As soon as the calendar turns to March, basketball fans everywhere get excited. Conference tournaments lead into the NCAA Tournament, which is called March Madness for a reason. Unexpected things happen annually. Last year alone saw a 16 seed beat a 1 seed for the first time in history and a little school make it to the Final Four on the shoulders of a nun over the age of 90 rooting them on. Since the tournament is single elimination, there is no way to be certain about predictions the way you may with some professional sports. Anything can happen, but we still do our best to pick a winner. Here are the teams we think have the best chance to win the Big Dance.
Strengths: The Virginia Cavaliers have been one of the most impressive teams all season long. They’ve hovered around the top five in the rankings since the season began due to their consistency. The main reason is their stingy defense and everyone has heard the term “defense wins championships.” With talent like De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome, as well as an efficient offense, they’re a strong candidate.
Weaknesses: It’s not a good thing to say, but it’s something Virginia is becoming known for. They don’t often go deep into the NCAA Tournament. Last year, they famously became the first number seed to lose to a sixteen seed. And they were the overall number one. And the loss was by 20 points. It was rough. Since 2014, they’ve only reached the second round twice despite being a top 5 seed each time.
Strengths: This is a talented group of basketball players with a damn good coach in Rick Barnes. Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams are two tremendous NBA ready prospects who lead the way for a group that is filled with veterans. Teams with experience that aren’t filled with underclassmen usually do well in the tournament.
Weaknesses: Tennessee may go down as one of the most underappreciated number one teams in NCAA basketball history. They topped the rankings for most of the year, yet were never considered the best. The teams that have beaten them this year were long and athletic. That’s a combination that the best teams in the country possess, meaning Tennessee will be in trouble in the biggest games.
Strengths: This is not the Gonzaga Bulldogs of old. They made the championship game a few years ago and have become successful enough that top prospects flock there. Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are the kind of players we’re talking about. Gonzaga scored a huge win over the powerhouse that is Duke and their only losses came against top ranked teams in close games.
Weaknesses: Gonzaga has only made the Final Four once in school history. That usually doesn’t bode well for the tournament. They also don’t have a tough schedule. After the losses to Tennessee and UNC, they have barely seen a challenge. That doesn’t set a team up well for important tournament games. The Bulldogs also struggled to contain athletic shooters in those two losses.
Strengths: It’s a Roy Williams coached team. They always have a chance to win it all. The Tar Heels have one of the best offenses in the nation and freshman Coby White feels like he will enter the tournament on a tear. We’ve seen players on a torrid pace win tournaments before (Carmelo Anthony, Kemba Walker). It could be the case again here.
Weaknesses: For all Coby White has done right, their other top prospect is a mystery. Nassir Little could be dynamite one night and cold the next. Consistency is key in March. While UNC has an impressive offense, their defense has given up big point totals to teams that aren’t exactly scoring threats.
Strengths: There is no team more talented than the Duke Blue Devils. Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones combine for one of the best quartets in college basketball history. They have a great blend of shooting, athleticism, defense, and almost anything else you could want. Plus, Mike Krzyzewski is still a force on the sidelines and there’s a reason he’s won five titles in his career.
Weaknesses: There are two big factors holding them back. One is health, as Jones and Williamson have both missed significant time this season. At full strength, they’ve only lost once together. The bigger factor may actually be that talented lauded earlier. Lately, a lot of the teams who win the tournament feature guys who aren’t top NBA prospects. The NCAA Title might be their pinnacle, so they play hard for it. These projected high draft picks can sometimes see past the tournament to the brighter lights and big dollars of the NBA.