30 teams could make Final Four
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
You don’t have to be a grizzled and shrewd college basketball observer to pick a winning NCAA tournament bracket this season. Anyone with a $5 entry fee (all in good fun, right?) and a dream has a chance during what could be the most unpredictable three weeks in the 75-year history of the event. Don’t try to pinpoint a Cinderella story in this 68-team tournament because fairytale journeys don’t exist anymore. The playing field is level, with more teams than ever, from more conferences than ever, harboring realistic hopes of playing deep into March.
Four national title-winning coaches – Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Florida’s Billy Donovan – told USA TODAY Sports that they believe at least 30 teams in this year’s field, nearly half the teams competing, have a legitimate chance to reach the Final Four, a higher number than ever before.
In a season defined by parity, it is only fitting that Gonzaga of the lightly regarded West Coast Conference joined power conference teams Louisville (Big East), the tournament’s top overall seed, Kansas (Big 12) and Indiana (Big Ten) as No. 1 seeds. The twice-beaten Bulldogs earned the No. 1 seed over the ACC’s two best teams: Miami, which won the ACC regular season and tournament title; and Duke, which lost just one game all season without forward Ryan Kelly in the lineup.
Consider the perspective of North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who saw no more than five teams last season with a legitimate chance to win the national title.
“This year,” Williams said, “there are probably 12 to 14 teams that have a legitimate chance to win the national title … The word upset is so overused it is ridiculous.”
Among those dozen are elite, battle-tested teams such as Louisville and Kansas, both of which blazed through their respective conference tournaments. But the group also includes less obvious choices: the Mountain West Conference’s New Mexico, the best team in the top-ranked RPI league; and Saint Louis, the class of the top-heavy Atlantic 10.
As it selected 37 at-large teams to join 31 automatic qualifiers, the committee rewarded the … [For more on Past champion coaches: 30 teams could make Final Four, click here.]