Personally, I have watched thousands of horse races in my lifetime. There are a few scenarios that play out in most of them. Usually, it breakdowns into a couple scenarios
- THE FRONT RUNNER
- After breaking from the starting gate, the front-runner goes straight to the lead, it’s his job to set the pace of the race, slow it down to a nice and steady speed, and have enough in the late stages to hold off the closers.
We can throw teams ranked high in the pre-season AP Top 25 that finished in the final AP Top 25 rankings released before the tournament.
The defending champs have vaulted to the top of many rankings all-season long. It’s hard to pick against the top overall seed in the tournament, but the NCAA Selection Committee was not very nice to the Wildcats early. If the #8 seeded Wisconsin Badgers get by the #9 seeded Virginia Tech Hokies in the first game, the Wildcats will face the Big Ten team that finished second in the conference standings. They were seeded rather low by the committee because their non-conference strength of schedule. Even so, the Wildcats will be a very difficult out for anybody.
OUTLOOK: I honestly think they are going to get beat in the second round by the Wisconsin Badgers. If they get past the first two games, they will be in the Elite 8.
DUKE BLUE DEVILS
The Grayson Allen led love-to-hate Blue Devils were the top seeded team in the pre-season AP poll, they are the ultimate frontrunner, and they ended up in one of the easiest spots in the field for a #2 seed. I think there biggest threat also could come in their second game in the form of the Marquette Golden Eagles. Marquette has to get by the Gamecocks of South Carolina which I think will be easier than most. The SEC just doesn’t have that many quality basketball teams. If the Dukie’s get through to the Sweet 16, they could be sitting in the Final Four without breaking a sweat.
The Duke Blue Devils are your most likely Final Four candidate among the #2 seeds as long as they get by the #10 seeded Marquette Golden Eagles, if they end up facing South Carolina, I don’t see Duke having any trouble trotting their way to Arizona.
The Jayhawks lost to the Indiana Hoosiers in their season opener which like a horse is similar to stumbling out of the gates in a sense. They gathered themselves rather well as they followed it up with victory over Duke and an 18 game win streak in total until losing to West Virginia. Again, after stubbing their toe, they followed it up with wins over two Top 5 opponents in Kentucky and Baylor. Other than losing to TCU in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, they have been very strong all season. They are another ultimate front-runner, but face some major obstacles getting out of their region. The first of which will be Tom Izzo in round two, assuming Michigan State wins its first game, the Jayhawks and Spartans will be an all out brawl for a spot in the Sweet 16. The Jayhawks have proven to be battle tested and likely will prevail, but it’s more of a coin-flip than I would be willing to take a chance on.
OUTLOOK: A first game victory over a #16 seed is a guarantee for the Jayhawks, but with potential match-ups against Michigan State – Purdue – Louisville/Oregon right in front of them, they are going to have to run the gauntlet. Or in horse racing terms: after stumbling at the start, they are going to use energy to get to the lead, settle on the pace, fend of multiple attacks, and have enough to hold on by a nose at the wire. I think they are good enough to get to the Final Four, but they face too tough of a road. Someone will knock them off, where do you think it will happen?
The Zags are a big question mark for many. Everyone wants to know, who have the Bulldogs beat worth noting on their way to a 32-1 record. Most people don’t realize they scheduled some pretty strong opponents in their non-conference schedule. They defeated tournament teams Florida, Iowa State, Arizona and Saint Mary’s three times. It’s not a Duke schedule but it’s not terrible either. The Zags will be doubted from the beginning, but they are a very good basketball team. Their toughest tests will come from Notre Dame/West Virginia (yes, I am assuming one of them will get there) and Arizona if they get through their half of the bracket.
OUTLOOK: The biggest match-up problem for the Bulldogs will come in the form of the Gold and Green Fighting Irish. If it comes to that down the road for Gonzaga we will truly see how good of a defensive team they are. Horses come in all sizes and colors. Gonzaga is big and strong. Different color, maybe, lol!