March Madness is fast approaching, and Selection Sunday is this weekend (March 17). The field for the NCAA Tournament isn’t finalized, but no matter the seeding, it’s clear that this is going to be an especially Mad March.
Parity has been the name of the game in college basketball in 2012-13, and it seems that every team is vulnerable on any given day. But there are definitely some teams to watch when the tourney kicks off – teams poised for upsets, and teams primed for deep runs to the Final Four.
If you’re looking to handicap this season, you may have more luck with, say, a dartboard, or a particularly intuitive farm animal. But if you’re looking to watch some fun basketball, there are plenty of teams to watch!
Here are 10 to watch when you fill out your bracket next week – and some reasons why.
Indiana was preseason No. 1, and has had two long stints at the top of the AP Rankings this season. The two biggest reasons are Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, and having two superstars may be the perfect recipe for running the table this year. Oladipo in particular has taken college basketball by storm, and has vaulted himself into Player of the Year and NBA Draft conversations the world over. Sometimes, the team with the most lottery picks in the NBA draft is the one that wins the NCAA Title, à la last year’s Kentucky Wildcats. But this team is vulnerable – witness losses versus Wisconsin, Illinois, Butler, Minnesota, and Ohio State. But they have this next team’s number…
It’s been a long time since Michigan had a team this good – think back to the Fab Five days – but the Wolverines reached No. 1 in the nation this year, albeit for a week, and have pulled off some huge wins. They’ve also fallen hard: two losses to Indiana, plus four more Big Ten defeats. But the Wolverines were perfect in out-of-conference play, and might be able to avoid playing a Big Ten team until the Final Four. With their talented roster, including star Trey Burke and NBA progeny Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III, they could bring a title back to Michigan for the first time since 1989.
The school that produced John Stockton and Adam Morrison has had their fair share of NCAA tournament success. After reaching No. 1 for the first time in school history this year, could they advance past the Elite Eight for the first time as well? They’ll have to shed the “small school” doubters first, although it’s clear that in recent years small schools can make deep runs. Just ask…
Hey, more bulldogs! Butler made two straight Final Fours in 2010 and 2011, losing both times to bigger schools. This year they’ve hit some bumps, especially in the surprisingly rugged Atlantic 10 conference, but they have massive wins over then-No. 1 Indiana, then-No. 8 North Carolina, and now-top Gonzaga. They suffered tough losses to two conference opponents who are also looking like potential giant-killers: Saint Louis and Final Four veterans VCU. Could the A-10 really produce a title winner? Those three programs definitely have no fear against the big dogs of college basketball. Speaking of dogs…
More bulldogs! Technically, at least. The Hoyas will finish the year at No. 5 in the nation, and despite a puzzling loss to Villanova last week, they’ve been on quite a tear recently. They’ve taken down ranked Big East opponents like Syracuse (twice), Louisville, Notre Dame and Marquette, but have also lost to Marquette, Pitt, and lowly South Florida. Star Otto Porter Jr. should garner lots of Player of the Year attention, and having a transcendent player on your team can sometimes be enough to run the table.
Maybe the most decorated team in college basketball history, the Jayhawks have had a bipolar season – they lost three in a row to inferior talent, have needed overtime multiple times to beat lesser teams, and just dropped their final game to Baylor. But it’s hard to bet against them just a few years removed from their 2008 NCAA Title, and a season after their 2012 NCAA Title Game loss. Experience counts for something.
Arizona Wildcats/UCLA Bruins
Mash these two up, because they seem to be the class of the Pac-12 at the moment. The Wildcats have faded after a scorching start, dropping four games since Feb. 10, and losing both of their matchups with the Bruins. UCLA boasts likely lottery pick Shabazz Muhammad, who looks to be a one-and-done freshman sensation. Of course, that sort of thing has worked before. Just ask…
UPDATE: On second thought, nahhh.
Kentucky is on the very, very fringe of an NCAA Tourney bid, but the reigning champs could still make noise despite losing superfrosh Nerlens Noel to an injury. This team has regressed since last year, but in an elimination tournament, you definitely don’t want to face a team that’s as chock full of pure talent. They could be the first team to repeat since…
The Gators won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007, and reached the Elite Eight in 2011 and 2012. They have been very good this season, but a loss in their final game to aforementioned Kentucky means they may have trouble in the SEC Tournament, let alone the NCAA Tournament. In fact, they may not even be the best team in their own state. That could be…
Wait, is this the BCS or the NCAA? Yes, the Canes have found much greater success on the hardwood this year than ever before, ascending to No. 2 in the rankings at one point and crushing traditional powerhouse teams like Duke and North Carolina. Of course, they’ve also dropped games to Indiana State and Georgia Tech, and lost a heartbreaker to those Dukies at Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier this month. Speak of the (Blue) Devils…
Duke Blue Devils
Of course, this is one team that seemingly ALWAYS has a shot, much to the chagrin of many fans. There are many other teams with the chops to go deep – Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State – and many others looking to play spoiler – Marquette, New Mexico, Creighton, St. Mary’s – but at the end of the day, it’s hard to not bet on blue. Plenty of teams will come out of no where this season: maybe some more no. 15 seeds will pull off upsets, maybe a school with an enrollment that can be counted on one hand will go on a streak. But after getting embarrassed last season, don’t be surprised if Duke comes back with a vengeance this year.