It’s December, but let’s be honest, everyone is looking forward to this year’s March Madness. Will Zion Williamson and Duke take over the top spot as the favorites? Will a Cinderella team come out of nowhere like Loyola-Chicago did last season?
Although we can’t predict all 64 teams that will be in the field in early December, there is no harm in looking at the top 32 right? Based on the rankings, and top teams receiving votes to be ranked, here are your 32 best teams and how they would fare in March.
*Note: many of these matchups will not happen in March and things will change before March. This is just a simulation based on where things stand right now.
Round of 32
No. 1 Gonzaga vs No. 8 St John’s
Gonzaga is led by big man Rui Hachimura, who was effectively able to shut down Zion Williamson. Hachimura will feed off Josh Perkins playmaking skills leading to an easy Bulldogs victory.
No. 1 Kansas vs No. 8 Creighton
Creighton just gave Gonzaga a tough test and a team that can get great offensive production will be a tough test for anyone in March. Unfortunately for the eight seed, Kansas defenders will lock down Creighton’s best scorers and Lagerald Vick will produce enough scoring to send the Jayhawks on.
No. 1 Duke vs No. 8 Texas
Texas is a fantastic team that will certainly be higher than an eight seed once March hits, but in this simulation they get the unfortunate draw of taking on Duke in the first round. This could be a tough matchup for the Blue Devils as Shaka Smart will have his team prepared for Duke’s offensive attack, but the fast breaks from Duke will be unstoppable for Texas to defend, leading to a high-scoring game for both teams but an eventual Blue Devils win.
No. 1 Virginia vs No. 8 Iowa State
This shouldn’t be too much of a matchup as UVA is quietly showing they are one of the best teams in the country. Obviously, they do not have a good reputation in March, but they should still be able to get past an Iowa State team that will provide them with a test. Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter provide a fantastic 1-2 scoring punch for the Cavaliers.
No. 2 Michigan vs No. 7 Marquette
Michigan isn’t losing to a seed lower than them. It is nearly impossible to argue that statement sitting here in December. Already having three Top 25 wins on their résumé, the Wolverines will have no trouble beating Marquette after a deep tournament run last year led by some of the great players on this year’s team, like Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole.
No. 2 Nevada vs No. 7 Syracuse
After back-to-back losses to UConn and Oregon, Syracuse has taken a deep fall in these rankings. But, they will not be a seven seed come March. The Orange will turn things around, but in this simulation, they will face Nevada in the first round. Expect this game to be a very close one as both teams are very experienced after last year’s tournament. When the Orange freshman get better throughout the season they will improve, and Syracuse will beat Nevada because of that.
No. 2 Tennessee vs No. 7 Purdue
What a matchup. Purdue is better than a seven seed but they come in outside the top 25 after a tough week at the end of November. Tennessee’s defense is stellar, but Carsen Edwards will carve it up and the scoring of the Volunteers combined with the inexperience will combine for an upset and another early exit for Tennessee.
No. 2 Auburn vs No. 7 Furman
Furman has only played one ranked team so far this season and won, beating defending champion Villanova in OT. Despite that win and an 8-0 record, the tournament is a different beast, so expect Auburn and Bryce Brown to beat Furman handily.
No. 3 Kentucky vs No. 6 Nebraska
This will be an interesting matchup that many might pick Nebraska in as a possible early-round upset. These people would not be correct. Kentucky will not go out early as they will use their high-powered offense to take down Nebraska and move onto the second round. The Wildcats have been slept on since their loss vs Duke on opening night, but they are still primed for a deep run in March.
No. 3 Michigan State vs No. 6 Maryland
This is one of the teams that could upset Michigan State in the tournament. High-powered offenses have given the Spartans trouble this season, as shown when Kansas and Louisville toyed with the Michigan State defense. Maryland just put up over 70 on Virginia and they have the ability to beat the Spartans in March. As of right now, Maryland moves on.
No. 3 Florida State vs No. 6 Mississippi State
Florida State gets a lucky draw against a Mississippi State team that also isn’t the greatest ranked team. The Seminoles have proved that they can win narrow games against ranked teams like LSU and Purdue, and this will be another one of those games. Florida State wins a close one and moves on.
No. 3 Wisconsin vs No. 6 Villanova
Tough draw for Wisconsin. It wouldn’t be crazy to say that the Wildcats would be favored in this game despite being the lower seed. The Badgers will rely on Ethan Happ to get them the majority of their scoring, and although he will do so no matter what, the question is: will Wisconsin be able to get enough secondary scoring from other people? As of right now, they will, and they will knock off Villanova for the second time in three years.
No. 4 Texas Tech vs No. 5 Arizona State
A disappointing season ended at the hands of Syracuse last year, the Sun Devils get a good draw against the Red Raiders in this simulation. ASU can score right with Texas Tech, and will knock them off thanks to a strong showing from Luguentz Dort. Dort is averaging 21.7 PPG and that will be too much for a not-great Texas Tech defense to handle.
No. 4 North Carolina vs No. 5 Ohio State
UNC will be higher than a four seed come March, but for now they are what they are. Ohio State is coming off a fall in the rankings after a loss to Syracuse, and has not beaten a ranked team yet. Ohio State is overrated and it will not beat Nassar Little, Luke Maye and the Tar Heels.
No. 4 Virginia Tech vs No. 5 Iowa
Iowa just got smoked by Michigan State for their second straight loss and Virginia Tech has just one loss, which was a one-point game at the hands of Penn State. The Hokies will win this game thanks to an explosive offense that will overrun the Iowa defense.
No. 4 Kansas State vs No. 5 Buffalo
Both of these teams will be seeded lower than what they currently are in this simulation come March, but for now this is a very intriguing matchup. Kansas State made it to the Elite Eight last season without star Dean Wade, and he will be the difference in this game vs Buffalo. Expect the Wildcats to once again win a tournament game.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs No. 5 Arizona State
The magic for the Sun Devils will end when they take on the Zags in the Sweet 16. An all-West Coast matchup will feature some of the best offenses the country has to offer. The Bulldogs will outscore Sun Devils as their players and depth are better than ASU’s.
No. 1 Kansas vs No. 4 North Carolina
Oh man what a matchup. This is why March is so fantastic. This game will be anticipated because it will be the last college game for either Nassar Little or Queintin Grimes, two top 10 recruits coming into the season. Grimes’s team will not be the one going home as other freshman Devon Doctson will help Grimes overcome UNC.
No. 1 Duke vs No. 4 Virginia Tech
Another game that will likely end in both teams scoring at least 80 points. The only chance Virginia Tech has at winning this game is if Nickeil Alexander-Walker has a huge game on both sides of the ball. Even if that happens though, Duke has just too many weapons to be held down for too long by Virginia Tech and the Blue Devils will move on.
No. 1 Virginia vs No. 4 Kansas State
UVA will dominate this game. Kansas State went far last season without facing a team better than a five seed in Kentucky. Without a doubt, Virginia will take advantage of all of Kansas State’s flaws, including spotty scoring specifically from behind the arch, and win in a blowout.
No. 2 Michigan vs No. 3 Kentucky
I repeat, Michigan will not lose to a seed lower than them. Kentucky is a good team with great players and fantastic coaching, but Michigan is special. Michigan by at least 10.
No. 7 Syracuse vs No. 6 Maryland
Two of the biggest first-round upset teams meet in the Sweet 16 to try to get to the elite eight. Syracuse will have to try to contain the Maryland offensive attack that has not let them down yet against anyone other than UVA this year so far. Unfortunately, the Syracuse defense will be able to hold down Maryland and the offense will continue their strong March, sending them to the next round.
No. 7 Purdue vs No. 3 Florida State
Anything can happen in March right? How about two seven seeds in the Elite Eight? In this simulation, that is the case. Florida State just beat Purdue by one point at home in the end of November but on a neutral court in March, Purdue will be the team that comes out victorious. The key to this game will be 7’2″ center Matt Haarms, who only totaled six points and 5 rebounds in the Boilermakers loss to Florida State. Expect him to have a better game this time.
No. 2 Auburn vs No. 3 Wisconsin
This game will be a battle that will come down to secondary scoring. Both teams have stellar offenses and good defenses that will rise to the occasion, but Wisconsin will need D’Mitrik Trice to continue his hot start to the season to propel the Badgers over the Tigers, and luckily for them, he will.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs No. 2 Michigan
What a matchup, first of all. A case can be made that these are the two best teams in college basketball and in this simulation we get an Elite Eight matchup with both of them in it. The key for this game will be Michigan’s leading scorer Ignas Brazdeikis who has killed opposing defenses thus far. Gonzaga is gonna score, so Brazdeikis has to lead the team in scoring and allow Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews to be secondary options. Michigan will win this game, barely, and advance to the final four.
No. 1 Kansas vs No. 7 Syracuse
Syracuse will have proven by now that they can beat some fantastic teams, but Kansas is better than fantastic. Rankings wise they are a top two team in college basketball and they will show it against Syracuse. Expect Vick, Doctson and Grimes to overcome whatever zone looks the Orange throw at them and win.
No. 1 Duke vs No. 7 Purdue
It’s gonna be Duke. Haarms may be able to slow down Zion (probably not) and Edwards may be able to slow down RJ Barrett (probably not) but what does that mean for Cam Reddish and Tre Jones? Duke wins by at least 10.
No. 1 Virginia vs No. 3 Wisconsin
Wisconsin will have an impressive tournament résumé after beating Villanova and Auburn, but their biggest test will be against Virginia. After losing to them during the regular season and being unable to put up 50 points, Wisconsin’s offense will rebound against the Cavaliers. The defense only allowed 53 points to UVA’s offense in that early season matchup and will lock them down again in the win.
No. 2 Michigan vs No. 1 Kansas
It will be tough to see Kansas losing a game this year in March but the same can easily be said for Michigan. Without a doubt this will be a close game but close game’s are nothing that the Wolverines and Jayhawks are not used to. This game is a toss up that Michigan will win and go to the finals for the second straight year.
No. 1 Duke vs No. 3 Wisconsin
In a rematch of the finals a few years ago, Duke will take on Wisconsin in the Final Four. The Blue Devils will have a tough time stopping Ethan Happ but they will be able to slow down everyone else on Wisconsin’s offense. The run will end for the Badgers and Duke will move on.
No. 2 Michigan vs No. 1 Duke
After beating both Gonzaga and Kansas why not take on and another one seed in the finals? A classic Michigan vs Duke matchup will end in Michigan’s third win over a one seed in this tournament. The Wolverines will put to rest the demons of last season and win the National Championship.
Photo: SB Nation