March Madness 2018: Real-Time Picks, Updated Odds to Make the Final Four

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 17, 2018

March Madness 2018: Real-Time Picks, Updated Odds to Make the Final Four

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    Marvin Bagley III
    Marvin Bagley IIIRob Carr/Getty Images

    Believe it or not, the 2018 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship is more than 75 percent finished, as we're down to just 16 teams chasing a spot in San Antonio and the Final Four.

    It's sad, right? It happened so fast, too! But with 52 games in the books, the finish line is within sight. (And your bracket is probably in the garbage next to mine.)

    Teams on the following slides are listed in ascending order of likelihood to reach the Final Four.

    Within each region, the odds sum to 100 percent.

Kansas State Wildcats (No. 9 Seed, South Regional)

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    Mike McGuirl
    Mike McGuirlStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    Even without star big man Dean Wade (foot), Kansas State has been vicious on defense. It did the impossible against Creighton, holding Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas to fewer than 10 points each in a 69-59 win. And against a No. 16 seed that scored at will against Virginia on Friday, the Wildcats shut down UMBC in a 50-43 victory.

                

    Roadblocks Ahead

    There has been at least one team seeded No. 7 or worse in the Final Four in each of the last five years. Why not this No. 9 seed? If the Wildcats can survive the Sweet 16 battle with Kentucky, they'll run into another Cinderella in either Nevada or Loyola-Chicago in the Elite Eight.

            

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    The Wildcats were able to knock off Creighton without Wade, but they need him back and close to healthy the rest of the way. They don't have the interior strength to defeat top-notch teams without him. They need to do more on defense, too. Six steals against the Bluejays was a decent start, but Kansas State can do a lot better, as demonstrated by its 13 steals against UMBC.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 7-1

Syracuse Orange (No. 11 Seed, Midwest Regional)

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    Oshae Brissett
    Oshae BrissettCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Eye Test

    In typical 2017-18 Syracuse fashion, all three of its wins were uglier than sin. The Orange scored 60 points against Arizona State, 57 against TCU and just 55 against Michigan State, but they won with defense, shutting down three opponents that had been outstanding on offense for most of the season. At some point, they'll need to average better than one point per possession to get the win, but so far, so good.

                    

    Roadblocks Ahead

    It's shocking that Syracuse is still in this tournament, and it would be exponentially more surprising if this team is still alive one week from now. The Orange did just knock out the Spartans, but Duke and Kansas will be even tougher. In their previous games against Duke and Kansas, the Orange lost 60-44 and 76-60, respectively.

                      

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Hustle, hustle and hustle. Syracuse is not equipped to win a shooting contest, but it can win an offensive-rebounding, shot-blocking and foul-drawing affair. That's just the Syracuse way. And if the Orange can coerce opponents into playing their style, they can make a run similar to the 2016 trip to the Final Four as a No. 10 seed.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 6-1

Florida State (No. 9 Seed, West Regional)

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    Mfiondu Kabengele
    Mfiondu KabengeleAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    Florida State trailed by a dozen points in the final 10 minutes of the second half against Xavier, but it fought all the way back for a 75-70 victory over the No. 1 seed Musketeers. The Seminoles bothered Xavier with their length, forcing 18 turnovers and holding their own on the glass against a team that typically dominates that area of the game. The Noles also looked mighty good in the first round against Missouri, opening up a 22-point lead by halftime.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Even though the West Regional has broken wide open, Florida State still has a rather brutal path to the reach the Final Four. The 'Noles will face Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 before a likely showdown with Michigan in the Elite Eight. Those aren't the highest-seeded teams in the field, but no one is hotter right now.

            

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Florida State has to own the paint. It shot well from three-point range against Missouri, but that is not this team's game. Blocked shots, offensive rebounds and two-point buckets are how the Seminoles get the job done. Unfortunately, that's going to be quite the challenge against teams like Michigan and Gonzaga. Both can put up points in a hurry.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 6-1

Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (No. 11 Seed, South Regional)

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    Donte Ingram
    Donte IngramRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    To say the least, Loyola-Chicago has provided the most entertainment of the first weekend. The Ramblers beat Miami on a Donte Ingram last-second three-pointer. And in the exact same situation against Tennesseedown 62-61 with less than 10 seconds remainingthis time it was Clayton Custer hitting the game-winner. Defense has fueled their run, but there might be a higher power in play here, too. Team chaplain Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt has become the most popular person in the entire tournament.

              

    Roadblocks Ahead

    After two straight games played in the low 60s, the Ramblers will need to do a little more scoring against a Nevada team that prefers to play in the high 70s or low 80s. It'll be an interesting stylistic mismatch between Cinderella teams for the right to face Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

                  

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    The Ramblers shot relatively well against Miami, but they can do better. This team ranks in the top 20 in the nation in both three-point and two-point field-goal percentage, and it will at least need to hit its usual marks to survive against the top-notch opponents that lie ahead.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 5-1

Texas A&M Aggies (No. 7 Seed, West Regional)

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    Tyler Davis
    Tyler DavisStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    Look out, world. "Good Texas A&M" is back. The Aggies were outstanding at various points throughout the season. Other times, they looked downright helplessincluding parts of the first-round game against Providence. But, goodness gracious, Texas A&M brought its A game for the second-round contest against North Carolina. Sure, the Aggies got some help from the Tar Heels' missing a billion three-point attempts, but A&M crushed them with length and rebounds.

                      

    Roadblocks Ahead

    The Aggies will draw Michigan in the Sweet 16. If their three-point defense is as impressive in Los Angeles as it was in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Aggies could cruise into the Elite Eight for a showdown with either Xavier or Gonzaga.

            

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Texas A&M needs to win the hustle categories, and win them big. Offensive rebounds and blocks are two areas where the Aggies can swing a game against just about any team in the country. They just need to keep shooting and valuing the ball well enough for it to matter.

                    

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 5-1

West Virginia Mountaineers (No. 5 Seed, East Regional)

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    Jevon Carter
    Jevon CarterDonald Miralle/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    West Virginia made mincemeat of a pair of Cinderella candidates, beating Murray State by 17 before slaughtering Marshall by 23. The defense was the story of both games, as it often is for Press Virginia. But there was a heck of a lot of offense, too, which was encouraging to see. Jevon Carter was arguably the most valuable player on any team this weekend, but Esa Ahmad, Teddy Allen, Lamont West and others also fared well for the Mountaineers.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Through two games, West Virginia looked about as good as any team in the tournament other than Villanova. Too bad the 'Eers will need to face the Wildcats in the Sweet 16. After that, it's either a fourth game against a conference rival (Texas Tech) or a second straight game against an elite offense (Purdue)

            

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Pressure defense and offensive rebounds. It's the same blueprint that Press Virginia has used for four straight years. If the Mountaineers can bother the opposing point guard, they've already won the battle. Doing that against Jalen Brunson will be no picnic, though.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 4-1

Purdue Boilermakers (No. 2 Seed, East Regional)

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    Matt Haarms
    Matt HaarmsCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Eye Test

    With Isaac Haas out with a fractured elbow and Carsen Edwards struggling to find his shooting stroke, Purdue found itself locked in a tight one with Butler in the second round. Matt Haarms was the hair-flipping sensation everyone was talking about, but Vincent Edwards was the star of the 76-73 win, finishing with 20 points and a critical block in the closing minutes.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Even at full strength, Purdue's remaining slate to reach the Final Four would be brutal. The Boilermakers will draw Texas Tech in the Sweet 16 before likely facing Villanova in the Elite Eight. Getting through that two-game stretch without Haas is going to be that much tougher.

            

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Dominate on offense. The Boilermakers are usually one of the nation's most efficient teams, so 74 points in a 69-possession game against Cal State Fullerton in the first round was well below the norm. They were fine from three-point range and did a good job of avoiding turnovers, but 37.8 percent shooting on two-point attempts? Yuck. They were better against Butler, but it's still a far cry from the team that was just destroying opponents with offense for the first half of the season.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 15-4

Texas Tech Red Raiders (No. 3 Seed, East Regional)

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    Keenan Evans
    Keenan EvansTom Pennington/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    Survive and advance, right? Texas Tech had to battle back from an eight-point second-half deficit in a physical affair against Stephen F. Austin in the first round. And in another rock fight, the Red Raiders barely prevailed against Florida. Good thing they have Keenan Evans, who has 45 points through the first weekend and has been so clutch in the second half.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    With Isaac Haas injured for Purdue, Texas Tech may have caught a break in its Sweet 16 opponent. But even if the Red Raiders get through that one, they're either going to crash into a red-hot Villanova or a fourth game against a West Virginia team that has already beaten them twice in the past month.

            

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Keep playing great defense and getting Evans involved. When he scores at least 15 points, Texas Tech is almost unbeatable. And if Zach Smith (nine points, four rebounds, three blocks in 17 minutes against Stephen F. Austin) keeps giving them solid contributions, that could be a huge boost considering the Red Raiders didn't have him available for much of the season.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 7-2

Clemson Tigers (No. 5 Seed, Midwest Regional)

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    From the moment the brackets came out, it seemed like everyone penciled New Mexico State into the second round, if not the Sweet 16. But the Clemson Tigers said, "Not so fast." They beat the Aggies by a double-digit margin before laying the smack down on Auburn by a final score of 84-53. It was a great showing for the Tigers from South Carolina. Not so much for the Tigers from Alabama.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Clemson will wage war with Kansas in the Sweet 16 before what would be an all-ACC showdown in the Elite Eight, whether it's Duke or Syracuse. The Tigers went 0-2 this season against the Blue Devils and the Orange, but maybe things will be better this time around.

            

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Get the three guards cooking. Shelton Mitchell, Gabe DeVoe and Marcquise Reed all looked solid against New Mexico State, which Clemson needs, given its other scoring options. From there, bank on Elijah Thomas to carry the team on defense. The big man has been one heck of an anchor in the paint, erasing shots on the regular.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 7-2

Nevada Wolf Pack (No. 7 Seed, South Regional)

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    Caleb Martin
    Caleb MartinMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Eye Test

    Nevada trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half against Texas and by 22 in the second half against Cincinnati. The Wolf Pack did not lead at any point during the final 38 minutes of regulation of the first game. They never led until there were 10 seconds remaining in the second game. And yet, here they are. They had five scorers put up double figures in both games.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    The Wolf Pack survived one defensive force in Texas and another in Cincinnati, but that's only the beginning. To reach the Final Four, they'll need to go through Loyola-Chicago and probably Kentucky, each of which ranks in the top 30 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com.

                

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Nevada needs to continue to play composed and hit the deep ball. This team leads the nation in turnover percentage on offense, per KenPom, and only coughed up the ball seven times against Texas. Once it started making three-pointers, the comeback was on. Nevada likely won't be favored in any of its remaining games, but it can hang with anyone.

                        

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 3-1

Kansas Jayhawks (No. 1 Seed, Midwest Regional)

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    Devonte' Graham
    Devonte' GrahamCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Eye Test

    Kansas didn't have the worst showing among No. 1 seeds, thanks to Virginia's loss to UMBC. But the Jayhawks certainly weren't the most dominant, either. They struggled with Penn for about 30 minutes before allowing Seton Hall's Angel Delgado to rack up 24 points and 23 rebounds in a nail-biter in the second round. Devonte' Graham (29 points) carried them in the first round. Malik Newman (28 points) was the star against the Pirates.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    At full strength, Clemson could have caused serious problems for Kansas. But without Donte Grantham, the Tigers aren't as intimidating as they were earlier in the season—blowout win over Auburn notwithstanding. The Jayhawks should make it through to the Elite Eight. Once there, they'll have a tough-as-nails game against either Duke or Syracuse.

            

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Kansas needs to hope Udoka Azubuike can get healthy enough to make significant contributions. He only played three minutes against Penn and was clearly laboring in his limited time on the court. Beyond that, threes are the name of the game for the Jayhawks. Whether it's Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk or Malik Newman, they'll need those triples to fall.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 5-2

Michigan Wolverines (No. 3 Seed, West Regional)

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    Charles Matthews
    Charles MatthewsJamie Squire/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    What an incredible finish to Saturday night! (Unless you're a Houston fan, of course.) For the first 79 minutes and 59 seconds of its tournament stay, Michigan didn't look that great, struggling to score against both Montana and Houston. For some unknown reason, the Wolverines struggled to get Moritz Wagner going. But they kept it close enough against the Cougars for Jordan Poole to drain a game-winning three-pointer as time expired, advancing to the Sweet 16 with a 64-63 win.

                   

    Roadblocks Ahead

    In theory, Michigan's path to the Final Four got a lot easier when North Carolina lost to Texas A&M on Sunday. But if Texas A&M is back to playing as well as it was in November and early February, that could be a major problem for the Wolverines. If they beat the Aggies, though, either Xavier or Gonzaga will be the final hurdle before another trip to the national semifinals.

                 

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Michigan does two things as well as any team in the country: It values the ball and defends the perimeter. The Wolverines are also good at draining threes and snagging defensive rebounds, but they can beat anyone as long as they can dominate turnover margin and avoid giving up too many threes.

                    

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 5-2

Duke Blue Devils (No. 2 Seed, Midwest Regional)

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Eye Test

    Duke's offense was hit-or-miss late in the season. The Blue Devils were held to fewer than 70 points in four of their final seven games before the tournament. But the offense came back with a vengeance in Pittsburgh during the first two rounds. The Blue Devils beat Iona 89-67 before smashing Rhode Island 87-62 to reach the Sweet 16. Save for the first half against Iona, Duke's good defense has shown up in a big way, as well.

                   

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Syracuse ruined the potential rematch of the Champions Classic by eliminating Michigan State. Instead of a replay of a great game, we're headed for a replay of a contest that Duke won 60-44 earlier this season. Assuming Duke's zone holds up better than Syracuse's zone in that one, it's on to Kansas (presumably) in the Elite Eight.

                       

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Duke needs to defend like it did over the season's final month. It's a safe assumption the offense will continue to show up. There are too many talented shooters and too many elite offensive rebounders for this team to fall on its face on offense. But the zone's effectiveness will dictate how long the Blue Devils last.

                      

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 2-1

Gonzaga Bulldogs (No. 4 Seed, West Regional)

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    Rui Hachimura
    Rui HachimuraTed S. Warren/Associated Press

    Eye Test

    Redshirt freshman Zach Norvell Jr. has become a star almost overnight. He was a good player throughout the season, but he has been an assassin in the tournament. He drained the game-winning three-pointer in the first round against UNC-Greensboro and had another dagger from a similar spot against Ohio State, finishing the second-round game with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Without him, Gonzaga might have gotten blown out of both close games.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    At the start of the day on Sunday, it looked like Gonzaga's path to the Final Four would be rematches of last year's tournament games against Xavier and North Carolina. However, those higher seed each suffered losses, paving the way for Gonzaga to reach a second straight Final Four by knocking off Florida State and Michigan.

            

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    The Zags need to get back to dominating in the paint. Giving up 13 offensive rebounds and 25 two-point buckets against UNC Greensboro was a significant deviation from their norm, as was only getting 26 percent of available offensive rebounds. Gonzaga has plenty of guys who can make three-pointers, but owning the battle inside the arc is what is going to carry this team through remaining games.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 3-2

Villanova Wildcats (No. 1 Seed, East Regional)

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    Jay Wright
    Jay WrightRob Carr/Getty Images

    Eye Test

    Even though Villanova played its second-round game before any other team, we're ready to declare that no squad looked better on the opening weekend than the Wildcats did. They jumped out to a 31-8 lead on Radford in the first round before destroying Alabama in the second half in the second round. Villanova made 14 triples against the Highlanders and 17 more against the Crimson Tide. If that momentum carries over from Pittsburgh to Boston, the rest of the East Regional is just fighting to be runner-up.

                     

    Roadblocks Ahead

    If an exceptional defense is going to stop Villanova, we should find out next weekend. There's a good chance the Wildcats will need to go through West Virginia in the Sweet 16 and Texas Tech in the Elite Eight. But if any offense is built to survive those Big 12 bruisers, it's probably this one.

                             

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Keep shooting well. By my count, Villanova is 84-2 over the last four seasons when shooting at least 35 percent from three-point range. Given how many capable shooters there are on this team, 35 percent isn't asking much. But the Wildcats do occasionally go cold. At that point, it's a matter of defending well enough to grind out a win, which they can do.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 7-4

Kentucky Wildcats (No. 5 Seed, South Regional)

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    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderOtto Kitsinger/Associated Press

    Eye Test

    Kentucky shared a pod with a couple of strong Cinderella candidates in Davidson and Buffalo, but the blue-blood Wildcats were just too doggone athletic and talented for those smaller schools. They didn't shoot well at all against Davidson, but they controlled the defensive glass and salted the game away at the free-throw line. They did shoot well against Buffalo and looked more like a threat to win it all than they did for the vast majority of this season.

            

    Roadblocks Ahead

    Whether it's Kansas State or UMBC waiting in the Sweet 16, it's a huge sigh of relief compared to what should have been a showdown with Virginia. Kentucky will be an overwhelming favorite in that game and will be again in the Elite Eight, regardless of whether it faces Nevada or Loyola-Chicago. For all of John Calipari's annual complaints about where Kentucky gets seeded or sent by the selection committee, his guys ended up with one heck of a favorable path to the Final Four.

                   

    Key to Making It to San Antonio

    Two things Kentucky didn't do well against Davidson that it needs to do the rest of the way are crash the offensive glass and block shots. Granted, it's hard to get blocks against a team that primarily attempts three-pointers, but those are two hustle categories where the Wildcats usually crush the opposition. Considering this isn't usually a good three-point shooting team, those areas are crucial.

                  

    Odds to Make the Final Four: 6-5