2017 NCAA Tournament Bold Predictions

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KANSAS LOSES IN THE SWEET 16: This one pains me to say. Truly. Because I’ve ridden harder for Kansas and Frank Mason III than anyone with an address outside of Lawrence. I picked them to win it all in October. I’ve had Mason as the Player of the Year since he made that game-winner against Duke on the fifth day of the season. The problem with the Jayhawks is that they don’t have any depth up front, and when they end up playing Purdue and Caleb Swanigan in the Sweet 16, the big fella is going to give Landen Lucas all the fouls. All of them. I don’t want it to happen — I openly root for myself to be right about everything I say — but it will. Sorry, KU. (Rob Dauster)

GONZAGA WINS IT ALL: The fourth No. 1 seed will cut down the nets. It’ll be the coronation for Mark Few and the program he’s built in Spokane. Either Notre Dame or West Virginia pose a threat in a potential Sweet 16 matchup, and there is the rematch we’re all dreaming of in the Elite Eight with Arizona. But I think this is the Zags’ year. They really check all the boxes: they’re deep, balanced, big, can make shots, experienced. (Terrence Payne)

FLORIDA STATE TAKES DOWN ARIZONA IN THE SWEET 16: Arizona enters the NCAA tournament riding high after the Pac-12 Tournament title but the No. 2 seed in the West Region has a potential matchup nightmare in the Sweet 16 against No. 3 seed Florida State. The Seminoles have one of the few players in the field in Jonathan Isaac who might be able to slow down Lauri Markkanen. (Scott Phillips)

Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

SAINT MARY’S WILL PLAY IN THE FINAL FOUR: Yeah, they’ll have to get by a couple of west coast powers to get there, but this Gaels team has got the goods. In a potential second-round matchup, Arizona will allow them to play at their prodding pace and get good looks inside and at the arc that it’ll take to pull the upset. Then, in the Elite Eight, the Gaels will finally break through in their fourth meeting against Gonzaga, denying their rivals their first trip to the Final Four while booking their own. (Travis Hines)

CINCINNATI WILL MAKE LAVAR BALL SHUT UP: The Bearcats have a good defense to slow down the Bruins and an improved offense that could look even better against a lackluster UCLA defense. Cincy is tough and physical, and they are going to beat up the Bruins. Lock it in now, get rich. (TP)

JAYSON TATUM PLAYS HIS WAY TO NO. 1: Markelle Fultz can’t hurt his draft stock because his Washington team is done after going 9-22, but Tatum can help his own. The Duke freshman has thrived since moving to power forward, and he’ll have a chance to showcase those skills in the East, easily the most difficult region. He’ll then get the opportunity to play in a title game against Kansas, where his play against fellow frosh Josh Jackson will elevate him ahead of Fultz on draft boards. (TH)

THERE WILL BE NO NO. 1 SEEDS IN THE FINAL FOUR: Is this even all that bold of a prediction? Kansas gets picked off by Purdue once they run into foul trouble. Gonzaga gets exposed as a team that doesn’t have the same level of high-end talent as Arizona, and they don’t matchup well with Notre Dame or West Virginia. Villanova runs into Duke in the Elite 8. North Carolina will, in all likelihood, have to dispatch Kentucky or UCLA in the Elite 8. (RD)

BRACKETS: Cinderellas | Upset Watch | CBT Podcast | Unsung Heroes

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

MIDDLE TENNESSEE MAKES AN ELITE 8 RUN: America should know all about the Blue Raiders after last year’s win over Michigan State when they were a No. 15 seed. Now earning more respect as a No. 12 seed, the Conference USA champions have a favorable draw and could make more noise this season. Kermit Davis is coming for you, UNC. (SP)

NOTRE DAME REACHES THE FINAL FOUR: Mike Brey is the most underrated coach in the country. He’s been to back-to-back Elite 8s, and he’s about to make it a third-straight. Matt Farrell is going to surprise everyone and Bonzie Colson is going to be the Most Outstanding Player in the West Region. There is no one in college basketball better at building an offense around a point guard that loves ball-screens and a bunch of dudes that love to shoot threes than Mike Brey, and that is how you win games in March. (RD)

THE BIG TEN DOESN’T MAKE IT OUT OF THE FIRST WEEKEND: Big Ten earned seven bids, but the committee didn’t think two highly of them. In some cases, like Michigan State and Northwestern, both in Nos. 8-9 matchups, neither are favored, but even the league’s highest seeds will have a tough road. Purdue is playing a Vermont whose last loss was pre-Christmas. That’s followed by a potential second round clash with red-hot Iowa State. Minnesota gets Middle Tennessee State one year after the Blue Raiders upended Michigan State and Maryland is playing a Xavier team that had a much better showing last week after a seven-game losing streak to close out the year. (TP)

WAKE FOREST GOES FROM THE FIRST FOUR TO THE ELITE 8: The Demon Deacons, powered by John Collins, dispatch Kansas State in the first four, handle Cincinnati in the first round and knock off UCLA to reach a Sweet 16, where Wichita State awaits after upsetting Kentucky. There, the Shockers cant contain Collins and Wake Forest moves on only to be stopped by North Carolina. (TH)

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, and Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

 

VIDEO: Jordan Bell’s spectacular chase-down block

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Oregon big man Jordan Bell has been the best player on the floor for the Ducks against Kansas, totally changing the way that Kansas wants to play with his defense.

As of the time of this posting, he had nine points, 11 boards, seven blocks and three assists, but his impact is not solely limited to the shots he swatted — every Kansas player that gets into the lane is very aware of the fact that Bell is lurking around the rim.

The thought of him changes shots.

The best block he’s had today came midway through the second half, when he snuffed out a dunk attempt from Landen Lucas with an impressive chase-down block:

No. 1 Gonzaga reaches first Final Four with win over No. 11 Xavier

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It took 18 long years, but after Gonzaga exploded onto the national scene with a Cinderella run that came one possession short of the Final Four in 1999, after the program followed up that run with back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed, after 19 straight trips to the NCAA tournament marred by moments of unfathomable heartbreak, the nation’s preeminent mid-major success story is finally headed to the Final Four.

What will the ‘Gonzaga is overrated’ crowd say now?

Armed with a roster that included a pair of blue-chip guards in their back court, a trio of high-major transfers and a McDonald’s All-American and future first round pick coming off the bench, Mark Few knocked off No. 11 seed Xavier, 83-59, on Saturday night to win the West Region and punch his first ticket to the final weekend of the college basketball season. Nigel Williams-Goss led the way with 23 points, eight boards and four assists and Johnathan Williams III, who was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player, added 19 points and nine boards as Gonzaga buried 12 threes and jumped out to an early lead they would never relinquish in a game that never felt like it was in doubt.

And with that, the monkey on Mark Few’s back is now gone.

“It means everything that we could deliver for guys like this,” Mark Few said after the game. Few had been the winningest NCAA tournament coach without a Final Four on his résumé. “They believed in us when they came. This is what we wanted to do and set out to do, and these guys were unbelievable. I could not be happier for all these guys, all our former players and all of Zag Nation.”

Whether or not that monkey was deserved is a fair question to ask. Gonzaga has had an incredible amount of success in the NCAA tournament. They’ve won at least one game in 16 of the 19 NCAA tournaments, including this year, that they’ve been a part of, including five of the six years in which they were a double-digit seed. In 13 of the previous 18 NCAA tournaments they played in, they advanced as far or further than their seed suggested they should have. Only five times did they lose to a team that was seeded lower than them. They’ve won 17 WCC regular season titles and 15 WCC tournament titles during that span.

What they’ve done, the consistency of the success that they’ve had, is not something done easily.

And it’s not something that should be overlooked when you consider where this program was in the early 90s. When Few was hired as an assistant coach in 1990, Gonzaga was thought of as the worst job in the WCC. The program, located in Spokane, Washington, which isn’t exactly a hotbed for recruiting, had never been to an NCAA tournament. The school didn’t even have a weight room for the team.

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

“Players would sign out sweats and jerseys at the beginning of every school year and turn them back in nine months later,” wrote Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg earlier this week. “Sneakers were the only gear players received new, but obtaining a fresh pair typically required proving the old ones had a hole in the bottom.”

Within five years, Gonzaga was in the NCAA tournament. Within nine years, they had won the league and reached the Elite 8. Within 15 years, the school opened up a sparkling, $25-million, 6,000-seat arena, chartering flights for road games and recruiting trips.

Today, Gonzaga is arguably a top ten program in the sport

It is, quite literally, college basketball’s best rags-to-riches story.

They shouldn’t need this to justify their standing in the sport. Few shouldn’t need this to legitimize himself as something more than a coach feasting on a conference that can’t compete.

“My legacy is I guess built on a lot of other things,” Few said on Friday. “It’s built on the respect my players have for me and how they feel about they were treated and coached and developed and all that.”

“I’m schlepping along right now like vastly far behind my father who is 54 years a Presbyterian minister, man. He’s saved thousands of souls. He’s helped hundreds and thousands of people through all their tough times, you know. And that’s kind of the legacy that I’m looking at.”

But that’s not how our sport works.

March means everything.

If you can’t win on the biggest stage, if you don’t have that level of success when all eyes turn to college basketball, then everything you did during the previous four months is written off.

It’s not fair.

But that’s just how it is.

And now, nearly two decades removed from their introduction into the national consciousness, Gonzaga’s detractors no longer have that leg to stand on.