It’s time. The conclusion of the men’s collegiate basketball regular season has happened. That means that it’s time for the “Big Dance.” The NCAA March Madness bracket has been released, which means fans everywhere can now submit their predictions for the basketball tournament. It’s been a crazy season, so fans should expect perhaps a little bit more madness than usual in this year’s tournament.
This season’s March Madness schedule has seen a record number of ranked teams lose on any given day – most notably on Saturday, January 14th. That day saw an AP poll record-tying 11 ranked teams lose. Previous iterations of the tournament had clear-cut favorites or undefeated teams. This year? Not so much.
To be fair, March Madness has long been synonymous with crazy results. Last-second upsets and general pandemonium. It’s also been the springboard for many an NBA career, with players at smaller schools being given an opportunity to shine under the biggest lights. Look no further than NBA superstars Ja Morant (Murray State), Steph Curry (Davidson), or CJ McCollum (Lehigh), who all starred at non-Power 5 schools and saw their draft profiles boosted at the tournament. When does March Madness start? Today, March 14th!
So what do you need to know in advance of this year’s tournament?
In short – there’s a lot to know. So I’ll do my best to get you up to speed on as many of the competing teams as I can. You can consider this your guide to “bracketology” or just your breakdown, so you don’t look like an ignoramus at the local bar.
March Madness Favorites:
- The Alabama Crimson Tide
- Fast Facts: SEC Player of the Year Brandon Miller (19.6ppg, 41% shooting from 3pt) is being investigated for his involvement in the murder of James Harris. Former Alabama player Darius Miles was indicted for the murder. Miller is Alabama’s best player and projected NBA lottery pick. Can Alabama avoid the noise and showcase itself as an elite squad in March?
- The Houston Cougars
- Fast Facts: Houston has five players averaging double-digit points per game. Houston has a strong squad, but they also play in the AAC, avoiding the kind of difficult schedule that Power 5 teams typically face. Can they rely on projected NBA players Marcus Sasser and Jarace Walker? Or will they bow out sooner than expected?
- The Purdue Boilermakers
- Fast Facts: Zach Edey (7’4″, 21.9ppg, and 12.8rpg) is the star for Purdue. He’s the most dominant individual on the floor in every game they’ve played. He requires extra attention from the opposition, which can open the floor for his teammates. There’s a concern, though, around Purdue’s high turnover percentage – a worrisome number that can be exacerbated on the big stage in March.
- The Kansas Jayhawks
- Fast Facts: Death, taxes, and Bill Self-coaching an elite Jayhawks team. They lost two team leaders to the NBA Draft last season but reloaded with sharpshooting freshman Gradey Dick (14.3ppg, 41% shooting from 3pt) combined with likely All-American forward Jalen Wilson (19.7ppg). They have marquee wins over Duke, Texas, Baylor, Indiana, and Kentucky. So what’s the issue? Outside of Dick, they’re not an elite team from a distance. The right opponent could cause the wrong problems for Kansas.
The Best Challengers:
- The Arizona Wildcats
- Fast Facts: Arizona always seems to be a top-5 seed during the Big Dance, but more often than, we’ve seen the Wildcats bow out early. This year’s team on March Madness features an elite offense and a problematic defense. Teams like that can get hot at the right time to make a serious run or go cold at the worst time and lose in one of their first two games.
- The UCLA Bruins
- Fast Facts: Mick Cronin has succeeded in nearly every metric as a head coach for the Bruins. He’s taken them to a Final Four and a Sweet 16. A title is the only thing eluding him so far, and this Bruins team could take him there. They’ve received excellent play from their starters, but the loss of Jaylen Clark (the Bruins best defender) could be problematic.
- The UConn Huskies
- Fast Facts: Buoyed by a top-tier resume featuring wins over Alabama, Iowa State, and Marquette, the Huskies can go toe-to-toe with anyone. Their starting five features an elite rebounder in Adama Sanogo and two sharpshooters in Alex Karaban and Jordan Hawkins. Make no mistake. These Huskies are going to be a problem for someone.
- The Miami Hurricanes
- Fast Facts: You’d be hard-pressed to find a more well-balanced offensive attack than the one in Miami. Three players averaged at least 14ppg for the Hurricanes, who racked up wins against Virginia, Duke, and Providence. This team will go as far as Norchad Omier takes them, though, and he did suffer an ankle injury in the ACC tournament. But if he’s fully healthy for the Dance, this team is flat-out dangerous.
- The Duke Blue Devils
- Fast Facts: When the iconic coach Mike Krzyzewski retired, many thought that new coach Jon Scheyer would be in over his head in year 1. All Scheyer accomplished was a dominant ACC tournament run and an eight-game winning streak to close out their season before March Madness. Similar to Miami, a healthy Duke squad can lean on star players Jeremy Roach, Kyle Filipowski, and Dariq Whitehead to overwhelm the opposition.
The Jekyll & Hyde Acts:
- The Indiana Hoosiers
- Fast Facts: The Hoosiers are led by Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino, who combined this season to average over 33ppg. Indiana has strong wins on its resume, including victories over Xavier, Purdue, and Illinois. Indiana also has befuddling losses to Rutgers (by 15 points) and got swept in their season series against Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State. I’m not saying Indiana is going to lose against Kent State in round 1, but a team like Miami in round 2 could cause some series issues for the Hoosiers.
- The Virginia Cavaliers
- Fast Facts: The Cavaliers are back in the Big Dance again, buoyed by a terrific defense and balanced scoring. Kihei Clark is the last remaining member of the 2019 national title team, and he steadies a group of four upperclassmen averaging at least 9ppg. However, this Cavaliers team isn’t as good as a three-point shooting team or free-throw shooting team as that 2019 squad, and the loss of forward Ben Vander-Plas to injury looms large.
- The Saint Mary’s Gaels
- Fast Facts: Featuring four double-digit point-per-game scorers, this Gaels squad is balanced and difficult to play against. Why? They play an extraordinarily slow brand of basketball and employ a top-15 defense. However, they were blown out by a combined 35 points in their two losses to Gonzaga. This begs the question of whether or not their brand of basketball will hold up against the more elite competition.
- The Iowa State Cyclones
- Fast Facts: This team has arguably the best wins on its resume of any team in the Big Dance. Victories over Baylor, Texas, Kansas State, and Kansas indicate this team is for real. Two losses to Oklahoma State, a loss to Texas Tech, and 13 overall losses have us scratching our heads, though. Senior guard Caleb Grill only played 25 games this season before being dismissed from the program. A team like Pitt could give the Cyclones some trouble in the first round.
The Sneaky Upset Squads:
- The Maryland Terrapins
- Fast Facts: I almost added the Terps to the Jekyll & Hyde Acts. They’re an 8-seed, but they also have secured dominant wins over teams like Purdue, Indiana, and Illinois. However, they’re not a great road team, and their defense has been up and down (at best) this season. Maryland is genuinely capable of beating anyone on a good day. The question is can they do it, on the biggest stage, for seven games in a row?
- The Memphis Tigers
- Fast Fact: Penny Hardaways’ Memphis Tigers feature one of the best combinations in basketball. Kendric Davis (22.1ppg) and DeAndre Williams (17.8ppg) can score at will against anyone. And neither player is exactly an inefficient shot chucker. Williams shot 53.9% from the floor and 42.6% from 3pt range this season; Davis went 41.6% and 34.6%, respectively. Memphis has lost four games all season. They lost twice to Houston (whom they also beat in the AAC Tournament Final) and lost once to Tulane and UCF (both games went overtime). This Memphis team could create havoc for a team like Purdue, who they’re expected to meet in the second round.
- The USC Trojans
- Fast Facts: Hear me out on this one. The USC Trojans have a talented backcourt led by Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson, who combined for 32ppg, 9.9rpg, and 7.4apg. They also have a stronger-than-you’d-expect defense, led by Joshua Morgan (2.3bpg), Kobe Johnson (2.2spg), and freshman Vince Iwuchukwu. Two years ago, a similar Enfield squad went to the Elite 8. This year’s team isn’t as talented but is far better from the charity stripe.
- The NC State Wolfpack
- Fast Facts: With five Wolfpack players averaging 9ppg, Kevin Keatts has assembled a deep and talented squad. Most importantly, they have a genuine marquee win on their resume, courtesy of a January 24-point thrashing of Duke. On the flip side? They also lost by 25 to Clemson only a few weeks ago. Whichever Wolfpack team shows up is sure to frustrate many who filled out their brackets.
The Genuine Cinderellas:
- The Charleston Cougars
- Fast Facts: If the Cougars are going anywhere, it’s by their live-and-die-with-it strategy. Charleston takes more three-point shots than nearly any other team in the country, with over 47% of their attempts coming from long-range. Do they hit them at a high rate? Not particularly (33%), but they play an uptempo game and have lost just twice since mid-November. All it takes it getting hot on one day, and they can upset SDSU.
- The Drake Bulldogs
- Fast Facts: Led by the father-son pairing of Darian DeVries and his son Tucker, this team bears some level of resemblance to a father-son pairing at Georgia State in 2014-2015. Head Coach Ron and son RJ Hunter headed that squad, who upset No. 3 seeded Baylor on a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left. Like RJ, Tucker can shoot the three and score with the best of them. The Bulldogs play team defense, hit three-pointers with good efficiency, and don’t turn the rock over.
- The Oral Roberts Golden Eagles
- Fast Fact: This team will only go so far as Max Abmas can carry them. Abmas was a second-year player for the Golden Eagles when he led them to the Sweet 16. Now he’s a senior averaging over 22ppg, while shooting 38% from long range. Teams will look to follow Houston’s blueprint for beating Oral Roberts, though. The Cougars defended Abmas with multiple players during their 83-45 victory over the Golden Eagles this season.
- The Colgate Raiders
- Fast Facts: Yes, this is the school named after the Colgate family, best known for their toothpaste. But you know what else Colgate is known for this season? Three-point shooting, as they lead the country in three-point percentage by hitting a smoldering 41% of their shots as a team. They have their work cut out for them against Texas. But the Longhorns haven’t been as good away from their home court, and they must be able to defend the Raiders on the perimeter. When Colgate hits 45% of its threes in a game, they’ve gone undefeated this season (11-0).
Read more on Over $6bn expected to be wagered during March Madness.