March Madness is finally here, meaning 68 teams will be given the opportunity to hear their names called on “Selection Sunday.” There will only be a select few with an advantage over the rest, however.
March 17 cannot come soon enough, with the first four games happening that day and the round of 64 beginning two days later. In a season filled with plenty of dramatic upsets, it will ultimately be a tournament that is hard to handicap.
Kansas will go in as the favorite. They finished the regular season with the top ranking and are currently the most feared team. Senior center Udoka Azuibike is an unstoppable force inside; at seven feet tall, he is averaging 13.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. They are also led by sophomore point guard Devon Dotson, who is currently one of the best players in the country, averaging 18.1 points and four assists per game.
Gonzaga has made it to the Sweet 16 for five straight seasons. No other team in the division has been able to say that. They are a very balanced offensive team with six players scoring in double figures while having a top-rated offense. Their strong offense includes senior forward Killian Tillie, averaging 13.6 points per game and sophomore forward Filip Petrusuv, averaging 17.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
With Tillie at 6’10 and Petrusuv at 6’11, Gonzaga’s size is a huge strength. The Bulldogs have never won a National Championship, but they were runners-up in a 2017 loss to North Carolina.
Baylor, although playing in the powerful “Big 12,” has had an unexpectedly impressive season. Known for their stingy defense, they held the largest win streak this season with 23 games, the longest in “Big 12” conference history.
The streak was broken when Kansas defeated the Bears on Feb. 22 in one of the best games of this season. Sophomore Jared Butler is an excellent player for Baylor, averaging 16 points per game.
Coach K at Duke University is once again the most experienced coach in this tournament. No coach has won more games in NCAA basketball history. Duke has not looked like the “Elite 8” team they were last season, which included superstar freshman Zion Williamson, but they still have a talented group of players.
On the court, they are led by senior point guard Tre Jones and freshman center Vernon Carey. Duke has not won the championship since 2015.
Michigan State had high expectations when their point guard, Cassius Winston, returned for his senior season. They were ranked number one to start the season after reaching last year’s “Final Four” but at times they faltered, causing them to bounce out of the top 25 rankings. They have finished strong, winning six of their last seven games and becoming one of the favorites in the upcoming Big 10 Tournament.
Florida State is one of the best teams in the country that nobody talks enough about, which is unexpected to say about a team ranked fourth in the country. They will be one of the favorites next to Duke in the ACC Tournament. Senior guard Trent Forrest is one of the veteran leaders on this team, averaging 11.6 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.
Kentucky is coached by one of the best coaches in the division, John Calipari. Simultaneously, they also have the SEC Player of the Year: sophomore guard Immanual Quickley. He is averaging 16.1 points per game and has been one of the big reasons that the Wildcats are a championship contender. This team will also need to rely heavily on another sophomore guard, Ashton Hagans, who has been averaging 11.5 points per game.
For Big East contenders, Villanova, Seton Hall and Creighton all have the tools to make a run for the Final Four.
A lot of their future will depend on how they fare in the upcoming Big East Tournament. The winner will likely be a second seed in the NCAA Tournament and have a relatively easier draw. Seton Hall has slumped down the stretch but is led by senior guard Miles Powell, who has had an incredible career with the Pirates and is averaging 21 points per game.
Creighton has only lost one game since the beginning of February and has lit up teams with their 3-point shooting. Junior shooting guard Ty-Shon Alexander is averaging 16.9 points per game and has been a big reason for the Blue Jays’ success. Villanova has been led by junior point guard Collin Gillespie, who was a freshman when the Wildcats won the Championship in 2018. Villanova also won the title in 2016 after a classic finish with North Carolina.
Dayton is the most surprising of all these teams, which is why they were saved for last. They played an early November game with Kansas and fell to them in overtime. Since then, they have gone undefeated in their conference with help from the arguable player of the year, Obi Toppin. Toppin has put together countless highlight reel dunks throughout the regular season; if he can keep up his stellar play, there is no telling how far this team can go.
San Diego State is right next to Dayton as one of the most unexpectedly great teams this season. Similar to Dayton, some of the criticism towards the Aztecs is that their conference, the Mountain West, is not as talented as some of the major conferences. However, they registered non-conference wins against newly seventh-ranked Creighton and Iowa in November.
They will look to rebound from losing in the conference championship, as an expected second seed. Current NBA superstar Kawhi Leonard played at San Diego State.
North Carolina has had a surprisingly disappointing season. Currently they have a 13-18 record going in the ACC tournament. Their only hope of making it into the field will hinge on an unexpected upset run in the tournament. A big reason for their struggles has been the injury to superstar freshman Cole Anthony.
Carolina recently won championships in 2009 and 2017. This will be the first time in 10 years that they will not be expected to play in the NCAA Tournament.