Welcome to Banners’ coverage of the 2017 NCAA Tournament! Here we will give you the same info that you can get hundreds of other places on the web processed slightly differently and with our own slant as you prepare to immerse yourself in all things college basketball in the most glorious four days on the sporting calendar. We will break the bracket down region by region to get you completely prepared to pick and, more importantly, root with the best information available.
The South region is stacked at the top with perennial title contenders, with the top three seeds all being amongst the most decorated programs in college basketball history. If there is one region in this year’s tournament that seems destined to produce a trip to the Final Four for a team familiar to even casual observers of the sport, it is this one. North Carolina, Kentucky, and UCLA headline the group, but there could also be a couple of sleeper upset picks that could ride the magic of March Madness into the Sweet Sixteen.
The committee did not provide a wealth of evidence that they watched the Big Ten conference this season, as they seeded the members that made the field fairly confusingly. The Gophers finished 24-9 this year and went 11-7 in the conference regular season before bowing out in the Big Ten semifinal. Their best non conference win was Arkansas or Vandy, after which the drop off in quality steeply slopes to a 6 point home win over St. John’s. Wins at Purdue, Northwestern, and Maryland followed in conference but should be tempered by bad losses to Penn State and Ohio State. Overall, there was not a lot to complain about seeding wise in this region other than Minnesota who, while a good team with a solid resume, are not 5 seed material.
#10 Wichita State
The Shockers perennially own a gaudy record as a result of their participation in the Missouri Valley Conference. This year their attempt at getting good non conference wins netted them a blowout over a surprisingly bad LSU team, close losses to Louisville and Michigan State, decent wins at Colorado State and Oklahoma before a 17 point loss to Oklahoma State. In conference play they beat what was in front of them, often by staggering margins, including a 41 point hammering of bubble hopefuls Illinois State, avenging their lone conference loss. Gone is the Van Vleet/Baker backcourt, but Conner Frankamp and Landry Shameet can hold their own and Markis McDuffie and Shaquille Morris give these guys a puncher’s chance against anybody.
Easy to Like
#12 Middle Tennessee State
Coming off easily the biggest win in school history in their shock upset of Michigan State last year, the Blue Raiders went about proving it wasn’t a fluke this season. There were a few bumps in the road on the way back, but behind lovably plump sharpshooter Giddy Potts they have returned and do so as a trendy upset pick in the always treacherous 5-12 matchup. They might have ruined your bracket last year, but they reminded us what it looks like to watch a bunch of dudes just out there playing for the fun of it. They return this year with the Sweet Sixteen in mind and an almost guaranteed following from neutrals.
Fun to watch
The Bruins go out on the court with one thing on their minds: scoring as many points as quickly as they can. Their breathless 73 possession per game pace is good for 13th in the nation and they enter the tournament with the third best offense. They cracked 100 points 9 times this season and feature backcourt trio Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford, and Aaron Holiday, all of whom connect at better than 40% rate from three. Even better news for fans of the triple is that the Bruins combat their own 40% mark from three by conceding a rate of 36% from their opponents. Simply put: if you like offense, this is the team to watch.
Easy to Hate
Where do I start on this one? The top two seeds are UNC and Kentucky, homes of two of the sleaziest lowlife cheaters the NCAA has ever willingly turned a blind eye to. A conversation about basketball with any member of either fanbase is willingly submitting to a series of equally ignorance and entitlement driven drone strikes on your will to live. If, by some unhappy circumstance, these two meet, the only losers are fans of literally anyone else who will be subjected to equal parts whining and misty-eyed recollections of triumphs in the ancient past. Speaking of the ancient past, that is the last time UC did anything of note in March (other than choke) but don’t tell that to the self-important bellyache factory that is Mick Cronin. And that brings us to another Ohio programs with delusions of grandeur: the Dayton Flyers. They are the kings of the A-10, now that all the good teams left, and will be trying to win their first non-home game in the NCAA Tournament in three years.
Wow. All that and I didn’t even get to how Butler plays in a barn.
#11 Kansas State
The Wildcats had quite the up and down year, going 8-10 in the Big 12, but are capable of getting hot and knocking off just about anyone, as evidenced by their wins over West Virginia and Baylor once on the road, and once in the Big 12 tournament. There were also close calls at Allen Fieldhouse, home to Kansas, and at Iowa State, all losses of 5 or fewer. What K-State does so well is shut off the middle and harass passing lanes, turning opponents over 14th best in the nation and allowing 44.6 2PT%. If they can keep John Collins quiet, they certainly have the capability to give UC a scare. Or course, they also lost to Oklahoma by 30, so they might not.
#7 Dayton v. #10 Wichita State
Both mid-majors were done no favors by the committee with this draw, but the winner here should produce an interesting matchup for Kentucky. The Flyers’ seniors are the winningest class in school history, and will be looking to make one final run to cement their place in UD folklore. Meanwhile, the Shockers were a buzzsaw through the past couple months of the season, losing once since the calendar turned and racking up the third best three point percentage in the nation. Both teams strive to limit opponents to one bad look, so it will likely come down to who can knock down their shots.
Player to Watch
Giddy Potts- Middle Tennessee State
As I alluded to earlier, this dude is a joy to watch play the game. Standing a robust 6’2”, 217, Potts shoots with relentless abandon from wherever he can get a look. His three point percentage has regulated from his frankly ridiculous 50.3% last season, but he still hangs right around the 40% mark. He hits the boards well for a shorter player and finds himself in passing lanes, adding other value to his scoring punch. Most importantly though, he looks like he just legitimately enjoys being on the court, seemingly aware and appreciative he is living most everyone who is watching’s dream.