2017 NCAA Tournament predictions

Movie quote of the day:

“Say ‘what’ again!”

– Jules Winnfield, “Pulp Fiction” (1994)

Today is the real start of one of the most wonderful times of the year – March Madness. I’m not sure I can speak for everyone, but I love these next three weeks almost as much as I love football season. Even though I feel fairly confident in my picks now, I know at some point today I’m going to feel the need to torch my bracket. Keep in mind, a lot of these picks have come down to my own bias and hunches, almost very little research was put into it.

Villanova Wildcats guard Josh Hart (3) celebrates with guard Jalen Brunson (1) and forward Kris Jenkins (2) during the second half of the Big East Conference Tournament.

East regional

Round of 64:

No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s (20-15) vs. No. 1 Villanova (31-3) – Buffalo, N.Y.

A 16 seed has never beat a one seed and I don’t see that happening in this matchup. Villanova is too talented. I expect the Wildcats to cruise into the Round of 32.

Winner: Villanova

No. 9 Virginia Tech (22-10) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (25-9) – Buffalo, N.Y.

This is a tough game to pick. Virginia Tech is well coached and can score points. However, Wisconsin plays very good defense and is heavily under seeded. The Badgers just played for the Big Ten championship before losing to a hot Michigan team. I’m still trying to figure out why Wisconsin is an eight seed.

Winner: Wisconsin

No. 12 UNC-Wilmington (29-5) vs. No. 5 Virginia (22-10) – Orlando, Fla.

Virginia plays some of the best defense in the country, but the Cavaliers struggle to score and have been hit and miss at points this season – and are coming in to March Madness with a 5-5 record in their last 10 games. It’s the opposite for UNC-Wilmington – one of the hottest teams in the country right now.

Winner: UNC-Wilmington

No. 13 East Tennessee State (27-7) vs. No. 4 Florida (24-8) – Orlando, Fla.

Both of these teams are about the same. Each has the ability to score and play pretty good defense. Las Vegas likes Florida, but the Gators have been struggling recently – losers of three of their last four. I’m going to go with the upset.

Prediction: East Tennessee State

No. 11 USC (25-9) vs. No. 6 SMU (30-4) – Tulsa, Okla.

SMU is probably the most dangerous team in the tournament outside the top seeds. The Mustangs are loaded with talent and hot – they have a record of 26-1 since Dec. 2. I think that SMU is going to go on a run this tournament.

Winner: SMU

No. 14 New Mexico State (28-5) vs. No. 3 Baylor (25-7) – Tulsa, Okla.

I’m not sold on Baylor. The Bears struggle to score and haven’t played well in recent weeks – 5-6 in their last 11 games. This game will be a dog fight for Baylor. New Mexico State is a good team and certainly can win, but I think Baylor’s athleticism helps lift the Bears and they escape the Round of 64.

Winner: Baylor

No. 10 Marquette (19-12) vs. No. 7 South Carolina (22-10) – Greenville, S.C.

South Carolina plays really good defense, I love Frank Martin as a head coach, and it’ll essentially be a home game for the Gamecocks. However, you have to be able to make baskets to move on in the tournament and South Carolina can’t do that – averaging 72.1 points per game which is No. 203 in the country. Plus, the Gamecocks have lost six of their last nine games. I think Marquette’s offense will be the difference maker and the Golden Eagles will move on.

Winner: Marquette

No. 15 Troy (22-14) vs. No. 2 Duke (27-8) – Greenville, S.C.

Duke is too hot right now. The Blue Devils should handle the Trojans with ease.

Winner: Duke

Southern Methodist Mustangs forward Semi Ojeleye (33) drives to the basket against the Connecticut Huskies.

Round of 32

No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Villanova – Buffalo, N.Y.

A lot of people are picking Wisconsin to upset Villanova in this game. I considered it at first, but at the end of the day, Wisconsin struggles to score. I think Villanova’s athleticism will be too much for Wisconsin’s stout defense. I think it’ll be a close game, but I think the Wildcats are able to pull away late.

Winner: Villanova

No. 13 East Tennessee State vs. No. 12 UNC-Wilmington – Orlando, Fla.

I want reiterate, UNC-Wilmington is a really good team. The Seahawks have won 10 of their last 11 games and average 85 points per game – No. 10 in the country. I think UNC-Wilmington will carry its momentum from the win over Virginia to clinch a spot in the Sweet 16.

Winner: UNC-Wilmington

No. 6 SMU vs. No. 3 Baylor – Tulsa, Okla.

Like I said above, SMU is probably the most dangerous team that is a five seed or lower. I think the Mustangs’ athleticism matches up well with Baylor.

Prediction: SMU

No. 10 Marquette vs. No. 2 Duke – Greenville, S.C.

Marquette shoots well and can score but they’re not nearly as good as Duke. I like the Blue Devils to move on.

Winner: Duke

Duke Blue Devils mascot entertains the fans against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the ACC Conference Tournament at Barclays Center.

Regional semifinals – New York

No. 12 UNC-Wilmington vs. No. 1 Villanova

I think this is where UNC-Wilmington’s run will come to an end. The Seahawks are good but Villanova is the superior team. The Wildcats have more athletes, better coaching, and more experience.

Winner: Villanova

No. 6 SMU vs. No. 2 Duke

If these teams meet, I think it could be one of the better games of the tournament. Both teams are extremely talented, but Duke is playing on another level right now.

Winner: Duke

Regional final – New York

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 1 Villanova

I like Villanova, but I think the Wildcats drew a tough draw with Duke in their bracket. Duke is probably the most talented team in the tournament and the Blue Devils are playing very well right now. Plus, defending national champions haven’t made the Final Four the next year since Florida did it in 2007 – bad news for Villanova.

Winner: Duke

Gonzaga celebrates after defeating the Saint Mary’s Gaels in the finals of the West Coast Conference tournament.

West regional

Round of 64

No. 16 South Dakota State (18-16) vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (32-1) – Salt Lake City

Gonzaga is better than people think. This should be an easy win for the Zags.

Winner: Gonzaga

No. 9 Vanderbilt (19-15) vs. No. 8 Northwestern (23-11) – Salt Lake City

Northwestern has been a great story and I’m happy for the Wildcats that they finally got a NCAA tournament bid, but I feel like they might just be happy to be a part of the Big Dance instead of looking to win. Vanderbilt is playing very well right now – winners of nine of its last 11 games – and is one of the best in the country at shooting three-pointers.

Winner: Vanderbilt

No. 12 Princeton (23-6) vs. No. 5 Notre Dame (25-9) – Buffalo, N.Y.

I really thought about taking Princeton because Ivy League teams always play well in the tournament. However, after playing in the inaugural Ivy League tournament last week, I’m looking forward to see if that trend continues. Either way, I still give Notre Dame the edge.

Winner: Notre Dame

No. 13 Bucknell (26-8) vs. No. 4 West Virginia (26-8) – Buffalo, N.Y.

Out of loyalty as a lifelong fan and alum, I have to take West Virginia. WVU’s full-court press is hard to prepare for, and I think Bucknell will have its struggles against it. Plus, after a disappointing early exit last year, I think Bob Huggins will his team ready to play this year.

Winner: West Virginia

No. 11 Xavier (21-13) vs. No. 6 Maryland (24-8) – Orlando, Fla.

Maryland has a lot of talent but I don’t think the Terrapins are that great, but Xavier has lost seven of its last 10 games – and two of those wins were against a nine-win DePaul team.

Winner: Maryland

No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast (26-7) vs. No. 3 Florida State (25-8) – Orlando, Fla.

A 14 seed has beat a three seed each of the last four years and I think that trend continues this year. Florida State is the weakest three seed in this tournament. The Seminoles have plenty of size but I never bought into them this year. Remember two years ago when Florida Gulf Coast made the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed? The Eagles are dangerous and I’m going with the upset.

Winner: Florida Gulf Coast

No. 10 VCU (26-8) vs. No. 7 Saint Mary’s (28-4) – Salt Lake City

I have never bought into Saint Mary’s. The Gaels have only made it past the Round of 64 twice in the program’s history. No way I’m picking them to beat a team like VCU.

Winner: VCU

No. 15 North Dakota (22-9) vs. No. 2 Arizona (30-4) – Salt Lake City

Arizona is loaded with talent and I like Sean Miller as a coach too much.

Winner: Arizona

Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Matt Farrell (5) reacts after hitting a three point shot against the Florida State Seminoles during the ACC Conference Tournament.

Round of 32

No. 9 Vanderbilt vs. No. 1 Gonzaga – Salt Lake City

Even though Vanderbilt is hot, Gonzaga is too good of a team. The Zags are really good defensively – giving up just 61.2 points per game, which ranks No. 8 in the country – and that should counter Vanderbilt’s sharp shooting.

Winner: Gonzaga

No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 West Virginia – Buffalo, N.Y.

Notre Dame is well coached, they’re smart, and they take care of the ball – that usually translates into a win against the Mountaineers. However, West Virginia’s full-court press will be really difficult to prepare for in just two days, and Las Vegas and Nate Silver both really like WVU to advance to the Sweet 16. Against my better judgement, I’m going with my Mountaineers.

Winner: West Virginia

No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 6 Maryland – Orlando, Fla.

Teams that pull off a massive upset in the Round of 64 very rarely win the next game and advance to the next weekend. It’s difficult for these mid-majors to carry the momentum over to the next game. Because of that, I’m going with Maryland to make the Sweet 16.

Winner: Maryland

No. 10 VCU vs. No. 2 Arizona – Salt Lake City

Even though I picked VCU to beat Saint Mary’s the Round of 64, I think the Rams are just as overrated of a program as the Gaels. I have to go with Arizona.

Winner: Arizona

Arizona Wildcats guard Allonzo Trier (35) moves the ball up the court during a Pac-12 Conference Tournament.

Regional semifinals – San Jose, Calif.

No. 4 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Gonzaga

I think Gonzaga is a really good team and much better than people think. I think given almost a week to prepare for West Virginia’s style of play will really benefit the Zags. I think Gonzaga handles WVU’s full-court press well enough to move on to the Elite Eight.

Winner: Gonzaga

No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 2 Arizona

Almost every year in March Madness there’s a team that falls ass backward into the Sweet 16, only to get trounced by one of the better teams in the tournament. I think that team this year is Maryland. There’s no way I’m picking Arizona to lose to the Terrapins.

Winner: Arizona

Regional final – San Jose, Calif.

No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 1 Gonzaga

Sean Miller is a really good coach, but he’s never made it to the Final Four. He has to get over that hump eventually, right? I think that this is his year to do it. Arizona is super talented and playing well – winners of 24 of its last 26 games, including the Pac-12 tournament.

Winner: Arizona

Kansas Jayhawks guard Frank Mason III (0) reacts after the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Midwest regional

Round of 64

No. 16 UC-Davis (23-12) vs. No. 1 Kansas (28-4) – Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas, all day.

Winner: Kansas

No. 9 Michigan State (19-14) vs. No. 8 Miami (21-11) – Tulsa, Okla.

This has been one of the tougher games to pick in the Round of 64. I think both teams are about even and you can never count out Tom Izzo in March Madness. However, the Spartans have disappointed this season after being ranked No. 12 in the preseason. I find it difficult to pick a team that has underperformed all year to win in the most important time of the year.

Winner: Miami

No. 12 Nevada (28-6) vs. No. 5 Iowa State (23-10) – Milwaukee

Nevada will be a tough team to beat, but I have to go with Iowa State – the team that just won the Big 12 tournament. I can’t bring myself to pick against the Cyclones in the Round of 64 because they’re playing very well right now.

Winner: Iowa State

No. 13 Vermont (29-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue (25-7) – Milwaukee

At first, I was all over Vermont to win this game. The Catamounts have won 21 straight games and play stifling defense. Although the more research I did on Purdue, the more I like the Boilermakers. They have the size advantage over Vermont and shoot the ball very well.

Winner: Purdue

No. 11 Rhode Island (24-9) vs. No. 6 Creighton (25-9) – Sacramento, Calif.

I never bought into Creighton when Doug McDermott played there so I’m still not going to buy into the Bluejays now without him. Rhode Island is on a roll right now. The Rams have won 15 of its last 17 games, including the Atlantic 10 tournament. I finally like an 11 seed to get an upset in the Round of 64.

Winner: Rhode Island

No. 14 Iona (22-12) vs. No. 3 Oregon (29-5) – Sacramento, Calif.

Despite losing its best rim protector, I still like Oregon to go on a run this tournament. The Ducks have a talented roster and another rim protector almost just as good as the starter.

Winner: Oregon

No. 10 Oklahoma State (20-12) vs. No. 7 Michigan (24-11) – Indianapolis

It’s hard to pick against Michigan right now. The Wolverines are very efficient offensively and they just put together a great run to win the Big Ten tournament. I think Brad Underwood is another year or two from putting Oklahoma State back on the map.

Winner: Michigan

No. 15 Jacksonville State (20-14) vs. No. 2 Louisville (24-8) – Indianapolis

I’m not sure just how good Louisville is, but I can’t pick against Rick Pitino in this game.

Winner: Louisville

Michigan Wolverines forward D.J. Wilson (5) celebrates in the closing seconds of the second half against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big Ten Conference Tournament championship game.

Round of 32

No. 8 Miami vs. No. 1 Kansas – Tulsa, Okla.

Miami plays tough defense, but I have to go with Kansas to win this game. The Jayhawks shoot the ball really well and I think Miami will struggle to keep up.

Winner: Kansas

No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 4 Purdue – Milwaukee

Iowa State is never a team that I can buy into. The Cyclones always seem to choke in the tournament – the program has only made it past the Sweet 16 twice in its history. They can shoot well but they struggle with teams that have size – which favors Purdue.

Winner: Purdue

No. 11 Rhode Island vs. No. 3 Oregon – Sacramento, Calif.

Rhode Island will be a tough team for Oregon to beat, but I think the Ducks just barely get it done. I don’t think the Rams can match up with Oregon’s athleticism, and I like the Ducks to move on to the second weekend.

Winner: Oregon

No. 7 Michigan vs. No 2. Louisville – Indianapolis

John Beilein is a really good tournament coach. His teams have made it past the first weekend four times in their last eight tournament appearances. He has Michigan on a roll right now, and I think Louisville will be the first of the top teams to go home.

Winner: Michigan

Purdue Boilermakers forward Caleb Swanigan (50) reacts to a play during a game against the Michigan State Spartans.

Regional semifinals – Kansas City, Mo.

No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 1 Kansas

I like Kansas, but I’m not sure the Jayhawks can make a Final Four run. They lack size and depth, and are terrible at shooting free throws. I think Purdue matches up very well with Kansas. I expect Caleb Swanigan’s size and ability to be a matchup nightmare for Kansas. I think Purdue pulls off the upset and moves on to the Elite Eight.

Winner: Purdue

No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 3 Oregon

Michigan’s run will end at some point and I think it’ll be against Oregon. The Ducks have more talent and been the more consistent team this season.

Winner: Oregon

Regional final – Kansas City, Mo.

No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 3 Oregon

Every time Oregon has been ranked a three seed or higher the Ducks have advanced to the Elite Eight, but not the Final Four. I’m not very confident in it, but I think that trend ends this year. This Midwest regional is wide open, and Oregon is a very underrated team with plenty of talent and depth.

Winner: Oregon

North Carolina Tar Heels guard Nate Britt (0) dribbles the ball against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

South regional

No. 16 Texas Southern (23-11) vs. No. 1 North Carolina (27-7) – Greenville, S.C.

I don’t see North Carolina losing this game unless the Tar Heels don’t show up or Roy Williams dies.

Winner: North Carolina

No. 9 Seton Hall (21-11) vs. No. 8 Arkansas (25-9) – Greenville, S.C.

Seton Hall has size and rebounds very well. However, Arkansas shoots the ball well, plays good defense, and Mike Anderson is a good coach.

Winner: Arkansas

No. 12 Middle Tennessee (30-4) vs. No. 5 Minnesota (24-9) – Milwaukee

Middle Tennessee is probably the best team that is a 10 seed or lower. The Blue Raiders are no joke. They pulled off the upset of the tournament last year by knocking off Michigan State in the Round of 64, and they return a lot of players from that team. I still don’t understand how Minnesota got a five seed. I smell an upset brewing in this game.

Winner: Middle Tennessee

No. 13 Winthrop (26-6) vs. No. 4 Butler (23-8) – Milwaukee

Butler has been fake since losing Brad Stevens as its head coach back in 2013. However, I’m giving the Bulldogs the edge in this game.

Winner: Butler

No. 11 Kansas State (21-13) vs. No. 6 Cincinnati (29-5) – Sacramento, Calif.

I didn’t think Kansas State would make it past Wake Forest in the First Four, but the Wildcats managed to get the win. They’re playing well right now and I think they’ll give Cincinnati problems.

Winner: Kansas State

No. 14 Kent State (22-13) vs. No. 3 UCLA (29-4) – Sacramento, Calif.

Kent State is hot but I don’t think the Golden Flashes will be able to keep up with UCLA on the scoreboard. The Bruins shoot the ball too well and have the best offense in the country.

Winner: UCLA

No. 10 Wichita State (30-4) vs. No. 7 Dayton (24-7) – Indianapolis

Wichita State won 30 games and got a 10 seed? I would imagine Gregg Marshall will have his team pissed off and ready to play this game.

Winner: Wichita State

No. 15 Northern Kentucky (24-10) vs. No. 2 Kentucky (29-5) – Indianapolis

This might be the closest 2/15 matchup. Northern Kentucky is no slouch. The Norse have won 12 of their last 14 games. However, I think Kentucky is too talented to lose this game. I expect the Wildcats to pull away in the second half.

Winner: Kentucky

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders guard Aldonis Foote (45) controls the ball against the Marshall Thundering Herd.

Round of 32

No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 1 North Carolina – Greenville, S.C.

Arkansas is a decent team but the Razorbacks aren’t on North Carolina’s level.

Winner: North Carolina

No. 12 Middle Tennessee vs. No. 4 Butler – Milwaukee

Middle Tennessee is a very good team, folks. I have them moving on to the Sweet 16 – the second 12 seed to do so in my bracket.

Winner: Middle Tennessee

No. 11 Kansas State vs. No. 3 UCLA – Sacramento, Calif.

Even though Kansas State is playing well, I don’t the Wildcats can shoot the ball well enough in order to keep up with UCLA.

Winner: UCLA

No. 10 Wichita State vs. No. 2 Kentucky – Indianapolis

This was a tough game to pick. I think Wichita State will want vengeance for that NCAA tournament game three years ago when Kentucky upset the undefeated Shockers in the Round of 32. However, I don’t think Wichita State has the athletes to keep up with Kentucky. I think the Wildcats pull off a narrow victory to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16.

Winner: Kentucky

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari talks with guard Malik Monk (5) during the SEC Conference Tournament.

Regional semifinals – Memphis, Tenn.

No. 12 Middle Tennessee vs. No. 1 North Carolina

Even though I like Middle Tennessee, the Blue Raiders don’t have enough horses to win this game. North Carolina’s talent and depth will be too much for Middle Tennessee.

Winner: North Carolina

No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 2 Kentucky

This should be a high-scoring affair. For as good as UCLA is offensively, you have to play good defense to win championships, and UCLA struggles with playing defense. I think Kentucky will win this game in a close one.

Winner: Kentucky

Regional final – Memphis, Tenn.

No. 2. Kentucky vs. No. 1 North Carolina

Despite its loss to Duke in the ACC championship, North Carolina was still playing like the best team in the country. Kentucky is really hot, but I like the Tar Heels to emerge as the champion in this regional.

Winner: North Carolina

Final Four – Phoenix

No. 2 Duke vs. No. Arizona

These teams are about even talent-wise and both are playing extremely well. With the game in Phoenix, it’ll essentially be a home game for the Wildcats. The Arizona-heavy crowd should help lift the Wildcats to win a very close game, and move on to its first national championship appearance since 2001.

Winner: Arizona

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 1 North Carolina

I think this is where Oregon’s run ends. Losing a starting rim protector will finally be too much for the Ducks. North Carolina’s size and talent will be too much for Oregon. I think the Tar Heels win comfortably and advance to their second consecutive national championship.

Winner: North Carolina

National Championship – Phoenix

No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 1 North Carolina

This should be a very high-scoring national championship. Even though the crowd should be very Arizona friendly, I think it’s North Carolina that’ll emerge victorious. The Tar Heels have looked like a team on a mission the last month of the regular season – and didn’t play that badly in the loss to Duke in the ACC tournament. I think North Carolina makes up for last year’s heartbreaking national championship loss, and cuts down the nets April 3.

Winner: North Carolina

Thanks for reading

Shane Price
Follow me on Twitter – @priceisright53

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