the Wildcats.
South: No. 3 UCLA
UCLA, like every team, is flawed, but Kent State has no way of exploiting the Bruins. Kent State’s most attractive quality is its guard play, which UCLA shouldn’t have a problem shutting down. Kent State doesn’t like shooting threes and UCLA has a nice collection of solid big men who can deal with anything inside the paint. The Golden Flashes lack top-tier depth, which will be their downfall in the tournament.
Midwest: No. 4 Purdue
This could be briefly summarized with the fact that Purdue has Caleb Swanigan and Vermont does not. Purdue is top 20 in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency and features an incredible frontcourt. Vermont is on a 21-game winning streak, but the toughest teams they played during that stretch were Stony Brook and New Hampshire. Vermont is yet another team with a lack of three-point shooting and on top of that, the Catamounts rank 219th nationally in three-point defense.
— Edited by Frank Weirich