March Madness is traditionally dominated by the “bluebloods” or the teams that win year after year. Those teams are Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, Villanova, UNC, Louisville, MSU, and Gonzaga. Rarely is there a year without at least one of these eight teams in the Final Four. With a crazy year filled with upsets, will some of these bluebloods be upset in March. Let’s look at the first half of the bluebloods.
#1 Kansas (+700): In a year where “it’s all wide open” and “there’s no clear favorite” Bill Self and Kansas must be confused on what more they have to do. With a record of 26-3 and sitting atop the Big 12 with a 15-1 record in conference play, the Jayhawks are the unanimous #1 team and the clear favorite as we start March. With their three losses being two points against Duke to open the year, losing by one on the road against Villanova, and getting blown out at home by Baylor, they really don’t have many blemishes on the record. As the season has progressed, some of their wins have gotten even better, those would be against Dayton, Colorado, BYU, and Stanford. Kansas has been known to choke in March when they’re the favorite, but they got some dudes on their team, those guys can play, and they will be a tough team to beat.
Those dudes for Kansas would be guard Devon Dotson, guard Ochai Agbaji, and center Udoka Azubuike who has seemingly been at Kansas for twenty years. Azubuike is the traditional college center, a guy who’s taller than you, stronger than you, and will dunk on you. While he cannot shoot, he can rebound and rim protect better than almost anyone in the NCAA. After his 23-point 19 rebound double-double against Baylor on the road, people should fear the seven-foot Nigerian. Complementing Udoka is guard Devon Dotson. Averaging 18.2 points a game and 4.0 assists, Devon is the floor general for the Jayhawks. Being able to score from distance, drive to the basket, and drain his free throw shots, Dotson is the complete package. These two along with the supporting cast should be enough to take Kansas at least to the Elite Eight, but after this regular season, who knows.
#6 Kentucky (+2000): Kentucky and Coach John Calipari find themselves in the top ten after a rocky start to the season. After the shocking loss to Evansville, many were prepared to write off Kentucky. Back to back losses against Utah and #5 Ohio State piled on the criticism but they shook off the doubters with an overtime victory against the #3 Louisville Cardinals. Then a loss to South Carolina on a buzzer beater on the road was just par for the course in this year’s upset filled basketball season. Then in the Big 12-SEC challenge, the Wildcats were tasked with going to Lubbock to take on the Red Raiders who they defeated in overtime, 76-74. Since that game, Kentucky has settled in and gone 9-1, splitting the home and home with Auburn. The Wildcats final game is against Florida this Saturday and then they look towards the SEC and conference tournaments. Standing with a 24-6 overall record and 14-3 in the SEC, Kentucky clinched the SEC regular season title yet again, looking to add a conference tournament title and national title to complete the treble.
Kentucky’s roster is the usual Coach Cal team, full of youth and as deep as a kiddie pool. Most games, Kentucky plays an eight-man rotation, relying heavily on his starters. The main players on the team are the guards and F/C Nick Richards. The guards are a perfect trio, you have the defender and facilitator in Ashton Hagans, the slasher and defender in Tyrese Maxey, and the shooter in Immanuel Quickley. These four players have led the scoring in all but two games this season and they are the reason for Kentucky’s successes. The major flaws for this team are the lack of three point makes, and the lack of depth. Living and dying by the three has always killed teams in March but if they stay hot, watch out. I would say (before seeing the bracket) that Kentucky is my favorite for the national title.
#14 Villanova (+2200): Villanova is in the same spot they always are around this time of year, in the middle of the rankings, waiting in the grass like a Wildcat about to pounce. Villanova always goes on a run to win the Big East tournament and then carries that through to the NCAA Tournament thanks to one of the greatest coaches to do it, Jay Wright. Villanova’s resume has some quality losses, at Ohio State, Baylor, at Butler, Seton Hall, and Creighton, but it also has some brutal losses, Marquette and Providence. Their resume boosters are wins against #1 Kansas, and #13 Butler. Going 22-7 overall and 11-5 in the brutal Big East this year will have Villanova as a 4-6 seed in my opinion.
Villanova is back at it again with the white point guard, and the undersized forward who just dominates games. Collin Gillespie is the new Ryan Arcidiacono, and Saddiq Bey is the new Eric Paschall. The two combine for 31.3 points per game and when one of the two is off, the other is on, and when they’re both on or both off, watch out. Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and Cole Swider are all great bench pieces who can hit big shots when the ball is thrown their way late in the shot clock. Villanova, along with these other bluebloods just seem to make the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, every, single, year. So why not this season?
#16 Michigan State (+2500): It’s March which has somehow become “Izzo’s Month.” Although I dispute the claim that its “his” month, MSU will be a force to reckoned with this march. Every few seasons, Michigan State starts to get hot around the end of the season and becomes unstoppable. Last season was a good example as they beat the greatest college basketball player in the last twenty years, Zion Williamson. While I believe that was largely due to yet another horrendous coaching job by the most overrated coach of all time, Mike Krzyzewski, the Spartans played very well and should have won the title last year.
Wooden Player of the Year candidate Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman are the leaders for the Spartans. After last night’s insane comeback from MSU against Penn State where they were down 19 points in the first half, I’m all in on the Spartans to make it to Atlanta at least. Cassius Winston is so much fun to watch, and that’s coming from a Wolverines fan. Cassius is averaging 18.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. Cassius’ game of the year so far was on the road against Michigan where he dropped 32 points and 9 assists in a rivalry game. He was 11-19 from the field and 2-3 from three-point range, absolutely dominating the Wolverines. I wasn’t even mad about Michigan’s performance as Winston put up one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen in college. His partner in crime is big man Xavier Tillman. Tillman is an undersized center at 6’ 8” but with his size and playstyle you’d think he was seven feet tall. Currently averaging a double-double this year at 13.7 points and 10.4 rebounds, he’s among the best players in the Big Ten. Tillman played a large part in the comeback for the Spartans putting up a dominant 23-15 game on 77% shooting.