2017 NCAA Basketball Tournament Bracketology
Vegas Experts is back to help you fill out your bracket for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. As usual, we will use historical performance records and recent seeding trends along with statistical and matchup analysis to come up with our predictions.
While all of our bracket selections are to be used for straight up purposes only, we do use the point spreads available to assist handicapping the First Round games.
After sending three #1 seeds to the Final Four in 2015, only one top seed reached the Final Four last year. That was North Carolina, who made it to the Championship Game but fell to #2 seed Villanova as the Wildcats hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to win their first National Championship since 1985.
Villanova enters this year’s NCAA Tournament as the top-ranked team in the country, and will have a hard time defending their championship with a giant bulls-eye on their jersey. In fact, despite their top-ranking, Villanova is just the fifth choice at Bovada.lv to win it all this year (8:1), with a pair of ACC teams Duke and North Carolina the co-favorites to hoist the trophy at 6:1 odds each. Kansas and Arizona return a 7:1 payout.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start at the beginning and go through the entire First Round.
NCAA Tournament Round 1
While only one #1 seed reached the Final Four last year, the four top seeds in each region still had a good showing. All four #1 seeds won their first three games of the tournament, and 10 of those 12 combined victories came by double-digits.
With last year’s 4-0 straight up record in the First Round, #1 seeds are now a perfect 128-0 in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. This year’s crop not only includes the defending champion Wildcats, but also one-loss Gonzaga and traditional college basketball powers Kansas and North Carolina. Kansas and Villanova have the bonus of playing opponents on short rest, with those foes having to play in the First Four round in Dayton earlier in the week.
As of this writing, there is no line on the Kansas game, but every other #1 seed is favored to win their games by more than 20 points. Taking the #1 seed in the first round is the safest bet in all of sports, and we don’t expect history to be made this year. Advance all four #1 seeds (Villanova, Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina).
We are also going to go ahead and advance all four #2 seeds (Duke, Arizona, Louisville, Kentucky). While not as safe as blindly advancing the top seed in the first round, #2 seeds are generally safe, with a few exceptions. Villanova won it all last year out of the #2 seed, but Michigan State became the first #2 seed to fall since Florida Gulf Coast beat Georgetown in 2013. MSU’s shocking 9-point loss came as a big 16.5-point favorite, with Middle Tennessee State returning better than 15:1 for the outright win.
This year’s group of #2 seeds have the same type of name value as the top seeds, and it would be even more surprising than last year’s MSU upset if one of these four teams were to fall. Arizona is the smallest favorite of the group, laying 17 points, and we are not calling for a 16+ point underdog to win outright for the second year in a row.
Now things start to get interesting. The #3 seed has not been safe in recent years, with West Virginia losing last year, Baylor and Iowa State falling in 2015, Duke getting upset in 2014, and New Mexico losing in 2013. That’s five #3 seeds losing their first game in the last four years!
If that trend continues, we believe Florida State has the best chance of being upset. The Seminoles take on Florida Gulf Coast in Orlando, so neither team will have a geographical advantage. FSU has not been a reliable team away from their home court going 7-8 straight up (5-10 ATS) and FGCU not only will have confidence from recent NCAA Tournament appearances, but they also have the scoring ability needed to keep up. Florida State falls, but the other three #3 seeds move on (Baylor, Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon, UCLA).
Not calling for an upset for any of the #4 seeded teams, although Purdue had us take a long look. We’re not high on the Boilermakers and if they had a different matchup, we may have picked them to lose, but we can’t back a Vermont team that went through their regular season essentially untested. All four #4 seeds move on (Florida, West Virginia, Purdue, Butler).
Nobody wants to be a #5 seed. Going back over the last 27 years, a #5 seed has fallen in 24 of those 26 tournaments. Baylor and Purdue kept that tradition going last year, as the Bears fell by 4 points against Yale and Purdue lost by 2 points against Arkansas Little Rock in overtime.
We look for two more upsets this year. Virginia and Notre Dame should be safe, but Iowa State and Minnesota are vulnerable. In fact, Middle Tennessee State has moved to a small favorite in some spots against the Golden Gophers. We also like an underrated Nevada team to sneak past the Iowa State Cyclones. Two #5 seeds survive (Virginia, Notre Dame, Nevada, Middle Tennessee State).
Last year we predicted all four #6 seeds would fall in the First Round, and we were nearly correct as only one survived (Arizona, Texas, Seton Hall lost – Notre Dame won). This year we’ll go out on another limb and call for three upsets, with Cincinnati being the lone #6 seed to advance as we love the matchup of their defense against an average Kansas State squad. Bearcats move on, but all other #6 seeds fall (Providence/USC, Xavier, Rhode Island, Cincinnati).
Two #10 seeds won last year, including Syracuse who went all the way to the Final Four. We don’t expect a #10 to reach the Final Four again this year but we do think the #10’s will have some success in the first round. Marquette is a small one-point dog against South Carolina, who lost five of their last seven games entering the tournament with three straight games shooting under 37%. Wichita State is another lower-seeded team that is listed as the favorite. Those games see the #10 advance, with St. Mary’s and Michigan also advancing (Marquette, St. Mary’s, Michigan, Wichita State).
The four games involving #8 vs. #9 seeds have traditionally been toss-ups, and this year is no exception. The Big Ten Conference has three teams in these matchups, with Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Michigan State in action. Of those three, only Wisconsin moves on, with the Wildcats and Spartans falling due to a lack of offense. The fourth game features Arkansas vs. Seton Hall, and we’ll give the nod to Seton Hall as they beat Creighton, Xavier, Butler, and Marquette (four tournament teams) in their last eight games over a tough stretch (lost twice vs. Villanova in that span). Two #8’s advance and two fall (Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Miami, Seton Hall).
NCAA Tournament Second Round
While all four #1 seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last year, that hasn’t consistently been the case of late. A top seeded team has lost in the Second Round in four of the last six years, with Villanova’s early exit in 2015 being the most recent. We just don’t see the potential for an upset this year thanks to the strength of the #8 and #9 teams. All four #1’s advance for the second year in a row (Villanova, Gonzaga, Kansas, North Carolina).
Three years ago, a pair of #2 seeds lost in the Second Round, while two years ago all four #2 seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Last year, two more #2 seeds couldn’t make it out of the first weekend as Michigan State fell in their opener and then Xavier was upset by #7 Wisconsin. Using the “zig-zag” theory, all four #2 seeds should advance this year, and we are comfortable with that prediction based on the quality of teams in that number two slot. Advance all four #2 seeds (Duke, Arizona, Louisville, Kentucky).
We already have one #3 seed eliminated, and the team in its spot (Florida Gulf Coast) becomes the Cindarella team of the tournament as they move past Xavier and reach the Sweet Sixteen as a #14 seed. None of the other three #3 seeds are in real danger (Baylor could have some trouble depending on their matchup). Advance FGCU and the #3 seeds (Baylor, Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon, UCLA).
The last set of games is much tougher to call. Florida vs. Virginia is a classic “offense vs. defense” matchup, and we’ll go with the better defense and have the Cavaliers move on. Notre Dame vs. West Virginia is virtual tossup, and we’ll go with the Mountaineers due to their better ppg averages on both offense and defense with everything else being a wash. That leaves a pair of #12 vs. #4 matchups remaining, and while we expect Butler to advance without trouble, we’ll call for Nevada to pull yet another upset and knock the Big Ten completely out of the tournament. Only two #4 seeds survive the first weekend (Virginia, West Virginia, Nevada, Butler).
NCAA Tournament Third Round – Sweet 16
As we enter the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, we have all the #1 and #2 seeds remaining, with a few surprises along the way. No more taking the easy way out – it’s time for some big upsets.
No surprises in the East region, with both Villanova and Duke advancing. Both teams are relatively safe to reach this point, and if they were to lose prior to meeting in the Elite Eight it would be considered one of the bigger upsets of the tournament. Move the top two seeds along (Villanova, Duke).
In the West region, we have our first #1 seed losing as Gonzaga can’t get past West Virginia. The Zags have had a fantastic season, and signature wins against Florida and Arizona were certainly impressive. We don’t think they can match the level of defense that they did in those two big victories while also stay red hot from the floor against an active WVU defense, so the Zags go down. FGCU had a good run, but they can’t get past Arizona, so we have a #4 vs. #2 matchup in the Elite Eight (West Virginia, Arizona).
The other double-digit seed remaining after the first weekend was Nevada, but they run into a solid all-around Kansas team. Don’t overthink things and advance the top seed. The other matchup in the Midwest region is a great matchup between Oregon and Louisville. Louisville is the better seed but we like Oregon to win. Cardinals did not play well down the stretch losing three of their last five, and while Oregon didn’t receive the national exposure as some other quality teams (since they play on the west coast), we are very high on the Ducks. Oregon scores enough to outlast Louisville. That means we have a #1 vs. #3 matchup coming up (Kansas, Oregon).
The last region to cover is the South, where UNC takes on Butler and UCLA faces Kentucky. Just like the Midwest region, we like the #1 team to advance without much fanfare, but we also like the Pac 12’s #3 seed to upset the #2. UCLA, like Oregon, hasn’t received much attention by playing after bed time on the east coast, but they have been great all year long and they have the offense to match – if not exceed – Kentucky here. Bruins put up 86 ppg on 50% shooting on the road this season, and they edge out the Wildcats in a thriller. Another #1 vs. #3 matchup in the Elite Eight (North Carolina, UCLA).
NCAA Tournament Fourth Round – Elite 8
We are down to the last eight teams, with no team remaining being higher than a #4 seed. Last year, all four #1 seeds reached the Elite Eight, and only two teams (Notre Dame and Syracuse) were higher than a #2 seed. We’ve already lost one top-seeded team (Gonzaga) along the way, and we expect two more to fall in this round.
Villanova vs. Duke pits two of the best teams in the country against each other, and also two of the favorites to win it all according to bovada.lv. Wildcats won it all last year and so they have the confidence and experience to get through this tough game. Blue Devils have reached the Final Four just once in the last six years, and they come up short again here. West Virginia is in a bad motivational spot after knocking off #1 seed Gonzaga two days prior, so we’ll play against them in this spot as Arizona moves on. On the other half of the bracket, we look for the Pac 12 to make a huge statement and upset the top seeds in their regions. UCLA and Oregon both have the offensive firepower to keep up the top seeds, and can use their underdog label as extra motivation to reach the Final Four. Only one #1 seed remains (Villanova, Arizona, Oregon, UCLA).
NCAA Tournament Final Four
Last year North Carolina was the lone #1 seed to reach the Final Four, as they were joined by a pair of #2 seeds (Villanova and Oklahoma) along with surprising Syracuse as a #10 seed. This year, we have a lone #1 seed reaching the Final Four once again, with Villanova looking to defend their crown against a trio of teams from the Pac 12.
We won’t see an all-Pac 12 Championship Game, however, as Villanova survives Arizona. That means a #1 seed will reach the Championship Game once again. The other game pits a pair of #3 seeds, and if the first two matchups of the season were any indication of what’s to come, we are in for a treat. Oregon won by two points on their home floor in the first matchup, but lost by three in UCLA a few months later. Bruins held decisive shooting edges in both matchups, so we’ll back the Bruins to win the rubber match. (Villanova, UCLA).
Can the Wildcats defend their title? We believe they can and will. Villanova has a safe and easy path through the first three rounds, and as mentioned earlier they have the experience to handle this moment. Great showing by the Pac 12 and they earn some much deserved recognition for a fantastic season, but for the second year in a row it’s Villanova that hoists the trophy in a high-scoring finale, winning 88-83 (Villanova).
Good Luck and enjoy the tournament.