Troy Brinkel 20’
March has returned once again.
I awoke this morning to a bleacher report post on Instagram. It read “March is here” with pictures of multiple big athletes. It is true, one of the largest sport tournaments is just a week away, and this tournament maybe the strangest one yet. We will never know if the winner of this year’s tournament did in fact win legitimately, just like Louisville in 2013. With the current ongoing investigation by the FBI, it seems as every large program has been found giving benefits to their own players. Putting that all behind us, who are the favorites for this year’s tournament?
Kicking off our list, a surprising candidate leading the way into the tournament is Virgina. The Cavaliers were unranked entering the season; however, they have accumulated an impressive 26-2 record with their only losses to West Virginia and Virginia Tech. What makes Virginia appealing is their wins at Duke, North Carolina, and Clemson, and the overall domination they have had over their opponents. Interviewee Dylan Knox included Virginia in his Final Four and said, “The committee didn’t believe in them, but they’ve shown their value.” However, streaky teams are not favored in March. Ironically, Conference champions were only crowned king of college basketball 11 times in the last 25 years. Kyle Guy and Devon Hall may be able to turn that stat around for Virginia. Guy averages 13.9PPG and Hall has 11.9PPG which explains their success in the regular season. Virginia is favored to be a one seed with one seeds winning the championship the last 3 out of 5 years.
A more safe pick for champs is the Duke Blue Devils. The Blue Devils are 26-5 on the season with some impressive wins and doubtful losses. Duke split the season with North Carolina taking one and losing one. Grayson Allen is shooting an impressive 42% from the 3PT which has lead the Devils to wins over Clemson and Michigan State. However, the March Madness tournament is all on the road, and Duke is only 6-5 when away from home this year. One of those losses includes 14-16 St. Johns who is ranked 88th. Another Interviewee Kaitlyn Savanyu said, “ Duke is very good and I feel like they should be higher,” when asked about their skill.
Coming with an oddball pick, the Xavier Musketeers are a projected 1 seed. Xavier seems to be a team that nobody sees coming year after year, but somehow makes a deep run into March. The Musketeers reached the elite 8 in last year’s tournament and are looking to take one step further this year. Xavier has 8 wins over teams ranked in the top 50 this year alone. Trevon Bluiett has an impressive 19.4 PPG which has lead Xavier to an impressive 27-4 overall record. However, Villanova has back to back wins over Xavier this year: both games won by a combined 40 points forcing the question to be asked, has somebody cracked Xavier’s winning strategy? St. John’s head coach, Chris Mullin said, “Xavier is one of the most physical teams, I think, in the league offensively and defensively” when asked about Xavier’s toughness.
Moving to the Big Ten, Michigan State enters the tournament wounded and hurting. Michigan State was slapped by Michigan in the semi-final round of the Big Ten tournament. Still the Spartans won the regular season Big Ten title, robbing 3rd ranked Purdue. A large part of production comes from freshman Jaren Jackson Jr, who won Big Ten Rookie of the year and Big Ten defensive player of the year. At 6’11 his 7’0 wingspan has him 3.4 BPG which leads the Big Ten. Miles Bridges has 16.9 PPG which has lead the Spartans to a 29-4 record and made him a 2nd team All-American. Bridges and Jackson’s explosivity has both of them projected to be lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft. Knox spoke about Michigan State when he said, “ Jackson is a terrifying defender, and he can really be a force to be reckoned with. I think the bench needs to help Michigan State because those two can’t win the tournament by themselves.”
The other contender in the state of Michigan is the Michigan Wolverines. Coming strong at the end of the season, the Wolverines defied the odds and punched their ticket by winning the Big Ten tournament: Including a win over Michigan State and Purdue. The finish the season at 27-7 with Moritz Wagner leading the team at 14.5PPG. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman lead the team in the Big Ten tournament hitting 40% of his three point shots. ESPN’s Dan Murphy says, “ What Michigan can expect now is energy by the bucketful. And more than any team Belin has coached in Ann Arbor, that energy has been infectious on both sides of the floor.” However, Michigan won the Big Ten tournament on March 4th, and now has waited two weeks to play in the tournament. What has this time done to a hot team? Only the tournament will tell.
What about the investigation? Does all this drama effect the players? On February 23rd, Yahoo Sports published an article that detailed the knowledge of multiple large programs who dealt out cash to receive recruits in college basketball. The story has gotten so big, it hit the NBA when Cleveland Cavaliers star Lebron James said, “The NCAA is corrupt.” Knox and Savanyu both made comments such as “I don’t believe it’s necessary right now”, and “ I don’t think an investigation is wanted.” The current findings range from Michigan State’s Miles Bridges receiving approximately 400$ to Arizona’s Sean Miller dealing out 100k for a player. Currently the NCAA has made no action towards any teams, and most likely won’t until the season is over.
Every team in D1 college basketball has had their goals set for March all year, but only 64 will make it. Fans, players, coaches, and journalists have speculated who would be fighting for a spot all year, but the time has come. Teams like Murray State, Radford, and Lispcomb have already punched their tickets by winning their conference championship this year. Other teams like Michigan State, Duke, and Purdue lost in their conference championship, but aren’t sweating on selection Sunday. One thing’s for sure, March will be a battle. The road to the Final Four has begun.
Bracket courtesy of forbees.com