2016 March Madness: Which #1 Seed Can Run the Table?
The madness is coming. With Selection Sunday over, we’re now a couple of play-in games away from the Big Dance, better known as the year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament.
March Madness is almost here, and we’ve got a wide open race. There are the obvious favorites at the top – Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia, but there just isn’t a “for sure” dominant team among them. There are also legit contenders as you dip down the ranks, especially when you look at Kentucky being seeded poorly (#4 in their region).
Yale makes its first appearance in the Big Dance, you know, ever, and last year’s title game representatives – as unlikely as they are to make it back to the promised land – are here again (Wisconsin and Duke).
But even in a wide open NCAA tourney, there has to be at least one favorite and even though it doesn’t look like it, the odds support at least one of these #1 seeds making it to the National Championship game.
The big question is, which one? Let’s break down all four top seeds and see who is the best bet to make it to the last college basketball game of the 2015-16 season:
Kansas Jayhawks (30-4)
If there is a towering favorite, it’s Kansas. Vegas agrees, too, as they’re in a three-way tie with 5/1 odds to win the title.
Bill Self has a title under his belt and led his crew to the Elite 8 as recently as 2012. Kansas has been a bit of a disappointment since, but they have always been near the top of the Big 12 and in this year’s tournament they enter with the top overall seed for pretty good reason.
The Jayhawks aren’t a total lock to exact dominance over this tournament, but they certainly have had a stranglehold over the Big 12, which they’ve destroyed for the 12 straight season. Kansas comes in hot, riding 14 straight wins, has a very potent (and balanced) offense and has just one truly bad loss on the year.
With flew blemishes, a good set-up and terrific coaching, they probably start this thing off as the favorite pick to win it all. Their worst possible route to the championship game, if they face all of the top seeds, consists of showdowns with the likes of Colorado, California, Villanova and Oregon.
That is certainly a dicey run starting with Villanova, as the Jayhawks would be tasked with taking down two former #1 teams en route to a title game appearance.
Keep this in mind, of course: the Kentucky Wildcats were as big of locks as it gets last year, yet they didn’t make it to the final game. Kansas leads the way at the moment, but if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that nothing is guaranteed in March Madness, except for total insanity.
North Carolina Tar Heels (28-6)
Roy William’s Tar Heels are the only other #1 seed to tie with Kansas with 5-1 odds (Michigan State is the third team), and it’s hard to argue against the possibility.
Williams always coaches pretty good teams up to or even beyond their talent, and he’s certainly got a team full of stars – especially big man Brice Johnson. A walking double-double, Johnson is fairly skilled and just abuses any opposing defenses that don’t have a competent post defender or in general any real size. His length and reach is a real problem for opposing defenses, while he also can clean the glass and disrupt offenses as a shot-blocker.
In matchups where the other team doesn’t have someone to give Johnson a hard time, I can’t see North Carolina faltering. He’s just too fluid and picks his spots too well. To put it bluntly, it’s all too easy for him, and unless someone makes it incredibly difficult, he’s going to win inside.
The key against North Carolina is going to be dictating tempo. That’s how Duke beat them this year and that’s probably the only way you can diffuse Johnson’s presence. That’s not the best bet all the time, however, as the Tar Heels have terrific depth and can also defend at a high level. Their lone blemish is their outside shooting, but if it’s on, they’re going to be a very tough out.
The Tar Heels are not the best team in the country on paper and as far as #1 seeds go, they probably rank number two. Talent isn’t everything, though, as North Carolina could have a pretty rough road to the title game, with worst case scenarios being meetings with USC, Kentucky, Xavier and Virginia.
Virginia is an ACC rival now and those two sides would give the nation quite the battle – especially since the Cavaliers can bite down hard defensively. Of course, who is to say the Tar Heels even get that far, if a run-in with Kentucky doesn’t end up side-swiping them first?
Oregon Ducks (28-6)
Oregon (18-1 odds to win it all), has the words odds of the four #1 seeds and really is not your usual #1 seed squad. Still, they’ve proven to be a very balanced and at times explosive bunch. Winning the Pac-12 earned them their stripes, while they also dominated in the tournament, furthering an impressive 8-game run going into March Madness.
This is the first top-seeded team that we find it awfully difficult to have much faith in, as they have three pretty bad losses on the year. Dillon Brooks leads a very efficient offense and the Ducks absolutely could be a fun team to watch, but they do not have the feel of an NCAA champion.
Their defense will need to be much more consistent to run the table, while their offense will also need to be in A-game form. Their worst case scenario path dictates that, as they could have to endure clashes with St. Joseph’s, Duke, Oklahoma and possibly ultimately the top-seeded Jayhawks.
St. Joseph’s is pesky, but the first teal challenge comes early against Duke and then a date with the Sooners could easily turn out to be a nightmare if the Ducks did manage to out-score the Blue Devils.
Our guess is Oregon plows through their first game and squeaks past St. Joseph’s before falling to the Blue Devils in a wild shootout.
Virginia Cavaliers (26-7)
Virginia has the most losses of the four #1 seeds and in a lot of ways, you could argue a few other teams were better picks to take their spot. Few can match their elite balance, of course, as they are one of two teams in the entire nation to rank inside the top-10 in terms of both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Defense is where Virginia gets teams, as they play suffocating defense (allowing just over 59 points per game), yet can also pour on the offense thick when necessary. They boast some top notch outside shooting, and also carry balance with some size down low.
As good as Virginia’s defense has been, their biggest problem lately has been allowing too much outside shooting. Naturally, any matchup against fast-paced offenses that can go lights out from deep is going to give them cause for pause.
That could make their route to the title game a tough one, as their worst case scenario path would include matchups with Texas Tech, Iowa State, Michigan State and North Carolina. The latter two battles are the most deadly, but we can’t even look past the Cyclones, who rip off over 81 points per game on the year.
Virginia ultimately has better odds to with the national championship (15/1) than Oregon, but both are probably neck and neck in terms of vulnerability.
If you’re betting solely on one team to win it all, consider this: since 1985, all four #1 seeds have met up in the Final Four just once. We’ve seen zero make it two times, three (four times), two (11 times) and one (13 times).
Based off of that date and what we know about the perceived best teams in college basketball, the top two bets are going to be Kansas if you’re taking one team and both Kansas and North Carolina if you’re taking two. Remember, every single March Madness run is different and seeding often means absolutely nothing.
That being said, of the four #1 seeds, we like Kansas to make it to the title game and probably win.
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