Our search for the winner of the NCAA Tournament began in the NBA, with first-round projections for the upcoming draft. You cannot survive March Madness without elite talent.
From there, the search moved to the Pomeroy adjusted efficiency ratings, to locate the most effective offenses in the land. You cannot advance through March without being able to score in the final minutes of close games.
Our third and final stop was the NCAA statistics — specifically, to 3-point field goal defense. You cannot be the last team standing in April without locking down the perimeter.
The research led to one conclusion: Kentucky is the team to beat based on strength in all three areas:
— Playmaking: The Wildcats have a projected lottery pick at the most important position on the floor, point guard TyTy Washington, and the Wooden Award favorite in big man Oscar Tshiebwe.
— Scoring: The Pomeroy advanced metrics reveal the Wildcats are the fourth most-efficient offense in the country.
— Perimeter defense: Kentucky is holding opponents to 30.3 percent shooting from 3-point range — better than all but six power conference teams in the country.
Also, the Wildcats shoot an impressive 73 percent from the foul line, lead the country in rebounding margin and possess a head coach who knows how to navigate the Madness.
Add it up, and the Hotline fully expects Kentucky to collect its ninth NCAA championship.
(We had Baylor last year.)
To the winners, all 67 of them (for entertainment purposes only, or not) …
WEST (San Francisco)
— First round: Gonzaga over Georgia State, Boise State over Memphis, Connecticut over New Mexico State, Arkansas over Vermont, Notre Dame over Alabama, Texas Tech over Montana State, Michigan State over Davidson, Duke over Cal State-Fullerton
— Second round: Gonzaga over Boise State, Arkansas over Connecticut, Texas Tech over Notre Dame, Duke over Michigan State
— Sweet 16: Arkansas over Gonzaga, Duke over Texas Tech
— Elite Eight: Duke over Arkansas
SOUTH (San Antonio)
— First round: Arizona over Wright State, Seton Hall over TCU, Houston over UAB, Illinois over Chattanooga, Colorado State over Michigan, Tennessee over Longwood, Ohio State over Loyola Chicago, Villanova over Delaware
— Second round: Arizona over Seton Hall, Houston over Illinois, Tennessee over Colorado State, Ohio State over Villanova
— Sweet 16: Arizona over Houston, Tennessee over Ohio State
— Elite Eight: Arizona over Tennessee
— First round: Kansas over Texas Southern, Creighton over San Diego State, Iowa over Richmond, South Dakota State over Providence, Iowa State over LSU, Wisconsin over Colgate, USC over Miami, Auburn over Jacksonville State
— Second round: Kansas over Creighton, Iowa over South Dakota State, Wisconsin over Iowa State, Auburn over USC
— Sweet 16: Iowa over Kansas, Auburn over Wisconsin
— Elite Eight: Auburn over Iowa
— First round: Baylor over Norfolk, North Carolina over Marquette, Saint Mary’s over Wyoming, UCLA over Akron, Texas over Virginia Tech, Purdue over Yale, Murray State over USF, Kentucky over Saint Peter’s
— Second round: Baylor over North Carolina, UCLA over Saint Mary’s, Purdue over Texas, Kentucky over Michigan State
— Sweet 16: Baylor over UCLA, Kentucky over Purdue
— Elite Eight: Kentucky over Baylor
FINAL FOUR (New Orleans)
Semifinals: Arizona over Auburn and Kentucky over Duke
Championship: Kentucky 84, Arizona 79