March Madness 2017: Real-Time Picks, Updated Odds to Make the Final Four

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 18, 2017

March Madness 2017: Real-Time Picks, Updated Odds to Make the Final Four

0 of 16

    There will be no rematch of last year's national championship, but North Carolina could still get there.
    There will be no rematch of last year's national championship, but North Carolina could still get there.Lance King/Getty Images

    Sixteen teams have reached the second weekend of the 2017 NCAA tournament, but only four can make it to the Final Four. And we already know the defending national champions won't be one of them.

    Here are the odds on which teams are most and least likely to get to the national semifinals.

    Keep in mind that these shouldn't necessarily be considered power rankings of the remaining teams, because the difficulty of each squad's projected path to the Final Four is a significant factor. Therefore, we made sure that the odds for each region add up to 100 percent.

    The following slides are listed in ascending order of likelihood of making the Final Four, regardless of region.

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports-Reference.com.

Xavier Musketeers (No. 11 Seed, West Region)

1 of 16

    Xavier struggled late in the season, but that doesn't matter anymore.
    Xavier struggled late in the season, but that doesn't matter anymore.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    For a team that didn't beat anyone other than DePaul from Feb. 5 through March 8, Xavier looks doggone good. The Musketeers beat No. 6 Maryland by 11 before trouncing No. 3 Florida State by 25. Trevon Bluiett was the star of both games, but could anyone have predicted the opening weekend Sean O'Mara had? Xavier's seventh man recorded a total of 10 points and four rebounds in three wins over DePaul, but he put up 29 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks against the Terrapins and Seminoles.

               

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Xavier held its own on the glass against one of the tallest teams in the country and likely will need to do so two more times against Arizona and Gonzaga. Defending those teams will be more of a challenge than the X-Men faced in the first two rounds, though.

             

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    Dominate the glass, per usual. Six different Musketeers grabbed at least three boards as they blew out Maryland in the rebounding battle. This has been their biggest advantage against opponents all season. Xavier needs to get J.P. Macura going, though. It's hard to believe the Musketeers have looked this good without their second-best player shooting well in either game, but he could be the difference-maker moving forward.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 8-1

Butler Bulldogs (No. 4 Seed, South Region)

2 of 16

    Avery Woodson shot Winthrop into oblivion.
    Avery Woodson shot Winthrop into oblivion.Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    The long ball has been a dear friend to Butler thus far in the NCAA tournament. Avery Woodson drained six triples in the opener against Winthrop, and the Bulldogs shot 8-of-15 from three-point range against Middle Tennessee. Despite playing a pair of good games against teams with serious upset potential, Butler did not trail at any point in the first two rounds.

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Butler has already won 15 games this season against teams that made it into the dance, including a pair of wins over Villanova and nonconference wins against the likes of Arizona, Northwestern and Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs will likely need to get through North Carolina and either Kentucky or UCLA to reach the Final Four, but they're going to bring their A-game against those blue bloods.

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    Butler needs to do a better job in the turnover battle. Usually, that's one of the biggest strengths for the Bulldogs, but they are minus-two in that department thus far in the tournament. They also need to get Kethan Savage going. Woodson was great in the first game, and both Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin were outstanding against Middle Tennessee, but Savage was pretty much a no-show for opening weekend.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 8-1

South Carolina Gamecocks (No. 7 Seed, East Region)

3 of 16

    Sindarius Thornwell played like a star against Marquette.
    Sindarius Thornwell played like a star against Marquette.Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Eye Test

    Earlier this season against Florida, South Carolina missed 17 consecutive field-goal attempts. In a loss to Alabama, the Gamecocks scored 86 points in a four-overtime game. But, evidently, they were just playing possum, saving their real offense for the Big Dance, where they dropped 93 on Marquette before scoring 88 in upsetting the Blue Devils. In the second half, South Carolina shot 20-of-28 from the field and 21-of-23 from the free-throw line. Even the Golden State Warriors can't pull off halves like that.

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Beating Duke was only half of the journey. South Carolina still has a tough game against Baylor in the Sweet 16 before likely drawing conference foe Florida in the Elite Eight. With this suffocating defense, though, the Gamecocks can beat anyone.

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    Both Thornwell and PJ Dozier showed up in a big way against the Golden Eagles, which was also the case when South Carolina was winning a ton of games early in the season. Thornwell has been great all year, but Dozier's productivity fell off a cliff in SEC play before showing back up in the NCAA tournament. If that duo continues putting up points while everyone digs in on defense, the Gamecocks could go far.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 7-1

Michigan Wolverines (No. 7 Seed, Midwest Region)

4 of 16

    Michigan's offense put on a show in Indianapolis.
    Michigan's offense put on a show in Indianapolis.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    If you thought their magic ended in the Big Ten tournament, you thought wrong. The Wolverines emerged victorious from an exciting offensive slugfest in the first round against Oklahoma State before eliminating Louisville with Mo Wagner and defense in round No. 2. Michigan is on a mission to supplant Connecticut as the most recent team to go on an unbelievable run to a national championship.

    Roadblocks Ahead

    If a plane crash wasn't a roadblock for the Wolverines, upcoming games against Oregon and Kansas aren't likely to slow them down, either. But they better not get caught up in their own hype as the "team of destiny." Both the Ducks and the Jayhawks have more than enough talent to eliminate Michigan. After all, they didn't win their regular-season conference titles by accident.

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    Keep riding Wagner, D.J. Wilson and Derrick Walton Jr. Michigan has some great shooters in Duncan Robinson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and (occasionally) Zak Irvin, but the three W's are the best chance to keep this run going. Walton has been sensational for the past seven games, and with both Wilson and Wagner's defending and scoring from the perimeter, this team is impossible to defend.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 6-1

Wisconsin Badgers (No. 8 Seed, East Region)

5 of 16

    Bronson Koenig did a ton of shooting against Virginia Tech.
    Bronson Koenig did a ton of shooting against Virginia Tech.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    In the opener against Virginia Tech, Wisconsin got it done with offense. Bronson Koenig was on fire from three-point range while both Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ took care of business in the paint. In the second round against Villanova, though, it was all about defense. The Badgers didn't force many turnovers, but open looks were impossible to come by for the Wildcats. This is the most complete No. 8 seed since Kentucky reached the 2014 national championship from that line.

               

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Is there such a thing as a roadblock after you knock off the defending national champion? Tough games certainly await the Badgers in the next two rounds, as they'll draw Florida and likely Baylor. At this point, though, they have to believe they can beat anyone.

            

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    Wisconsin has the pieces to remain as efficient on offense as it was against the Hokies and Wildcats. The Badgers just haven't been able to get their Big Three to all show up in the same game often. If Hayes, Happ and Koenig keep playing like they did during the first weekend, they could pull off a few more upsets in the process of replicating their run to the 2000 Final Four as a No. 8 seed.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 5-1

Purdue Boilermakers (No. 4 Seed, Midwest Region)

6 of 16

    Getting "Biggie" going is a big part of Purdue's game plan.
    Getting "Biggie" going is a big part of Purdue's game plan.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    We defy you to find a better duo than Caleb Swanigan and Vincent Edwards have been thus far. In the first-round win over Vermont, they combined for 37 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. And they were just getting warmed up for their 41 points, 22 rebounds and 11 assists against Iowa State. Add in the work of Isaac Haas off the bench and Dakota Mathias averaging six assists per game and the Boilermakers have something cooking.

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Purdue escaped from a difficult pod in which any of the four teams could have advanced to the Sweet 16. And the reward for doing so is likely back-to-back games against Kansas and Oregon. Seeing Purdue repeatedly feed the big men is a great start, but there are some serious challenges ahead.

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    Let Swanigan eat. The sophomore power forward is averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds thus far in the tournament, and if anything, it feels like he should be getting even more touches. "Biggie" was just about unstoppable against Iowa State, including grabbing an offensive rebound from a missed free throw in the final 10 seconds that effectively sealed the game for Purdue.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 9-2

West Virginia Mountaineers (No. 4 Seed, West Region)

7 of 16

    Is this the year Press Virginia finally makes a deep run?
    Is this the year Press Virginia finally makes a deep run?Elsa/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    Despite struggling to turn over Bucknell in the first round, Press Virginia got the better of Notre Dame's usually efficient and turnover-free offense in the second round. Every Fighting Irish possession was a war, while the Mountaineers had one of their best offensive showings of the season, shooting 8-of-14 from three-point range.

    Roadblocks Ahead

    West Virginia played a nearly perfect game against Notre Dame, but can it do the same against Gonzaga and Arizona to reach the Final Four? Teams that are able to handle the pressure (there aren't many of them) have fared well against WVU's frontcourt defense. Both the Bulldogs and Wildcats will look to capitalize on that opportunity.

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    We know West Virginia's defense is going to cause problems for opponents. When the offense shows up, the Mountaineers might be the best team in the nation. They are now 25-0 over the past three years when shooting better than 40 percent from downtown. And when those shots aren't falling, this is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation. To put it lightly, West Virginia is a matchup nightmare for any team.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 7-2

Kentucky Wildcats (No. 2 Seed, South Region)

8 of 16

    It's a good thing (for Kentucky) that Isaiah Briscoe came back for a sophomore year.
    It's a good thing (for Kentucky) that Isaiah Briscoe came back for a sophomore year.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    The offense hasn't been great thus far—translation: Malik Monk hasn't caught fire yet—but Kentucky has been outstanding on the defensive end. The Wildcats had nine blocks and five steals in the opener against Northern Kentucky and clamped down on D with a pair of clutch blocks in the final 30 seconds of the 65-62 win over Wichita State.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    After yet another second-round gem against Wichita State, Kentucky will likely need to get through both UCLA and North Carolina to reach the Final Four. And if it's anything like the first times those teams played this season, buckle up. Kentucky lost 97-92 to UCLA two weeks before a 103-100 win over North Carolina.

             

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    UK has to figure out in a hurry whether Monk is feeling it. Kentucky's sensational shooting guard can single-handedly carry or bury it. If it's not his night, the Wildcats need to get De'Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe and Bam Adebayo going at all costs. The defense will keep the Wildcats in any game, as long as Monk isn't shooting them out of it.

         

    Odds to Make Final Four: 3-1

UCLA Bruins (No. 3 Seed, South Region)

9 of 16

    TJ Leaf had 23 points in his first NCAA tournament game.
    TJ Leaf had 23 points in his first NCAA tournament game.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    Even against one of the best defenses in the country, UCLA was able to drop 79 points on Cincinnati. Per usual, the Bruins shot well from three (11-of-28), assisted on a high percentage of their field goals (21 of 31) and hardly committed any turnovers (three). In fact, UCLA's defense was the aggressor in the second round, finishing with more blocks and steals than the Bearcats tallied.

    Roadblocks Ahead

    We might as well rename the South Region the "Blue Blood Bracket," as UCLA needs to survive a rematch with Kentucky just to likely run into North Carolina. This is one of the four or five best teams left in the tournament, but its draw is brutal.

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    The Bruins proved late in the season against the likes of Oregon, USC and Arizona that they're capable of defending when they want to, and they showed it again against Cincinnati. Their defensive effort in the first game against Kent State was lackluster, but they can win it all just by caring a little bit on that end of the floor.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 13-5

Oregon Ducks (No. 3 Seed, Midwest Region)

10 of 16

    Oregon has its eyes on the prize.
    Oregon has its eyes on the prize.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    The Ducks coasted to victory against Iona before an exhilarating second-round game against Rhode Island. The Rams led for most of the second half, but Tyler Dorsey shot 9-of-10 from the field, including the game-tying and game-winning three-pointers to keep the Ducks alive for at least one more game.

    Roadblocks Ahead

    It might seem like Oregon got a break with No. 2 seed Louisville losing in the second round, but the Ducks now have to try to beat the unbeatable Michigan Wolverines. If, by chance, they're able to knock off the team of destiny, they'll probably draw Kansas in the Elite Eight. Not an easy path by any means.

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    The Ducks need to figure out how to defend the paint without Boucher. Arizona, Iona and Rhode Island have scored at will against them in the past three games, and you better believe teams like Michigan and Kansas will do the same if Oregon lets them. But few teams have been able to slow down the Ducks offense, so maybe they can get by for another week by just scoring a ton.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 5-2

Gonzaga Bulldogs (No. 1 Seed, West Region)

11 of 16

    Jordan Mathews was the only Zag who shot well against South Dakota State.
    Jordan Mathews was the only Zag who shot well against South Dakota State.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    The Zags never make it easy in March, do they? They struggled with South Dakota State for the entire first half in the first round before eventually turning it on in the second half. They went the opposite direction against Northwestern, leading by 18 at the half before nearly giving it all away. That split personality was our biggest concern with this team coming into the tournament. "Committed Gonzaga" can win it all, but it has to keep "Lackadaisical Gonzaga" from calling the shots.

              

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Gonzaga's toughness will be put to the test from this point forward. The Bulldogs run into Press Virginia in the Sweet 16 and would likely need to survive a rematch with Arizona to reach the Final Four. That's arguably the toughest path any No. 1 seed would need to go through to live up to its potential.

         

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    Defense is a huge part of the equation for Gonzaga, but it needs to be better on offense, and earlier in the game. The Bulldogs have too many studs to be scoring fewer than 75 points in a contest, and they'll make a lot of their doubters happy if they have another offensive output like they did against SDSU.

            

    Odds to Make Final Four: 9-4

Baylor Bears (No. 3 Seed, East Region)

12 of 16

    Do not adjust your screen. Baylor's jerseys really are that bright.
    Do not adjust your screen. Baylor's jerseys really are that bright.J Pat Carter/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    Baylor never makes it easy. The Bears struggled early with New Mexico State and blew a big first-half lead against USC before storming back for a four-point victory. They have been outstanding on the offensive end of the floor, but their defense leaves something to be desired.

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Baylor was given a gift by South Carolina, eliminating Duke before the Blue Devils would have faced the Bears in Madison Square Garden. With that upset in Greenville, Baylor went from a bit of a long shot to reach the Final Four to perhaps the favorite to come out of the East Region. The Bears still need to get by the Gamecocks and would likely have a tough game against Florida waiting in the Elite Eight.

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    The Bears put up 91 points against New Mexico State, but that's not their game. They need to get it done on the defensive end of the floor with foul-free shot-blocking in a slow-tempo game. They won seven games this season in which they scored 66 points or fewer, and that'll be the target zone in an East Region loaded with teams that want to win with offense.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 9-5

Florida Gators (No. 4 Seed, East Region)

13 of 16

    Florida dunked its way to the second round.
    Florida dunked its way to the second round.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    Florida was a trendy pick to suffer an upset in the first round, but the Gators have been suffocating on defense. They stifled a quality East Tennessee State team before stomping a 65-39 mud hole in Virginia in the second round. Devin Robinson has been sensational, and the Gators have discovered a nice weapon off the bench in Gorjok Gak. The 6'11" freshman scored a grand total of four points in SEC play, but he already has 10 in the NCAA tournament.

          

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Saturday morning, it felt like Florida had the toughest path to the Final Four, needing to beat Virginia before potentially drawing Villanova and Duke in subsequent rounds. But the Gators effortlessly defeated the Cavaliers and got an assist from Wisconsin and South Carolina, which knocked off Villanova and Duke, respectively. All of a sudden, Florida has a clear path to the national semifinals.

         

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    Defense is everything for the Gators. They have plenty of guys who can score, but their advantage is in blocking shots and forcing turnovers. Florida had 12 steals against East Tennessee State, converting those live-ball turnovers into 17 points. Florida also blocked four shots in that first win and needs to continue protecting the rim.

    Odds to Make Final Four: 9-5

North Carolina Tar Heels (No. 1 Seed, South Region)

14 of 16

    At least one of the No. 1 seeds blew out its first-round opponent from start to finish.
    At least one of the No. 1 seeds blew out its first-round opponent from start to finish.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Eye Test

    The Tar Heels destroyed Texas Southern in the first round, but they got all they could handle from Arkansas to reach the Sweet 16. With undeniable help from a pair of controversial calls, North Carolina finished the game on a 12-0 run to survive and advance.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    North Carolina will run into Butler in the Sweet 16 before drawing either Kentucky, Cincinnati or UCLA in the Elite Eight. Because the Bruins and Wildcats likely need to wage war roughly 48 hours before facing UNC, the Tar Heels are the clear favorite to advance out of the South Region. But, if they play like they did against Arkansas, they could get crushed by Butler before even facing one of those blue bloods.

              

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    North Carolina is the best offensive rebounding team in the nation and will continue to dominate in the paint for as long as the referees allow. Foul trouble for Isaiah Hicks is arguably the biggest Achilles' heel for the Tar Heels, but they still have Kennedy Meeks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye if and when Hicks ends up on the bench.

         

    Odds to Make Final Four: 9-5

Arizona Wildcats (No. 2 Seed, West Region)

15 of 16

    Rawle Alkins didn't miss a shot against North Dakota.
    Rawle Alkins didn't miss a shot against North Dakota.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    For the first time in a while, Arizona's offense found a challenger in the second round. The Wildcats entered the game against Saint Mary's averaging 90.3 points over their last four games, routinely destroying opponents with two-point buckets and rebounds. But we're actually more impressed that Arizona was able to win with defense after falling behind early. In related news, Lauri Markkanen is awesome and could be well on his way to becoming the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Thanks to No. 11 seed Xavier's reaching the Sweet 16, Arizona has one of the most favorable paths to the Final Four. No disrespect to the Musketeers. They could beat the Wildcats. But Arizona is good enough to win back-to-back games against Xavier and Gonzaga at least one out of every three times.

             

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    If the Wildcats continue using their size and athleticism to their advantage, they'll go far. They consistently get more rebounds and attempt more free throws than their competition, they rarely commit turnovers and—the game against North Dakota notwithstandingthey're a tough team to shoot against from the perimeter.

             

    Odds to Make Final Four: 7-4

Kansas Jayhawks (No. 1 Seed, Midwest Region)

16 of 16

    Can anyone stop the Jayhawks?
    Can anyone stop the Jayhawks?J Pat Carter/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    No team that lost in its first conference tournament game has ever won the national championship, but it's looking like Kansas could become the first. The Jayhawks destroyed UC Davis in the first round before eventually running away from Michigan State for a 20-point victory in the second round. They have averaged an absurd 95.0 points per tournament game.

           

    Roadblocks Ahead

    After dismissing one Big Ten team, Kansas might need to go through two more. The Jayhawks will definitely face Purdue and Caleb Swanigan in the Sweet 16 and could run into Michigan in the Elite Eight.

            

    Key to Making It to Phoenix

    More than anything, Kansas needs to get both Josh Jackson and Frank Mason III going as early as possible in every game. The Jayhawks got into a bad habit this season of falling behind and needing to fight like heck to come back for a win. It may have mentally prepared them to overcome deficits in the tournament, but it's always easier when you don't dig yourself a massive hole.

      

    Odds to Make Final Four: 7-5

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.