March Madness is always unpredictable. Just when you think a team has an easy road or a favorable matchup, guys by names such as Ali Farokhmanesh, Bryce Drew or Mike Miller have memorable games and moments that simply add to the greatness of the tournament.
But that never stops us from trying to guess the unknown, and then being reminded that sports create more drama than Hollywood could imagine. So here are some “bold” predictions that probably won’t look too smart in a few weeks, as well as players who might be able to make a name for themselves this month.
Kentucky will get upset
Yes, Kentucky is the clear-cut favorite to win it all and rightfully so. The Wildcats are deep and talented, great on both offense and defense. But history is not on their side. There have been five teams go into the NCAA Tournament with winning streaks of at least 25 games over the past 30 years, and none have won it all. Kentucky will join that list. Heck, the Wildcats have a more difficult road to the Final Four than most people think. It’s not the toughest path the selection committee could have given them, but they could face a stiff Sweet 16 test against fourth-seeded Maryland — the same Maryland team that has already knocked off Wisconsin and Iowa State this season. Then they could face Kansas, Notre Dame or under-seeded Wichita State to clinch a Final Four berth. Notre Dame, a team that has beaten Duke twice, poses the biggest threat as it is among the best passing and shooting teams in the country. If Kentucky takes care of its region, the task just gets tougher in the Final Four with more and more pressure mounting against peaking teams.
Villanova will be the first No. 1 to fall
The Wildcats are among the best teams in the country and deserve a top seed. But, as the saying goes, it all comes down to matchups in March, and they drew a tough region to make it through. Last year, they fell victim to eventual champ UConn. This year, they could face North Carolina State in the Round of 32 and have another early exit. N.C. State has one of the best backcourts in the country with Cat Barber and Trevor Lacey, which always bodes well for deep runs in March. Plus, a one seed has lost in the Round of 32 four of the last five years, and ’Nova will keep that trend going.
The Big 12 will struggle
The Big 12 sends seven teams to the tournament for the second consecutive year. Last year, all of them were knocked out before the Elite Eight. Expect a similar showing this year even though the Big 12 is among the best basketball conferences in the country. The league’s top-seeded team, Kansas, isn’t playing great entering the Big Dance. Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma and West Virginia all have potential to make a run but don’t have favorable matchups. And Oklahoma State and Texas will struggle to get out of the Round of 64.
No repeat for SFA
Stephen F. Austin became one of the beloved Cinderella stories last March, upsetting fifth-seeded VCU in the Round of 64. The 12-over-5 has become a popular pick, and SFA is a trendy pick to continue the trend this year against reeling Utah. But the Utes are an under-seeded team that has played better than many think for most of the season, and has a strong backcourt led by senior point guard Delon Wright. Pass on this upset kick and opt for Buffalo over West Virginia as the 12-5 surprise.
Wisconsin wins it all
This might be the second most popular pick to run the table outside of Kentucky. The Badgers are an experienced team that reached the Final Four last year for the first time under Bo Ryan. This time, they’ll close the deal. They’ve got length and size inside with Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes, Sam Dekker is a versatile player and the backcourt is solid with Josh Gasser and Bronson Koenig, who has arguably been an upgrade over Traevon Jackson.
Five under-the-radar players to watch
▪ Ron Baker, Wichita State: The former walk-on has become one of the best players for one of the top mid-majors in the country. At 6-foot-4, Baker is a strong, physical guard who averaged 15 points a game for the Shockers.
▪ Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: He has the ability to score inside and outside, and is just as good on the defensive end. If Virginia makes a deep run, Brogdon will be a big reason why.
▪ Justise Winslow, Duke: A lot of attention is paid to Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, but Winslow has made just as much of an impact for the Blue Devils, averaging 12.3 points and 5.9 rebounds a game.
▪ Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: A 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward who has been a steady presence for the Panthers the past four seasons doesn’t get the recognition he deserves because he’s not at a big-time school. But he certainly could make a name for himself this month.
▪ Tyler Harvey, Eastern Washington: He led the nation in scoring with 22.9 points per game, shooting 47 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3-point range. If he gets hot, don’t be surprised if the 13th-seeded Eagles shoot their way past fourth-seeded Georgetown in the Round of 64.
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760
11. Ole Miss
16. North Florida vs. 16. Robert Morris, 5:40 p.m., truTV
11. Boise State vs. 11. Dayton, 8:10 p.m., truTV
Texas schools playing Thursday
3. Baylor vs. 14. Georgia State, 12:40 p.m., TBS
6. Butler vs. 11. Texas, 1:45 p.m., KTVT/11
6. SMU vs. 11. UCLA, 2:10 p.m., truTV