The current number one team in the nation, Florida, has exhibited complete dominance, losing only twice during the regular season — both times to ranked opponents. Head Coach Billy Donovan has led his team to two national titles in the school’s three championship games. The Gators are led this year by senior forward Casey Prather, who is currently averaging 15.4 points per game (PPG), and by redshirt sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who is averaging seven rebounds per game (RPG). As of right now, they are the tournament favorite. Arizona is another favorite to win it all, a young team led by the all around athleticism of Archbishop Mitty High School graduate Aaron Gordon and scoring of Nick Johnson. Arizona is also lockdown defensively, allowing only 58 points per game. T.J. McConnell provides veteran experience and outside shooting to the already dangerous offense. Coached by Sean Miller, the Wildcats have the firepower to make a deep run in the tournament.
The Pac 12:
The season is not over yet, but it looks as though four Pac-12 teams are going to make the tournament.
Barring any crazy upsets, the Arizona Wildcats are hoping for an easy run to the Final Four. They have proven that they can hold their own against heavyweights, yet have had some difficulty, having lost to unranked Cal. The Wildcats know they cannot risk any upset losses, so they will surely be playing to their full potential during the tournament.
UCLA is almost guaranteed second place in the Pac-12 behind Arizona and will be seeded somewhere between fifth and seventh. Having lost games to top ranked teams and non-tournament bound teams alike, UCLA might not be looking at a very long stay in the tournament if they continue that way.
Cal will most likely be seeded in the higher single digits this year and looks poised for a long, deep run. Their several losses have been to ranked teams. However, Cal has also had several impressive victories, one of which includes a buzzer-beater to defeat Arizona while the Wildcats were ranked number one in the nation.
Led by senior point guard Justin Cobbs, the Golden Bears have shown an excellent offensive production. The Golden Bears have also been successful in being able to get many defensive rebounds to limit scoring from their opponents. If given a good section of the bracket, the Golden Bears might be looking at their own Cinderella story.
Another Pac-12 team that will most likely make the tournament is Stanford. Having posted a solid 18-9 recordso far, Stanford has the tools for a solid tournament performance. Competing against several ranked opponents, Stanford has proved that when they are focused, they can make anything happen.
Additionally, the tournament will most likely feature both Colorado and Arizona State University, due to their impressive performances this year. ASU will be the fifth Pac-12 team to make the tournament, and will be featured most likely as a seven, eight or nine seed. The Sun Devils have performed well this season, but only time will tell about their ability to play under pressure in the tournament. Colorado has shown streaks of greatness, with their defeat of Kansas for example, and should expect to be between an eight and a 10 seed.
Duke is a team that makes the NCAA tournament every year. This year, Duke has a solid team, boasting a 23-6 record. While this record would indicate that the Blue Devils are ready for a serious run at the title, there are too many problems with the Duke team this year to consider them a contender. First, the Blue Devils suffered all six of their losses on neutral courts or at away games. This does not bode well for their tournament chances, as all games in the tournament are held at neutral sites. Secondly, Duke is ranked a measly 244th in defensive rebounding. This means that the Blue Devils are liable to be dominated on the boards, leading to easy points for the other team. Combined with their weak rebounding is the inconsistency of Jabari Parker. While Parker has shown that he can score in bunches, he has also shown a tendency to underperform in games where Duke needs him most. In a crucial loss to Notre Dame, Parker managed an underwhelming seven points on just two of 10 from the field. Performances like that should be enough to warn against the scary inconsistency of Duke. Creighton is a team that simply relies too heavily on its star player too have a legitimate shot at the NCAA title. Doug McDermott, also known as “McBukkets”, is a bonafide scorer and NBA prospect who has carried the Bluejays on his back for the majority of his career. However, a good basketball team requires more than one star. McDermott, who has been scoring over 25 points per game this season, is by far the Bluejay’s best player. If he is stopped, the entire system breaks down as shown in a disappointing loss versus unranked George Washington. Creighton has shown the ability to beat the best teams in the country, but also to lose to some of the worst. We view Creighton as a boom or bust team, and you can’t afford to put your bracket hopes on a high risk team like this.
Last year, the Shockers shocked the nation by making it to the Final Four as an underhyped nine seed. This year, it seems like the opposite is bound to happen. Wichita State has climbed the rankings to #2 in the country, despite the fact their best win came against a struggling Saint Louis team. The undefeated Shockers have talent, athleticism and size, but so does every other team making the tournament. Wichita State competes in a conference with a meager five teams over .500. Strength of schedule is extremely important and it seems that too many people have forgotten the level of competition Wichita plays against. Northern Iowa, Missouri State and Evensville are but a few of the low caliber teams Wichita State has whipped this year. None of these teams are even remotely respected for their basketball teams, yet ESPN experts seem to drool over Wichita’s undefeated record. Come March, Wichita will see some real competition that will expose the biggest flop in college basketball this year.
The Dark Horses:
Although this year’s bracket will be full of perennial powerhouses, there is still room for underdogs. Among the likely lower seeds, Harvard has performed very well in the difficult Ivy League. Led by junior Guard Wesley Saunders’ 14.3 PPG, the Crimson are looking to continue putting up a great number of points during the tournament.
Following their first round loss last March, New Mexico State hopes to continue this season’s success and attempt to get deeper in the bracket this year. Even though they are most likely going to be seeded in the double-digits, both Vermont and BYU have the talent to pull off a major upset and destroy any bracket.
The University of Virginia is possibly the least hyped title contender in the country. The Cavaliers possess a balanced attack led by a six-foot six-inch sharpshooting senior named Joe Harris. Harris provides more than just leadership, as he averages over 11 points per game and is shooting 42 percent from behind the three point line. Playing in a very difficult league, Virginia has already clinched the ACC title with a win over number four ranked Syracuse. Currently riding a 13 game winning streak, Virginia has proven time and time again this season it can compete with anyone in the country, so look for the Cavaliers to make some serious noise in March.