The 2017 NCAA Tournament is almost upon us. With the brackets released, here’s a look at the bests and worsts of this year’s field.
Best Team: North Carolina
The Tar Heels have everything you need to win in the tournament: veteran leadership, solid guard play, rebounding, size for easy buckets in the paint and a pure scorer who can catch fire. Throw in their depth and a Hall of Fame coach and North Carolina has the makings of a national champion. Roy Williams’ squad has the least flaws of any team in the field. If he can keep them focused, they should make another Final Four run.
Best Guard: Frank Mason III, Kansas
Mason is my pick for National Player of the Year, as the diminutive senior point guard was phenomenal for the Jayhawks this season. He averaged 20.8 points, 5.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds and shot an absurd 48.7 percent from beyond the arc. The Big 12 Player of the Year is looking to take Kansas on a deep run and he has to ability to carry his team.
Best Post Player: Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
The man they call “Biggie” is far and away the best collegiate big man in the country. He put up 26 double-doubles in 32 games, averaged 18.7 points and 12.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, while also hitting 43.1 percent of his shots beyond the arc. He also posted four 20-20 games and won Big Ten Player of the Year honors. The guy dominates the paint and can hit from deep. He’s virtually unstoppable.
Best NBA Prospect: Lonzo Ball, UCLA
Ball is the best prospect in this tournament and it’s really not even that close. He just makes everyone around him better and is averaging 14.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and an NCAA-best 7.7 assists per game. As I’ve said before, he’s Jason Kidd with a jumper and he’s incredibly fun to watch. Don’t miss him.
Best Coach: Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Despite a really rough year, Izzo is still the best coach in the field. He can turn his teams around at any time, which makes his ridiculously talented (but young) Spartans really dangerous.
Most Overrated Coach: Steve Alford, UCLA
People are singing Alford’s praises this year because of UCLA’s resurgence, but he’s the same guy who missed the tournament last year with a wealth of talent. In 22 years as a head coach, Alford has reached the Sweet 16 just three times, and has never gone past that. Lonzo Ball is the reason for UCLA’s resurgence, Steve Alford is just enjoying the ride like the rest of us.
Most Overrated Player: Harry Giles, Duke
Giles is still projected as a lottery pick after entering the season as one of the nation’s top five recruits. But the freshman forward’s production has been awful all year. After undergoing knee surgery in October, he has never gotten on track, averaging just 4.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in 11.9 minutes per game. Giles is a talented kid but he hasn’t come close to living up to his billing.
Most Over-seeded Team: South Carolina
Frank Martin’s team somehow snagged a seven-seed after what was, at best, an uneven season. The Gamecocks opened the season 8-0 and raced out to a 19-4 record before losing five of their last seven games and six of their last nine. They beat just three teams that were ranked at the time they played them all season and one of those was a bad Syracuse squad. There was no reason for South Carolina to get a seven seed.
Most Under-seeded Team: Middle Tennessee State
I’m not sure what Middle Tennessee State did to piss off the Selection Committee, but obviously it was something pretty serious. MTSU got a 12-seed despite a 30-4 record, a 17-1 conference mark. The Blue Raiders finished 35th in the RPI, were 9-2 against the RPI top 150 and won 20 of their final 21 games. Oh, and they handily beat SEC teams Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. So yeah, there’s zero reason for them to be a 12 seed. Poor work by the committee.
Best Name: Scoochie Smith, Dayton
I mean, come on, you can’t go wrong with Scoochie.
Most Insufferable Fans: Duke
The answer is and and always has been, Duke.
Best Region: East
The Selection Committee obviously wanted to make Villanova work really hard for a repeat.
Worst Region: Midwest
Kansas has a cakewalk to the Final Four if Bill Self doesn’t find a way to screw things up.
Best 5/12 Matchup: Notre Dame vs. Princeton
This is probably my favorite first-round matchup regardless of seed, but we all love a good 5/12 matchup and this is easily the best one out there. The Irish have one of the nation’s best offenses and love to get up and down the floor, while the Tigers boast one of college basketball’s top defenses and aim to slow games to a crawl. It’s a classic clash in styles matchup that will be incredibly fun to watch.
Princeton finished the season on a 19-game win streak and will look to make it an even 20 in a row against the Irish.
Best Potential Sweet 16 Matchup: Kentucky vs. UCLA
If you like future NBA players, the South region’s potential battle between No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 UCLA will be one of the best matchups in tournament history. In fact, the only thing I can think of that would rival it for eye-catching talent would be a walk through Arizona State’s campus.
In this rematch from earlier in the season, there could be six first-round picks on the floor. Plus Lonzo Ball and Brice Alford matching up with Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox would be a tantalizing backcourt duel.
Best Potential Final Four Matchup: North Carolina vs. Kansas
This would have a ton of great storylines. Two one seeds. Roy Williams facing Bill Self. Roy Williams facing his old team. Tons of veteran depth, plus high-upside freshmen like Josh Jackson and Tony Bradley. This one would have everything and is one of the few reasons to root for chalk.
Most Lovable Player: Keon Johnson, Winthrop
Keon Johnson is 5’7″ and insanely quick, averaged 22.5 points per game and somehow — despite his size — was able to grab 3.9 rebounds per game and shoot 40.4 percent from 3-point range. This little dude can play with the big boys.
Most Hateable Player: Grayson Allen, Duke
This needs no explanation.
Best Mascot: The Oregon Duck
No, his name is not “Puddles” it is officially “The Oregon Duck.” But he’s more than just a Donald Duck knockoff, he’s one of the best mascots in sports and is incredibly entertaining. Hopefully an early-round blow out will get him doing some push ups on the sideline.
Worst Mascot: Purdue Pete
Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images
This guy is the stuff of nightmares. He terrifies little children like the original Pierre the Pelican. That expressionless, dead-eyed, serial killer-like plastic face will haunt your dreams. If Ed Gein were a college mascot, this is what he’d look like.