Sports Commentary By: Jake Johnston
As the NCAA’s “March Madness” Men’s Basketball Tournament approaches, multiple teams seem primed to make a deep tournament run. This year’s tournament already promises to be packed with powerhouse basketball schools like Kentucky and Kansas, but superstar talent might be the most intriguing theme of the tournament.
With conference tournaments and championships looming, teams are beginning to ramp up their play to earn a bid and high seed for the tournament.
In the SEC, Kentucky is the obvious favorite to win the conference and make a deep run even though they’re tied with Florida and South Carolina for first in the conference. Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox head up the Wildcat’s extremely talented Freshman class that has wreaked havoc against all opponents this year. The duo has combined for an average of 37.9 ppg this year.
Other teams to look out for in the SEC are South Carolina and Florida as they have proven they can challenge Kentucky more than any other team in the conference. Auburn and Alabama seem to be the best teams out of the West division. Auburn has relied on a talented group of Freshman which has hurt them in some facets as inexperience has caused the team to give away some games they should have won.
In the Big Ten, Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland have all exceeded expectations. Wisconsin sits atop the conference with a 9-1 in conference record, while Purdue and Maryland trail by just two games. These teams probably will not receive a one or two seed in the tournament, but they will still be put in a position to make a deep run if they can maintain their high level of play.
While the BIG 12 has slacked this year in terms of having a plethora of great teams, they still boast two of the best teams in college basketball right now with Baylor and Kansas.
Kansas is many people’s favorite to win the tournament this year as they have top veteran talent all around, and it is hard to find a reason to bet against them.
Players like Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham provide veteran leadership to the Jayhawks, while freshmen like Josh Jackson are dominating and have an extremely bright future.
Probably the best conference in all of basketball, the ACC is stacked with talented teams that could make a run in the tournament. North Carolina, Florida State, Syracuse, Virginia, Louisville, Duke and Notre Dame all have high hopes and good chances to not only make the tournament but make a deep run into March.
UNC and Duke are slightly the favorites to win the conference because of their experience, young talent and status as basketball blue bloods, but when March 7th arrives and the ACC tournament begins, it’s anyone’s game.
One of the surprises of college basketball this year has been the success of the PAC-12. With three teams in the AP top 10 and multiple superstars, it has probably been the most talked about conference this year.
Oregon, UCLA and Arizona are all on track to receive a two or three seed in the tournament which would provide them an ideal path make a run to the final four.
Oregon and UCLA can attribute most of their success to their star players who in each case have carried their teams to this point.
Dillon Brooks has led the ducks with 14.6 ppg, but his ability to come in clutch for his team has proved more valuable as he has hit multiple game winning and go ahead shots.
Lonzo Ball has been the difference maker for UCLA averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game.
The Big East has also put forward impressive teams this year as defending champion Villanova holds a 2 seed in the AP poll and seems primed to make a run to defend their title.
Butler, Xavier and Creighton have also cracked the top 25 and are in a good position to get a good seed for the tournament.
West Coast Conference
A few other teams are drawing attention and seem to have a shot at doing well in the tournament.
Gonzaga is 1st in the AP poll and has maintained a perfect 24-0 record, but they’ve been in this position before. The zags have posted impressive records similar to this in years in the past, but they almost always underperform in the tournament leading many critics to believe they will do the same this year.
With so many teams that feel they have a shot at making and winning the tournament this year and no teams that are clearly superior to the rest, the NCAA tournament and conference championships should be as wide open and as exciting as they have ever been.