The best way to pick an NCAA tournament champion isn't to pluck one name from the 68 but to reverse-engineer the activity, using the process of elimination to get rid of every team until you're only left with one standing. That's what we've done below, using facts, statistics and outright bias to whittle the field down to the team that will absolutely, positively be cutting down the nets three weeks from tonight.
Get rid of the bottom half of the draw
No team seeded in the lower half of the field has ever won the tournament. Villanova won as a No. 8 in 1985, the first year of the 64-team tournament, and no other school has topped it (bottomed it?) since. So right off the bat, we get rid of No. 9 seeds and higher.
ELIMINATED (36 teams): Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt, Michigan State, Seton Hall, Marquette, VCU, Oklahoma State, Wichita State, Providence, USC, Xavier, Rhode Island, Kansas State, Wake Forest, UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Nevada, Middle Tennessee, East Tennessee State, Bucknell, Vermont, Winthrop, New Mexico State, Florida Gulf Coast, Iona, Kent State, Troy, North Dakota, Jacksonville State, Northern Kentucky, Mount St. Mary's, New Orleans, South Dakota State, North Carolina Central, UC Davis, Texas Southern
No No. 5 seed has ever won the tournament and only six have made it to the Final Four. Yes, No. 5 seeds are often overrated and suffer first-round losses to the No. 12 seeds (don't call it an upset though - those teams are often much closer than the seed indicates). Yes, they tend to be underperforming major conference teams that flame out early in the tournament. But for only six teams in the past 32 years to win the region is pretty staggering.
In terms of seed, the last 12 NCAA tournament winners, starting in 2016 and dating back to 2005, were: No. 2 (Villanova), No. 1 (Duke), No. 7 (Connecticut), No.1 (Louisville), No.1 (Kentucky), No. 3 (Connecticut), No. 1 (Duke), No. 1 (UNC), No. 1 (Kansas), No. 1 (Florida), No. 3 (Florida) and No. 1 (UNC). That's an average seed of 1.92.
Only three teams during that stretch have won the tournament seeded higher than No. 2. Of those three teams, two were schools that had already won national championships (Florida's 2006 team being the exception) suggesting that pedigree can overcome seeding. With that, we say goodbye to teams seeded between Nos. 3 and 8, with the exception of schools that already have titles in their history.
ELIMINATED (9 teams): Florida State, West Virginia, Purdue, Butler, SMU, Creighton, South Carolina, Dayton, Miami
Geoff BurkeGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Stop. Don't even come out at me with this noise. Somehow, Northwestern's fan base has become exponentially more annoying than Duke, Kentucky and Syracuse's combined and the Wildcats haven't even played a single tournament game yet. Its an amazing accomplishment but less so when you remember King Dukie Chris Collins is on the sideline for the Wildcats.
Rooting against Northwestern, America. It's your civic duty. We don't need ego-driven, sportswriting alums to marytr themselves as college basketball's Cubs fans just because Northwestern wasn't was as horrible as usual this year. This is a team that went from 1984-2001 with just two seasons of more than three Big Ten wins. You didn't care, y'all. School spirit is great but let's not act like you were there cheering on Ricky Byrdsong's teams. As for Gonzaga, not happening. And Baylor, the gods of basketball and everything holy would never let Baylor win anything of consequence. I hope.
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West Coast Bias
Since UCLA's epic run under John Wooden ended in 1975, there have only been three tournaments won by west-coast teams and none in the past 20 years. (UNLV, 1990; UCLA, 1995; Arizona, 1997.) This isn't all due to a dearth of west-coast talent (but it hasn't helped) but the pragmatic reason that there just aren't as many basketball programs on the left coast, let alone high-quality ones. When the Pac 12 stinks, as it has for a number of years, the other options are slim. In this tournament, just nine of the 68 teams play in the West and only four are from California. From Oakland to Sac-town, the Bay Area and back down, Cali ain't with it, put the bracket down.
ELIMINATED (4 teams): Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, St. Mary's
Mark J. RebilasMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Teams from the ACC have won four of the last eight titles, the best run in conference history. (Though it's not the most impressive: There was a stretch from 1991-2002 when the conference won five of 12 titles which meant more before bloated superconferences made the ACC a 15-team conference that I'm pretty sure is going to try and expand again with AFC East teams in the coming years.) Anyway, five of nine is just getting too greedy so, sorry greatest basketball conference ever.
ELIMINATED (4 teams): North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Maryland (yes, I'm aware Maryland is no longer in the ACC but I don't have to like, or respect, it)
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There are eight teams left. Of the eight, there are four that no one is going to have on the final line of their bracket unless: a) they're an alum of the school; b) they're one of those morons who enters 15 different sheets, all with slightly varying predictions, in an attempt to win the pot without realizing that it's the only way to break ever after paying for those 15 different sheets; c) they're five years old or d) are Sully.
Nineteen-eighty-nine. That's as far as you have to go back to find a title team that had an anonymous coach on the sideline. No surprise, but the list of coaching champs is a who's who of college basketball: Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, Billy Donovan, Jim Boeheim, Gary Williams, Tubby Smith, Lute Olsen, Nolan Richardson, Dean Smith. Yes, many of those coaches turned more famous after their titles, but each were a name when they cut down the nets. (The most anonymous coach to recently win has been Kevin Ollie, but even he was a big name from his playing days at UConn.) All that's a long way of saying Mike White, while likely to do big things in Gainesville (and who may begin to shape his national profile over the next few weeks), is not winning the NCAA championship.
ELIMINATED (1 team): Florida
Karma, karma, karma comes back to you hard
Three years ago, undefeated Wichita State earned a justified No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament then got jobbed upon the bracket reveal when they were put in the same pod as No. 8 seed Kentucky. The Wildcats won a second-round thriller, snapped Wichita's hopes of a perfect season and went on to the tournament final. This time, Kentucky is the legit No. 2 seed and Whichia State has the insanely low No. 10 seed. They'd face off in the second round. The Shockers owe 'em one.
ELIMINATED (1 team): Kentucky
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY SportsJasen Vinlove
Since the field expanded there has been two repeat champs in 32 seasons (Duke in '90 and '91; Florida in '06 and '07). In the recent past, defending champs usually haven't backed it up with great regular seasons or deep tournament runs, probably the result of the one-and-done era making teams load up for a push to the title and then sliding back the next year. (Like Kentucky's title team in 2012 turning into its 2013 NIT team.) Duke was a No. 1 seed in its 2011 title defense but lost in the Sweet 16. Louisville was the No. 1 team on kenpom in the second year of its back-to-back bid and was also upset in the Sweet 16. In this new era of college basketball, winning two straight is tougher than ever. I think Villanova's the best team in the country and the best bet to win it all, but the best bet rarely wins in March.
ELIMINATED (1 team): Villanova
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Math and logic never lie. The Kansas Jayhawks will be your 2017 NCAA tournament champions. (Unless they're not.)