Final Four Predictions 2018: Picks, Odds and Analysis on Locks for Semifinals

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2018

Ty Jerome should play a key role for Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.
Ty Jerome should play a key role for Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.Steve Helber/Associated Press

After the First Four games are in the books, the NCAA Tournament will hit full stride with 16 games on Thursday and 16 more on Friday.

When fans think of the NCAA tournament, it's difficult to beat the excitement of the first weekend, when upsets, buzzer beaters and spectacular performances can be common.

There may be a 5-12 upset or two, or perhaps a 4-13 shocker, but when it comes to making the Final Four, the best bets are usually the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the tournament.

Virginia (31-2) has been the best team in the country for much of the second half of the season, and the Cavaliers earned the No. 1 seed in the South region and the top seed overall in the tournament.

Head coach Tony Bennett has his team playing the best defense in the nation, and that's not much of a surprise. Virginia has been a strong defensive team for years, and the Cavaliers have turned it up a notch this season.

The Cavs are allowing 53.4 points per game, and that ranks first in the nation. However, Virginia is more than just a strong defensive team. The Cavaliers don't play an explosive offensive game, but they execute well when they are attacking in their half-court offense.

Kyle Guy is leading the Cavs with an average of 14.1 points per night, and he is connecting on 83.7 percent of his free throws. Devon Hall is supporting Guy with 12.0 points per night, and Ty Jerome is contributing 10.5 points per game.

The Cavs won't have sixth man De'Andre Hunter, who will miss the tournament due to a broken wrist. The school made the announcement Tuesday (h/t Jeff Goodman of Hunter, the ACC's sixth man of the year, suffered the injury in last week's ACC Tournament.

While that's a tough blow, it's difficult to see the Cavaliers not making the Final Four. They are likely to get challenged by second-seeded Cincinnati and third-seeded Tennessee in the South region, but the Cavaliers will make it to San Antonio.

Virginia is the plus-550 co-favorite to win the tournament along with East top-seed Villanova, according to OddsShark

Duke is the plus-750 third choice, while the Michigan State Spartans are the plus-850 fourth choice.

Here's a look at OddsShark's top 15 betting choices in the field. 

Villanova +550
Virginia +550
Duke +750
Michigan State +850
Purdue +1200
Kansas +1400
Cincinnati +1500
Arizona +1500
Michigan +1600
Xavier +1600
North Carolina +1800
Gonzaga +2000
Kentucky +2000
West Virginia +2000
Wichita State +3300

Jalen Brunson on the drive.
Jalen Brunson on the drive.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The Wildcats also look like a solid choice to earn a spot in San Antonio. Head coach Jay Wright led his team to the national championship two years ago, and Villanova appears to be loaded with talent once again.

The Wildcats won the Big East conference tournament by beating Providence in the championship game, and Wright has two excellent go-to players in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.

Brunson, the USA Today player of the year, is averaging 19.4 points per game and shooting 53.1 percent from the field. Bridges is contributing 18.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per night.

Villanova is far from a two-man team. The Wildcats have four other double-digit scorers in Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth, Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall.

Wright knows that if his two leading men are not going to get the job done, he has other options.

Miles Bridges is the leader of Tom Izzo's Spartans.
Miles Bridges is the leader of Tom Izzo's Spartans.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

We don't expect four No. 1 seeds to make it to San Antonio, Texas. Kansas is the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, and the Jayhawks are going to have to contend with second-seeded Duke and No. 3 seed Michigan State.

Duke has dominated Michigan State over the years, but Tom Izzo's team should get the job done when these two teams meet in the Sweet 16 round. That should set up a regional final between Kansas and Michigan State.

The Jayhawks knocked out Michigan State last year, but the Spartans will win back-to-back revenge games as they defeat Kansas and head to the Final Four.

Michigan State is led by sophomore Miles Bridges, who is averaging 16.9 points per game. Nick Ward and Cassius Winston are both averaging 12.6 points per game, and the Spartans are also getting double-figure scoring from Joshua Langford and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Xavier is the top seed in the West region, and the Musketeers have an explosive team led by Trevon Bluiett. Xavier is averaging 84.3 points per game, ranking 11th in the nation, and Bluiett is scoring 19.5 points per game.

This region features defending champion and second-seeded North Carolina, No. 3 seed Michigan and fourth-seeded Gonzaga. Look for the Bulldogs to get out of this region and make it to the Riverwalk.



This tournament may be viewed as wide open, but that doesn't mean that the top seeds are going by the wayside. 

We see two No. 1 seeds in Virginia and Villanova making the Final Four, along with a No. 3 seed in Michigan State and the fourth-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs.

There will be upsets and buzzer beaters, but in the end, four established basketball powerhouses are locks to get to the Final Four and have a chance to cut down the nets.


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