With so few dominant teams in college basketball, making Final Four predictions has become increasingly hard over the last few years. Not much has changed in March Madness 2017, as numerous teams could conceivably win their respective regions in the NCAA Tournament.
There is often one sleeper that makes the Final Four, but regions are usually won by top-seeded teams. Traditional college basketball powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky are among the favorites this year, and they all have a good chance to survive the first few weekends of March Madness.
It’s been 32 years since any conference had three teams in the Final Four, though there’s a better chance that record will be tied this season than there has been in recent years. The ACC was given nine bids to the Big Dance, and all of the teams at the top of the conference can compete for a national title.
Here are Final Four predictions for the 2017 NCAA Tournament:
Duke (East Region)
There’s a reason why the Blue Devils were nearly voted as the unanimous preseason No.1 in both the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll. Duke is the nation’s top team when they are playing at their best, and that appears to be the case at the moment. The Blue Devils defeated three top-20 teams in the conference tournament, landing a No.2 seed in the Big Dance.
Duke is led by the favorite to win the award for NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player (Luke Kennard) and a potential top-five pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (Jayson Tatum). Add in Grayson Allen, who averaged 22.6 points per game during postseason play last season, and Mike Krzyzewski has one of his most talented teams ever. The Blue Devils won the ACC Championship three of the last four times they won the national title, and they could very well end up cutting down the nets on April 3.
Arizona (West Region)
The Wildcats weren’t tested as much as some of the nation’s other top teams in the college basketball regular season, and that could be the case again during the first two weeks of the NCAA Tournament. Arizona finds itself as the No.2 seed in the weakest region, and they’ll have to go through No.3 Florida State and No.1 Gonzaga if seeds hold. The Seminoles might be the most overrated team in the entire field, and while Gonzaga beat Arizona in December, the Bulldogs thrived in a weak conference and have never even been to the Final Four.
The Pac-12 is the weakest of the power conferences, but the Wildcats more than earned their No.2 seed by winning the regular-season and conference championship. With all four of their losses coming against teams seeded No.4 or higher in the tournament, Arizona is a good bet to avoid any early-round upsets. Lauri Markkanen will be a lottery pick, and leading-scorer Allonzo Trier has a chance to be an NBA player. Sean Miller is one of the best coaches in the country, having reached the Elite Eight in four of the last nine years, and he’s primed to make his first Final Four this season.
Louisville (Midwest Region)
With Rick Pitino at the helm, Louisville is always a threat to make a deep March Madness run. Before their self-imposed postseason ban last season, the Cardinals failed to reach the Elite Eight in just four of 10 seasons, which included three Final Four appearances. The team isn’t filled with top NBA talent, but they are led by a potential first-round draft pick in Donovan Mitchell and have one of the nation’s top defenses.
Louisville shouldn’t suffer an early upset as a No.2 seed, considering all eight of their losses came at the hands of tournament teams. No.3 Oregon is a different team now that Chris Boucher is injured, and the Cardinals would have a good chance against either No.1 Kansas or No.4 Purdue in the regional final. Louisville has already beaten Purdue this season, and Kansas has a history of failing to make the Final Four as a top seed.
North Carolina (South Region)
As is the case basically every year, Roy Williams has put together one of the most talented teams in the country. Justin Jackson and his 18.1 points per game seem likely headed for the NBA this summer. Three other Tar Heels that average at least 12 points per game played key roles on the North Carolina team that lost in last year’s national championship game.
North Carolina will have to go through the most star-studded region, potentially facing No.2 Kentucky or No.3 UCLA. Both teams present challenges, considering the Wildcats already have beaten the Tar Heels and the Bruins are led by two potential lottery picks. But after winning the regular-season title in college basketball’s best conference, North Carolina should be (and is) favored to win the NCAA Tournament.