Years come and go—summer passes, school begins, winter wears on, and Carter Hall renovations continue. When winter becomes almost unbearable and schoolwork continues to pile up, there appears a ray of hope. This ray of hope comes every March in the form of 68 basketball teams who all believe they have a chance at a national championship. This year is no different and the buzz around the tournament is as high as ever.
From number one seeds to 16 seeds, there is intrigue throughout the entire field. Combined, the four one seeds have lost the most regular season games among any four one seeds in NCAA history. Even with that being the case, each one seed (Kansas, Oregon, North Carolina, and Virginia) has a legitimate shot at the title.
Kansas has depth along with enough star power, led by Perry Ellis, Devonte’ Graham, and Wayne Selden Jr., to have maybe the best shot at winning it all. Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige, and Joel Berry lead a UNC team that enters the tournament feeling pretty good about itself after taking home the ACC conference championship, defeating another number one seed Virginia to take home that title.
The team they beat, Virginia, cannot be overlooked either, especially with the ACC Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon. As far as one seeds go, Oregon is relatively unknown, but still a threat. They demonstrated this threat as they defeated number six seeded Arizona in the semifinal of the PAC 12 tournament, and then won decisively against number three seeded Utah in the final. The Ducks are fun to watch, mainly when sophomore forward, Dillon Brooks, elevates his game.
One seeds are certainly not the only teams to watch out for, though. Traditional powerhouses who garnered lower seeds are always good to keep an eye on. Michigan State, led by Wooden Award finalist Denzel Valentine and coach Tom Izzo, always seems to turn it up a notch come March.
Duke is another team to pay attention to, also led by a potent player-coach combo in Mike Krzyzewski and the infamous Grayson Allen. Coach Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats started a bit slow this year, but look to build off of their SEC Tournament Championship. With players like, Tyler Ulis, and Jamal Murray, they certainly have the talent to do so.
If you’ve been living under a rock the past six months, you may not have heard of the Bahamian sensation that is senior Buddy Hield, but to the rest of us, it will come as no surprise that he and his veteran filled Oklahoma team are gearing up for a deep tournament run.
Other big name programs that have a shot at a Final Four appearance include: Villanova (assuming they aren’t knocked out in the early rounds for a third consecutive year), West Virginia (or as the cool kids are calling them now: Press Virginia), and Purdue (because who else can boast two legitimately dangerous 7 footers?).
And now we come to the part of the field of 68 that makes this tournament interesting, and almost addictive at times. The teams that shouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell, but somehow combine talent, determination, and that extra dash of surprise into improbable wins, are responsible for putting the Madness in March.
These are the teams that are the reason there has never been a perfect bracket and probably never will. I’m not going to sit here over my crystal ball and pretend to tell you I know who this year’s Cinderella story is, but some teams stand out above the crowd.
Though none of these teams are likely to do anything big, and I could be sitting here with my foot in my mouth after they lose their first games, these are teams I would consider a threat to the major contenders.
Connecticut (UConn) has shown a propensity to come out of nowhere and suddenly become extremely dangerous (and after seeing their ¾ court game tying shot I am convinced that the basketball gods are on their side).
Two teams that have proven they can overcome the odds in the past, Northern Iowa, and VCU, are once again primed to make things interesting in this year’s tournament.
Other mid-majors that potentially have a surprise win or two in them include: Gonzaga (who are without the magic of Adam Morrison’s mustache these days), the Wichita State Shockers (whose next deep tournament run won’t be so shocking), and the local team, UT-Chattanooga (a team that gained a lot of experience, and really boosted their resume after playing the Covenant men’s basketball team).
Beginning this week, 68 teams will display their talent and ability for all who choose to tune in to what always ends up being “must-see TV.” From the recently added “First Four” until the time “One Shining Moment” begins, this tournament will have all of its viewers on the edge of their seats. Stars can solidify greatness (yes, I’m talking to you Buddy Hield). Lesser known players can write their names in the history books (see: Ali Farokhmanesh), and ultimately one team will walk away in pure euphoria, while the other 67 wait for next year and another chance at the title. May the best team (not named Duke) win.