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NCAA Tournament Bracket & Futures Bets: Which No. 1 Seed Has the Toughest Path to Final Four?

NCAA Tournament Bracket & Futures Bets: Which No. 1 Seed Has the Toughest Path to Final Four? article feature image

Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured: Kofi Cockburn.

As always, this year’s NCAA Tournament certainly sets easier paths for some teams than others.

That process of deciding what is easy versus what is hard is a fairly speculative process, though.

Regardless, there are plenty of interesting matchups this year in terms of how the bracket is laid out, so we will take a look at which No. 1 seed has the easiest path to the Final Four and which team has the toughest.

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The Easiest: Gonzaga

Gonzaga Bulldogs

It’s starting to feel like a bizarre trend, but this isn’t the first time that I’ve looked at a bracket in March and thought to myself, “Wow, the Gonzaga Bulldogs got a seemingly simple path to the Final Four.”

Although it's never simple in the tournament, there are definitely levels to it.

The easiest way to determine the simplicity of one’s path in the tournament is to lay out all of the teams in that region, beginning with the No. 2 seed and ending with the No. 16 seed.

Then, it's best to identify which of the other top seeds in that respective region have the most likelihood of getting upset before they reach the Bulldogs.

Surprisingly, many of these top seeds have the potential to be upset early. Virginia, Creighton, USC, and Kansas are all far from locks for me. 

Potential bracket outcomes could result in Gonzaga playing the winner of Oklahoma vs. Missouri in the Round of 32, then Creighton, Virginia, UCSB, or Ohio in the Sweet 16.

My contention is that there’s a strong chance that neither Creighton nor Virginia will make it that far.

UCSB is a very tough out and a team I have covered extensively this year. It strikes me as an obvious choice for a traditional "12-5" upset in the first round.

Virginia is without a doubt the least scary No. 4 seed in the tournament this year. The ACC had a fairly awful year relative to the type of strength it usually holds, and the Cavaliers didn’t exactly capitalize.

That tells me there’s a lot to still be desired in these teams.

Moving on to the Elite 8, there's a strong chance the Zags will meet Iowa for a chance to go to the Final Four. Again, nobody said this was easy, but there are always ranks of easiest to hardest.

Iowa is a No. 2 seed that I wouldn’t necessarily want to face down the line if I’m Gonzaga, but let’s think about this for a minute: Gonzaga has a slightly better offense and a significantly better defense.

As a matter of fact, Iowa’s defense concerns me a bit this year. For that reason, Iowa is far from a lock to even make it to the Elite Eight.

After all, the Hawkeyes still have to get past a team like Kansas to make it there.

Photo Credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

The Toughest: Illinois

Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois didn’t get any favors from the committee this year. In the Round of 32, the Illini have to take on the winner of Loyola Chicago and Georgia Tech. 

Loyola Chicago, for all intents and purposes, should have probably landed somewhere between a No. 4 and No. 6 seed.

If KenPom was the committee — which he should be — then the Ramblers would have most likely found themselves a No. 3 seed.

Essentially, Illinois has to either fight off the best No. 9 seed in the tournament in a hot Georgia Tech team, or it has to beat the Ramblers, who have the best defense in the nation and the strength to be a No. 3 seed.

That all takes place in just the Round of 32.

Let's move forward.

The potential Sweet 16 matchup would be Illinois vs. Oklahoma State or Tennessee because I don’t anticipate either of those teams being upset in the first round.

Tennessee was ranked as high as sixth in the nation this year, and it just took Alabama down to the wire in the SEC Tournament. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has Cade Cunningham, the likely No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Cunningham and company are hitting their groove at the right time of the season. The Cowboys just took down Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament and then almost defeated Texas right after, losing by only five points.

Assuming Illinois maneuvers past those teams, it will most likely face the Houston Cougars in the Elite Eight.

The Cougars are another team I have covered quite a bit this year, and they absolutely pack No. 1 seed power.

Despite the obvious matchup issue with Kofi Cockburn, the Cougars still hit the boards as a team better than almost every major program in America. They certainly give Illinois and North Carolina a run for their money in that category.

Going through that absolute gauntlet would place Illinois in the Final Four — and deservedly so. But if any team can do it right now, it would be the Fighting Illini because of how incredible they have been playing,

However, that far from guarantees wins during the chaos of March Madness.

Photo Credit: James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.
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