Usually, at this point in the college basketball season, you have a good idea at least of how the tournament is supposed to go down. Of course, there's a reason why they call it March Madness but the 2016/17 NCAA year has left more questions than perhaps ever before.
Answering these questions is virtually impossible, even after conference tournaments and seedings are announced. That being said, if this is the year you finally want to beat Doris in Human Resources in your office bracket pool it's time to start thinking about the answers to these looming inquiries:
The Jayhawks will enter the NCAA Tournament as the #1 team in the country and the likely top overall seed. They might have 1st and second round games in Tulsa and then Oklahoma so fan support should be even higher than normal. Frank Mason III is one of the stars of the tournament and all is feeling good for Bill Self's team.
So why does picking Kansas to win it seem like such a risk? Granted “Bucknell” Bill eased his big game qualms with a 2008 National Championship but the Jayhawks haven't advanced past the Elite 8 in any of the past 4 seasons despite not having more than 5 regular season losses in each. Doris is going to pick them as champs...but can you?
Villanova has to be considered one of the most underrated returning champions in recent history. Somehow they've flown under the radar again this season despite only losing 2 key players from last year's squad. The coaches poll has UCLA ranked higher than 'Nova but the thing is...coach Jay Wright might like it this way. Villanova will be a #1 seed after only 3 regular season losses but they might be facing the stigma of trying to become the first repeat champs since '06 and '07 Gators. One thing to consider is that this year's Wildcat squad might be even better than last year's champs.
Gonzaga is 29-1 but is there really anybody who has them conquering this year's March Madness? The Bulldogs have been knocked out in the round of 32 in 5 of the last 7 seasons. The positive side of that is the fact they have made it to Elite 8 and Sweet 16 in the last 2 years. This is truly a pick where you need to throw out the records, the seeding, and the name to truly decide how good this team is.
Steph Curry proved in 2008 how a star player can take over the tournament as he led Davidson to an Elite 8 two-point loss to Kansas. So the question is, who makes this season their year? Can Caleb Swanigan put the overlooked Purdue squad on his back? Can Frank Mason (Kansas) and Malik Monk (Kentucky) be star power enough to have their big name programs avoid early upsets? Do the next 3 weeks make Jock Landale (St. Mary's), Johnathon Motley (Baylor), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin) or Nigel Williams-Goss (Gonzaga) household names? Does everybody love Lonzo Ball (UCLA) as much as his own father does?
90% of the college basketball fanbase rejoices when Duke falters early in the tournament as they did against Lehigh (2012) and Mercer (2014) in the round of 64. It's been an admitted down year for Duke as they've suffered 7 regular season losses but does that make them more dangerous than ever? Duke has the star power in Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen but this year they also have something else – a chip on their shoulder.