NCAA Tournament Bracket First Impressions: South Region Is Loaded

villanova basketball

Sunday, March 12, 2017 11:15 PM GMT

Apparently, it’s not all that important to win your conference tournament as two schools, Kansas and North Carolina, were given No. 1 seeds in the 2017 NCAA Tournament despite failing to win their conference tourney. They are joined on top line by Villanova and Gonzaga.

No team has repeated as the national champion since Florida in 2006 & '07 – and Villanova is the first defending champion to be named the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament since the Gators in 2007. Good karma perhaps? The Cats are in the East Region and open against the First Four winner between Mount St. Mary's and New Orleans. Villanova is +900 on 5Dimes NCAA basketball odds to win it all again.

The No. 2 in Villanova's region is Duke, the ACC Tournament champion. The Blue Devils were the preseason national championship betting favorites. They are now +975. The Dukies looked like contenders to cut down the nets in Glendale, Ariz., the first Monday of April in their ACC tourney run. The beat Clemson, No. 10 Louisville, No. 6 North Carolina and No. 22 Notre Dame on the way to the title. Duke opens the NCAAs against No. 15 Troy.

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West Region

The winner of the East Region faces the West Region champion in the Final Four and the West No. 1 is Gonzaga (+825 to win it all). The Zags have just one loss this season, to BYU, as they look for their first-ever trip to the national semifinals. They open against No. 16 South Dakota State in Salt Lake City. In the second round, either Virginia Tech or Wisconsin awaits.

Also out West are No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Florida State and the story of the tournament, No. 8 Northwestern. It had been the only Power 5 school to never make the Big Dance. The Wildcats open against No. 9 Vanderbilt, which had to be one of the last at-large teams in. Vandy is the first school with at least 15 losses to get an at-large bid.

South Region

In my mind, the South Region is the toughest of the four with North Carolina (+900) the top seed out there despite losing to Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals. Kentucky is No. 2 and UCLA at No. 3. The Heels have made a record 19 Final Four trips. UCLA is second with 18 and Kentucky third with 17. UNC opens against Texas Southern, with Arkansas or Seton Hall waiting in the second round in Greenville, S.C.

At least the Heels won't have to beat both the Bruins and Wildcats to reach the Final Four. If form holds, UNC is looking at a Sweet 16 matchup vs. No. 4 Butler. UCLA won at Kentucky 97-92 back on Dec. 3 when the Wildcats were No. 1 in the nation. That ended UK's 42-game home winning streak. Kentucky is looking at a really tough second-round matchup vs. either Dayton or Wichita State.

Midwest Region

In the Midwest, Kansas (+750) is the top seed despite losing its Big 12 Tournament opener to TCU – the Jayhawks were without star freshman Josh Jackson for that one due to a one-game suspension. If Kansas wins its first two games (NC Central-UC Davis First Four winner and then either Miami or Michigan State), it gets to play in Kansas City. Huge advantage there for the Sweet 16 and potential Elite Eight.

The No. 2 in the Midwest is Louisville, which opens vs. Jacksonville State. I believe the Midwest is the easiest region partly because Oregon is the No. 3 and the Ducks lost one of their best players, Chris Boucher, to a season-ending injury in the Pac-12 Tournament. A 6-foot-10 senior, Boucher averaged 11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and a Pac-12-best 2.5 blocks this season. I give Oregon no shot to reach the Final Four without him.

NCAAB Early Final Four Picks

No. 2 Duke (East), No. 2 Arizona (West), No. 1 Kansas (Midwest), No. 1 UNC (South)

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