The early rounds of the 2016 NCAA Tournament should see plenty of upsets, but the Final Four likely won’t feature many surprises. A few teams stand out as favorites to reach the Final Four and compete for college basketball’s national championship on the first weekend of April.
A few trends indicate the potential makeup of the 2016 Final Four in terms of seeding. Not surprisingly, No.1 seeds dominate March Madness, and usually two top seeds win their respective regions. Last year, three No.1 seeds made it to the Final Four with No.7 Michigan State being the only exception.
Michigan State is a No.2 seed this year, and once again among the favorites to win the national title. Twenty-six No.2 seeds have reached the Final Four since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and a combined 27 No.3 and No.4 seeds have won their regions during that time.
At least one team seeded No.7 or lower has reached the Final Four in each of the last three years, and a No.8 and No.11 seed made it in 2011. That was the last year in which no No.1 seeds made the Final Four, and the No.1 seeds this year have more combined losses than any year in the tournament's history.
What teams will win their respective regions and advance to the Final Four in Houston on April 2?
South: No.1 Kansas
Kansas has had their share of upsets in recent years, failing to get to the second weekend in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments. But it’d be difficult to make the argument against choosing the Jayhawks to reach the Final Four this year.
The Jayhawks have cemented themselves as the top team in college basketball before the start of the tournament. Their 30-4 record gives them the best mark in the sport, and they won the Big 12 regular-season and conference titles. Kansas is a top offensive and defensive team, and they have more impressive wins than anyone. During their current 14-game winning streak, Bill Self’s team has eight wins over tournament teams.
Villanova is the No.2 seed in Kansas’s region, and Miami is a viable No.3 seed, but the Jayhawks’ toughest game might come in the Sweet 16. A potential matchup with No.4 California or No.5 Maryland awaits Kansas, and both teams could give the Jayhawks trouble. The Terrapins have been inconsistent in recent weeks, but they are one of the most talented teams in the country.
West: No.1 Oregon
The West is considered to be the most wide open bracket by many of the experts, and a few teams have a real chance to make a deep run. Oregon, however, is the No.1 seed for a reason, and they have the inside track to reach the Final Four.
Playing in the Pac-12, which received just as many bids as the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12, Oregon won the regular-season and conference titles. The Ducks have won eight games in a row, including back-to-back victories over top-16 teams. Dillon Brooks and Elgin Cook lead one of the country’s best offenses, and Oregon has scored at least 76 points in 17 of their last 18 games.
No.2 Oklahoma could pose a threat to Oregon in the Elite Eight, as the Sooners are led by Buddy Hield and his 25.0 points per game. But it’s been 26 years since a team with a player that scores as much as Hield reached the Final Four. Oregon has the edge over No.3 Texas A&M, who wouldn’t be an easy out either.
East: No.4 Kentucky
The Wildcats didn't quite live up to expectations in the regular season. Kentucky is a No.4 seed in the tournament after ranking second overall in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll, but they are peaking at the right time and ready to make a Final Four run.
Kentucky tied Texas A&M for the best record in the SEC, and they won the conference championship by defeating the Aggies on Sunday afternoon. The Wildcats are playing well, and coach John Calipari knows how to get his team ready for March Madness. Kentucky has reached the Final Four in four of the last five years, including 2011 and 2014 when they were a No.4 and No.8 seed, respectively. The team is more experienced than they have been in recent years, and they aren’t likely to succumb to an upset before the Sweet 16.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see Kentucky get ousted by the regional semifinals, considering they have to deal with No.1 North Carolina. The Tar Heels won their conference championship, as well, and they were the only team ranked ahead of Kentucky in the preseason poll. But Kentucky’s offense might be the best in the nation, and they will be difficult to slow down over the next two weekends.
Midwest: No.2 Michigan State
Choosing Michigan State to reach the Final Four might be the most popular prediction before the NCAA Tournament. Experts are almost unanimously picking the Spartans to win the Midwest region, and with good reason.
The Spartans finished second in the Big Ten behind Indiana, but they’ve proven to be the best team in a strong conference. Michigan State’s current nine-game winning streak began with a 19-point victory over the Hoosiers, and it culminated on Sunday in the conference championship game against Purdue. Tom Izzo might be the best coach in college basketball, and he should be able to deliver a Final Four run with one of his most talented rosters.
Virginia was given the top seed in the Midwest, and they can’t be overlooked after going 26-7. But the Spartans know they beat the Cavaliers, having eliminated them from the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two years. Led by Denzel Valentine, who is arguably the accomplished player in the region, the Spartans have a good chance to reach their eighth Final Four under Izzo.