This is the week you walk in having watched little or no college basketball all year, only to realize someone put a March Madness bracket on your desk and you need to pick the winners of 63 games.
If you want a simple cheat sheet to get the form off your desk quickly, that is below.
If you actually want to think a little more and want to know at a glance which teams should win based on having the most future NBA talent or the best guards, being the most injury-free or playing in locations closer to home, you can let the charts below for each region guide your picks.
We start by going through my bracket and then the Final Four that each of seven different approaches projects, and then we list a table for each region revealing the 63 winners projected by each system.
You can go to ValueAddBasketball.com and search each team to see which players will miss the tournament due to injury, how much better each player is rated than a standard replacement and other info, such as his year in school and chances of making the NBA.
The MY PICKS category on the charts below starts with an average of the seven approaches that follow but includes my subjective guesses at the most likely teams to pull an upset. While all of the No. 1 and 2 seeds will be favorites in every game until they play each other, I believe if one lower seed makes the Final Four it would be Auburn, whose 3-point shooting and improvement with players like Danjel Purifoy coming on late gives it a shot at North Carolina. and then either Kentucky or Houston. Final Four: Duke champion, Virginia runner-up, Auburn and Gonzaga.
VALUE ADD assumes the team with the best total ratings at Value Add Basketball — minus any players who will miss the tournament due to injuries — wins each game. Final Four: Duke champion, Virginia runner-up, North Carolina and Gonzaga.
HEALTHY measures not only the players who are out for the season, like Value Add above, but whether a team is better now due to players who returned from injuries or worse because key players are not at 100 percent due to injuries. Final Four: Duke champion, Virginia runner-up, Marquette and North Carolina.
DEFENSE weights defensive ratings at KenPom.com higher than offensive ratings because “defense travels” well as players start nervous on offense. Final Four: Duke champion, Virginia runner-up, North Carolina and Gonzaga.
EXPERIENCED POINT GUARDS gives the greatest weight to exceptional point guards but also looks at other strong guards — as handling the initial pressure of starting with the ball is often the key to underdogs pulling upsets. Final Four: Virginia champion, Virginia Tech runner-up, Marquette and North Carolina.
NBA assumes that the teams with the most NBA talent will win each game. Zion Williamson is the top prospect, getting “NBA%” 100 rating at Value Add Basketball, followed by a 99 for Murray State’s Ja Morant, and so on. Final Four: Kentucky champion, Gonzaga runner-up, Oregon and Duke.
VENUE assumes that any time the Value Add ratings are close but the location seems more favorable to a slight underdog, the semi-home-court advantage will pull the underdog through for the upset. Final 4: Gonzaga Champion, Tennessee runner-up, Duke and North Carolina.
TOP PLAYER assumes that if the two teams are close but one of the teams has by far the best player on the court based on Value Add ratings, the star player will pull his team through. Final Four: Duke champion, Virginia runner-up, North Carolina and Gonzaga.
Now for all the picks using each system, by region.
Choose the approach you like the most, and then look down that column in each bracket for the number of wins that system projects for each team. For example, you would write Duke on “6” lines, meaning the Blue Devils win the whole championship, if you go with My Picks (the first column) or four of the other seven systems. However, if you go with point guards (Exp PG), you would put Duke on only two lines due to a projected upset by Virginia Tech’s more experienced guards. Tech’s senior Justin Robinson (ranked 179th of 4,000) and the incredible sophomore point guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (ranked 39th) have the experience edge over the talented freshman Duke backcourt that struggled badly when Zion Williamson was injured. Add the fact that Justin Robinson is finally back for Virginia Tech and coach Buzz Williams’ Hokies could pull off the upset.
Otherwise, Gonzaga’s NBA talent ranks even higher than Duke’s, and regarding distance to the Final Four (Venue), Minneapolis is slightly closer to Duke than Gonzaga, but western schools have an edge if they can just get an even game away from the West Coast. That could be enough for Gonzaga to remain the only team to beat Williamson this year.
LSU could have the best, experienced backcourt in the region with shooting guard Skylar Mars (ranked 45th of 4,000+) and sophomore point guard Tremont Waters (72nd). The two key potential late injuries are Nick Muszynski for Belmont, which was beaten by double digits by Murray State in its first game without him, and VCU’s second-best player and key guard Marcus Evans, who may be needed in an almost dead-even matchup with Central Florida.
As noted earlier, Gonzaga has the second-most NBA talent behind Kentucky, so the Bulldogs could come in first or second if they make it to the Final Four. However, their overpowering inside game could be overcome if senior point guard Josh Perkins (ranked 136th) runs into either of the top two scorers to make the tournament — Marquette’s Markus Howard and Murray State’s Ja Morant. Those two face off in the first game, and with Howard’s wrist apparently back to full health for the first time since Marquette was ranked No. 9 and Morant making his one NCAA run before likely going second in the NBA draft, the winner of that game could ruin Gonzaga’s hopes early.
If they get to the regional final, the Bulldogs would likely face another strong backcourt in either Michigan or Nevada, though if the Wolf Pack’s Jordan Caroline is less than 100 percent they could lose the first game to Florida.
Everyone is spooked about picking Virginia after they were the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 last year, but that did come after a last-minute injury to De’Andre Hunter, who this year joins Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome to give Virginia three of the top 12 players in the country according to Value Add ratings.
I have them going to the national championship game under six of eight systems above. There are two most likely ways they would fall short this year.
One is the amazingly hot Oregon, which struggled after losing the best center in the nation in Bol Bol after nine games. Even without Bol, the Ducks have more NBA talent than the Cavaliers and anyone else they could face until the Final Four, and they showed it in winning their last eight games by an average of just under 20 points per game.
The other most likely stumbling block for Virginia would be facing Tennessee, where the venue (Louisville, Kentucky) could put the Vols over the top.
The biggest injury to watch in early games is Kansas State’s Dean Wade, who was a preseason All-American but could be needed to get the Wildcats past a very good UC Irvine team in the opener.
As noted, I picked Auburn as the one big upset in the Final Four, even though none of the seven systems shows the Tigers beating North Carolina in their third game. The Tar Heels could certainly be tested by the incredible Sam Merrill of Utah, a senior who is ranked as the 17th-best point guard in the country, but in the end UNC has too much.
However, there are many big threats in the bottom of the bracket for a potential Elite Eight game. Kentucky is the most obvious, as it has the NBA-level talent to win the entire tournament and therefore have a “6” in the NBA column to indicate you should write them on all 6 lines for the title if you want to go with the best players on the court.
However, there are some experienced guards who could help beat Kentucky.
One is Myles Powell (ranked eighth in the country) and his backcourt mates at Seton Hall, which beat Kentucky at the beginning of the year — though he would need to get past favored Wofford and elite shooting guard Fletcher Magee (ranked as the 42nd best player).
Another is the experienced backcourt in Houston, where Corey Davis (ranked 36th in the nation) and Galen Robinson (ranked 281st of 4,000) give the Cougars a chance at a run.
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