Over the last two days, we’ve gone through each of the four regions of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Our NCAA Tournament Predictions are guaranteed to win you your work pool, but to complete the bracket, you’ll need to fill in the Final Four and National Title Game sections. Let’s finish this out:
1 Kansas over 2 Oklahoma
Any college basketball fan knows how exciting both KU/OU battles from the regular season were. It was disappointing when Buddy Hield’s halfcourt heave was waived off in the Big 12 tournament, because so many people were looking forward to a third showdown between the Jayhawks and Sooners. On Final Four Saturday, fans will get their wish. The Big 12 has had one Final Four team since 2008, but for this occasion, it gets two teams under all of the lights.
The Jayhawks are the better team. They’re deeper, they’re more talented, and they won both games against the Sooners in the regular season. However, Oklahoma was a last-second free throw in each game away from sweeping Kansas this year, which would have dramatically impacted the Big 12 race and Selection Sunday seeds. The Sooners also have the best player in the country, and you can’t blame him for either of OU’s losses to KU – Buddy Hield scored 70 points and made 13 baskets in those two games.
Like the first two contests, round three between Kansas and Oklahoma will be a back-and-forth, heavyweight fight. In the end, though, the Jayhawks just have so many players that can make shots in big moments. Devonte’ Graham will guard Hield well again, and Kansas will slip one out against the fatigued Sooners to end the career of one of the Big 12’s best-ever players.
4 Kentucky over 1 Virginia
The Wildcats are the most talented team in the country. No team has more future NBA players than John Calipari’s squad, but so many people will be put off by the #4 in front of Kentucky’s name. Tyler Ulis is the best point guard in America, while the showdown between Jamal Murray and Malcolm Brogdon will be must-watch TV on this night.
Both teams are well-composed, well-coached, and polished. So many people think that just because Virginia’s games aren’t typically high-scoring affairs that it means the Cavaliers can’t score. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Virginia’s ability to slow the game and allow its defense to suffocate opposing offenses is why scoring is usually at a premium in its games. If it needs to score, it can put up plenty of points, as the Cavaliers are top 10 in offensive efficiency according to KenPom.
Here’s the key to this game: London Perrantes is a fantastic point guard, but is he quick enough to stay in front of Tyler Ulis? The backcourt battle will be tremendous, and ultimately, I’m going to go with the more talented team. Kentucky has more bodies and more talent, so even though Virginia is experienced and extremely smart, I’m going with John Calipari’s Wildcats to advance to their third NCAA title game in five seasons.
National Championship Game:
1 Kansas over 4 Kentucky
On January 30, Kentucky and Kansas played an overtime thriller at Allen Fieldhouse. KU entered that game having lost three of its last five, and it has not lost since. The insane atmosphere gave the Jayhawks a burst that has powered them all the way to the tournament’s top seed, and, if these predictions hold true, they’ll enter championship night on a 19-game winning streak.
Kentucky, after a hiccup loss at Tennessee, has been pretty much spotless since then as well. A narrow road loss at Texas A&M and a tough defeat at Vanderbilt (both tournament teams) are the only other blips on the Wildcats radar. They’ve improved tremendously since their overtime loss in Allen Fieldhouse. In fact, had they made just one three in the entire second half of that game (they were 0/9), they probably get out of Phog Allen with a win.
In Houston, the two winningest programs in college basketball history will collide in a rematch of the 2012 title game. This time, the result will be much different. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham have made tremendous improvements on the defensive end, meaning they should be able to limit Tyler Ulis much better than they did in January. In the backcourt, the Wildcats don’t have an answer for Perry Ellis, while the deep Jayhawks will get Kentucky in foul trouble early and often. In a rare treat, we’re given overtime on the night of the national championship, and Kansas creeps out its sixth national title by defeating Kentucky, 88-86.