With the college basketball season starting Nov. 6, we asked NCAA.com basketball expert Andy Katz to fill out a March Madness bracket based on everything he saw this preseason.
We’ll break down his picks, but first, let’s take a look at Andy’s bracket:
There are definitely some interesting choices in there. Let’s break them down.
Here’s the field Katz predicts:
|3||Syracuse||Kansas State||Auburn||Michigan State|
|4||Florida State||Villanova||Nebraska||West Virginia|
|7||Virginia Tech||Clemson||Oregon||Mississippi State|
|10||Alabama||St. Louis||Florida||Iowa State|
|13||Wofford||Northeastern||Rider||South Dakota State|
|14||Georgia State||Grand Canyon||Belmont||Stephen F. Austin|
|15||Montana||UC Davis||Wright State||Lehigh|
Now let’s take a closer look:
Andy’s Final Four: Kentucky, Villanova, North Carolina and Gonzaga
Katz has what would be a thrilling lineup here, with a 2017 championship game rematch in UNC vs. Gonzaga in the semifinal, and the potential for a 2016 championship game rematch with UNC and Villanova in the title game. That UNC-Gonzaga game will also be a rematch of a regular season game this year, as the Bulldogs are scheduled to travel to Chapel Hill on Dec. 15.
On the other half of the bracket is a Wildcat showdown. Fun fact, since 2011, there has been a Wildcat team in the Final Four in all but two years (2013 and 2017). Each of those has been Kentucky or Villanova. In total, those two Wildcats have been in seven Final Fours since 2009, but never in the same year.
Best upset picks: Marshall and Iowa State
12-seed Marshall over 5-seed Washington
After a 30-year hiatus, Marshall was back in the NCAA tournament last season as a 13 seed, pulling of an 81-75 upset of 4-seed Wichita State. Katz has them with the major upset again this year, and with leading scorers Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks back (the pair combined for 42.8 points per game last year), that’s not a crazy idea.
10-seed Iowa State over 7-seed Mississippi State
After a six-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances, Iowa State missed out on the tournament last year. But they return a strong core this season. Two of the Cyclones’ top three scorers (Cameron Lard and Lindell Wigginton) are just sophomores this year. That young firepower is always volatile in March, but can definitely set the stage for an upset.
Most surprising picks: Nevada and Villanova
Katz’ prediction for Nevada puts a lot of faith in the Wolfpack. He has them as a No. 2 seed, which would be a huge leap for Nevada. The highest the Wolfpack has ever been seeded is 5, which came after a 27-6 season in 2006 that saw them lose to Minneapolis 87-79 in the first round of the tournament. But more than that, Katz has Nevada going all the way to the Elite Eight, beating Montana, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse along the way. In the eight NCAA tournament appearances Nevada has made in program history, it has made it to the Sweet 16 twice (2004 and 2018), but never advanced. But if any Nevada team can break through, it’s this one, which is ranked No. 7 in the AP Preseason poll — the highest mark in school history.
On the other end of surprising is Villanova sitting at a 4 seed. The Wildcats are ranked No. 9 in the preseason poll
One more surprise in the bracket, Katz has Grand Canyon in as a 14 seed in the East. The Antelopes are one of 44 teams that have never made the NCAA tournament. Katz says that ends this year.
Andy’s Cinderella: UCF
Katz played it pretty safe in his predictions, not picking any double-digit seeds to make it to the Sweet 16. The highest-seeded team that round is UCF as a 6 seed. Katz has the Knights beating Texas in the first round, then 3-seed Auburn in the second. This would lead to a matchup with Katz’ Final Four-bound 2-seed North Carolina, which the Knights would lose. If UCF’s postseason plays out anything like that, Johnny Dawkins and crew should be pleased. The Knights haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2005, and in their four total appearances, they’ve never won a game. But under Dawkins, they’ve amassed a 43-25 record over the past two years, finishing in the top half of the AAC both years.