The wide-open nature of this year’s NCAA tournament is reflected in the national title picks of Yahoo users.
The eight most popular projected champions received between 7 percent and 16 percent of the popular vote.
Here’s an early look at who Yahoo users like to pull early upsets, to reach the Final Four and to win the national championship in this year’s Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick’Em. And just in case you want the thoughts of a college basketball writer who embarrassingly picked Syracuse as a Final Four dark horse before the season — yes, seriously — I also offered my thoughts on where I agree and disagree with popular opinion.
Most popular Round of 64 upset pick by a double digit seed: No. 10 Wichita State over No. 7 Dayton (64.6 percent)
My take: Not only is this not an upset according to oddsmakers, Wichita State actually opened as a 6.5-point favorite despite being the lesser-seeded team. Historically undervalued by the selection committee, the Shockers have won nine NCAA tournament games the past four years despite being seeded better than seventh only once. They deserved better than a No. 10 seed this year after winning 20 of 21 Valley games by an average of 21.5 points apiece.
Most popular 11-6 Round of 64 upset pick: Xavier over Maryland (55.7 percent)
My take: Xavier might be the worst at-large team in the field. The Musketeers are just 6-7 since point guard Edmond Sumner’s season-ending knee injury and three of those wins came over DePaul. Maryland is not a particularly formidable No. 6 seed either, however, the Terps are less vulnerable than Creighton is. Taking Rhode Island over the Blue Jays might be better value.
Most popular 12-5 Round of 64 upset pick: Middle Tennessee over Minnesota (37.6 percent)
My take: One year after Middle Tennessee stunned Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, a more accomplished Blue Raiders team will try to topple another Big Ten opponent. Middle Tennessee can do it too if it can take care of the ball against Minnesota’s ball pressure and score at the rim despite the Gophers’ size and length in the paint.
Most popular 13-4 Round of 64 upset pick: East Tennessee State over Florida (13.5 percent)
My take: While East Tennessee State is the most dangerous of the No. 13 seeds, the slashing, guard-heavy Buccaneers did not receive a favorable draw. Florida’s tough guards and big, athletic wings excel at keeping opponents out of the lane. The Gators boast the nation’s fourth best defense, though center John Egbunu’s season-ending knee injury deprives them of their best rim protector.
Double-digit seed most likely to reach the Sweet 16: No. 12 Middle Tennessee (13.5 percent)
My take: If there’s a double-digit seed with a chance to win two games, Middle Tennessee may be it. Dynamic guard Giddy Potts and standout forwards Reggie Upshaw and Jacorey Williams led the Blue Raiders to a 30-win season that included victories over Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, UNC Wilmington and Belmont. Opening-round opponent Minnesota is seeded a line or two higher than it deserves. Potential second-round foe Butler has shown a split personality this season, toppling elite teams but also falling to the likes of Indiana State, St. John’s and Georgetown.
No. 1 seed most likely to lose before the Final Four: Gonzaga
My take: Gonzaga was still the sixth most popular Final Four pick with 36.2 percent of Yahoo users, but that put them well back of Kansas and Villanova and just behind North Carolina. Considering the Zags are the only one of those programs without both a Final Four appearance, let alone multiple national titles, a little bit of healthy skepticism is to be expected.
Most popular Final Four picks: Kansas (56.4), Villanova (49.2), Arizona (43.8), North Carolina (41.0)
My take: No arguments here. Most popular long-shot Final Four picks that aren’t top-three seeds? Notre Dame, Michigan and West Virginia.
Five most popular national champions: Villanova (15.9), North Carolina (14.4), Kansas (14.0), Duke (11.7), UCLA (9.4)
My take: I’m surprised Duke isn’t higher, but this looks about right. Gonzaga, Kentucky and Arizona each accounted for more than seven percent of the vote, and then the next most popular teams were Louisville and Oregon at barely two percent.
Gonzaga will: lose in the round of 64 (3.7 percent), lose during the first weekend (11.3 percent), lose without reaching the Final Four (63.8 percent), win the national championship (9.1 percent)
My take: The 3.7 percent of you who think Gonzaga will be the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 baffle me. Not only are No. 1 seeds 128-0 against No. 16 seeds in NCAA tournament history, Gonzaga has an 18-1 record against teams with better KenPom ratings than opponent South Dakota State. Taking a risk is one thing but this is bracket suicide.
Duke will: lose in the round of 64 (3.6 percent), lose during the first weekend (9.9 percent), lose before the Final Four (62.3 percent), win the national championship (11.7 percent)
My take: Preseason No. 1 Duke remaisn polarizing to the end. I’m hitching my bracket to the Blue Devils and projecting them to win the national title, which of course means they’ll fall before the opening weekend is over.
Podcast: Your guaranteed-win NCAA bracket guide!
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