As of March 14, we will all have the pleasure of watching the NCAA Tournament, and man, am I excited for it. Now, unless you’re not a sports fan, you probably won’t be watching any college basketball next week, but if you are someone that likes sports but doesn’t enjoy March Madness, then I don’t ever want to associate in any way with you.
I’ve been watching the NCAA Tournament for years now, but this is the first time that my school, The University of South Carolina, will be partaking in the tournament since I went to school there. It’ll be awesome to finally be more invested in the tournament besides all of the bets I make and each bracket I fill out, but I’m not naive, I know that my Gamecocks don’t have any chance at winning the championship. It also shouldn’t stop you from being excited if you went to a smaller school and they got a bid into the tournament, because your team isn’t going to win the championship either. Having said that, it’s called March Madness for a reason, so screw what all of the “experts” say, just believe in your team! If they’re not going to win, so just be happy to be here, like I am with my Gamecocks.
Anyway, if you were someone who did attend a big basketball school like a Kentucky or a Duke, you go into every tournament with the “Final Four or bust” mentality, and why shouldn’t you? Your program has a history of winning titles and going far into the tournament. Let me make one thing clear before I go on with this article: I am by no means a college basketball expert. I watch it every year, but when it comes to predictions and filling out brackets, I usually fall flat on my face. That said, this year I’ve watched more college basketball than I have in years past, so I feel pretty confident with my predictions going into this year’s tournament.
As everyone knows, only one team can be fortunate enough to cut down the nets at the end of the tournament, but when you’re filling out your brackets next week, here are five teams who I think have the chance to hoist up the championship trophy when it’s all said and done. Let me reiterate the fact that I’m not an expert, just a normal guy who watches college basketball and likes to make predictions.
1. North Carolina
If it wasn’t for an unbeliever buzzer beater from Villanova’s Kris Jenkins in last year’s title game, the Tar Heels would be going for their second straight NCAA Championship. With today’s college basketball being all about the “one and done” players, a big reason as to why I like UNC so much this year is that they have players with years of experience in the tournament, which is something I think you need going into March. Their three most productive players this year have all been upperclassmen, junior point guard Joel Berry II, junior forward Justin Jackson, and senior forward Kennedy Meeks. While they’ve gotten some good contribution this season from some of their freshmen players, the Tar Heels’ success has been coming from their experienced players. I also think they have one of the best coaches going into the tournament in Roy Williams, who’s looking to capture his third National Championship as a head coach. I know the bracket hasn’t been released yet, but I’m going to call my shot and say that the Tar Heels will win the National Championship this year, (but don’t rule out these next four teams either).
Much like North Carolina, Kansas’ success this year has come from their upperclassmen, especially senior point guard Frank Mason III, who’s been having a tremendous final season in Lawrence. They also have a freshman sensation in forward Josh Jackson, who’s looking like a top-three pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, so I’m excited to see him play in the tournament. Another well-coached team led by Bill Self, the Jayhawks are definitely a team I can see making a deep run in the tournament, and possibly winning it, but the problem with Kansas is that they don’t have much presence in the paint, and to win in March you need to have a capable big man to get you some big rebounds and buckets. I’m not saying that they can’t win it, but the lack of a skilled big man worries me.
This is the team I want to see win it all because I absolutely love everything about Lonzo Ball. I hate his annoying ass father but love him. The Bruins have a nice mix of freshmen and upperclassmen getting minutes this year and have six players who score over 1o points a game. They’re a team without a ton of tournament experience, which draws some concerns, but there’s something about Lonzo Ball that really makes me think he can lead this deep on a deep tournament run, even as a freshman. The kid is a throwback pass first point guard that gets everyone involved, but can still create his own shot, bring down some rebounds, and get some steals here and there. He’s either going to be the first or second pick in the draft and if he leads the Bruins to their first National Title since 1995, you can expect to hear his name called first in June.
Villanova used to be the team that would have a great regular season, get a high seed in the tournament, and fail to live up to expectations each year, it was like clockwork, but that all changed last year as the Wildcats won their first national title since 1985. And now they’re a team that has the chance to win their second straight championship, and you know what? They have a damn good chance to do so too. They return three of their five starters from last year’s championship team, as well as some key players coming off the bench. With one championship under head coach Jay Wright’s belt, who’s to say he can’t take this team back to the promise land? With a 28-3 record and essentially the same team intact, it’s very possible that Nova will go back to back.
I will be the first to admit that I’ve always been hesitant when it comes to picking Kentucky in the tournament ever since they’ve been getting the one and done players, because as I previously mentioned I think it’s essential to veteran leadership and experience in the tournament, but John Calipari knows how to coach up his freshmen. Since his first season with Kentucky back in 2009, he’s led the Wildcats to five Final Four appearances, during which the bulk of the team’s production has come from freshmen, and this season is no different. They have a stellar backcourt with freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, who I think can go toe to toe with any guards in the country. They get pretty solid production from their front court players, and have already played in some big games this year. He’s known as the best recruiter in the country, but Calipari knows how to get the most out of his team in each tournament they’ve been in, and I really think this team has a serious chance to make a deep postseason run, and possibly to cut down the nets at the end of the season.