February has brought the Madness in College Basketball. Not only in terms of what is happening with the current FBI investigation but what is happening on the court. This year there have been plenty of upsets. In fact of the last three weeks of college basketball powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina, Villanova, Virginia, and Xavier has all lost. Yet these teams are all ranked within the Top 10 of the AP Top 25 Poll.
What does this mean for March Madness and the NCAA Tournament? This has the potential to be the most wide-open field that we have seen in recent years. In terms of teams that can potentially win a national championship, there are five teams that can all fight for a potential championship this spring. there are Six teams that could win a championship this year and heading into the tournament it does not seem as if there is one clear-cut contender. Here is the breakdown of those five teams and how they could win come March.
The Pack-Line Defense and Tony Bennett (Head Coach). They play in arguably the hardest conference in college basketball the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and are well-tested. Currently, they sit at 26-2 with their only loss to West Virginia in Morgantown and Virginia Tech. They have that quality of being battle tested. They have weathered the storms of both Duke (At Duke) and UNC, all while holding teams to a stifling 52.1 points per game this season.
According to college basketball expert Joe Lunardi, 9 teams will be heading to the NCAA Tournament from the ACC. Virginia has beaten all but one of those teams. They have consistently constricted opponents offense and when push comes to shove defense will win championships. They will need to have production come from Star Sophomore Kyle Guy is leading the team with 14.1 points per game and will need to keep being the catalyst this spring.
The thing that can potentially slow Virginia’s run to the final four this year would be if their offense suffers. Virginia and Tony Bennett rely heavily on that Pack Line Defense to win games. When you look at their numbers they are only scoring around 68 points per game. To put that into perspective; Villanova another contender come March is scoring 87.5 points per game.
Virginia has the makeup to a late run through this tournament but their offense is the only thing that scares UVA fans. There is a lot of talent on this team. There is no superstar. Look to Senior Isaiah Wilkins ( Step-Son of NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins) to be the X factor come March. He averages 5.9 points per game. It is not his offensive ability that will wow the audience, however, he is the engine that drives this team. They look to the Senior for leadership and often times it is those seniors that end up delivering that championship.
Duke could potentially be a very scary team to face come this March. People tend to forget with all the hate that Grayson Allen receives; that he was one of the catalysts to Duke’s last national championship. Duke is loaded this year with talent. Marvin Bagley III is averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game. Monster Numbers for someone who is supposed to be in high school still. Grayson Allen is contributing as usual. He is the type of player that feeds off the hate and is able to play better basketball in big moments.
Duke has a very talented starting five in Allen, Bagley III, Gary Trent Jr, Wendell Carter JR, and Trevon Duval. These five are taking a majority of the minutes though. The low end of those players is Carter JR in terms of minutes and he is playing 27 minutes per game. This could hurt Duke in the long run though. Foul trouble can hinder teams in the tournament and there need to be a few players that can come off the bench in times of trouble.
Bagley III has the capability to carry this Duke team, however, they need to play to their ability. Duke is averaging 85 points per game this season 6th best in the nation. The teams that they have lost to however are troubling. Of the six games, they have lost this season four have been to unranked opponents. That is troubling for all Duke fans out there because when push comes to shove you only need one loss to be waiting until next year. Where Duke is strong though is the opposite of Virginia. Their Offense drives this team. Their defense can lack at times and if a team gets hot at the right time Duke could have an early exit from this year’s tournament.
Look for the secondary scoring to come from Alex O’Connell the next in line for Dukes most hated player. He can give that spark off the bench and with him shooting above 50 percent from three he could prove to push the Blue Devils toward another championship this March.
The cream of the crop in the Big Ten this year Michigan State has proven yet again that they will be a tough out come this March. Even with all the outside noise that has taken place at Michigan State this season, they are still number 2 in the AP Top 25 poll. Michigan State has a lot of talent on their team. They won the regular season Big Ten championship and they have a good shot to win the conference tournament as well. However, in the last week, they have looked a little shaky. Nearly losing to slumping teams Northwestern and Wisconsin.
Michigan State has both offensive powers but is able to make stops when needed as well. They rank in the top 30 for both offensive and defensive statistics. Other teams that we have talked about earlier like Duke and UVA either have one or the other. Michigan state can piece a whole game together.
MSU will look to Miles Bridges to give the spark come March. Bridges, a Sophomore from Flint, Michigan has been the leader that Michigan State has relied on all season. He averages around 17 points per game to go along with 7 rebounds per game as well. What makes this Michigan State team so deadly is that their entire starting five averages more than 10 points per game. We have seen in the tournament that it takes depth to win a national championship. There are a few things to be worried about when it comes to the Spartans though.
How will the FBI and Sexual Assault investigations that involve Michigan State affect the way the team plays and handles their business? Tom Izzo has done a good job shielding his team from the firestorm of what is taking place on the program now. This also could help bring together MSU. They could have the mentality of us against the world. That mentality is vital to the national championship. Look for the Spartans to make their usual deep run into the tournament.
Death, Taxes, and Kansas winning the BIG 12 Conference. Three things that will always happen. For their 14th straight BIG 12 Championship. First off that is incredible. The amount of Talent that has come through the Big 12 in the past 14 years has been insane at some points. The likes of Kevin Durant at Texas, Blake Griffin at Oklahoma, Michael Beasley was an animal at Kansas State, Marcus Smart at Oklahoma State as well. Players that have gone to play professional basketball. Yet as always Kansas stands tall in that conference. Bill Self is a master coach and has been dominant in the conference going 138-31. That is insane, a winning percentage of just shy of 78 percent.
To put it simply Kansas Owns the Big 12. The reason this Kansas team could make a big run is on a few players. Devonte’ Graham is a Wooden Award( Award is given to the best Player in the country). He is averaging just shy of 18 points per game. He has been on the team for four years now and has produced every single year. What is it with Kansas and their players seeming like they go they for 10 years *Cough* Perry Ellis* Cough*.
That Senior leadership is going to play a vital part when it comes crunch time in the tournament. The thing that also makes Kansas dangerous is that they are seven deep. Come tournament time games played and the amount of minutes that your bench has played is a key factor. It prepares them for the ferocity that comes with playing the tournament. With seven guys who have played 30 games that could prove vital. Not to mention that Kansas has gone on the road and beaten the likes of Tournament teams such as Texas Tech, and West Virginia.
They have proven that they are battle tested after being doubted earlier this season. If they want to silence the haters this spring they will need that battle-tested group to make a deep run into the big dance (nickname for NCAA tournament).
This team has the talent to make a deep run. But will they fall into the trap of the first weekend? for many years Villanova has heard the doubts that they will not make it out of the first weekend. In fact, the stats back it up. This team is fun to watch. They light up the basket at a pace of 87 points per game. They live by the Three ball and die by the Three ball as well. A hot-shooting Villanova team is one of the scariest teams to face.
Even Omari Spellman who measures in at 6-9 245 can pop out and is comfortable stepping out and hitting a three. However, when they go cold it can be cause for concerns. They suffered a scare from Seton Hall in Overtime and the primary reason for that scare was that they shot a measly 8-36 from behind the three-point arc. Against Tournament teams that cannot happen. Villanova will rely on their number 1 rated offense to drive them to their 2nd championship in 3 years if they want to win this March.
Villanova is a deep team and has the capability of making a run this year. They will look to rely on Jalen Bruson. The offense runs through Brunson. He is the leading scorer on the team and could potentially win the Wooden Award as well this year. He is averaging just above 19 points. Mikal Bridges as another player to keep an eye out for this year. He creates a problem for any offense with his defensive ability.
He is extremely long and can tip and steal passes at will. Plus his ability to push the ball in transition and his improving offensive game has made him a valuable asset since he has stepped on campus. Villanova has been very shaky though in their last few games with a loss against Creighton and squeaking out a win against Seton Hall. Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright will be able to reel in this team.
They also have plenty of scoring around them with six players all averaging double figures they can simply run teams off the court. However, if they go cold they do not have the go-to player who can drive the basket every time. I look at Eric Paschall as their X-factor come March. Paschall is a big body who can handle the interior defensive assignments, but also shoot the three. He has the ability to take to the rim.
Paschall is a match-up nightmare for people. his ability to shoot and create shots makes him dangerous. he is shooting above 50 percent from the field this year which can be scary for other teams. Villanova has proven that they can beat teams. They have beat Xavier (twice), Gonzaga, and Creighton. On the other hand, they have suffered some questionable loses to St Johns and Providence.
Jay Wright has the ability to lead this team to a championship this year, but it will depend on their ability to shoot and their ability to create a few stops to make sure that they make it out of the first weekend. March Madness is arguably the best few weeks of the sports year. The time of year where the underdog can become the darling of the entire country. However, this year the talent at the top is strong. Look for these teams to journey through March and come out immortalized as National Champions.