BOISE – If America has it right, there won’t be another Final Four run awaiting Gonzaga this year at the NCAA Tournament.
The consensus from college basketball fans who’ve completed brackets for ESPN’s Tournament Challenge is that GU will make noise in the West Region, but a collision course with top-seeded Xavier in the Sweet 16 will ultimately lead to the Bulldogs’ demise in this edition of the Big Dance.
ESPN’s “People’s Bracket” combines every submission from every user who has completed a bracket for the website’s Tournament Challenge. It gives Gonzaga a 93 percent chance of moving past UNC Greensboro in the Round of 64 and overwhelming odds of knocking off Ohio State in a potential rematch between the Bulldogs and Buckeyes in the Round of 32. Seventy-four percent are taking GU over OSU.
The Sweet 16 is where it gets hairy.
ESPN Tournament Challenge pickers project Xavier to blaze through its first two games – 97 percent like the Musketeers to beat the winner of a play-in game between Texas Southern and North Carolina Central, and 89 percent think they knock off Missouri in the next round. Then, 59 percent are taking Xavier over Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, although it’s worth noting the general population agrees the Zags have a better chance of knocking off a top-line team in that round than anyone else. GU’s 41 percent chance of edging Xavier is significantly better than the 12 percent chance the People’s Bracket gives
The top-seeded Zags bucked the odds in 2017, when only 48 percent of ESPN users selected them to reach the Elite Eight, albeit the majority figured Arizona would be waiting for them in the Sweet 16, as opposed to Xavier.
Nearly 19 million fans submitted brackets through ESPN’s website last season. Totals for the 2018 Challenge hadn’t been released as of Wednesday afternoon.
By round, 93 percent of users have Gonzaga winning in the Round of 64, 69.6 percent in the Round of 32, 34.6 percent in the Sweet 16, 14.3 percent in the Elite Eight, 5.2 percent in the Final Four and 2.1 percent in the national championship game.
Of ESPN’s 17 “featured brackets,” completed by a panel of experts, journalists and guest celebrities, 13 believe the Zags have another Sweet 16 run in them. A handful of those are picking GU through to the Elite Eight: SportsCenter anchor Rece Davis, ESPN radio host Mike Greenberg, former NBA standout Jalen Rose, L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke, Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw and platinum-selling hip-hop artist Big Sean. ESPN’s Mina Kimes filled out the only bracket that had GU as one of the last four standing.
On national television, ESPN announcer/analyst Jay Bilas unveiled a bracket that features Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.
An eight-person team of CBS pundits harbors more optimism when it comes to the Bulldogs and their NCAA chances.
Of the eight, bracketologist Jerry Palm and college basketball writer Kyle Boone are the only ones who think Gonzaga will be shut out of the Sweet 16. Senior writer Matt Norlander is taking the Zags into the Sweet 16, but not past it, while writers Reid Forgrave, Dennis Dodd, and Chip Patterson, along with SportsLine analyst Josh Nagel, think Mark Few will lead the West Coast Conference champs back to the Elite Eight. One of the eight, college hoops insider Gary Parrish, projects another Final Four run.
The number-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight give GU a 92 percent shot at winning in the Round of 64, 70 percent in the Round of 32, 43 percent in the Sweet 16, 24 percent in the Elite Eight, 9 percent in the Final Four and 4 percent in the title game.
Renowned college basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy, of kenpom.com, broke down probabilities for all 68 teams in the 2018 field, giving Gonzaga an 82.6 percent chance of advancing to the Round of 32, 53.1 percent to the Sweet 16, 33.4 percent to the Elite Eight, 18.6 percent to the Final Four and 8.9 percent to the national championship. Pomeroy rates GU’s chances of winning the program’s first national title at 4 percent – eighth best among tournament teams.
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