We utilized the WhatIfSports.com college basketball simulation engine to play out the Final Four 1,001 times. Check out our Predictions, including full boxscores and play-by-play. We also generated each team’s probability of reaching and winning the championship game.
Kentucky vs. Wisconsin
Remember that time pundits predicted West Virginia to challenge Kentucky in the Sweet 16? Yeah, about that…The game was over in eight minutes, when Kentucky had built an 18-2 lead. The Wildcats never looked back, obliterating West Virginia 78-39 to advance to the Elite Eight. There, UK received the challenge it had been promised, as Notre Dame gave the Cats everything they could handle. The score was close from tip-off to final buzzer, with no team leading by more than six points. Andrew Harrison buried a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining to give Kentucky the 68-66 win and its fourth Final Four appearance in five years.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin blazed ahead behind the duo of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Kaminsky’s received the bulk of accolades, but Dekker could make a strong case for the tournament’s most outstanding player through four games. He’s average 21.8 points on 60.4 percent shooting, including 13-of-27 three-point shooting. And Dekker saved his best games for the biggest stage, going for 23 points and 10 rebounds in a Sweet 16 win over North Carolina and dropping 27 points against Arizona. If Dekker can stay hot, he and Kaminsky (averaging 22.8 points and 8.3 rebounds in the NCAA tournament) could spell trouble for the Wildcats.
A Final Four victory for Wisconsin would be all kinds of sweet. It would avenge last season’s Final Four loss to UK, when Aaron Harrison hit a late three to knock off the Badgers 74-73. It would also end Kentucky’s quest for a perfect season, which Wisconsin fans would no doubt relish. But perhaps most importantly, a Final Four victory would send Wisconsin to its first national title game since 1941.
Kentucky has ambitions of its own though, namely continuing its quest for an NCAA championship and a 40-0 season. Willie Cauley-Stein will be tasked with slowing down fellow AP First Team All-American Kaminsky, while a slew of Wildcats could see time guarding Dekker. Notre Dame is the most recent team to demonstrate that Kentucky can be beaten, but it will take a near-perfect performance to topple the Cats.
The pick: Kentucky 69 – Wisconsin 65
Michigan State vs. Duke
Consider for a moment the caliber of coaches remaining in the Final Four. Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, John Calipari and Bo Ryan have combined for 27 Final Four appearances (if we ignore Calipari’s vacated stints). And yet, even when Coach K is compared to some of the most successful active coaches, his achievements dwarf theirs. Krzyzewski has led Duke to eight national championship games, five more than second-place Calipari. When it comes to experience on the big stage, no one can touch Coach K.
That expertise was invaluable in wins over Utah and Gonzaga. Freshman Jahlil Okafor was neutralized in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, as he was denied a double-digit scoring output in both games, a feat that had previously happened only once all season. It forced the Blue Devils to lean on freshman forward Justise Winslow, who responded with 37 points between the two games.
In the East region, Michigan State continued to ignore its No. 7 seed, knocking off No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Louisville. Against the Sooners, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine scored the team’s last 14 points and combined for 42 of the Spartans’ 62 total points. The pair again led Michigan State in scoring in an OT win over Louisville.
In order to advance to the title game, the Spartans will need to find a way to contain Okafor, easily the most talented big man they’ve faced in the tournament. Trice and Valentine will again channel the offense and will need to maintain their efficient play. It could all be for naught, though, as Duke may simply be too talented to overcome.
The pick: Duke 75 – Michigan State 71
Did your 2015 NCAA Tournament bracket hit the shredder this weekend? Is March Madness not as fun as you had hoped? How many of you picked UCLA to reach the Sweet 16? Did you believe in Coach Izzo and the Spartans come March? Did you, for a second, believe North Carolina State would take down the first No. 1 seed in Villanova? What about Ron Baker and the Shockers knocking out Kansas?
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WhatIfSports.com used the break in action to simulate the remaining field 1,001 times, updating each team’s Final Four and championship odds. Consult with our computer predictions, as well as our Sweet 16 preview below, when completing your Second Chance bracket.
Sweet 16 West Region Preview
Of the top four seeds in the west region, only No. 3 Baylor failed to advance to the Sweet 16. Everyone’s favorite Cinderella, Georgia State, knocked off the Bears with a furious comeback capped by a long three-pointer from R.J. Hunter. Georgia State wasn’t able to extend its NCAA Tournament stay as it ran into a hot-shooting Xavier squad. The No. 6-seeded Musketeers find themselves in the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in eight years.
The Muskies next face Arizona, led by former Xavier coach Sean Miller. The Wildcats made easy work of No. 15 Texas Southern and used a big second half to pull away from Ohio State. Arizona outrebounded Ohio State 43 to 26 and held Buckeyes star freshman D’Angelo Russell to nine points on 3-for-19 shooting.
The region’s top seed, Wisconsin, showed signs of vulnerability in a round-of-32 matchup with Oregon. The game was tied at 52 with 5:56 to play, but the Badgers recaptured the lead and made enough plays down the stretch to secure a seven-point victory.
The potential return of Traevon Jackson could significantly bolster Wisconsin’s title hopes. Jackson hasn’t played since breaking his right foot on January 11th at Rutgers and continued to sit out during the tournament’s first weekend. Given that Wisconsin used just seven players in its win over Oregon, adding depth may be necessary to surviving the NCAA Tournament grind. Please note: We included Jackson in our simulation of the remaining field.
Wisconsin will face North Carolina in the Sweet 16. UNC narrowly avoided an upset against Harvard, as the Crimson rallied back from an 11-point halftime deficit before falling 67-65. The Tar Heels next took care of business against Arkansas, with Marcus Paige’s 22 points, six rebounds and five steals leading the way.
Sweet 16 East Region Preview
NC State may have bagged the biggest upset of the tournament by knocking off Villanova, the only No. 1 seed to lose the first weekend. But first the Wolfpack needed a game-winning shot by Beejay Anya to sneak past LSU 66-65. For the magic to continue, NC State will next need to upset an experienced Louisville team.
The Cardinals are in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season, despite the absence of point guard Chris Jones, who was dismissed from the team in February. A Final Four run for either Louisville or NC State seemed unlikely a week ago, and yet both are just two wins away from realizing that dream. The ACC foes met once this year, with NC State winning 74-65 at Louisville.
Many will pick No. 7 Michigan State as the team with the best chance of emerging from the east region. The Spartans defeated No. 10 Georgia and No. 2 Virginia to advance to the Sweet 16. It’s the second year in a row that Virginia has been upset by Michigan State.
Next up for the Spartans is Oklahoma. The No. 3 Sooners are the best-ranked team remaining in the region. This is the farthest the school has advanced since Blake Griffin led an Elite 8 run in 2009.
Sweet 16 Midwest Region Preview
Kentucky breezed through their first two games of the tournament and has now won six straight games by double-digits. Next, the Wildcats will face the No. 5 seed Mountaineers. Bob Huggins’ squad upset the Maryland Terrapins by 10 Sunday night.
When it comes to common opponents this year, both UK and WV played Kansas, Texas, LSU, and Buffalo. Against those teams, Kentucky was, obviously, undefeated (4-0) and averaged 69.25 points while only allowing 53 points per game (16.25 average margin of victory). West Virginia was 3-3. However, a key factor in those six games was the turnover battle. When WV turned the ball over 12 times, or less, they were 3-1. In their matchup against the four-seed Terps, West Virginia only committed 10 turnovers and forced 23. If the Cats want to remain unbeaten, they will need to defend Devin Williams. In seven of West Virginia’s nine losses, Williams either didn’t score in double figures or was held to less than nine rebounds.
Remember when Wichita State was a one-seed in the tournament? I had to look it up, too. Last year, the Shockers were undefeated entering the Big Dance and were promptly upset by UK in the Round of 32.
This year, the Shockers remained in the Midwest region and pulled the upset they were looking for – against a team that they couldn’t get on their regular season schedule - knocking in-state foe, and assumed college basketball upper-tier, Kansas out of the tournament.
They beat Big Ten’s Indiana by five and trounced the two-seed Jayhawks by 13. Notre Dame is next on the list. The Fighting Irish are taking the survive-and-advance mantra literally. In their first game of the tourney, ND barely beat No. 14 seed Northeastern (69-65) and needed overtime to earn the victory over Butler (67-64). Both Notre Dame and Wichita State lost four games during the regular season. Both teams are also led by upperclassmen. Fred VanVleet of Wichita State has scored double-digits in 11-straight games. The same goes for Jerian Grant of ND. When Duke and Virginia defeated Notre Dame, Grant was held to seven points or less.
Sweet 16 South Region Preview
UCLA shouldn’t be in the tournament, right? Well, try telling the Bruins. The No. 11 seed eliminated SMU (60-59) and UAB (92-75). Now, the PAC-12 at-large will face West Coast’s Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were victorious at Pauley Pavilion, 87-74, back in December. Kyle Wiltjer produced 24 points in that contest. Since then, Wiltjer has scored at least 20 points nine times, including twice in the tourney. Bryce Alford led the Bruins with 23 points in that meeting.
Duke is still alive as the South’s top seeded team. The Blue Devils have a 24-point average margin of victory in this tournament. Of their eight losses on the season, the Utah Utes have dropped seven games to 2015 NCAA tournament teams. Coach K’s bunch only has four losses on their resume, snubbed Miami, and tournament teams Notre Dame (twice) and NC State. Freshman Jahlil Okafor is averaging 23.5 points in his first (and probably only) tourney appearance. Iowa State fell in the Round of 64 and four-seed Georgetown was next to topple. Which team will be upset next in this region of doom?