NCAA Predictions: Triangle’s attempt to reach fourth straight title game will fall short

NSJ's Brett Friedlander and Shawn Krest make their picks

North Carolina and Virginia are among the favorites to reach the Final Four and take a run at the national championship. (Brad Penner / USA TODAY Sports)

NSJ’s Shawn Krest and Brett Friedlander each took a crack at how they see the 2018 NCAA Tournament unfolding. Each have a Triangle team reaching the Final Four, but both picked a coach who will cut down the nets for the first time.

Shawn Krest: Wild about Arizona

What a difference a few hours makes. After watching Virginia look like chess masters on its way to the ACC title in Brooklyn, it was tough to imagine any other team cutting down the nets in the Final Four.

Then the brackets were unveiled.

If the seeds hold, Virginia will face Arizona in the Sweet 16, and it’s entirely possible that the Cavaliers’ magical season will end there. Arizona spent a portion of the season as the No. 2 team in the nation and, despite plenty of off-court drama related to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball, few teams are as dangerous on the court. The Wildcats feature the nation’s best NBA prospect — center DeAndre Ayton — and Arizona pushes tempo and hits from outside. If that sounds similar, it’s because it’s a near replica, from raw numbers to KenPom ratings, of the two teams to beat Virginia this season — West Virginia and Virginia Tech.

So assuming Arizona takes care of Virginia, things look wide open in all four brackets. North Carolina and Duke, both two seeds, are strong candidates, but both have landmines ahead, including injuries. The Tar Heels may have to play without Cam Johnson, while Duke’s Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter Jr. are both hobbled. They also each have rematches from the nonconference schedule in the Sweet 16 — UNC against Michigan and Duke against Michigan State — that could derail them.

Shawn’s Predictions

Final Four: Villanova (East); Arizona (South); Duke (Midwest); Xavier (West)

National Championship Game: Arizona over Duke

Brett Friedlander: Virginia is for winners

The perception among national columnists and the TV talking heads is that there’s no clear-cut favorite in this year’s NCAA tournament. But after watching Virginia’s passive-aggressive domination of the ACC last week on the way to the conference tournament title in Brooklyn, I have to disagree.

The Cavaliers aren’t the blue-collar team they’re perceived to be. And they have a lot more going for them than that suffocating pack line defense. They’re a talented group that’s as efficient on offense as anyone in the country. They just do it at a slower pace and with more discipline than most.

While this is could be the year coach Tony Bennett finally gets UVA over the top into a Final Four, there’s a good chance his Cavaliers won’t be the only ACC team showing up in San Antonio.

Defending national champion North Carolina is the most likely candidate because of a favorable draw in the West, where it is the No. 2 seed to a shaky No. 1 Xavier. Duke also has the potential to get to San Antonio, but with a Midwest Region gauntlet that could include a Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan State and an Elite Eight meeting with Kansas, it won’t be as easy.

Meanwhile in the East, top-seeded Villanova has the experience and matchups to make another serious run at the national title.

Brett’s Predictions

Final Four: Villanova (East); Virginia (South); Michigan State (Midwest); UNC (West)

National Championship Game: Virginia over Villanova