March Madness 2018: Predicting Top Four Seeds and Championship Favorites

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 9, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 08: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats takes a shot as Matt Heldt #12 of the Marquette Golden Eagles defends during quarterfinals of the Big East Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 2018 in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Unlike past years, the discussion about which teams should be No. 1 seeds in the NCAA men's basketball tournament is quiet.

Three of the four teams projected to be top seeds in the Big Dance appear to be locks heading into the final weekend of play before Selection Sunday.

The fourth No. 1 seed might not be up for debate either if certain results play out during the conclusion of Championship Week.

As we've seen in the past, being a No. 1 seed far from guarantees a team's spot in the Final Four, but it puts them in the conversation of championship favorites.

       

Championship Favorites (via Oddsshark)

Virginia (+600; Bet $100 to win $600) 

Villanova (+600)

Duke (+600)

Michigan State (+700)

Purdue (+1200)

Michigan (+1200)

Kansas (+1600)

Arizona (+2000)

Xavier (+2000)

North Carolina (+2000)

Florida (+2000)

Cincinnati (+2000)

Tennessee (+2000)

      

Predictions for Top Four Seeds

Virginia 

Virginia's name has been marked in Sharpie on the top-seed line for close to a month.

While other top programs struggled for stretches during conference play, Virginia never faltered, as the Cavaliers went 17-1 in ACC play to finish the regular season with a 29-2 record.

Tony Bennett's team knocked off each of the top squads in the ACC, with wins over North Carolina, Clemson and Duke, and its only conference loss came by a point against Virginia Tech.

Virginia's lone nonconference defeat came at the hands of West Virginia on December 5 by seven points.

Ben McKeown/Associated Press

Although their nonconference schedule doesn't strike you as impressive, with the best win coming against Rhode Island, the Cavaliers ran the table during a season in which every team seemed to show flaws.

The Cavaliers should be the No. 1 overall seed, even if they lose to Clemson in the ACC tournament semifinals, and they'll be seen by many as the favorites to win the NCAA tournament based on their reliability.

Virginia is also driven by its early exit in the Big Dance a year ago, in which Florida held it to 39 points in the round of 32.

     

Villanova

Although Villanova didn't win the Big East regular-season title, it is seen as the second-best team in the country because it defeated Xavier twice in conference play. 

Just like most programs, the Wildcats hit a bumpy patch by their standards in February, as they lost to St. John's, Providence and Creighton in a 17-day span.

Critics of the Wildcats will point to that stretch as why they are more likely to experience an exit on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, like they did against Wisconsin a year ago in the round of 32.

Villanova is in position to earn a No. 1 seed thanks to its pair of key victories over Xavier in the Big East, as well as an immaculate nonconference mark that includes wins over Gonzaga and Tennessee.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 08:  Phil Booth #5 of the Villanova Wildcats drives past Sam Hauser #10 of the Marquette Golden Eagles in the second half during quarterfinals of the Big East Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 2018 in New York
Elsa/Getty Images

Jay Wright's Wildcats have no problem bludgeoning opponents to death from the three-point line, as the guard-heavy rotation led by National Player of the Year candidate Jalen Brunson possesses plenty of shooters.

However, the concern for the Wildcats lies in the frontcourt, where Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall will be tested by opponents who focus on stopping the production of the Villanova guards from beyond the arc.

Spellman, a freshman, scored 16 points in two meetings with Xavier and wasn't impressive in the victories over Gonzaga and Tennessee, as he combined for 13 points in the two games.

Paschall found his way into double digits in both wins over Xavier, but he struggled against Gonzaga by putting up four points in 37 minutes.

If Villanova's big men put together a string of consistent performances, it's hard to pick against it advancing to the Final Four.

       

Xavier

Despite winning the Big East regular-season title, Xavier sits beneath Villanova in most bracket projections because of its two head-to-head defeats against the Wildcats.

The Musketeers are an experienced team led by Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, who were key parts of the team that advanced to the Elite 8 a year ago.

Chris Mack's team earned nonconference triumphs over Baylor and Cincinnati to bolster its resume that also boasts at least one win over every team in the Big East outside of Villanova.

Xavier has been one of the most consistent teams in the nation, as it has one loss since January 13, including Thursday's Big East quarterfinal victory over St. John's.

Bluiett and Macura are the top providers on the squad, but the Musketeers have a well-rounded supporting cast led by big man Kerem Kanter.

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Eight different players on the Xavier roster average over seven points per game, with Bluiett leading the team with 19.7 per contest.

With one of the most balanced lineups in men's basketball, the Musketeers are a matchup problem for most teams.

The one thing that could do Xavier in is a guard-heavy team that benefits from three-point shooting similar to Villanova, like Purdue, Michigan State or Nevada, who all sit near the top of the national rankings in three-point percentage.

If an opponent gets hot at the right time from beyond the arc against Xavier in the Big Dance, it could spell trouble for it.

       

Kansas

Kansas survived the rigorous Big 12 to win its 14th straight regular-season title and put itself in position to earn the fourth No. 1 seed.

Bill Self's team carries senior experience from Devonte' Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, both of whom are capable of carrying the Jayhawks deep into the NCAA tournament with their three-point shooting.

Malik Newman flies under the radar a bit due to the presence of the pair of senior guards, but he could be a vital weapon for the Jayhawks to exploit weaknesses in opposing defenses.

Just like Villanova, Kansas' success in the Big Dance relies on the consistency of its paint players. Udoka Azubuike, who averages 13.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, finds himself in the spotlight during most Kansas games for his poor free-throw shooting.

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

Azubuike shoots 41.6 percent from the charity stripe, a number that could lead opponents to foul him early in an attempt to unravel his nerves in a one-and-done contest.

Kansas is in position to earn a No. 1 seed thanks to four victories over top-25 opponents in the Big 12, and an early-season nonconference victory over Kentucky.

The only scenario in which the Jayhawks lose out on a No. 1 seed is if they falter in the Big 12 tournament semifinals against Kansas State and Duke knocks off North Carolina and Virginia on the way to an ACC tournament title.

Those potential victories would give Duke eight wins against the AP Top 25 and one against the projected No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

       

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.

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