2017 March Madness Predictions: The Final Four, Elite 8 and First Round upsets

College basketball analyst Ross Benjamin shares some of his early predictions regarding the upcoming 2017 NCAA tournament after examining the futures at top betting sites. Here’s Benjamin’s predictions for March Madness Final Four, Elite 8, and First Round Upsets. Take a read and fill out your bracket accordingly.

Early “Final Four” Picks

  1. Gonzaga (26-0): I’m certainly not going out on a limb with this choice. Nevertheless, I love Gonzaga’s chances to get to make its first “Final Four” appearance in program history. The Bulldogs own quality non-conference wins over Arizona, Florida, Iowa State, and at Tennessee. They’ve dominated in West Coast Conference play, and includes a pair of double digit wins against nationally ranked St. Mary’s. This may be Gonzaga’s magical year where they not only reach the ‘Final Four”, but can possibly win it all.
  2. Arizona (23-3): I know Sean Miller is a head coach at a power conference school. Nonetheless, I still contend he’s one of the most underrated head coaches in all of college basketball. His teams seemingly always enter the national conversation at this juncture of the season, and this year is no different. The Wildcats are disciplined, athletic, and stout defensively. Their only 3 losses have come against 3 nationally ranked opponents in Butler, Oregon, and Gonzaga. Beware of the Cats come March.
  3. Florida (21-5): Every year there’s a team or two that reaches college basketball’s pinnacle, and wasn’t considered to be a serious threat to get there. Case in point, Syracuse last year as a #11 seed. The Gators are deep with 8 players averaging 6.0 points or greater per game, and 15 minutes or more minutes played per contest. Since being upset at home by Vanderbilt, Florida has reeled off 7 straight wins by 9 points or more, and it included a 22-point demolition of Kentucky. When reviewing the odds at Bookmaker, I’m of the opinion that Florida is the best betting value to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
  4. Virginia (18-6): For the sake of not being redundant, my choice of Virginia is similar in nature to Florida. The Cavaliers won’t wow you when watching them play. However, they may be the best defensive team in the country, and are all around fundamentally sound. There’s plenty of returning experience from last year’s team that was upset in the ‘Elite 8” by Syracuse. Maybe this year with lower expectations, Virginia will be able to finish the task.

Predicting Losers in “Elite 8”

  1. Villanova (25-2): You can’t ever undervalue the defending national champions. Especially when factoring in their experience, and the fabulous season they’ve put together thus far. However, repeating as national champions is a tall order. The last team to do so was Florida in 2007. Before that, it goes all the way back to 1992 when Duke accomplished the feat.
  2. Purdue (21-5): All due respect to Wisconsin, but for my money Purdue is the best team in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers shoot the 3-point ball with a high degree of efficiency (41.3%), are a solid rebounding team, and have been involved in 7 games this season decided by 5 points or less. The latter of which can pay huge dividends come NCAA Tournament time.
  3. West Virginia (20-6): You can’t simulate in practice the kind of ferocious full court defensive pressure applies to its opponents. The Mountaineers epitomize their head coach’s (Bob Huggins) personality. They’re physical on the boards and play with a fierce tenacity. No college basketball team forced more turnovers over the past 3 seasons than West Virginia has.
  4. Oregon (22-4): After beginning the season by going 2-2, Oregon went on a school record 17-game win streak. The Ducks recently overwhelmed one of my Final Four college basketball predictions during a 27-point home blowout win against Arizona. Oregon is no joke, and there won’t be any teams that looking forward to playing them in the ‘Big Dance”.

Mid-Major First Round Upset Possibilities

Every year at the NCAA Tournament there’s a fair share of first round upsets pulled off by mid-major schools. Identifying these potential 1st round upsets when sifting through college basketball betting odds is no easy task. Here’s my early take on teams to keep an eye out for in that regard.

  1. Middle Tennessee State (22-4): The Blue Raiders may have pulled off the biggest 1st round upset during last year’s NCAA Tournament when they knocked off #2 seed Michigan State. They have 3 returning starters from last year’s Cinderella team, and have dominated in Conference USA action by going 12-1 thus far. They own blowout wins this season over Vanderbilt by 23 and at Alabama by 15. At this present time, Middle Tennessee State is projected to be a #12 or #13 seed. They’ll certainly be an enticing underdog when considering your NCAA Tournament picks if that indeed transpires.
  2. Akron (22-4): The Mid America Conference has a history of pulling off NCAA Tournament first round upsets. Remember the recent “Elite 8” appearance by Ohio, or how about the one by an Antonio Gates led Kent State team? The Akron Zips are primed to add their name to that list of MAC Teams pulling off NCAA Tournament first round upsets. Considering 2 of their 4 losses this season came on the road against #1 Gonzaga and nationally ranked Creighton, keeping a watchful eye on Akron come March would be a wise idea.

There you have it — the oddsmaker’s aggregated predictions for the 2017 March Madness tourney. Now let’s see how these educated guesses play out.

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