Roundtable: What to expect from a Madness-filled March

Ethan Happ and Wisconsin made a surprise run to the Sweet 16 last year. How far will they make it in 2017?

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How far will Wisconsin go?

Zach Rastall: Round of 32

Wisconsin’s play in the Big Ten Tournament inspired renewed hope that they could make a little run in the NCAA Tournament, only to have that optimism promptly squashed into tiny bits by the selection committee. The Badgers get a tough first-round matchup against Virginia Tech, and a win would likely get them a date with Villanova, the top seed in the tournament. While Ethan Happ could exploit the Wildcats’ so-so interior defense, knocking off the defending national champions seems like too tall of an order for Wisconsin.

Ben Pickman: Round of 32

Thursday’s game against Virginia Tech will be no walkover for the Badgers. Wisconsin has a quick turnaround after falling Sunday afternoon in the Big Ten Championship game and is set to face off against a Hokie team that will be well-rested. Virginia Tech has wins over Michigan, Duke and Virginia on the season, but the Badgers should be able to knock them off. Their next opponent would be Villanova, though. The defending national champions won’t go away quietly, and knocking them off seems like a task that is too improbable.

Thomas Valtin-Erwin: Round of 32

The Badgers should breeze past No. 9 seed Virginia Tech in the first round, but a victory Thursday was almost certainly earning them a date with Villanova, which could be the best team in the field. It wouldn’t take a miracle for UW to upend the Wildcats in the second round, and it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented—No. 8 seeds have won roughly 1-in-5 games against No. 1 seeds—but it still feels unlikely. Josh Hart is making a serious run toward the Wooden Award and Villanova clearly knows how to win games. The Wildcats haven’t lost more than five games since 2013.

Who is a dark horse to win the tournament?

ZR: No. 3 UCLA

The Bruins are a really tough team to peg down. Lonzo Ball and Friends play a style of offense that is both a ton of fun to watch and crazy efficient. However, they are also, to put it kindly, not good on defense. This is a team that has the tools to make it to the Final Four, but it also wouldn’t be that surprising to see them bounced before the first weekend is over. But if they can overcome their defensive deficiencies and be coached by Steve Alford, the Bruins can do some damage.

BP: No. 2 Duke

While the Blue Devils have eight losses and are a No. 2 seed in the East Regional, the ACC Champions have as a good a chance as anyone to win the National Championship. They are loaded with talent and have shown that they can not only play with but beat anybody in the country. While the East Region has the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, if Duke can get out of New York still alive then look out for the Blue Devils in Phoenix.

TVE: No. 4 West Virginia

The Mountaineers were one of the best teams in the country last season, and not much has changed. I saw them as one of the favorites to win the title as a No. 3 seed in 2016, and while they choked in the first round, I see no reason that that prediction should change in 2017. WVU benefits from the weakest region and should have a smooth path to the championship outside of what will be a sensational matchup with No. 1 Gonzaga.

Which First Round matchup is a guaranteed upset?

ZR: No. 12 Middle Tennessee over No. 5 Minnesota

I promise this isn’t purely fueled by bitterness over Wisconsin’s seeding controversy. The Gophers are a heck of a team and what they’ve done this year is remarkable. But they recently lost senior guard Akeem Springs to an Achilles injury and are going up against a really tough Middle Tennessee squad that’s better than a No. 12 seed. If the Blue Raiders can generate a lot of points in transition, which they’ve been doing quite well all season, Minnesota’s return to the NCAA Tournament could be rather brief.

BP: No. 11 Rhode Island over No. 6 Creighton

While it’s safe to assume that most Wisconsin fans are hoping that the winner of New Orleans-Mount St. Mary’s will be the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed so that the Badgers can avoid Villanova, No. 11 seed Rhode Island knocking off No. 6 seed Creighton is a far more likely upset. The Rams won the AAC tournament with convincing victories over St. Bonaventure, Dayton and VCU, while the Bluejays have struggled in the second half of the season after their starting point guard, Maurice Watson Jr., tore his ACL.

TVE: No. 10 Wichita State over No. 7 Dayton

This isn’t a jaw-dropping upset pick by any means, but my rating system gives the Shockers nearly an 80 percent chance to take down the Flyers in the First Round. In terms of win probability, this looks less like a 10-7 game and more like a 13-4 matchup—with Wichita State as the No. 4 seed. The Shockers are a really good ball club, and I think they have a pretty good shot at running through to the Final Four.

Which teams will make the Final Four?

ZR: No. 1 Kansas, No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Duke

I like the Jayhawks to make it back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012 and quell some of that “Bill Self can’t win in March” nonsense. The Blue Devils and the Tar Heels will get there because life is cruel and morality is a lie. And I’m picking the Bulldogs to finally get over the hump and make it to college basketball’s final weekend.

BP: No. 1 Kansas, No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 3 UCLA, No. 2 Duke

Get ready for a lot of Lavar Ball, father of UCLA superstar guard Lonzo Ball, in the next month. A few weeks ago, Lavar said that his son was already better than two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry. All he’s done since then is say more ludicrous things. All Lonzo has done is lead the nation in assists and help the Bruins become one of the best teams in the nation. Expect UCLA to run through the South region and the Blue Devils to emerge from the East. No. 1 seeds Kansas and Gonzaga have relatively easy paths and should be able to book themselves a date in Phoenix.

TVE: No. 1 Villanova, No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 2 Louisville, No. 10 Wichita State

Like I said, Wichita State can play basketball. I have the Shockers favored in the First Round over Dayton by a landslide, but then they’ll most likely find Kentucky and UCLA waiting for them in the next two rounds. However, I still have Wichita State as a favorite against even those blue blood programs. Gonzaga is the best team in the country and Villanova is just a shade behind the Zags, while Louisville gets some luck with injuries against Oregon and Creighton.

Which team will win the National Championship Game?

ZR: Gonzaga over Kansas

I’m really torn between picking these two teams, but I’ll go all-in on the Zags. This is Mark Few’s best team yet and they’ve been the No. 1 KenPom team for much of the season for a reason (and yes, KenPom factors in their schedule and conference). Gonzaga is a well-rounded squad with all the pieces necessary to win a national title. The Bulldogs are easily one of the country’s best teams this year, and that remains true even if they are knocked out earlier than expected in the somewhat unpredictable chaos that is March Madness.

BP: Kansas over Gonzaga

Rock Chalk. Senior guard Frank Mason III might be the best player in the country, but he is surrounded by a plethora of other talented pieces in Josh Jackson, Devonte’ Graham, Landen Lucas, and Svi Mykhailiuk. Gonzaga is a complete team and no matter whether they win the National Championship or lose in the rounds prior to the Final Four, their season should be considered a success. Too many times this year though Mason, Jackson and co. have made big shots in crucial moments. The National Championship game will be no different.

TVE: Gonzaga over Wichita State

I’ve written plenty about Wichita State already here, but I’ll add that I think the Shockers can overcome North Carolina with a little bit of luck. On top of that, my two colleagues both chose No. 1 seeds to face off in the Championship Game, and that wouldn’t be fun. Unfortunately for Wichita State, this is the Zags’ year. Mark Few has the best team he’s ever had, and Gonzaga was a hair away from an undefeated season. The Shockers’ miracle run comes to a heartbreaking end, but the Zags flip the narrative that they can’t win in March to become the second-straight non-Power 5 team to win a title.

Check out the Daily Cardinal's full NCAA Tournament Preview package here.

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