March Madness is right around the corner and it brings with it an unforgettable month of excitement and heartbreak alike. Last year was no exception to the beautiful nature that is NCAA basketball; the first 16 seed took down a 1 seed, the 11 seed Loyola- Chicago Ramblers made a final four run, and many more magical moments. With the tournament just a month away, which teams are charging in leading the pack? Here are my top 5 teams with Selection Sunday closing in:
- Duke Blue Devils: Assuming Zion Williamson is healthy, Duke boasts the best starting 5 in the country. Lead by the dynamic combination of Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones, this team is young and vibrant. The Blue Devils have a contagious energy and make it very difficult to stop them purely because of their athletic ability. They have multiple top-quality wins including seven top 25 wins. Duke is 5th in points per game (85.5), 2nd in rebounds per game (42.2), 3rd in steals per game (10.19), and 1st in blocks per game (7.19). They have three top 10 draft selections and the tournament legacy to back it. There is only one factor that makes me worried about their potential path to the title: youth. Can the freshman shine in the biggest stage they have ever seen? I’m not 100% sold, but they are by far the most talented team on paper.
- Virginia Cavaliers: Assuming they don’t play Duke, this team may just go all the way. With eight top 25 wins, the Cavaliers have taken down everyone in their path, except two loses which came against Duke. Virginia does two things very well: perimeter shooting and defense. Virginia has 4 shooters averaging above 40% from beyond the arc. They effectively use the entire shot clock and maximize their time on offense. Virginia also forces opposing offenses to do the same. Virginia has a stifling defense that does not allow opponents to quickly score. They force turnovers and poor shots by playing fundamental defense during the entire shot clock. A repeat of last season’s epic collapse worries me, but I am excited by this team so far.
- Kentucky Wildcats: Kentucky may have started off the year with a 34-point loss to Duke, but they have progressed and gelled very nicely and are hitting their stride at the correct time. They have six top 25 wins this season, including a dominant victory over Tennessee last week. Lead by PJ Washington and Tyler Herro, the Wildcats are a force to be reckoned with. They have another tough test against Tennessee this week, but I believe they will find a way to emerge victorious. I really like Kentucky to be a powerful 1 seed, provided they keep excelling, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they continue this road to the finals.
- North Carolina Tar Heels: I understand I’m bypassing a couple teams to jump down and list the Tar Heels here, but it is well worth it. With seven quality top 25 wins, the Tar Heels have been tested and have shown their muster during much of the season. Coming off back-to-back wins against Duke and Florida State, North Carolina will have two more tests against Syracuse and Duke to solidify their quest for a 1 seed. With plenty of talent, the Tar Heels have the resume and the athletes to propel them towards another National Title.
- Tennessee Volunteers: This spot was a toss-up between Tennessee and Gonzaga, but I like Tennessee’s resume more. Tennessee has big wins against Louisville and Gonzaga, but I think they need to win out and win the SEC tournament to secure a 1 seed. Their next best win came against Florida. Against every other ranked team, they have fallen short. Tennessee would benefit greatly from a win Kentucky this week and a great SEC tournament run. Lead by Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, the Volunteers will be looking to end on a high note and build momentum.