It’s March, and you know what that means? It’s time to prepare for Selection Sunday and its ensuing madness on college basketball’s biggest stage. Pour yourself a drink, sit back, relax (or pace madly while waiting for your team’s name to be called), and keep these things in mind as the bracket unfolds before your eyes.
Although the number of ACC teams has yet to be determined in the field, don’t be surprised if 9, 10, maybe even 11 come out of basketball’s toughest conference. Last year, the ACC made up half the teams in the Elite Eight, Final Four, and National Championship. North Carolina is in position to make another national title run, as they try to avenge their last-second loss (to Villanova) last year. Despite my audacious projection, Duke has been hot and cold most of this season, with no consistency on either end of the floor. But don’t count the Blue Devils out just yet—with the right matchups, they could make a run. Virginia and Florida State are limping a bit into the ACC tournament, but with UVa’s stifling defense and the Seminoles’ deep bench, both teams will be tough outs.
UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona all have the pieces to make deep runs in the tournament, redeeming the PAC-12 from its dismal performance last year. Lonzo Ball, Dillon Brooks, and Lauri Markkanen: remember their names. They’ll be the difference-makers for their teams in close games.
The Big Ten might be a tad weaker this year, but Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan is doing everything he possibly can to keep his team in the national conversation. A National Player of the Year candidate, Swanigan is an absolute force to be reckoned with down low and can even step outside to shoot the three. If Purdue goes far, it’ll be because of him. The Boilermakers matchup best against teams who struggle to defend the post and rebound the ball; those teams stand no chance against Swanigan.
This Kansas team is arguably Bill Self’s best team since his 2008 National Championship. The Jayhawks are led by the dynamic duo of senior Frank Mason and freshman Josh Jackson. Pay special attention to Kansas, a battle-tested group that went 5-2 against ranked teams this year, including wins over a #1 ranked Duke and #4 ranked Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Despite yesterday’s loss to TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 conference tourney, but keep in mind, Josh Jackson was suspended for that game. The extra rest and preparation for the tournament can’t hurt. This team will have home court advantage with their likely No. 1 seed, but Kansas also has no problem beating great teams on the road or at a neutral site.
Finally, what’s March Madness without some upsets? Don’t be afraid to bet on those double-digit seeds to advance a round or two. They’ve got nothing to lose coming into their games and are playing for pride. Just because you haven’t seen them play in primetime, doesn’t mean they can’t handle the big stage. You may have some money on the line, but no risk, no reward right? May the odds be ever in your favor!