Round of 64
(1) Villanova vs. Mt. St. Mary’s/New Orleans
The defending champions are poised to repeat and don’t expect an upset in the round of 64. On paper, New Orleans or Mt. St. Mary’s don’t appear to be a match for Villanova. Mt. St. Mary’s is scrappy and undersized, but struggle to rebound the basketball. New Orleans is prone to turnovers. The Wildcats will have an easy opening round.
(8) Wisconsin vs. (9) Virginia Tech
This could be the best matchup in the round of 64. This isn’t as good of a Wisconsin team as we are used to seeing, but the Badgers are still good. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are capable of leading Wisconsin on a major run in this tournament. Virginia Tech is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years. The Hokies like to play fast and are a good outside shooting team. If Tech shoots 40 percent or more from beyond the arc, this game will be extremely close. Outside of that, Wisconsin should win in a close one.
(5) Virginia vs. (12) UNC-Wilmington
Remember when picking a 12th seed to defeat a No. 5 seed was trendy? Well, this could be your game. These schools have vastly different styles. The Seahawks like to play fast, press and score lots of points. Virginia, meanwhile, generally leads the nation in scoring defense and forces opponents to make outside shots. Scoring inside the paint is tough against UVA. UNC-Wilmington has a strong starting lineup and will likely make this a close game, but the Cavaliers will wear UNCW down and win a close one.
(4) Florida vs. (13) East Tennessee State
Here’s the game that should have folks on upset alert. ETSU has a talented veteran roster that is solid on both ends of the floor. The Gators had a strong season, but struggled down the stretch after losing center John Egbunu. Florida last three of its last four games, struggling to adjust to life after Egbunu.
(6) SMU vs. (11) Providence/USC
SMU may be one of the best teams in the country that no one knows about. The Mustangs won 30 games are one of the hottest teams in the country. They could make a big run in this tournament. Getting past their first opponent, whether it’s Providence or USC, won’t be easy. USC is the deeper and more talented team, with Providence the more battle-tested school. USC will win a close one just to fall to the Mustangs in the round of 64.
(3) Baylor vs. (14) New Mexico State
These schools have played twice in the last three years with Baylor taking both wins. The third-seeded Bears get to play in Tulsa, which isn’t too far from Waco. So, this is like a home game for Baylor. Ian Baker, Braxton Huggins and Eli Chuha lead a talented, high-scoring Aggies squad. Baylor, led by Johnathan Motley, lost six of its final 12 games after a big-time start to the season. The Bears win a close one.
(7) South Carolina vs. (10) Marquette
This could be one of the tougher matchups to predict. The Gamecocks, some feel, were seeded a bit too high. This is SC’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2004 and the ‘Cocks don’t even have to leave the state of South Carolina for this one. Marquette is back in the tournament for the first time in four years and this is head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s first time in the big dance as the head man. The Golden Eagles are one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country, while the Gamecocks play stingy defense. Marquette has another strong day from beyond the arc to advance to the round of 32.
(2) Duke vs. (15) Troy
Duke was supposed to win over 30 regular season games and head into the NCAA Tournament as the top overall seed with a clear path to the Final Four. Well, things didn’t quite work out that way for the Blue Devils, but they enter the Big Dance as perhaps the hottest team in the country. Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum make Duke scary on offense. Thanks for playing, Troy, but the Blue Devils win this one by 30.
Round of 32
(1) Villanova vs. (8) Wisconsin
This will be a fun game in round two. Both are veteran teams that play strong defense. The Badgers are an experienced tournament team with Koenig and Hayes still on the roster. Villanova will have its hands full with the Badgers and this game will be close until the end. Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart hit some big shots down the stretch and send ‘Nova to the Sweet 16.
(5) Virginia vs. (13) ETSU
This isn’t Virginia’s best team. However, head coach Tony Bennett still has this team doing things the Cavalier way. They take care of the basketball and play suffocating defense. At times this year, the Wahoos looked like a top-10 team, but down the stretch were exposed minus Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill from a year ago. Fortunately for UVA, it gets East Tennessee St. in the round of 32 and that’ll be enough to send Bennett to the Sweet 16.
(6) SMU vs. (3) Baylor
The two best teams in the state of Texas square off in the round of 32. SMU enters the tournament on a roll, while Baylor was average down the stretch. Both teams have solid big men in Motley (Baylor) and Semi Ojeleye (SMU). Baylor may have played the tougher schedule in the Big 12, but the Mustangs are the better team. And that will be evident when the two teams face off.
(10) Marquette vs. (1) Duke
This one will be a bit nostalgic for Wojo as he faces off against his alma mater and mentor in Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K will certainly be happy for his former point guard and top aide, but don’t expect it to show on the court. Marquette’s outside shooting will keep it closer than it should be. Duke just has too much talent for this one to be close down the stretch. The Blue Devils will pull away early in the second half.
(1) Villanova vs. (5) Virginia
Remember back on January 29 when the top-ranked Wildcats hosted the then-12th-ranked Cavaliers in an epic showdown in Philly? Virginia led for most of the game, including a double-digit halftime lead. However, ‘Nova kept chipping away and won the game on a last-second tip-in at the buzzer in one of the best games of the regular season. Things have changed since then. The Wildcats have continued to look like an elite team, while the ‘Hoos have had their issues on the offensive end of the court. Virginia will keep it close, but Villanova has too much offensive firepower for the Cavaliers.
(6) SMU vs. (2) Duke
The Mustangs will present some matchup problems for the second-seeded Blue Devils. Duke has struggled to defend for much of the season and those issues still continue. It’s on offense where the Blue Devils knock out their opponents. If SMU can limit Kennard and Allen, it has a chance to pull off the upset. Kennard has been Duke’s most consistent player all season. Tatum, though, is Duke’s best player and SMU will have no answer for him. The Mustangs will hang around, but the Blue Devils should pull away in the final minutes.
(1) Villanova vs. (2) Duke
This is what you predicted, right? These are the two best teams in the East region and an argument could be made that these are the best two teams in the country. The Wildcats, led by Brunson, Hart and Kris Jenkins, are the deeper team with eight players averaging at least 24 minutes. The Blue Devils rely mainly on six players with a little bit of freshman Harry Giles mixed in. Both teams are efficient offensively, while ‘Nova is the better defensive team. The Wildcats are the first defending champion to be seeded No. 1 the following season. Florida was the last team to earn that honor and the Gators repeated as champs. Villanova wins this one in the final seconds of an epic battle to head back to the Final Four.