Top seed perspective: Gonzaga is the best team in the West by a substantial margin, but the Zags, despite reaching the final two years back, haven’t always performed well beneath the bright lights of the tournament. Still, Gonzaga has a 70 percent likelihood of reaching the Elite Eight, according to our model, and the third-best chances of any group to accomplish the national championship game (26 percent).
If Gonzaga face Syracuse in the second round, the Orange’s zone defense will give the Bulldogs trouble. This is the best crime Mark Few has had in Spokane, but it may be tested by some of those terrific defenses in the West: Four of the best 15 can be found in this area, including the best two in Texas Tech and Michigan.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 4 Florida State. A fixture in the KenPom Top 20 for most of the season, the Seminoles are hoping to build on last season’s championship run, which saw them come within a 4-point margin of creating the Final Four. FSU has a dominant defense (No. 9 at Pomeroy’s ratings) plus a balanced roster that saw four players accumulate at least 2.5 win stocks. This draw isn’t terrible, either: Vermont isn’t particularly difficult as a first-round foe, and Marquette is quite beatable (more on this below). No. 1 seeded Gonzaga probably looms after that, and we give FSU a 24 percent chance from the Zags — but the Seminoles would have a 48 percent chance of making the Final Four if they were to pull off the upset.
Do not wager : No. 5 Marquette. Teams seeded fifth are not usually good bets to make it past the Sweet 16 anyhow, but Marquette could be a particularly terrible choice. As stated by the FiveThirtyEight power evaluations, the Golden Eagles are by far the worst No. 5 seed in the area, and also a first-round date using breakout mid-major celebrity Ja Morant didn’t do them any favors. Marquette has a star power of its own in junior guard Markus Howard, who ranks sixth in the country with an average of 25 points per game, but this team dropped five of its last six matches and has a tough tournament road before it.
Cinderella watch: No. 10 Florida. They are poised to do some damage they are here, although the Gators might have been one of the bubble teams to sneak into the area of 68. They brought Nevada, a so-so No. 7 seed, in the very first round, and also we give Florida a 42 percent chance of pulling the upset that. Last year’s nationwide runner-up, Michigan, probably waits in Round two, and that is a tough matchup (23 percent odds for Florida) — however if the Gators win, they’ve a 38 percent likelihood of earning the Elite Eight. Than the, Florida looks better in a region with a number of good-but-flawed possibilities.
Player to watch: Brandon Clarke The linchpin of the Zags isn’t the consensus lottery selection, nor the two veteran guards that have together started 87 percent of the games of Gonzaga . It’s Brandon Clarke, a move from San Jose State who is in his first season with the group. He’s possibly the most underappreciated player in the nation.
On a group that typically features a 7-footer protecting the rim, it’s Clarke, at 6-foot-8, who is tasked with protecting the paint this year. Clarke has responded by setting a single-season blocks record and posting the maximum block speed of any team under Few.
“If I feel as when I can find a great, quick jump first, I will pretty much leap with anybody,” Clarke told me. “I mean, I have seen Zion (Williamson) coming down through the street before on TV, and when I can’t jump at the ideal time, I likely would not jump , but… I don’t actually see myself not leaping with anybody.”
Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Baylor over No. 8 Syracuse (48 percent); No. 10 Florida over No. 7 Nevada (42 percent); No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette (32 percent)
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