NCAA Tournament 2016: Predicting Favorites for March Madness Bracket

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2016

Denzel Valentine and Michigan State look like one the top favorites going into the bracket.
Denzel Valentine and Michigan State look like one the top favorites going into the bracket.Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

March Madness might have a rather apt description, but when it comes right down to it, favorites still rule the roost.

Look at last year, when a trio of No. 1 seeds survived what was a wild bracket before top-seeded teams Wisconsin and Duke squared off for the title.

This year might offer more of the same. The projected top seeds won't have an easy time, but they also won't be the teams falling in major upsets that put the "madness" into the description in the first place.

Below, let's look at those favorites. While they might not look like locks for a No. 1 seed, they are the teams built to withstand yet another wild bracket.

2016 NCAA Tournament Schedule

DateRoundLocation(s)
March 15, 16First FourUD Arena (Dayton, Ohio)
March 17, 19First/Second RoundsDunkin Donuts Center (Providence, R.I.); Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, Iowa); PNC Arena (Raleigh, N.C.); Pepsi Center (Denver)
March 18, 20First/Second RoundsBarclays Center (Brooklyn, N.Y.); Scottrade Center (St. Louis); Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City); Spokane Arena (Spokane, Wash.)
March 24, 26West Regional (Sweet 16, Elite Eight)Honda Center (Anaheim, Calif.)
March 24, 26South Regional (Sweet 16, Elite Eight)KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Ky.)
March 25, 27Midwest Regional (Sweet 16, Elite Eight)United Center (Chicago)
March 25, 27East Regional (Sweet 16, Elite Eight)Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)
April 2Final Four (Semifinals)NRG Stadium (Houston)
April 4Championship GameNRG Stadium (Houston)
Source: ESPN.com

Predicting Bracket Favorites

Michigan State

Denzel Valentine has the Spartans playing elite offensive ball.
Denzel Valentine has the Spartans playing elite offensive ball.Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

While the Michigan State Spartans might not secure a No. 1 seed (they don't in Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology predictions at ESPN.com) this year, head coach Tom Izzo might have his best offensive team in history.

Izzo's team averages 80.7 points per game and comes in 13th in ESPN's RPI rankings with an 11-4 mark against the RPI top 100, including that notable November win against Kansas.

Denzel Valentine leads the way for the Spartans at 19.6 points per game and a 45.4 percent conversion clip from deep. Bryn Forbes is the perfect complement at 15.1 and 50.5 percent.

Izzo himself believes in the group, as he said plainly enough in a speech on senior day, according to Mike Griffith of MLive.com.

"In the 21 years I've been the head coach, we've gone to seven Final Fours and three of them I thought we had a legitimate chance to win going in," Izzo said. "I'm putting my neck on the line, this is the fourth where we have a legitimate chance to win."

The combination of public confidence and a pace most teams cannot match makes the Spartans a clear favorite. Boasting a win against Kansas certainly helps the status.

Virginia

Virginia just keeps rolling despite the lack of headlines compared to other contenders.
Virginia just keeps rolling despite the lack of headlines compared to other contenders.Steve Helber/Associated Press

Third in the ACC and just one game off the conference lead, Virginia looks like one of the teams to beat.

Now second in RPI and boasting a 7-2 mark against the RPI top 25, it's actually interesting to see how little hype the Cavaliers receive.

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports provided some perspective:

Indeed, it's easier to count off where the Cavaliers have come up short, which isn't often. The loss to Duke was by a single point, and the loss to Miami came by three points. Both losses came on the road.

Virginia has plenty of factors to thank for the epic season, chief among them Malcolm Brogdon, who averages 18.4 points. A penchant for strong defense and showing up when it matters most doesn't hurt, either.

As Rothstein hinted, there isn't a good excuse to keep sleeping on the Cavaliers.

Villanova

Jay Wright's team-based approach has Villanova as a contender.
Jay Wright's team-based approach has Villanova as a contender.Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

So much for staying down on Villanova.

The Wildcats took an ugly loss to Xavier near the end of February, but they have since won three in a row in convincing fashion.

Long story short, head coach Jay Wright and his team still sit in the driver's seat for a top seed thanks to a third slot in RPI and 18 wins against the top 150not to mention eight against the top 50.

Granted, Villanova's three losses to teams in the top six of RPI have been quite ugly. But the overall body of work is impressive, and unlike most top teams, the Wildcats don't hinge on one star player who can make or break a game.

Instead, Villanova is perhaps the most well-rounded potential top seed around. It relies on team ball and deep shooting for wins. In a recent walloping of Georgetown, the Wildcats knocked down six shots from deep in the first half alone.

Rothstein provided the jaw-dropping assist numbers:

Villanova isn't a team that will sink or swim based on the play of one person. That in itself makes the Wildcats one of the most dangerous favorites in the bracket.

Kansas

Perry Ellis and Kansas are one of the best shooting teams in the nation.
Perry Ellis and Kansas are one of the best shooting teams in the nation.John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Mentioning Kansas seems like a formality at this point.

No. 1 both in RPI and the Associated Press poll, the Jayhawks are riding an 11-game win streakone touting triumphs against six ranked opponents.

For those counting, the Big 12 leader has a 9-3 mark against the RPI top 25. The three losses were ugly, but losing to Michigan State seems understandable, and the Jayhawks were able to upend both West Virginia and Iowa State teams that had bested them once.

So it goes with Perry Ellis averaging 16.5 points per game and the team's top five in scoring average all shooting better than 40 percent from deep, which helps the team average 81.8 points per game.

Whether the Jayhawks can get the best of Michigan State in a rematch or take down the uncanny team play of Villanova remains a mystery, but there is little doubt the team hits the bracket as the runaway favorite.

Stats and information courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified. Advanced metrics courtesy of ESPN.com.

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