John Beilein lost Trey Burke, last season's Wooden Award winner, and Mitch McGary, a potential lottery pick who missed most of the season following back surgery, from last year's Final Four team. But this season's Michigan squad has similar potential. The Wolverines are different. Last year's squad revolved around Burke. But Beilein relies on a trio of athletic wings -- Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas, the Big Ten player of the year -- to operate this season. There aren't many teams in America that can handle a collection of 6-foot-6 wings who can all shoot and drive. The Wolverines are also 16th nationally with a 39.4 percent clip from the 3-point line. Their defense should be a concern (104th in adjusted efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy). But they overcame similar defensive challenges last season. Michigan can win the crown.
We probably didn't see the real Michigan State until the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. The months prior to that were full of challenges for the Spartans. They couldn't get healthy. Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris and Keith Appling have all dealt with injuries this season. So we didn't have a chance to really see a complete Michigan State team throughout the year. But the Spartans beat Wisconsin and Michigan -- with minimal difficulty -- on their way to winning the Big Ten tourney. They're one of the most balanced teams in America. And they have a coach who has never allowed a four-year player to leave the program without a trip to the Final Four. Payne and Appling would be his first. Michigan State is heating up at an ideal juncture. Its season could end with a national championship.
Jay Wright's program lost to Seton Hall in the Big East tourney. But that doesn't define its season. Those two lopsided losses to Creighton don't, either. Villanova should be judged according to its 28-4 record, which includes victories over tourney teams Kansas, Iowa, Saint Joseph's and Xavier. James Bell (14.5 points per game) is one of four players averaging double figures for Villanova. The Wildcats are top-20 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. The East Region won't be a breeze, but it's far from insurmountable on paper. Villanova can contend with any team in its potential path to Dallas. The Big East wasn't as strong as some of the other power leagues this season. But the Wildcats won the championship with few blemishes. They'll have a shot at the national title, too.
Virginia is a 1-seed. But the Cavaliers aren't exactly being touted as a national-title contender or even Final Four-worthy program by the masses. And that's probably a result of the ACC's overall decline. The collective struggles of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Duke and North Carolina took some of the shine off Virginia's rise to the top of that conference. And a 35-point loss to Tennessee and three-point loss at Green Bay didn't help. But check the schedule. Virginia didn't just win the ACC, it owned it. It won 12 of its 16 conference games by double digits. The league's regular-season and tourney champs enter this game ranked 25th in adjusted offensive efficiency and third in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. Those numbers are comparable to Florida's (17th, fifth), and the Gators are the favorites. Virginia has a chance, too.