It’s March Madness time again, with the 64 best college basketball teams in the country set to do battle over the next three weeks to crown a national champion. It has been called the most dramatic playoffs any sport has to offer, and it has proven to be just that in the past.
It’s exciting watching a 12 seed beat a 5 seed in the first round or seeing a double-digit seed advance into the second weekend, but in reality, the upsets are fewer and farer between as the tournament progresses. Only a handful of teams are truly capable of winning all the marbles. So who will be cutting down the nets in Phoenix on April 3rd?
The 2016 winners return to the bracket this season as the #1 overall seed after a 31-3 regular season. The Wildcats were a well-oiled machine on offense with four players averaging double-figures in scoring this season. They share the ball well, have a lot of tournament experience from last season, and a fairly favorable draw.
The East region does not have the juggernauts of the other regions. Villanova is far and away the best team in their region, and arguably have the easiest road to the Final Four of any of the big contenders.
One year ago North Carolina led most of the way against Villanova in the National Championship Game. Their lead grew as high as seven points in the second half, but they failed to put the game out of reach. This team is loaded with star-studded talent. Justin Jackson, Joel Berry III, and Kennedy Meeks make up a devastating big three that any team will struggle to cope with on both ends of the court.
The downfall for this team could be the region the committee has put them in. Kentucky, UCLA, and Butler are the 2-4 seeds they could have to navigate through just to get to Phoenix. They are the #1 seed and the rightful favorites, but the deepest quadrant in the tournament will surely test the Tar Heels.
The perennial superpower that is the Kansas Jayhawks enters the tournament with their 13th consecutive Big-12 regular season title under their belt. Bill Self is one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, but he still has just one national championship from the 2008 Kansas team.
Kansas shot better than 40% from three-point range this season with a host of shooters capable of knocking down the triple. Depth could be an issue as the Jayhawks do not go as deep into their bench as other heavyweights, but overall this team is still really well-rounded. There are some banana skins in the Midwest region, but they are the best team in the region and are favored to march to Phoenix.
Gonzaga went 32-1 this season, but that is largely due to the fact that they play in a very weak conference, the West Coast Conference. They are a #1 seed, but that might be more out of respect for their win-loss record than the fact that they are a top four team in the country.
The Bulldogs are led by Mark Few, widely regarded as one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball. They do the fundamentals well and are top five of teams in the tournament in scoring defense. You could make a justifiable case for Gonzaga’s tournament ending anywhere from exiting in the second round to winning the National Championship. The jury is still out on the Bulldogs.
Sean Miller’s team could be the hometown team crashing this year’s final four party. They are the #2 seed in Gonzaga’s region, which could make them a favorite if the Bulldogs falter in the early stages of the tournament. The Wildcats come into this tournament on a major high after beating UCLA and Oregon to win the Pac-12 Tournament last weekend.
Arizona has been knocking on the door of a big tournament run for a while, but this is the most talented team to come out of Tucson. The draw sets up pretty well for them, the Final Four will be essentially at home if they get that far, and the team is playing as well as they have all season.
If you haven’t watched UCLA this season, they are the Golden State Warriors of college basketball. They move the ball very quickly up and down the court, they take and make plenty of deep threes, and they have a lot of players who are straight up shooters. They make ten threes a game on average, and the team is led by point guard Lonzo Ball, a contender to be the #1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
The Bruins are capable of beating any team in the country on their day, but could also be susceptible at any time. Because they live and die by the three ball, a cold shooting day could lead to elimination at any time. Win or lose, UCLA will be very fun to watch as they progress in this tournament.
The Blue Devils did not have a great regular season by their standards but they’re becoming the trendy pick on brackets everywhere after winning the ACC Tournament last weekend in Brooklyn. The big reason people like them is that they appear to be peaking at the right time. Sometimes at this stage of the season it’s not about who is the best team, but who is playing the best.
Duke has won five of their last six games, and three of those came against one or two seeds in this tournament. The Blue Devils go very deep on their bench, and have five players averaging double figures this year. Mike Krzyzewski knows how to win in March. A clash of the titans could await them with Villanova in the elite eight, but the route to that point looks clean on paper.
Best Of The Rest:
Speaking of teams who are coming into the tournament hot, the Kentucky Wildcats won the SEC Tournament last week and also could be peaking at the right time. Their heated rivals the Louisville Cardinals are a #2 seed and have made the second weekend in every tournament appearance since 2010.
Due to the devastating season ending injury to center and team leader Chris Boucher, not many people are tipping the Oregon Ducks to go far in the tournament. But if you want something a little off the board, they are still a talented team capable of making a run. The Butler Bulldogs finished as runner-ups in 2010 and 2011, and their program’s tournament prowess should never be counted out.
Did we miss anyone that could go all the way? Leave a comment below or tweet us @ReadBasketball.