2018 U.S. Open Contenders and Sleepers

The U.S. Open has been my favorite Major Championship since I have gotten into the game of golf. It isn’t based on the fact that it is labeled as the United States Open, because in reality, the Masters is probably more renowned and more appreciated in both the United States and the world. What has always drawn me to the U.S. Open though, is the style of courses that get thrown at the players yearly. They are fair venues but require the utmost skill to win. They reward advanced skillsets and are as challenging as can be and not because they are artificially made to be tough.

The last couple of years, specifically last year at Erin Hills, the U.S. Open has left a very sour taste in my mouth. Erin Hills should have been one of the better tests we have seen, but the players were instead protected. Fairways made as wide as could be so that the weather would not cause a potential bloodbath at the course, and because of that fact, Brooks Koepka overpowered and bludgeoned his way to 16-under par without any real fear of potential disaster. Fast forward to 2018 and Shinnecock Hills should finally get us back on track of what a U.S. Open course is meant to be. Some length off the tee will give players an advantage, but an all-around game mixed with precision, focus, and shot making skills will be needed to hoist the trophy. All luck “should” be taken out of this year’s finish, and for me, that is always what is most important.

Top Contenders

#1 Dustin Johnson (9/1)

What would a U.S. Open list be without DJ near or at the top of a contenders list? The 2016 champion at Oakmont and the 2015 runner-up at Chambers Bay is an ideal fit for any authentic U.S. Open setup. And the reason for that is because he has a complete game and no weaknesses. Johnson not only drives the ball longer, straighter and better than anyone else on tour but he also has his irons dialed in and is a better putter than he gets credit for being. If you haven’t already used Johnson in One and Done contests, he should be at the very top of your selection list. I will be using him this week and will be attaching my league’s wild card feature onto him to double his earnings.

#2 Jon Rahm (22/1)

Jon Rahm had a mental breakdown last year at Erin Hills. His fiery temperament got the best of him, and he not only lost his cool but also missed the cut in the process. Rahm, who is now a year older and hopefully a year more mature mentally, will get a chance to bounce back at Shinnecock Hills this year. The 23-year-old Spanish golfer is about as close to Dustin Johnson’s skillset as maybe anyone on tour. Rahm hasn’t had the best Major success early in his career, and he can still be as red-hot at times as ever, but the fourth-ranked golfer in the world is bound to turn his Major woes around. A fourth-place finish at this year’s Masters was his first top-25 finish in a Major ever. Look for Rahm to build off of that result and potentially post another top-five in New York, with the potential of capturing his first Major title.

#3 Justin Rose (14/1)

Justin Rose has been all or nothing throughout his career at U.S. Open venues. 12 career U.S. Open appearances, with six top-30 finishes and six missed cuts, which includes a victory in 2013 and two additional top-10s in 2003 and 2007. However, Rose comes into Shinnecock Hills this year as dialed in as any golfer in the world. In Rose’s last 15 tournaments, he has produced 11 top-10 results, including wins at the Fort Worth Invitational and the WGC-HSBC. Rose’s price of 14/1 makes him the second favorite in some betting markets. Unfortunately, his price makes him un-bettable given the value that can be had around him, but Justin Rose will not be a surprise champion if he is able to capture his second career U.S. Open title this weekend.

#4 Justin Thomas (14/1)

The gambling market and DFS community refuse to give Justin Thomas the credit he deserves. For whatever reason, Thomas cannot get himself to the top of the DFS or gambling betting market regardless of what he does. For the last 10 months, Thomas has been the best player in the game of golf. He captured his first Major Championship at the PGA Championship in August and since then has produced three additional wins and two more runner-up performances. Thomas’ only real concern this weekend is his lack of consistency off the tee. He is as explosive as anyone on tour but has been known to get a bit sloppy at times with his driver. If he can stay steady this weekend, he has as good of a shot as anyone to capture his second career Major title.

Top Sleepers (Players over 50/1)

#1 All the European Tour Type Grinders- Tommy Fleetwood (50/1), Alex Noren (60/1), Branden Grace (35/1), etc.

Branden Grace has been bet down, so he no longer applies to the players at or over 50/1 rule, but I am going to include him because of him opening at 50/1. Each one of these guys may need the tournament to finish at around eight-under par or less to capture the title, but if it does, they should be right near the top of the leaderboard with a chance to seize their first Major Championship. I am not so sure any of them could win in a birdie shootout, but that isn’t what Shinnecock Hills should turn into this year. The closer to even-par the score can get, the better off it will be for them. Other European players fit the same mold, but these three are the three most likely champions at odds of 50/1 or more.

#2 Tony Finau (80/1)

The 6’4″ American golfer, Tony Finau, is still looking for his first breakthrough win on the PGA Tour. Yes, I know that Finau won the 2016 Puerto Rico Open in a playoff over Steve Marino but that victory doesn’t scream,” I have arrived.” Finau is as big and strong as anyone on tour, and if he gets hot with his putter, everyone better watch out. It may be too tall of a task to ask of Finau, given the fact that he hasn’t even been able to close out small PGA events, but Finau is going to win something big eventually, and Shinnecock Hills should suit his game. At 80/1 he is worth a look.

#3 Gary Woodland (175/1)

Big-hitting Gary Woodland is one of my favorite values on the board at this year’s U.S. Open. He comes into the event having missed four of his last five cuts, but he did produce a T23 finish in his previous outing at the Memorial Tournament. Woodland has the type of game that can win at any venue, especially one that requires length. His lack of form coming into Shinnecock Hills is completely baked into that 175/1 price. Three months ago it wouldn’t have been inconceivable that Woodland would have been 50/1 for a venue like this. My favorite way to bet him is at 8/1 to come top-20, but there is definitely upside for even a better showing than that.

#4 Si Woo Kim (150/1)

Si Woo Kim still provides tons of boom but maybe not as much bust as he has in the past. Kim enters this week having made his last seven cuts, including 84 percent of his cuts on the year. The surprise winner of the 2017 Players Championship, Kim has shown he is able to win star-studded events in the past and seems to go for the win when he has a chance to do so. Statistically, Kim doesn’t have any stats that are extremely eye-popping. However, he does rank 21st in his last 24 rounds compared to the field in strokes gained off the tee, which should be a plus at a course that is so long. There is just something about the young 22-year-old South Korean golfer that makes him show up for significant events. At 150/1, he is worth a hard look.

#5 Brendan Steele (200/1)

Brendan Steele is another player who comes into the week overinflated in price. He very well may turn into a better top 20 bet since he has trouble closing out events, but he provides everything you would hope to see from a player at a U.S. Open venue. After back-to-back top-15 showings in 2017 and 2016 at U.S. Open courses, his 200/1 price, quite frankly, is incredibly disrespectful. He ranks eighth in strokes gained off the tee and 11th in driving distance in his last 24 rounds compared to the field. As mentioned above, Steele will be another player I will be targeting in the top 20 market, but at his bloated 200/1 number, I will be taking a shot on his world-class off the tee skillset.

Please feel free to message me for any U.S. Open questions you may have on Instagram and Twitter @teeoffsports

And check me out on Rotoballer.com for my golf player news.

One and Done Selection For the FedEx St. Jude Classic

2018 FedEx St. Jude Classic

TPC Southwind – 7,244 Yards – Par 70
Greens: Bermuda

After last week’s Memorial Tournament provided us a star-studded field, the FedEx St. Jude Classis is going to give us about the opposite end of the spectrum. It is safe to say that FedEx didn’t deliver this weekend. In all fairness, the lack of strength has more to do with the U.S. Open being next week than anything else. Most of the top names are getting ready for Shinnecock Hills, and anyone who wasn’t already qualified for the U.S. Open spent Monday in their Sectional Qualifiers. This has accounted for an even weaker field because most everyone who was lucky enough to get into the U.S. Open from the Sectional Qualifiers pulled out once they did so.

From a course perspective, TPC Southwind has a couple of interesting notes to address. It has 94 bunkers and 10 water hazards. The 10 water hazards may be the most dangerous aspect of this place. Since 2013, TPC Southwind has had more balls land in the water than any course on tour. Almost 1500 more balls have gone swimming than the next closest course, which is TPC Sawgrass. Strokes gained approach seems to be the most critical factor in placing in the top-10 and the vast majority of the approach shots will come between 150 to 200 yards.

Key Stats:

Strokes Gained Approach – 25%
Birdie or Better Gained – 20%
Par 4 Scoring 450-500 Yards – 15%
Strokes Gained Par 5 Scoring – 15%
Proximity 150-175 Yards – 15%
Strokes Gained Off the Tee – 10%

My OAD Selections for the season so far:

Sony Open
Gary Woodland T7- $193,233

Career Builder Challenge
Chesson Hadley T42- $18,983

Farmers Insurance Open
Tony Finau T6- $239,775

Waste Management Phoenix Open
Webb Simpson MC- $0

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Brandt Snedeker T20- $80,167

Genesis Open
Paul Casey T49- $17,964

The Honda Classic
Alex Noren T3- $448,800

WGC-Mexico
Phil Mickelson 1st- $1,700,000

Valspar Championship
Sergio Garcia 4th- $312,000

Arnold Palmer Invitational
Rickie Fowler T14- $137,950

Corales Puntacana Championship
Emiliano Grillo T50- $7,305

WGC Dell Technologies Match Play
Bubba Watson 1st- $1,700,00

Houston Open
Luke List T24- $54,163

Masters
Jordan Spieth 3rd- $748,000

RBC Heritage
Matt Kuchar T23- $53,823

Valero Texas Open
Adam Scott MC- $0

Wells Fargo Championship
Bryson Dechambeau 4th- $369,600

The Players Championship
Justin Thomas T11- $225,500

AT&T Byron Nelson
Hideki Matsuyama T16- $115,500

Fort Worth Invitational
Adam Hadwin T52- $16,472

The Memorial Tournament
Justin Rose T6 – $309,275

Total $ – 6,748,510

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____________________________________________________________________________________________
Last week’s suggestions at The Memorial Tournament
#5 Jason Dufner – MC
#4 Henrik Stenson – T13
#3 Tiger Woods – T23
#2 Dustin Johnson – T8
#1 Justin Rose – T6
____________________________________________________________________________________________

Golfers in the field I have already used: List, Finau, Snedeker, Mickelson,

My top-five OAD picks- (Only four”ish” suggestions this week)
(Any golfer I have used will be eliminated from consideration.)
Guys I would consider if I hadn’t already used them: List, Mickelson, Finau

#4 Kevin Chappell

Kevin Chappell comes into the week with less than ideal form but makes for an interesting One and Done contrarian selection. Hear me out here before you rush to judgment on this call. For starters, Chappell would only be recommended to those who are in need of a swing for the fence type of a pick. Chappell enters the week having missed four of his last five cuts, but I genuinely believe there are reasons to like him this week. Before Chappell’s back injury sent him in the wrong direction for the last two months, the 31-year-old American golfer was closing in on his second career PGA Tour win. Even though Chappell’s results have not adequately shown up yet, his statistical performance is starting to come back to where he was. In his last 24 rounds compared to the field, Chappell ranks third in Par-4 scoring between 450 to 500 yards, 15th in proximity between 150 to 175 yards, and top-25 in birdie or better and strokes gained off the tee. In reality, there aren’t many possible guys who are options this week. Chappell provides top-tier upside without maybe the current form you would hope to see.

#3 Kiradech Aphibarnrat

Kiradech Aphibarnrat is a surprise entrance into the FedEx St. Jude Classic field this week. Aphibarnrat needed a sponsor exemption to get himself into the field. The 28-year-old Thai golfer has graced his presence on the PGA Tour much more than some may have thought he would have this season. Despite this fact, Aphibarnrat is not necessarily the first player you would think of using in a One and Done pool, and for this reason, the 31st-ranked player in the world more often than not is left as a reserve pick than the actual selection. If you think about the nature of most One and Done pools, you would realize that many people use golfers that they shouldn’t throughout the season. Contests don’t play out this straightforward because there are many variables to consider weekly, but in reality, you shouldn’t be playing anyone outside of the top-50 in the world. If you played it this way, you probably wouldn’t be entirely successful, but it goes to show that people go just a bit too far down the rankings. I really can’t think of any other spot this season I would be wanting to play Aphibarnrat, and this may be as good of an opportunity as any. Aphibarnrat provides high upside and low ownership.

#2 Luke List, Phil Mickelson, or Tony Finau

I never advise guys I have already used. There’s a method behind the madness of a One and Done contest. If someone covering and advising on picks could freely do so, they would select Justin Thomas or Dustin Johnson every week. I could claim they were the best picks on the board, and if I hadn’t already used them, I would have done so this week. That is obviously not how these contests work, and we would have no weekly article under those pretenses, at least not one of fair judgment. That is why I always try and add players I have used already and guys I would consider if I hadn’t already done so. However, for this week, I am going to cheat on those rules, and I will explain why. The FedEx St. Jude Classic is a very weak tournament, and there aren’t enough players who I would happily recommend. I genuinely feel that the three guys mentioned above are all worthy of being potential top-five recommendations. I don’t feel comfortable endorsing any of them as my One and Done pick for the week, but if you haven’t used someone from that list, I think this week could be a great time to do so.

#1 Henrik Stenson

Henrik Stenson comes into the week with five straight top-25 finishes, which includes three top-six results. Stenson reminds me of our One and Done pick, Justin Rose, last week. When Stenson is on, he is one of the best players in the world, and I don’t know if you are going to catch the 42-year-old Sweedish golfer in a better situation all season. In his last 12 rounds compared to the field, Stenson ranks first in strokes gained approach. At some point soon, he will be heading over to Europe for a handful of weeks, which limits our number of opportunities to play him. I would rather catch him when he is in-form than wait and potentially miss out on the hot streak.

 

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One and Done Selection For the Memorial Tournament

2018 Memorial Tournament

Muirfield Village Golf Club – 7,392 Yards – Par 72
Greens: Bentgrass

The Memorial Tournament once again did not disappoint in its strength of the field. Always boasting one of the best compilation of players, Muirfield Village is a perfect setup course for those trying to get prepared for the U.S. Open. It measures just under 7,400 yards and is a relatively long course with THICK rough. Wayward drives are a recipe for disaster at this venue, although the relatively wide fairways make driving accuracy less of a relevant stat. Players will need good sand games to cope for the greenside bunkers all throughout Muirfield Village.

Key Stats:

Strokes Gained Approach – 25%
Par 4 450-500 Yards – 20%
Par 3 175-200 Yards – 15%
Proximity 175-200 Yards – 15%
Sand Saves – 15%
Greens In Regulation Gained – 10%

My OAD Selections for the season so far:

Sony Open
Gary Woodland T7- $193,233

Career Builder Challenge
Chesson Hadley T42- $18,983

Farmers Insurance Open
Tony Finau T6- $239,775

Waste Management Phoenix Open
Webb Simpson MC- $0

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Brandt Snedeker T20- $80,167

Genesis Open
Paul Casey T49- $17,964

The Honda Classic
Alex Noren T3- $448,800

WGC-Mexico
Phil Mickelson 1st- $1,700,000

Valspar Championship
Sergio Garcia 4th- $312,000

Arnold Palmer Invitational
Rickie Fowler T14- $137,950

Corales Puntacana Championship
Emiliano Grillo T50- $7,305

WGC Dell Technologies Match Play
Bubba Watson 1st- $1,700,00

Houston Open
Luke List T24- $54,163

Masters
Jordan Spieth 3rd- $748,000

RBC Heritage
Matt Kuchar T23- $53,823

Valero Texas Open
Adam Scott MC- $0

Wells Fargo Championship
Bryson Dechambeau 4th- $369,600

The Players Championship
Justin Thomas T11- $225,500

AT&T Byron Nelson
Hideki Matsuyama T16- $115,500

Fort Worth Invitational
Adam Hadwin T52- $16,472

Total $- $6,439,235

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 4.10.26 PM

Last week was a disaster One and Done selection week for us. Our eventual pick, Adam Hadwin, managed to scrape out a meager T52 showing, giving us a payday of $16,472, but our whole top-five recommendation list was very subpar. We will look for a significant bounce-back effort this week at the Memorial Tournament.

Golfers in the field I have already used: Woodland, Hadley, Finau, Mickelson, Fowler, Grillo, Watson, List, Spieth, Kuchar, Scott, DeChambeau, Thomas, Matsuyama, and Hadwin.

My top-five OAD picks for the Memorial Tournament-
(Any golfer I have used will be eliminated from consideration.)

#5 Jason Dufner

Our defending champion at the Memorial Tournament will start off our top-five list. Jason Dufner put on a ball-striking exhibition last year during his victory at the Memorial Tournament. Dufner opened Thursday and Friday with consecutive seven-under 65 rounds. Going into the weekend, it appeared as if the tournament was all but over, but that is when things got interesting. Dufner shot a five-over 77 on Saturday, letting back in a whole brigade of players, which included Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, to name a few. Luckily for Dufner, he found a way to bounce back on Sunday and seal the title. Dufner shot a four-under 68 during his final round, winning by three strokes over Fowler and Anirban Lahiri. Dufner has struggled to find success since his victory last season at Muirfield Village but may be peaking again at the right time. Dufner has produced two top-five finishes in his last four tournaments, which just so happen to be his only top-10 results since his title here last year. In his last 24 rounds compared to the field on Jack Nicklaus-designed courses, Dufner ranks first in greens in regulation and second in strokes gained approach.

#4 Henrik Stenson

Week in and week out, Henrik Stenson has continued to put on a ball-striking demonstration that very few can even come close to matching. After a string of three top-six finishes, the 42-year-old Sweedish golfer relatively disappointed his backers at The Players Championship by providing just a T23 showing. While a share of 23rd-place is nothing to sneeze at, it still was a bit lackluster for the over 40 percent of DraftKings players who played him in GPPs. Stenson should provide a nice rebound for those who are willing to go back to the well, and honestly, I don’t see a reason why he shouldn’t be considered.

#3 Tiger Woods

The five-time champion at the Memorial Tournament will come in at No. 3 this week for me. Woods has had a spectacular return to professional golf. Having made eight of nine cuts, with five top-15 finishes, Woods looks like he is starting to get very close to capturing a title again soon on Tour. The question becomes, “Just how close are we?” I think we are reaching the territory that it very well could happen any week. I refuse to write Woods off at a tournament he has won five times, but I do think his erratic driver and suspect sand game will prevent him from capturing the title this weekend. Still, I expect Woods to produce a top-20 finish here, getting him one step closer to his first title of the season.

#2. Dustin Johnson

Full disclosure on this pick, I will not be using him, but I do think this makes for a unique spot to use Johnson if you are trying to chase down the leaders of your pool. Most people who haven’t used Johnson yet will be waiting to use him at the U.S. Open. I fall right into that same category, but instead of trying to copy the mold and therefore remaining stagnant regardless of how Johnson does, why not set yourself apart and use him a week or two early? The big-hitting American struggled mightily last year at the Memorial Tournament and missed the cut, but in his two prior years, he had a solo third-place finish in 2016 and T13 in 2015. He comes into the week appearing like he is still trying to find his game, but most people fail to realize Johnson has produced 10 straight top-17 finishes.

#1 Justin Rose

I am never a big fan of jumping on a player the week after he has won a tournament. Most of the time you have already missed the boat on his success and are setting yourself up for disappointment. However, I don’t believe this to be the case with Justin Rose. Rose has made eight of 11 career cuts at Muirfield Village, and while a 72 percent cut rate is not overly promising, he also has six top-10 finishes and one victory here. Rose is the kind of player that when he is on, he is almost unbeatable. His current form is spectacular, his course history is as good as anyone’s, and statistically, he grades out in the top-five of my spreadsheet. For all those reasons, I will be using Justin Rose as my OAD pick for the week.

Follow me on Instagram and Twitter @teeoffsports

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Bracket Revised (Sweet 16 to the Finals)

Is your bracket busted? If you are like most American’s the answer is probably yes. My bracket was looking positive, all things considered, going into midday Sunday. Then the Madness managed to get the best of me.  The Cincinnati Bearcats blew a 22- point lead with 10 minutes remaining against the Nevada Wolfpack, causing my first Final-Four team to be eliminated and to make matters even worse, my National Championship Runner-Up. In some years this might have been a dream killer but the way things have played out this March, I still will win pretty much all leagues with a Duke victory. It goes to show how much insanity the first week provided.

Teams Remaining and initial thoughts I had on them in my first article:

Kentucky- I had them losing first round to Davidson. This isn’t a pick I regret doing but the way things played out, it is going to be one that punishes me. I didn’t dislike Kentucky but just thought Davidson matched up well and provided great upset potential. They kept the game very competitive, just could not quite pull off the victory.

Kansas State- I had them losing first round to Creighton. This shouldn’t have been anything more than an 8 vs. 9 game, with the winner bowing out next round to Virginia, but after UMBC shocked the world and beat Virginia it managed to open things up for Kansas State. I still don’t like this team but that will be another topic for the rest of the tournament breakdown.

Loyola Chicago- This is what I wrote pre-tournament when discussing Loyola Chicago, “Loyola could be this year’s Cinderella team.” They have definitely been one of them and could continue the run next week with an opened up bracket.

Nevada- I was hesitant about Nevada’s injuries and therefore lack of rotation. I gave them a first-round win against Texas but had them losing to Cincinnati. One of my quotes from the article was this; “Nevada is Elite 8 caliber good.” They have proven to be.

Gonzaga- I had Gonzaga in my Final Four the first time around. Will it be the same this time?

Florida State- Florida State has been one of my better calls of this tournament. I took them over Missouri and then took them in the upset over #1 seed Xavier. I am not surprised that they are here.

Michigan- Michigan needed some luck to get into the Sweet 16. I originally had them in my Elite 8 but they are very lucky to still be dancing.

Texas A&M- This is another team I am not surprised is here. “Texas A&M has all the skill in the world. They just can’t seem to put it together for an extended period of time but If they got hot for the tournament it wouldn’t shock me.” I didn’t have enough moxy to take them over UNC but it is not a huge surprise to me that they beat the Tar-heels.

Villanova- Villanova has looked like one of the best teams in their first two games. I had Purdue beating them the first time around in the Elite 8. 

West Virginia- I didn’t love a potential match-up against Wichita State but when Wichita State stumbled against Marshall, it opened the draw up for West Virginia.

Texas Tech- Keenan Evans injury scared me and prevented me from advancing them past the Sweet 16 matchup, where I had them losing to Purdue. Now that Evan’s looks healthy will I change my mind on that game?

Purdue- Another Final Four team for me. Purdue is now the team with injury concerns after Center Isaac Haas broke his elbow in Round 1.

Kansas- I wasn’t a huge fan of Kansas. I was just worried the region didn’t have enough to challenge them, which is why they were in my Elite 8. Do I think it is more competitive now?

Clemson- New Mexico State was a big letdown for me. I had them over Clemson and then over Auburn. “If Clemson puts up a tough defensive fight I could see New Mexico State wither away but the upset potential is too great to ignore.” I wish I had ignored it!

Syracuse- When the article was initially written, the play in game between Arizona State and Syracuse had not been played yet. I tentatively picked TCU to advance without knowing who the opponent was. When Syracuse won, I did end up picking Cuse over TCU and eventually had them losing to Michigan State. I am not that surprised by the upset though. Michigan State was one of the best teams in the field to me but Syracuse’s zone defense is very difficult to prepare for in only one day.

Duke- My National Champions! I like the way they have looked but will I change my mind when reassessing it this time?

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Sweet 16

5. Kentucky vs. 9. Kansas State
Offensively Kansas State is not that good and defensively they are probably just as shaky. The most concerning stat in this game for me is the following:
Kansas State 309th in Defensive Rebounding Percentage.
Kentucky 8th in Offensive Rebounding Percentage.
I think Kentucky will manhandle Kansas State. Kentucky to the Elite 8.

7. Nevada vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
The match-up all of America was anticipating! Nevada has gotten off to a slow start in both of their first two tournament games. If they do it again vs. Loyola I don’t anticipate they will be able to make another comeback. Texas and Cincinnati both have shown struggles to score the basketball at times this season. Yes, Nevada did manage to shoot the lights out in each comeback, but if either one of these two teams didn’t go completely stagnant offensively, I don’t think we would have seen Nevada still alive. Loyola Chicago is strategic and methodical both offensively and defensively. I think Nevada will get down and not be able to fully catch up to Loyola. Loyola Chicago advances and Cinderella is still at the ball.

4. Gonzaga vs. 9. Florida State
Here is my initial write-up, “Florida State might be a battle-tested team but being able to overcome Xavier and Gonzaga will be too much for them. Gonzaga will have a week to prepare for the Seminoles and should handle them quite easily. Gonzaga advances.”
I see no reason why this changes. Gonzaga will advance.
3. Michigan vs. 7. Texas A&M
In a weird way, I think this is a more difficult game for Michigan than UNC would have been. With that being said, Texas A&M isn’t immune to a cold stretch offensively. A lack of offensive rebounding opportunities that they are accustomed to and no extra possessions from creating turnovers will leave Texas A&M coming up short. Michigan to the Elite 8. 

1. Villanova vs. 5. West Virginia
Initially, I had Villanova facing off against Wichita State, but this game against West Virginia provides a lot more difficult of a challenge for Villanova. West Virginia will give it their best effort to literally try and steal the game from Villanova but at the end of the day, Villanova won’t fully succumb to the Mountaineers pressure. Nova negates a lot of what West Virginia does well. It isn’t impossible to see West Virginia pull the upset but Give me Villanova to advance. 

2. Purdue vs. 3. Texas Tech
It is funny how quickly things can change. In my initial write-up, I said this, “I don’t think Keenan Evans can possibly get healthy enough to replicate his early season success he provided Texas Tech. They had a better season than almost anyone saw coming but the road will end here. Purdue wins.”

A week into the tournament Keenan Evans looks like his old explosive self and Purdue is now struggling with an injury to Center Isaac Haas. Haas has a broken elbow and is projected out for the rest of the tournament. While it may look like a perfect spot to change my original prediction, I will not be doing so. I think Matt Haarms is a very suitable backup to Issac Haas and in this particular match-up will be able to hold his own. Purdue loses a little something offensively but defensively will be completely fine. Texas Tech is no stranger to bad offensive ruts and Purdue will take advantage of those moments. Purdue still advances on.

1. Kansas vs. 5. Clemson
If you read my initial article, you will know that I have no love lost for Kansas. I think they are overrated and I think they are very fortunate for the draw they received. Their draw is a little more difficult than I fully anticipated though, with Clemson getting here instead of New Mexico State. This is going to be my first change I will make to a team that I had advancing. Clemson is a great defensive team. Kansas lives and dies by the three and is incapable of getting offensive rebounds. Teams that don’t get offensive rebounds, shoot an excessive amount of threes, and don’t force turnovers always struggle come tournament time. Intensity amplifies and shots don’t go in as easily. I look for Clemson to pull another March Madness surprise and advance to the Elite 8.

2. Duke vs. 11. Syracuse
ACC foes Duke and Syracuse face off with a berth to the Elite 8 on the line. Cuse’s zone defense can catch teams off guard that aren’t used to playing against it but this will not be the case here with both teams fully aware of the others style. Duke won a regular season contest in February 60-44. I see no reason to expect anything different to happen. Duke advances. 

Elite 8

5. Kentucky vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
Blueblood Kentucky will take on upset minded Loyola Chicago with a chance to get to another Final Four. It seems highly unlikely John Calipari would be denied a spot in San Antonio from a mid-major team…right? I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. Loyola Chicago has a lot going from them defensively that can help to contain Kentucky’s offense. Kentucky is not a good shooting team and plays in spurts throughout the game. The Wildcats are young and inexperienced and the moment just may prove to be too big for them. In a tournament filled with madness, number 11 seed Loyola Chicago will get into the Final Four.

3. Michigan vs. 4. Gonzaga
This is my initial write-up that I will be sticking with. “Michigan is the hottest team in America right now, but if I was them, I would worry about the stop and go nature of the tournament and I would even be concerned with the layoff before the tournament has started. At some point, Michigan will probably go cold, and if they do I don’t like their prospects of being able to create second-chance looks. Gonzaga has some flaws in leaving shooters open around the perimeter so if Michigan can stay locked in there is potential for the Wolverines but I don’t think enough shots will drop. I will have their run come to an end here. Gonzaga advances to another Final Four.”

1. Villanova vs. 2. Purdue
First time around I had Purdue taking out Villanova to reach the Final Four. This decision becomes a lot more difficult with Isaac Haas being most likely out. I hope I am wrong and Purdue still finds a way to get to the Final Four but I, unfortunately, will have to change this pick. Villanova is another one of those teams that becomes a little complacent settling for jumpers and is susceptible to slipping up in any game but metrically they do things slightly better than most Villanova teams of past.  They are the premier offensive team in the nation, grading out 1st in points per possession and 1st in effective FG%. The loss of Haas will be too much to overcome. Villanova gets the win.

2. Duke vs. 5. Clemson
Another ACC battle for Duke is in-store in this Elite 8 meeting. In February Duke went into Clemson’s arena and came out victorious, 66 to 57. I anticipate a slightly higher scoring game but one that yields a very similar result. Duke runs the gamut of ACC opponents in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 to reach another Final Four under Coach Krzyzewski.

Final Four

4. Gonzaga vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
If this is the Final Four contest we get, I don’t love Loyola Chicago’s chances against Gonzaga. I originally had Gonzaga losing to Cincinnati in this game but I think things would be a lot different with these two teams facing off. It is tough to figure out where Loyola Chicago would have an advantage. This, unfortunately, is just a really bad match-up for them and their dream season will come to an end. Gonzaga onto the finals.

1. Villanova vs. 2. Duke
The left side of the bracket may have resulted in chaos but the right side of the draw will pit the best two teams in this tournament against one another with a spot in the finals on the line. Duke’s brute physicality will be matched up against Villanova’s strong shooting. A hot shooting Nova team could shred the Blue Devils zone defense that they implemented this season. While this is an encouraging sign for the Wildcats, they won’t be able to take advantage of the offensive rebounding possibilities that open up from the zone. Villanova may be able to get solid looks but they will still be looking at one and done situations if they miss and will probably be looking to score everything from the perimeter. Stylistically I feel like Duke will be too physical for a Nova team that is either going to shoot themselves in or out of the finals. Don’t get me wrong, the game could go either way and Villanova will have their chance but I will take Duke into the Championship. 

Finals

2. Duke vs. 4. Gonzaga
The redo of the bracket now has Gonzaga making back-to-back Championship games and will be playing my original National Champion Duke Blue Devils. Honestly, it would be counterintuitive to back off of my Duke pick now so I won’t be doing so. Duke to me is the best team in the nation when they are on. It is March and anything is possible but Coach K seems to have his team clicking on all cylinders at this moment. My pick to win the National Championship is still the Duke Blue Devils.

Duke 73
Gonzaga 65

Coach K