It’s the most wonderful time of the year for Men’s College Basketball. March Madness, the month for crazy upsets, Cinderella Final Four runs and finally beating your roommate in the bracket pool, is right around the corner.
As usual, basketball fans all over the country are guessing which teams will ultimately walk away as champions. And, of course, it’s the perfect time of year for hot takes and predictions.
Which team this year has the pedigree and talent to make a title run? There are several high-ranked title favorites, but which of those teams is most likely to be upset?
On the flipside, what mid-major teams could turn an upset into a Cinderella run to the Final Four? With the way this season has progressed, there will be plenty of madness in March to give basketball fans an exhilarating ride.
March 11 is Selection Sunday when the 68 teams making the single-elimination tournament will be revealed. Until then, the seeding is best described as calculated speculation.
Generally, the #1 seeds in a region go to the teams ranked one through four. Teams ranked five through eight will receive the #2 seeds, and so on.
Teams with lower numerical seeding will be judged in their matchups by their history and the rigorous selection process. For example, no #16 seed has ever defeated a #1 seed in the Second Round of March Madness. With that in mind, most spectators tend to favor the four #1 seeds to reach the Final Four.
According to the Associated Press, the #1 team in the country is currently the Virginia Cavaliers. With only two losses out of 26 games, the Cavaliers boast the top-ranked defense in the entire country.
Over the years, Virginia has become notorious for that stifling defense; their opponents almost never score more than 52.7 points per game. In addition, they’ve got players like Kyle Guy, Devon Hall and Ty Jerome.
Kyle Guy is Virginia’s leading scorer, averaging almost 15 points per game and shooting 39 percent from three-point range. Devon Hall and Ty Jerome also average double-figures in points per game; also, they both shoot 40 percent or better from behind the three-point arc.
For Virginia to take home the March Madness trophy, they need those three players to continue their hot shooting and to continue stifling the opposing offenses, same as they’ve been doing all year long. Anything less than a championship will be a disappointment for this Cavalier squad.
Currently ranked the #2 team in the country, the Michigan State Spartans are another popular choice to raise a 2018 NCAA Champions banner. With an average victory margin of 18 points, the Spartans are the pride of Big Ten basketball this season.
Also, they’re one of the best rebounding teams in the country, averaging 41 per game and leading the country in assists per game.
The Spartans have already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title and have their sights set even higher. With Wooden Award contender Miles Bridges leading the team and an exceptional bench depth, Michigan State could win the entire tournament.
The Kansas Jayhawks are often a popular pick to win March Madness, but this year they seem poised for an upset. One one hand, they allow over 70 points per game; that’s not bad for the 140th-ranked defense in Division I.
On the other hand, they’ve lacked consistent interior presence and defense throughout the past year. Plus, they’ve inflated their record against bad or overrated teams.
They did beat Oklahoma once and West Virginia twice, but both of those teams have been floundering since conference play began. In addition, while the Jayhawks have a 4 – 3 record against ranked opponents this season, two of those victories came from games against Kentucky and TCU, neither of which are ranked.
The Big 12 Conference, at one point considered the strongest conference this season, has been floundering recently. They are inconsistent from the free throw line, shooting a mere 70 percent as a team, which could be a critical weakness at the end of close games.
Finally, the Jayhawks lack bench depth, with only seven players getting consistent playing time. Still, this Kansas squad is somehow ranked #8 in the country, setting them up for heartbreak sometime early this March.
Auburn is also at risk of an early exit. So far this season, they’ve put themselves in pole position for the SEC regular-season title and secured the top seed in the conference tournament. Besides, they boast a top-10 offense and an average of 85 points per game.
However, they’ve dropped two of their last five games. Also, they lost their best shot blocker and inside presence, Anfernee McLemore, for the rest of the season.
They were already undersized and losing McLemore limits their depth as well. It would take nothing away from the fantastic season the Tigers have had thus far, but they might be heading home early in March.
Texas Tech’s Red Raiders are the definition of a wild card team at this point. They’ve had an impressive year so far, posting a 6 – 1 record against ranked teams.
In addition, they boast a top-10 ranked defense, giving up only 63 points per game, and Wooden Award frontrunner Keenan Evans is averaging almost 18 points per game. But at the same time, the Red Raiders have suffered lapses multiple times throughout the season, at one point losing three out of four games.
The Red Raiders might be the streakiest team of any ranked team. They could lose in their first game come March Madness or they could catch fire and ride the subsequent heat wave to a title. If you’ve been following the Red Raiders, watch closely how they close out the season. Most likely, it will likely indicate their success in the tournament.
Of course, none of these facts can guarantee that any one team will win or lose this year. The true beauty of March Madness is the sheer number of possibilities. Every year there’s some unexpected run by a mid-major team or underrated squad.
This year should be no exception to that rule. There is no heavy favorite at this point, making this year’s March Madness extra intriguing.
Teams not previously mentioned, like Villanova, Xavier and Duke could end up being popular title picks. Purdue, Gonzaga and Cincinnati are on upset watch. Houston, Nevada or Middle Tennessee might make a Cinderella run.
In March Madness, anything can happen. That’s why we watch.