BY- ALEX TAYLOR
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In November, 351 D1 schools began their quest for a championship.
Divided into 32 conferences, each had the exact same shot at qualifying for the big dance.
Win your conference title, and be guaranteed a berth in the tournament. Do anything else, and you would find yourself at the mercy of the selection committee.
With the conclusion of the conference championships this weekend, those automatic berths have finally been filled.
We have our teams. We have our bracket. Now the fun begins.
For the next three days, sports fans across the globe will be obsessively breaking down the chances of schools they’ve never heard of, all in the hope of winning their office pools.
Below is the official Sheridan Sun breakdown of each of the four brackets.
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It’s hard to see anyone other than Duke coming out of the East. The one-and-done poster boy Zion Williamson seems fully healed from his ankle injury last month, and Duke rebounded from two late season losses to win the ACC tournament. The 29-5 Blue Devils are arguably the best of the four No. 1 seeds, and the ease with which they handled their business over the weekend should put to bed any doubts that Duke is the team to beat in the country (let alone the region). There’s nothing to see here – expect the top seed to move through the bracket easily.
Sadly, the bottom of this bracket is much of the same. Yes, Maryland and LSU are flashy, but No. 2 Michigan State have rounded into shape at the perfect time. The winner of Maryland/LSU will put up a good fight, but Michigan State should make it through the base of the bracket, and face Duke in the Regional final.
Could the Spartans win? Yes – a No.2 seed over a No.1 would not be unheard of. But a healthy Zion is the best player in college basketball, and as corny as it sounds – this Duke team just seems special. They may not win it all, but they are definitely getting out of their region.
If it’s possible for a No.1 seed to stumble into March Madness after going 30-3 in the regular season, Gonzaga sure did it.
The Bulldogs handed Duke their first loss of the season back in November, and coasted through the rest of their schedule – all but assuring a top seed by the middle of February.
And yet, they lost their conference title in miserable fashion, losing to a 22-11 Saint Mary’s team that has to endure a play-in game just to qualify. The selection committee would never leave a 30-3 team out, but that’s not the point – most 30-3 teams don’t give the committee a choice.
Fans out west always harp on the fact that Gonzaga doesn’t get the love it deserves. They are always either the No. 1 or the No. 2 seed in the West region, yet they are rarely treated like a true contender.
There’s a reason for that.
In the 19 previous years that coach Mark Few has led the Bulldogs into the tournament, they have only made their way out of their region once.
It’s a pattern that should continue. Whether it be the second or third round, we do not see Gonzaga making it through the West.
The winner of the second-round matchup between Michigan and Nevada is everyone’s best bet to win this region, and face the East champion in the Final Four. The level of competition in the Big 10 conference is significantly more difficult than the West Coast Conference, and that’s something that pure standings can’t truly quantify.
Yes, Michigan has less wins and more losses than Gonzaga, but they play in a conference where eight teams made the tournament. The WCC only has Gonzaga.
Sorry Bulldog fans, but it’s apples and oranges.
It was only one year ago that Tony Bennett’s Virginia made history for all the wrong reasons.
After an absolutely dismal shooting performance, Virginia became the first No.1 seed in history to lose in the first round.
To their credit, they bounced back with a 29-3 season, earning another No.1 seed.
You have to feel for Gard-Webb college, the unlucky No. 16 that has been paired with Virginia this time around. Fresh off an embarrassment like last year, Bennett will almost certainly tell his players to step on the gas for the full 40 minutes. It won’t be pretty.
The South is by far the most intriguing bracket, and therefore is the murkiest.
At the top of the bracket, Virginia should make it through to the regional final. It’s hard to go 29-3 when you play in the same conference as Duke, and though they probably never will wash away the stink of last year’s exit, it’s unlikely to happen again.
The bottom of the bracket is where things get interesting. Tennessee should steam roll through the first two rounds, but the third-round matchup could prove devastating. Villanova seems like the quietest defending champions in history, and were only able to garner a No. 6 seed despite winning their Big East Conference title.
Call us old-fashioned here at The Sun, but we like to think that the champ is the champ until you knock them out. If Villanova makes it to that third round, we think they knock off Tennessee.
That would leave Villanova and Virginia in the regional final, with a place in the Final Four on the line. We have ‘Nova through, just because we know what they’re made of, but a Virginia win wouldn’t be all that shocking.
Pick your poison.
Mid West Region
Let’s have a round of applause for the NCAA selection committee, for making the University of North Carolina the No. 1 seed in the mid-west region.
Forehead-slapping geography gaffes aside, the Mid-west looks to shape out much like the East region did, with an inevitable No. 1 versus No. 2 in the regional final.
UNC has the worst win-loss record of the regional No. 1 seeds, but they also lucked into the easiest region. We don’t see them truly tested until the regional final, when they will most likely face Kentucky.
John Calipari has made a career of squeezing every drop of blood, sweat, and tears out of his players in his time at Kentucky, but it all seemed so forced this season.
They seem to have been given a No. 2 seed based on past performance, with their struggles down the stretch in conference play. Those struggles will be magnified against UNC.
We have the Tar Heels going through to the Final Four, for the third time in four years.
The Final Four
The official Sheridan Sun brackethas Duke facing off against Michigan in the East/West matchup, and Villanova/UNC in the South/Midwest.
Duke defeat the Wolverines, and Villanova beat the Tar Heels in a rematch of the 2016 NCAA title game.
Finally, we have Duke over Villanova in the final game.
Coach Krzyzewski wins a sixth national championship to go along with his 21stACC title, and Zion Williamson gets to jump to the NBA fresh off a national title.
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