The most exciting tournament in college sport is upon us, buckle up.
68 of the best college basketball teams in division 1 colleges and universities in the United States compete every year in March for the right to be crowned champion.
The tournament has 32 teams that are winners of their respective conferences along with 36 more teams that win an ‘at-large’ bid. At-large meaning that a committee of individuals pick them based on record, level of competition, and all-around ability. The tournament occurs during a three-weekend period, beginning on the 13th of March.
The single elimination style makes every game a necessity to win, and this leads way to numerous upsets and ‘madness’.
Last year’s winner was the North Carolina Tar Heels, led by senior Joel Berry II and now departed Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson (15th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft).
This year, there is a whole host of teams with the ability to make big runs in March.
Virginia Cavaliers The current number one team in the nation is led by their vaunted ‘pack line’ defense, which is predicated on heavy team instilled abilities, with a reliance on packing the paint to prevent interior shots. The team is number one currently in points per game allowed, more than 5 points higher then the number two team. Sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are the key cogs in the team, with freshman De’Andre Hunter providing timely buckets.
Duke Blue Devils For Coach Krzyzewski, whom is in his 38th season at Duke, consistency and excellence is the main prerogative. This year is no different, as basketball resident villain Grayson Allen attempts to bring Duke back to where he was his freshman year, an NCAA champion. Luckily, he has help, with projected top five pick Marvin Bagley III (21 PPG, 11.5 RPG) along with surefire NBA prospects Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter Jr. Though they have underperformed, with seven losses on the year, one cannot take them lightly with their immense amount of sheer talent.
Xavier Musketeers Led by senior guard Trevon Bluiett with 19.5 PPG, Xavier fields arguably it’s most talented team ever, as coach Chris Mack looks for his first final four appearance. Feisty J.P Macura, along with Turkish born and brother of NBA player Enes Kanter; Kerem Kanter provides the Musketeers with complimentary scoring and lock down defense.
Cincinnati Bearcats In Mick Cronin’s 12 years under the Cincinnati program, his team has consistently been ranked as one of the best defensive teams, however If the Bearcats look to return to the Final Four for the first time since 1992, it will be because of their offense from senior forward Gary Clark and sophomore guard Jarron Cumberland. In the four losses on the year, Clark has shot a combined 16-40 from the field.
Missouri Tigers In one of the most interesting college basketball stories of the year, projected top five pick in this years NBA draft Michael Porter Jr. was supposed to lead this team to a high seed in the tournament. However, a mysterious back injury has plagued him all year. He recently returned last week and played his first game since their season opener in November. While his stat line left much to be desired (5-17 from the field), his mere presence could elevate the play of his teammates, most notably his brother Jontay Porter who has had a quietly productive year, averaging 10 pts and 7 assists.
Arizona Wildcats It has been a crazy, almost unbelievable season for the Wildcats as they have been marred by FBI probes and failed drug tests. What is certain is 7’1, 250lb behemoth Deandre Ayton (who is only 19!) and his 20 pts and 11 rebounds that he provides for the team on a daily. Coach Sean Miller, who was initially reported to have been embroiled in a corruption scandal pertaining to the paying of recruits, is looking to scrub the negativity off his program and take them to a Final Four. Junior guard Allonzo Trier (18.7 PPG) was suspended earlier in the year for a failed drug test, but has been cleared recently, which greatly benefits the team.
Mid Major Hopefuls:
A mid-major program is one whom is in a conference that is not considered high quality. These teams typically play a low SOS (strength of schedule) during the regular season and as a result, tend to only get into the tournament by winning their conference.
Davidson Wildcats The tiny college in North Carolina, home to less than 2000 students had an incredible conference tournament run. They knocked off the Rhode Island Rams to claim the Atlantic 10 title and as a result, vaulted them into the field for March. They were 12-2 in their last 14 games, led by senior Peyton Aldridge and his 21.8 PPG. Coach Bob McKillop will hope to rekindle some magic from his best season at Dayton where a young point guard by the name of Steph Curry lit the tournament on fire, taking the school to it’s first and only Elite Eight appearance in 2008. They will be in tough in Round One where they will face a young Kentucky team chock full of former McDonald All Americans.
The tournament ‘officially’ kicks off on Thursday March 15th with 16 games on the docket. So, kick back, procrastinate from school and watch the madness unfold!