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2017 March Madness Preview

First+Round+action+gets+underway+on+Thursday+at+11%3A15+central.
First Round action gets underway on Thursday at 11:15 central.

First Round action gets underway on Thursday at 11:15 central.

Vimeo /CC

Vimeo /CC

First Round action gets underway on Thursday at 11:15 central.

TJ Murbach, Staff Writer

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After a chaotic season, filled with parody and upsets, the wait is over, March Madness has arrived. Here is an outlook on some of the contenders in each region.

East:

Favorites:

(1)Villanova- The defending National Champions enter the tournament with the least amount of losses for any defending champion since 2002, earning them the top overall seed. Lead by senior guard Josh Hart, local native Jalen Brunson, and a number of other returning players from last season, the Wildcats may be on their way to being the first repeat champion since Florida won in 2006 and 2007.

(2)Duke- The Blue Devils enter the tournament as one of the nation’s hottest teams, winning four games over four days to capture the ACC tournament crown. Duke’s roster is one of the most talented in the nation, which made them the preseason favorite to win the title. After underperforming early on, everything for the Blue Devils seems to be coming together at the perfect time to make some noise in March.

Dark Horse:

(6)SMU- The Mustangs are riding a 16-game winning streak going into the dance and boast the No. 3-ranked scoring defense in the nation, mostly due to their unconventional “positionless” starting lineup. All five of their starters are extremely athletic and at least 6”6” and 200 pounds, creating a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.  

 

West:

Favorites:

(2)Arizona- After missing the first 19 games of the season due to a PED suspension, sophomore guard Allonzo Trier’s return to action has given Arizona a major spark and a second dominant scorer to compliment freshman forward Lauri Markkanen. Along with those offensive weapons, the Wildcats’s lockdown perimeter defense and solid rebounding makes Arizona a serious threat to break out of their Elite Eight trap, where they have been eliminated in three of the last seven seasons, and make the Final Four for the first time since 2001.

(3)Florida State- With a resume packed with quality wins, the Seminoles have proven they can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the nation.  Florida State has one of the deepest teams in the country, with 11 players averaging double-digit minutes per game, led by Dwayne Bacon’s 28.5 minutes per game, along with 16.9 points per game. The spread-out playing time will keep the Seminoles fresh throughout the tournament, putting them in a good spot for a deep tournament run.

Dark Horse:

(5)Notre Dame- The Fighting Irish showed promising signs during their run in the ACC tournament before falling to Duke in the championship game. Notre Dame leads the country in free-throw percentage and has one of the nation’s best lineup of three-point shooters. Put all of that around dominant big man Bonzie Colson, who averages an impressive 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, and the Irish have one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the tournament. All of these statistics show a dominant team and make them a tough team to eliminate.

 

Northwestern makes history:

(8)Northwestern- Just months after the Cubs ended their 108-year World Series drought, Chicago sports fans had another long drought come to an end: Northwestern ended 78 years of waiting and was finally selected for the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s history. Northwestern does not rely on just one player to win; instead, the team has a three-headed monster consisting of Bryant Mcintosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lynsey to give the Wildcats balance and potential to advance at least one round in the tournament.

 

Midwest:

Favorites:

(1)Kansas- Despite various off-the-court issues throughout the season, the Jayhawks still managed to win their 13th-consecutive regular season Big 12 title, tying the record set by John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins for the most consecutive conference titles. Headlined by National Player of the Year frontrunner Frank Mason, the Jayhawks have one of the nation’s most potent backcourts with junior Devonte’ Graham alongside Mason. With a player like Mason leading the charge, it is tough to see any team knocking off the Jayhawks.

(3)Oregon- Despite losing to Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game, many feel Oregon should have been seeded higher due to their impressive regular season. An injury to the team’s leading shot blocker Chris Boucher in the Pac-12 semifinals may have influenced the committee to seed Oregon a little lower than where their resume would suggest they should be. But this one injury may not be enough to derail the Ducks; with star players Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey, Oregon has more than enough talent to make a Final Four run.  

Dark Horse:

(7)Michigan- The sharpshooting Wolverines have caught fire as of late, winning 10 of their last 12 games, including a 15-point rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. has been firing on all cylinders as of late, scoring at least 18 points in four of his last five games, including an 18-point, 16-assist performance against Nebraska in Michigan’s regular season finale. If the Wolverines can stay hot, they could end up being the lowest-seeded team to reach the Final Four this year.

 

South:

Favorites:

(1)North Carolina- After falling to Villanova in the National Championship last season, North Carolina returns many key pieces to help push themselves to another championship run. Senior big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks give the Tar Heels a major advantage on the glass. North Carolina is by far the best rebounding team in the nation, with a whopping +12.7 rebound per game margin, which is 3.4 rebounds ahead of the second-place team, Saint Mary’s. With their dominant rebounding and elite offensive production from Justin Jackson and Joel Berry, the Tar Heels are one of the frontrunners to cut down the nets in April.

(3)UCLA- Despite being criticized all season for playing poor defense, UCLA is still a leading contender to make it to the Final Four because of their top-ranked offense, led by freshman sensation Lonzo Ball. But it is not just the Lonzo Ball Show, as the Bruins average a nation-best 21.5 assists per game as a team, UCLA gets offensive production from multiple different players along with Ball, such as senior Bryce Alford, who just became the fifth all-time leading scorer in UCLA’s storied history. Expect the Bruins to light up the scoreboard and give the Tar Heels a run for their money for a spot in the Final Four.

Dark Horse:

(12)Middle Tennessee State- Following a stunning first-round upset of Michigan State last season, Middle Tennessee State has much more hype heading into this year’s tournament. The Blue Raiders finished the season with an impressive 30-4 record, including a 23-point domination of Vanderbilt. With JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts back, they bring veteran leadership and scoring ability from last year’s team. Look for Middle Tennessee State to bust some brackets and make a push for the Sweet 16.

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2017 March Madness Preview