The field for this year’s men’s basketball NCAA tournament has been set, and at the head of the pack are four No. 1 seeds for each of the regions. Before you go and decide to pencil in all four teams' names all the way to the Final Four on your tournament bracket sheet, you should keep in mind that the last time this actually happened was in 2008. Looking back a bit further, there were no No. 1 seeds in the Final Four in both 2006 and 2001.
The following is a rank of all four No. 1 seeds in this year’s field, as well as a prediction as to just how far each one last in the Big Dance, based on futures odds listed at Vegas Insider.
No. 1 South Region: Florida Gators (32-2)
The Gators steamrolled their way through the SEC with a regular season record of 18-0, and they followed that up with a 61-60 victory over Kentucky as 6.5-point favorites in the SEC tournament title game. They have been opened as 9/5 favorites to win their region and as 11/2 favorites to end this impressive run with a national title.
Florida is one of the most well-balanced teams in the field, with an offense averaging 71 points per game and shooting 46.3 percent from the field complementing a defensive effort that is ranked third in the nation in points allowed (57.9). After facing the winner of a play-in game between Albany and Mount Saint Mary’s in its tournament opener, it will then face the winner of a second-round matchup between Pittsburgh and Colorado.
Heading into the Sweet 16, teams such as VCU and UCLA will most likely stand in the way of a trip to the Elite 8, and many people will pencil in a matchup against Kansas or possibly Syracuse for a trip to the Final Four. They will beat either team, but I am not stopping there. I have the Gators going all the way to the national title game, where they will cut down the nets as this year’s tournament champion.
No. 1 West Region: Arizona Wildcats (30-4)
Arizona has remained at or near the top of the national rankings all season long. This is a very good team, but it has not dominated the competition like some of the other No. 1 seeds in the field. It also comes into this tournament fresh off a 75-71 loss to UCLA as a five-point favorite in the Pac-12 tournament championship. The Wildcats have been opened as 2/1 favorites to win the west region, and they are 9/1 fourth-favorites to win it all.
A trip to next week’s Sweet 16 is a fairly solid bet with eighth-seed Gonzaga most likely standing in the way. Things could start getting dicey from there, with teams such as Oklahoma, Creighton and Wisconsin all standing in the way. I like Arizona’s shot at getting to the Elite 8, but that is where the ride ends. The Badgers appear primed to go on a run that takes them all the way to the Final Four at the Wildcats’ expense.
No. 1 Midwest Region: Wichita State Shockers (34-0)
Wichita State has remained perfect in this season’s campaign by winning every test it has faced. This was not totally unexpected, considering last year’s amazing run to the Final Four in the West Region as a No. 9 seed. Some may question the Shockers’ strength of schedule since they play in the Missouri Valley Conference, but I think the perfect record still stands on its own merit.
The oddsmakers are less impressed, considering that Wichita State is a 4/1 third-favorite just to win its region. When it comes to cutting down the nets as a national champion, those odds balloon to 10/1. There is already one major roadblock to keeping the winning streak alive with a probable matchup against No. 8 seed Kentucky looming in the third round, and if that is not bad enough, the Shockers would then most likely face No. 4 seed Louisville in the Sweet 16. The Cardinals ended the Shockers' run last season in the Final Four, and this year they will take them out again, but just a few rounds earlier.
No. 1 East Region: Virginia Cavaliers (28-6)
This was not the strongest year in the ACC, but the addition of Syracuse and Pitt to the mix, as well as traditional powers Duke and North Carolina, still made the Cavaliers’ ride to the conference’s regular-season title at 16-2 a pretty impressive accomplishment. They put an exclamation point on the feat by knocking off Duke 72-63 in the ACC tournament title game as 1.5-point underdogs. This is another team that is not getting all that much love from the oddsmakers as an 11/4 second-favorite to win the East, and its odds to win the national title have been set at 10/1.
The Cavaliers are in pretty good shape to make it through their first two games to the Sweet 16, but from there they will most likely have to get past No. 4 seed Michigan State to keep the dream alive. The Spartans are favored to win this region at 5/2, but I am sticking with Virginia to get past that hurdle and keep going all the way to the Final Four, considering the competition in the East that should be left at that point. Unfortunately for Virginia fans like me, the ride ends there with a loss to Florida.