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
The 2015 NCAA Tournament officially begins Tuesday evening, but for college basketball fans, the true start to March Madness is Selection Sunday. After the last few conference tournaments wrap up, we sit on the edge of our seats, eager to learn the seeding of our favorite school. Come Monday, we’re scouring the internet for every tournament analysis we can find. Then it’s time to get started on our brackets, of which there are many. Our work productivity might take a nosedive on Thursday when the round of 64 tips off, but let’s been honest, we’ve been mailing it in all week.
Because we know your quest for knowledge is insatiable, please enjoy our previews of each NCAA region. Oh, and good luck dodging the boss.
East Regional Preview
Jay Wright’s Wildcats are no stranger to strong seeding in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve now been seeded No. 3 or better five times since 2006. However, aside from a 2009 run to the Final Four as a No. 3 seed, Villanova has been vulnerable to upsets of late. But this rendition of the Wildcats may be the best yet. Villanova hasn’t lost a game since January 19th and made it through the Big East – the nation’s No. 2 conference in RPI – with just two losses. Ryan Arcidiacono orchestrates an unselfish and talented squad that relies heavily on the three-ball. If Villanova’s shooters stay hot, they’ll be a tough out this March.
The East’s No. 2 seed, Virginia, makes its name on defense, where the Cavaliers lead college basketball in points allowed, surrendering just 50.7 points per game. Tony Bennett is a disciple of the pack-line defense, and evidently quite the teacher. In nine seasons as a head coach at Washington State and Virginia, Bennett’s teams boast a 204-96 record. Last season was his first experiencing postseason success though, when Virginia advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed before falling to Michigan State. A healthy Justin Anderson, who has missed time with a broken finger and an emergency appendectomy, will be key to Virginia’s success.
Oklahoma earned its No. 3 seed on the strength of a third-place finish in the grueling Big 12. The Sooners are led by junior guard Buddy Hield, who averages 17.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Fans are hoping the seed is enough protection from early upsets that plagued the squad the last two seasons. In both 2013 and 2014, the No. 5-seeded Sooners lost Round-of-64 matchups to No. 12 seeds. They’d be wise to not look past No. 14 Albany, a NCAA Tournament team for the third year in a row.
Rounding out the East’s top four seeds is Louisville. The 2013 NCAA Tournament champs finished the ACC regular season in 4th place, and brandish Rick Pitino’s usual frenetic defense. But they’ll play the remainder of the season without point guard Chris Jones, who’s been dismissed from the team. Without their leader in assists, the Cardinals finished the season 3-2, albeit with losses to No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 19 North Carolina. Many will circle a third-round matchup with Northern Iowa as a possible upset.
Other notables: # 5 Northern Iowa, #7 Michigan State, #14 Albany
West Regional Preview
Aside from Kentucky, Wisconsin may be the most feared NCAA Tournament team. The Badgers are fresh off a Final Four, have player of the year candidate and future pro Frank Kaminsky manning the post and are long-overdue for a national title. They haven’t brought an NCAA championship home to Madison since 1941, despite an active streak of 17 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Kaminsky’s stellar stat line (18.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.6 blocks per game) is circled on opposing scouting reports, but he receives help from Sam Dekker (13.0 points, 5.5 rebounds) and Nigel Hayes (12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds) as well. A return from senior guard Traevon Jackson, who’s been sidelined since January 11th, could give the Badgers another weapon.
If seeds hold true, the West regional final could be a rematch from a season ago. Last year, No. 2-seeded Wisconsin upset No. 1 Arizona by a score of 64-63. The Wildcats will look to return the favor should the teams meet again. Sean Miller has Arizona cruising, with two Elite 8s and a Sweet 16 appearance in the last four years. But he’s been unable to break into the Final Four, where the Cats haven’t been since 2001. Six Arizona players average more than 9.0 points per game, thanks in no small part to the distribution of senior guard T.J. McConnell (6.4 assists per game). But the best of the bunch may be Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Stanley Johnson, who paces the team with a scoring average of 14.1 points per game.
Baylor joins Arizona as a team less than thrilled to be in the same region as Wisconsin. The Bears’ 2014 NCAA Tournament run as the West’s No. 6 seed included an upset over No. 3 Creighton before falling to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. Scott Drew’s team is led by double-digits scorers Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers, Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale, who all average between 10.1 and 13.8 points per game. Gathers is a beast on the boards as well, with his 11.6 rebounds per game average ranking fourth nationally. Baylor could face a stiff second-round test if Georgia State guard Ryan Harrow is able to play. Harrow averages 18.7 points per game and pairs with R.J. Hunter (19.8 points per game) to form a lethal one-two punch.
North Carolina is the West’s No. 4 seed. Few schools can rival the Tar Heels’ tradition, but UNC has been in a bit of a rut the last two seasons, at least by its standards. Roy Williams and co. failed to make it out of the third round in 2013 and 2014, a trend they’ll look to end should they advance to play the winner of Arkansas vs. Wofford. But first they’ll have to get past Harvard, round-of-64 winners the past two seasons. Two juniors lead North Carolina, with Marcus Paige averaging 13.9 points and 4.6 assists while Brice Johnson chips in 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Other notables: #5 Arkansas, #13 Harvard, #14 Georgia State
Midwest Regional Preview
After losing in the 2014 National Championship game to UConn, the Kentucky Wildcats ran the gauntlet and will enter the tournament with a perfect 34-0 record. Because of this, fans will hear about the 1976 season often. That was the last time an undefeated team won the NCAA tournament (Indiana Hoosiers). The depth of the Wildcats is unreal. They have eight players who average at least 20 minutes per game. Six of those individuals average at least 8.4 points per game. They are clearly the Goliath of the group, but there might be a couple Davids to watch.
Kansas has the depth to compete with Kentucky. The Jayhawks have ten players who average double-digit minutes. One of those guys is Cliff Alexander. He averaged 17.6 minutes per game along with 7.1 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game, but was held out of the last six games due to an investigation regarding improper benefits. On the plus side, Kansas still won their 11th-straight Big 12 regular season title (13-out-of-14 years). Perry Ellis leads the team with 13.8 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game. KU fans are hoping that Ellis can overcome a knee injury that sidelined him for two games in early March.
Notre Dame made quite an impressive run in the ACC tournament. They defeated Miami, Duke, and North Carolina on back-to-back-to-back nights to win the tourney. The Fighting Irish shot 51 percent from the field this season, second only to Gonzaga. They have four players who score an average of 12.4 points per game or more. Senior Jerian Grant is the straw that stirs the drink. Not only does he average a team-high 36.6 minutes per contest, but he also leads the team with 16.8 points per game and 6.6 assists per game. This team thrives from long-range. Notre Dame has four players who make at least 40 percent of their three-point attempts.
Maryland is one of five teams in the Midwest region who has made the NCAA championship game since 2000 (they won it all 2002). In their first year with the Big Ten, the Terrapins concluded the regular season in second place and won their only game they played against Wisconsin (59-53 in late-February). Maryland has three players who average at least 30 minutes per game and score double-digit points. Depth is a common theme in this region. Mark Turgeon has 10 guys who average at least 11.8 minutes per game. They may have won 26 games in the regular season, but losses against tournament teams Virginia, Ohio State, Indiana, and Iowa suggest that they are vulnerable, too.
Other notables: #6 Butler, #7 Wichita State, #10 Indiana, and #12 Buffalo
South Regional Preview
Duke is no stranger to the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils are making their 20th-straight appearance in the Big Dance, but they haven’t reached the Final Four since they won the tourney in 2010. This year, Coack K has seven players who average at least 19.3 minutes per game and four score at least 11.6 points per game. Freshman Jahlil Okafor is the cream of the crop. He nearly averages a double-double per contest (17.7 points per game 9.0 rebounds per game). Though the Blue Devils score 80.6 points per game (fourth in the nation), they’re defense isn’t as strong. They are 3-4 this season when their opponent scores at least 74 points and since February 18th, teams have dropped 74-plus on them four times.
Once the Cinderella story, Gonzaga is now a staple of March Madness after 17-straight NCAA appearances. However, the Bulldogs have made zero trips to the Final Four and only boast one Elite Eight appearance on their resume (1999). This season, the Zags finished with the best field goal percentage of any team (52.4 percent). They lost to only Arizona and BYU, both of whom are in the field of 68. Contrary to the new one-and-done norm, this team is led by three SENIOR guards. Kevin Pangos was the West Coast Conference’s Player of the Year. He averaged 33.1 minutes, 11.5 points, and 5.0 assists per game.
The season had a rough start for Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State squad. Junior transfer, Jameel McKay, had his waiver request denied and had to wait until December to play. But, it was worth it. McKay averaged 26.8 minutes, 11.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. The Cyclones may have failed to secure the
Big 12 regular season title, but they had the last laugh against Kansas in the 2015 Big 12 tourney. Last season, the Cyclones won the Big 12 tournament and then advanced all the way to the Sweet 16. This year, they have ten players who average at least 9.3 minutes per game. Five of their men score an average of 10.3 points per game.
Georgetown lives and breathes with junior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera as their alpha dog. He is the only Hoya who averages over 30 minutes per game (34.2 min). He is also one of two players who average double-digit points per game (16.2 points per game). Georgetown’s record against the RPI Top 50 is 4-10 (1-5 against RPI Top 25). However, the Hoyas are also 4-0 against the teams with an RPI from 51-100. Their second round opponent, Eastern Washington, has an RPI of 78. If they advanced to the third round, Utah owns an RPI of 20 and Stephen F. Austin is 35th.
Other notables: #5 Utah, #6 SMU, #8 SDSU, and #13 EWU
FOX Sports Bracket Challenge
Can the Kentucky Wildcats lead by the Harrison brothers and Naismith Trophy nominees Willie Cauley-Stein / Karl-Anthony Towns carry their pursuit of perfection through the 2015 NCAA Tournament? Who will be this March Madness' Cinderella story? When you fill out your FOX Bracket Challenge sheet, remember these facts:
Although brand names and programs remain, with Coach K's Duke Blue Devils and his freshman sensation Jahlil Okafor, Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks, Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals, and Roy Williams' North Carolina Tar Heels all ranked inside the Top 25, college basketball embraced some new blood prior to the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
The Virginia Cavaliers - led by junior guard Justin Anderson (when healthy) and Malcolm Brogdon - were an NIT qualifier only two seasons ago, but now rank among the nation's best teams. Northern Iowa and Wichita State led by Ron Baker - two teams previously known as tournament sleepers - have placed smelling salts under the noses of college basketball pundits. The Utah Utes lost more games than they won two years ago. The Maryland Terrapins are sniffing the tournament for the first time since 2010!
Let's be honest, the popularity of the NCAA basketball tournament is closely linked to the millions of rabid college basketball fans joining forces with casual fans to create an uber-national audience captivated by the bracket they crave following selection Sunday. The madness of March brings our nation closer together. Can we get an "Amen!?"
It's in that spirit that FOXSports.com presents its 2015 NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge.
FOX Sports Bracket Challenge Prizes
FOX is guaranteeing winners this year! The top 10 finishers win a truly unique FOX Sports Experience package. Ten prizes will be available at the time the winners are determined and are contacted. The first place finisher will have the first choice and the tenth place finisher will receive the final prize. Think of it as a prize package fantasy draft.
What are the events? All we can say is each will be a pretty sweet sporting event or live studio show in LA or NY.
Each "experience" includes round-trip airfare for two, hotel accommodations for three nights, local ground transportation, and tickets to the actual event. Plus, the grand prize winner also pulls in $500 cash for the trip.
If you don't make the Top 10, you can still earn $20 to the FOX Sports Shop if you finish in the Top 50 to load up on your favorite team's merchandise.
If you have a rough first round or two, you're still not out of it. Sign up to play the Second Chance Bracket Challenge for yet another opportunity to win a prize.
It all gets started on Selection Sunday, March 15th, and the Round of 64 tips off Thursday, March 19th around lunch time. Get those sick days ready and sign up for FOX Sports Bracket Challenge.