By: Billy Cook, KCOU Sports
The best month of the year is finally here!
As Selection Sunday nears and 68 teams around the country embark on a journey towards cutting down the nets in Indianapolis and becoming national champions, let’s focus on the teams with a legitimate shot of getting themselves to the Final Four in three weeks.
- Kentucky (31-0, 16-0 SEC)
Every list discussing the favorites has to begin with the Wildcats. John Calipari’s squad has nine different players logging 10+ minutes and six averaging between 8 and 12 Points Per Game (PPG). They have been ranked #1 in the country in every poll all season and with good reason. They lead the country in scoring margin with a 21.2 point differential and have had only seven games all year decided by single digits. Undefeated or bust for Big Blue Nation, and you’d be wise to pencil them in for a Final Four berth.
- Virginia (28-2, 16-2 ACC)
The Cavaliers have held 6 teams on the season to under 40 points, and three of those teams failed to even reach 30 (!!!) on the scoreboard. This team allows the fewest points in the country, surrendering just 50.3 PPG. Critics point out that they rank 221st in the country in points scored per game, but that number is misleading as they rank 21st in the country in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. With back-to-back ACC regular season titles under their belts, Tony Bennett’s squad is poised to make a deep run in March.
- Duke (28-3, 15-3 ACC)
Led by the virtual lock to be the top pick in this year’s upcoming NBA Draft, Jahlil Okafor and the Blue Devils will almost certainly be a number one seed once the brackets are released Sunday. Although they occasionally struggle defensively, when you can outscore any team in the country (as they average over 80 PPG), it’s hard to get too bogged down with giving up more points than Coach K likes. The only question I have about this year’s team is whether or not they’ll be able to buckle down defensively when the game gets slowed down and every possession matters.
- Villanova (29-2, 16-2 Big East)
How can a team ranked number four in the country be underrated? Because this year’s Big East Conference champions are arguably the most under-appreciated team in the country. With 6 players averaging over 9 PPG, it’s impossible to focus on just one or two of these Wildcats, which will be key considering that none of the players on this team will likely be selected in this year’s NBA Draft. Experience will be a major strength for this team as all five starters are either juniors or seniors. After being upset in last year’s tourney to eventual national champion UConn, look for the Wildcats to make a run to the Final Four.
- Wisconsin (28-3, 16-2 Big 10)
After being one Aaron Harrison shot away from playing for the national championship last season, Bo Ryan’s Big Ten regular season champions look in position to make another deep run in this year’s tournament. Led by likely John Wooden award winner Frank Kaminsky and another probable first round pick in Sam Dekker, the Badgers own the most efficient offense in the country and will be a popular pick to win their region and advance to Indianapolis.
- Arizona (28-3, 16-2 Pac 12)
The Pac 12 champs boast the third best defense in the country, and are powered on offense by a future lottery pick in freshman Stanley Johnson and Cousy award finalist (given to the nation’s top point Guard) T.J. McConnell. The Wildcats will provide matchup problems for any team in the country. Sean Miller will be looking to get to his first Final Four as a head coach after falling in the Elite Eight in his three previous tries.
- Kansas (24-7, 13-5 Big 12)
After winning at least a share of their 11th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, Bill Self will be looking to get his Jayhawks to the third Final Four of his tenure. Led by Perry Ellis and Frank Mason III, KU has a legitimate chance to make it through to a Final Four if they can survive the first weekend upset. After a slow start to the season, Kelly Oubre Jr. has provided an additional scoring punch for the Jayhawks, showing why he was hyped before the season as a potential lottery pick.
- Maryland (26-5, 14-4 ACC)
Led by the three-headed attack of Melo Trimble, Dez Wells, and Jake Layman, the Terrapins have three players capable of carrying their team to a victory on any given night. For Maryland to wind up in the Final Four, the three will have to share the spotlight like they have all year, and take turns playing hero when it is needed. With wins over two of the teams on this list (Wisconsin and Iowa State), the Terrapins have proven that they can beat anyone in the country.
- Iowa State (22-8, 12-6 Big 12)
With six (!!!) players averaging over 10 PPG and led by Georges Niang, the Cyclones are one of the most exciting teams to watch in the country. Fred Hoiberg and company are looking to make their first Final Four in the modern area of the NCAA Tournament, and if they get a friendly draw (have lost to two of the last three national champions), the Cyclones are as dangerous and explosive as any team on this list.
- Notre Dame (26-5, 14-4 ACC)
Led by potential 1st-Team All-American Jerian Grant, the Fighting Irish have one of the top offenses in the country. Their Achilles’ heel comes on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 140th according to KenPom. When the Irish play to their potential, they are as good as almost any team in the country, but they cannot afford a less than quality performance or they’ll be sent home packing.
The madness is coming! Sit back and enjoy.