Blame AAU basketball, blame the one-and-done generation, blame whatever you want, but what cannot be argued is that there is an international wave taking over the NBA. Increasingly it seems like the best and most influential players in the NBA are from countries and regions outside of the U.S.
Far Fetched Friday: No Number 1 Seeds Will Reach the Final Four
Author: Ryan Stein
It's been a long-time tradition for March Madness to be a wildly unpredictable affair. However, any given year, it can be assumed that at least one top seed will make it to the tournament's semifinals. In fact, just over 40% of Final Four teams since 1979 (when seeding for the tournament first began) have been #1 seeds. Only two times since the year 2000 has there been no number one seeds in the Final Four (2006 and 2011.) That being said, this year's tournament will become the third time, because none of Kansas, Virginia, Villanova, or Xavier will reach the Final Four.
Virginia, much like other teams in the past ranking No. 1 in the AP Poll at season's end, are heavily favored to run the table and take home a championship. Before they are crowned, however, it is important to note that only one time has the No. 1 ranked team in the AP Poll won the NCAA championship since 2001 (Kentucky in 2012.) That alone is not enough to spell doom for the Cavaliers, but the South Region is no joke, with hot teams like Kentucky and Cincinnati looking to take down Virginia. Both teams are playing some of their best basketball, with Kentucky having won 8 of their past 9 games and Cincinnati winners of 8 in a row (including the first round of the tournament.) Virginia has far from a clear path to the Final Four, even with the shocking first round loss of Arizona; there is another Wildcat team to watch out for. On a completely biased note, my own Kansas State Wildcats are nothing to scoff at, especially if Dean Wade is available for a presumed matchup (K-State having just beat Creighton and Virginia playing later tonight.) While they may not be a traditional upset pick, I can still dream.
*Since this article was written, UMBC upset Virginia in the first 16 v 1 upset of all time.
The University of Kansas is often an enigma when it comes to the Big Dance. Either they make it to the end or, more often, they fall well short of expectations. This year's Jayhawks, while still certainly formidable and of the best teams in the country, do not meet the high standards of teams in the school's recent past. It doesn't help that March Madness mainstays like Duke and Michigan State are in their region. The main strength of Kansas is their experience, which will certainly be a huge help as the games get tougher. That being said, I see Michigan State eventually being able to knock them, ending the Jayhawks' season prematurely.
Villanova is a hard team to predict in tournament play. You get years from them like 2016, which ended in a championship. Then you have years like last year, with the team getting upset by Wisconsin in the second round. That lack of parity from year-to-year makes me uncertain of their chances this year. The squad is still phenomenal, but they may also be overly concerned with avoiding a repeat of last year's disaster. Plus, teams like Texas Tech, Florida, and Purdue, even after the Isaac Haas injury, are ready to pounce on the region's number one seed. Don't sleep on Butler either, a team that is notorious for greatly exceeding expectations on college basketball's biggest stage.
Xavier, despite being the number one team in the SEC, is far from a certainty in this tournament. The team lacks the pedigree of the other number one seeds, having 0 Final Four appearances in the program's history. While a relative lack of high-level success in Xavier's past does not mean they cannot be successful this year, it is not often that teams without a history of success makes it to the tournament's end. When looking at Xavier's region, teams like Michigan, Gonzaga, and North Carolina all stand out. All of them have been to at least one title game since 2013, and that sort of excellence really sticks with a team. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura will do everything in their power to reverse this narrative, but it is no small task to beat multiple teams with championship experience.
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