Top seed outlook: Could No. 1 Virginia exorcise last year’s allies now that the team is currently at full strength? Our model believes so. The Cavaliers have a 49 percent likelihood of cracking the Final Four and a 31 percent probability of accomplishing what would be the program’s first national title match.
Together with De’Andre Hunter, who wasn’t on the court last year through UVA’s historic loss to No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County, the Cavaliers were dominant on both ends — the only team standing in the top five in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and protection metrics. Once again, Tony Bennett’s package line shield is suffocating most offensive opportunity and successfully turning games into stone fights. But this year’s group is even better on the offensive end and should breeze into the Elite Eight, in which it could meet Tennessee. Thanks to Grant Williams and the wonderfully named Admiral Schofield, the No. 2 Volunteers are playing their very best basketball in history. We give them a 22 percent likelihood of reaching the Final Four.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 6 Villanova. Is it”sneaky” to pick the team that has won just two of the previous three national titles? Not. But this hasn’t been the same group that coach Jay Wright advised to those championships. After dropping a ton of its best players from last year’s title-winning group, the Wildcats had an up-and-down year and dropped five of the final eight regular-season Big East games. But they also got hot over the last week, capping a year where they still won the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament names — and still had one of the 20 greatest offenses in the nation according to KenPom (powered by an absurd number of 3-pointers). Our power ratings believe that they’re the fourth-best team in the South despite being the No. 6 seed, and they have a 5% chance of making it back to the Final Four for a third time in four seasons.
Do not bet : No. 4 Kansas State. Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats almost made the Final Four last season, but they might find it harder this time around. K-State has an elite defense (it ranks fourth in the nation based on Pomeroy’s ratings), but its offense is prone to battles — and could be down its second-leading scorer, forward Dean Wade, who missed the team’s Big 12 tournament loss to Iowa State with a foot injury. A barbarous draw that gives the Wildcats tough No. 13 seed UC Irvine in the first round, then places them opposite the Wisconsin-Oregon winner at Round two, could restrict their capability to advance deep into another successive tournament.
Cinderella see: No. 12 Oregon. According to our model, the Ducks have the very best Sweet 16 odds (24 percent) of any double-digit seed at the championship, over double that of any other candidate. Oregon struggled to string together wins for the majority of the regular season, and its own odds appeared sunk following 7-foot-2 phenom Bol Bol was missing for the season with a foot injury in January. However, the Ducks have rallied to win eight consecutive games heading into the tournament, including a convincing victory in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship. Oregon matches a similar mould as K-State — excellent defense using a defendant offense — but that is telling, given that the Ducks are a 12-seed and the Wildcats are a No. 4. If they meet in the Round of 32, we give Oregon a 47 percent chance at the upset.
Player to watch: Grant Williams, Tennessee
The junior has come a very long way from being”a fat boy with some skill.” Williams, the de facto leader of Rick Barnes’s Volunteers, has bullied the SEC over the previous two seasons, collecting two consecutive conference player of the year honors.
The Vols might just feature the very best offense of Barnes’s coaching career — and we’re talking about a man who coached Kevin Durant! Much of the offensive potency can be tracked to Williams, the team’s top scorer and rebounder, who ranks in the 97th percentile in scoring efficacy, according to data courtesy of Synergy Sports.
Williams owns an old-man game you might find at a regional YMCA, a back-to-the-basket, footwork-proficient offensive attack that manifests primarily in post-ups, where he positions in the 98th percentile in scoring efficiency and shoots an adjusted field-goal percentage of 56.1. He can find the Volunteers buckets in the waning minutes of games, also, as he positions in the 96th percentile in isolation scoring efficiency.
Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Oklahoma over No. 8 Ole Miss (53 percent); No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Wisconsin (45 percent); No. 10 Iowa over No. 7 Cincinnati (34 percent)