After much speculation and anticipation, Selection Sunday has yielded the brackets for the 2017 March Madness tournament. This year, there’s a relative lack of controversy in terms of seeding, other than the underwhelming seeds given to teams like Wichita State and West Virginia state. Considering trends for 2017, Duke receiving a two-seed doesn’t stir up too much trouble among most fans either.
With the path to the championship made clear, college basketball bracketology has begun in earnest, with millions of fans chasing the perfect championship bracket. Depending on your chosen method of mathematical analysis, statisticians believe that the chances of predicting the entire tournament are as low as 1 in 9.2 quintillion, and as high as 1 in 128 billion. Considering that less than one percent of bracketologists have predicted the path to the Final Four in the past six years, it’s almost guaranteed that your bracket will be devastated before the sweet sixteen, including an upset of a couple of these top seeds.
Villanova - Approximate Odds: 15-2
One of the greatest runs to the championship in NCAA basketball history, the Villanova Wildcats earned the best point differential for a winner in March Madness history. They also enjoyed the first-ever three-point buzzer beater in championship history to secure their first win in 31 years. The Wildcats have been awarded top seed for their continued excellence this year, as well as their incredible performance during 2016 March Madness. An instant classic, last year’s championship game was among the most exciting ever witnessed.
Josh Hart and championship shot maker Kris Jenkins are the marquee names leading the Wildcats, who thrive off of teamwork and experience. Even better, Villanova appears to be kicking it into high gear at the right time, beating most challengers through superior defense. Despite the fact that North Carolina and Duke are considered the favorites according to the odds, there’s no doubt that Villanova will represent a tough out for Duke, assuming the two schools meet in the elite eight.
Kansas - Approximate Odds: 8-1
Kansas has once again earned a top seed based on their regular season dominance of the Big 12. True to recent pattern, this top seeding hasn’t helped them make inroads during championship season, as they lost in an 85-82 shocker against TCU. Fatigue, the absence of Josh Jackson and refereeing were discussed as the scapegoats, but any top ranked team which gives up 85 points needs to consider their defensive effort first and foremost.
The Jawhawks have been one of the most underwhelming top seeds over their 13 consecutive regular season conference titles. Despite named top seed seven times and number two seed twice since 2005, Kansas has made only two Final Fours. They’ve been upset before the semifinals six times by squads ranked 7-14, and have lost against lower seeds nine times in the past 11 years. As usual, Kansas is loaded with top end prospects, but has to overcome inexperience and controversy to fulfill the promise of their talent.
North Carolina – Approximate Odds: 6-1
The internet was flooded with the tears of the “Crying Jordan” meme after the Tar Heels helplessly watched a three splash at the buzzer. Seconds earlier, it appeared that Marcus Paige had managed to salvage extra time with an incredible shot of his own, which was promptly erased by Kris Jenkins historic winner. Despite the devastation of such a close loss, North Carolina’s program has responded admirably, landing as the third seed overall, and the top seed in the east with a 31-3 record.
One of the top basketball programs on an annual basis, the Tar Heels look to build on a lengthy tradition of superb performances, including 48 tournament appearances, 19 Final Fours and five NCAA National Championships. Justin Jackson returns to the tournament as the ACC Player of the Year, and will attempt to showcase his newfound three-point range while lifting his squad to a championship.
Gonzaga - Approximate Odds: 10-1
The Bulldogs have made a giant leap into the top level of elite seeds, ranking fourth overall and leading the west as the number one seed. Last year, they were ranked 11th in the Midwest, and managed to make some noise by taking out the sixth seed Seton Hall, and the third seed Utah, before running into Syracuse, who would go on to make the final four.
This year, Gonzaga has made waves in the NCAA by earning the best record in Division I men’s basketball, winning 32 games and losing a head-scratcher to the BYU Cougars. Popular opinion about Zags tends to veer towards the Bulldogs as overachievers who haven’t dealt with a lot of adversity, which undermines the fact that this squad has hustled hard to build a reputation. Gonzaga may not have the high-end talent that other colleges boast, but their dedication to teamwork and defense readies them for a relatively easy path to the Final Four.
NCAA March Madness Top Seeds Trends
Appropriately, top seeds dominate the NCAA Men’s Division I championship tournament. With few exceptions, at least one top seed makes it to the Final Four. More often than not, two number one seeds make it to the semi-finals. On the other hand, the Final Four almost never consists of four top seeds, which means that it’s more than likely for one of 2017’s best ranked teams to end up on the wrong side of history. March Madness is famous partly because of the monumental upsets that derail even the biggest contenders, making it nearly impossible for fans and experts to fill out a perfect bracket.
Nevertheless, a number one seed has won 19 championships out of 30 finals appearances, compared to second seeds, which have won five championships in 12 appearances since 1985. In terms of Final Fours, top ranked teams have made it 52 times while second seeded teams have made 28 tournament semi-finals. For the 2017 tournament, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and Arizona stand out as significant challengers on the way to the Final Four. You shouldn’t expect a 16th seed to beat a 1st seed to start the bracket, but just about anything else is possible in a one-and-done tournament format.