Back in late 2016 and part of early 2017, many thought that this year's bracket would be one of the easier ones to determine. Duke seemed to be the outright No.1 favorites to breeze through the tournament. Villanova, the defending champions were another great bet with Josh Hart leading the team to a great number of successes over the course of the season. If neither of those teams were your favorites to win then Kansas and Kentucky both had excellent rosters with the new addition of Josh Jackson for the lesser and De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk for the latter.
Coming into 2017 however, each one of these favored teams showed their weaknesses down the stretch ultimately giving us a competitive bracket this year. Now that Selection Sunday is over and we know the field of 68 teams, let's take a look at which teams have the best chance of winning the tournament title.
The Big East champion were selected yesterday as the top overall seed. At 31-3, led by Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, the Wildcats are in an excellent position to repeat as national champion, which would be the first time in a decade for that to happen. Josh Hart is a player of the year candidate and if he stays fit throughout the tournament, we could see the Wildcats in the final.
Since their weird loss to TCU, albeit without Josh Jackson, the Jayhawks seem to be a better team all around. They have the best back-court of any other team in college basketball and their 28-4 record may not be the best in the league, but they have a solid ratio of new talent and veteran experience to take them through to the late stages. By qualifying for the tournament for the 28th straight time, Kansas has broken the all-time record held by North Carolina from 1975 to 2001.
Last year's runners up, losing on a last second 3-pointer by Villanova's Kris Jenkins in the 2016 championship game. North Carolina are 27-7, do not have the same team, but they are not weak in any position. Justin Jackson has really made an impact as a top 10 player this year and we could definitely see a repeat of the Tar Heels' performance from last year; hopefully winning instead of runner's up.
Gone are the days that the Bulldogs are considered a fairy-tale story. They play in a 6,000 seat arena in Washington State, but this is their 19th consecutive tournament. This year they are hoping to do something that they have still not be able to do in any one of their berths - make the Final Four. They may need to go through West Virginia (4th in West) in the round of 16 and afterwards to Arizona, a team that they beat already back in December. They could meet St. Mary's against whom they went 3-0 this year.
The selection committee put Kentucky (29-5) into the first of the No. 2 slots. Although they haven't been as good as originally thought, the Wildcats could be in their fifth Final Four in seven season if Fox and Monk continue with their leading ways.
Having Lauri Markkanen, the 7-foot center on the court means that there is someone out there that is impossible to guard. They have so much talent including Allonzo Trier and others, Arizona (30-4) can win the tournament if they lessen the turnovers.
They were simply excellent in the ACC tournament and have two of the best players we have seen so far this month in Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard. It may baffle critics that they did not receive the No. 1 selection, but that should make everything much sweeter come the later stages.
If the Cardinals would have beat Duke in the ACC Final, a game they should have won, they would be seen as more of a threat this year. Instead, they will need to take a much harder road to the Final Four, but they could easily make it there.
UCLA, Baylor, Iowa State, West Virginia, Wichita State, Purdue and Oregon all deserve their credit. Any one of these teams could upset the top seeds and although it would be shocking, they are all deserving.
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