For the most part, I think that we all mostly wants the same thing to happen in the NCAA tournament: The first weekend should be rife with upsets, Cinderellas and little guys sticking it to the big guys.
The second weekend, however, should be very different.
Once we get past the madness of the first two days of the dance, you should be rooting for the chalk, because that means that in the biggest games of the year we have the best teams in the country facing off. It’s fun to see FGCU or Middle Tennessee State win a game, but in the Elite 8, I want to see Duke playing Virginia, or Kentucky playing North Carolina, or Arizona taking on Gonzaga. I want a Final Four chock full of blue bloods and lottery picks and the best teams in the country.
The best Final Four I ever covered was in 2015, when 38-0 Kentucky advanced with Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan State. The worst? When No. 3 seed UConn won it all in a final weekend that included No. 4 seed Kentucky, No. 8 seed Butler and No. 11 seed VCU.
I want the former. Here are the teams that could make the latter happen:
No. 6 seed SMU: The Mustangs are probably the best team in the country that you have yet to see play. They aren’t all that deep, but their top six can matchup with just about any. Semi Ojeleye is the name to know, a muscular 6-foot-7 athlete that plays a small-ball four role for Tim Jankovich. He and point guard Shake Milton are both likely to get drafted, while Sterling Moore has a shot of sticking in the NBA and Ben Moore and Jarrey Foster are really good role players at this level. They defend, they are balanced and they are really well-coached. It’s not a fluke that SMU won the AAC regular season and tournament title this season.
The question with this team is whether or not they can knock off the elite teams in the country. We haven’t really seen them get the chance yet. I think they matchup very well with Baylor in the second round, and any potential matchups with Duke and Villanova are favorable because they can trot out a lineup that can matchup with the smaller looks those two give. Running through the east is going to be a nightmare, but I do think the Mustangs have the horses to make it happen.
No. 5 seed Notre Dame or No. 4 seed West Virginia: The winner of a potential second round game between the Fighting Irish and the Mountaineers seems like a pretty good bet to get to the Final Four this season. For starters, I think both of these teams matchup well with Gonzaga. The Irish spread the floor with shooters and have a point guard that thrives in ball-screen actions, which is one of the best ways to beat the Zags and their slow-footed, 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski, and a power forward in Bonzie Colson that thrives on the block.
And once the Irish get to the Elite 8, anything can happen. Notre Dame has terrific point guard play, they are lethal from beyond the arc and they are very well coached. They don’t have the same level of talent as Florida State or Arizona at the bottom of the bracket, but that hasn’t stopped this Irish program from reaching back-to-back Elite 8s.
West Virginia, like Notre Dame, is a team that I think can get past Gonzaga for the same reason I think the Irish can: the matchup. As good as Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins are, they aren’t the most athletic pair of guards. The concern with them is what happens when they go up against a back court that’s tough, physical and athletic and pressures them for 94 feet. That’s what West Virginia does, and if they Mountaineers can get past the Zags, they will be facing a team that had to play just 48 hours earlier and had one day to prepare for a style that is totally different from the style that most teams play.
No. 10 seed Wichita State: Is Wichita State good enough to get to the Final Four? In a vacuum, yes. Of course they are. They rank in the top ten on KenPom, meaning that the metric that most believe is the most accurate in determining who the best teams in the country are, and they’ve been obliterating teams since the holidays. The biggest concern with Wichita State making a run to the Final Four? They may have to beat Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina to get there, to say nothing of having to dispatch a good Dayton team in the first round just to advance. I wouldn’t put it past Gregg Marshall to get there. He’s that good and his team is that good. But it’ll be one of the greatest NCAA tournament runs in history if it happens.
No. 7 seed Saint Mary’s: The Gaels, like SMU and Wichita State, are probably better than their seeding. SMC is an elite offensive team that doesn’t make mistakes, has shooters all over the floor and lines up with a center in Jock Landale that is as good as anyone at scoring on the block. I think they can get past VCU, which would give them a shot at Arizona in the second round. Do you think the Gaels would just at the chance to gets a fourth shot at Gonzaga in the Elite 8?
No. 5 seed Iowa State: Is there a hotter team in college basketball right now than the Cyclones? Ever since they moved Solomon Young into the starting lineup, they’ve been running through everyone. Monte’ Morris is playing great, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas are on fire and Deonte Burton looks like Draymond Green. They finished tied for second in the loaded Big 12, they won the Big 12 tournament and they are the only team since 2013 to win in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. A potential Sweet 16 date with the Jayhawks looms on the horizon, but the rest of that region seems awfully beatable.