What teams to watch in men's NCAA tournament
The number one overall seed wasn’t ranked to begin the year --are we finally allowed to replace the voter’s panel yet?
We never got to see Billy Preston, Mitchell Robinson or Deanthony Melton play this season.
Allegedly, the investigation into corruption in college hoops has been completed yet penalties won’t be handed down until the day after the national championship.
Tony Bennett has built this Virginia program up in a way that many would’ve called a waste of time in this era. Defense first. A commitment to the program, the team above all else. So many other teams around the country are shifting their principles & allowing substandard activity to tarnish their legacy, meanwhile Coach Bennett is trying to bring back glory days reminiscent of short-shorts & players actually wanting to take your head off if it allowed an advantage to the ball.
Let’s slide a little further South: Mike Krzyzewski fought off the one & done model as long as he could. It’s fitting he’s the only coach to be successful with the model, winning a natty in 2015 with Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones & Justice Winslow leading the way. The difference with that team was a balance of experience & veteran leadership. Another of the freshmen, & likely the least successful pro of the bunch has been around every year since & a leader he is not. This team is likely the most talented & dynamic K has ever coached yet it also doubles as the most likely to be upset by a team that shouldn’t even be within 15 points of them. Attention to detail, a capacity for failure & pride is a huge part of success in college basketball. Duke seems to be lacking the entirety of this humble triumvirate.
Before we dive into the real point of this article, let’s make one last jump across the country. For all the confrustration (confusion + frustration) that has been Duke basketball, the hottest take in the country all season has been surrounding the Oklahoma Basketball Sooners & Trae Young. OU seems to have the most polarizing players in both of its high-yielding sports & they have taken advantage of the spotlight associated with it.
Did OU’s second half of the season warrant inclusion in the NCAA tournament over an Oklahoma St team it got run over by twice also swept Big 12 Champ Kansas?
So yeah. Most wide-open field ever.
Spoiler Alert: None of the teams mentioned above appears again in a positive light.
Zach Collins is in the NBA & Przemek Karnowski could help many of the teams there. Yet Mark Few continues to reinvent himself every season & finds a way to make his team relevant from a national standpoint.
The OG vein of coaches typically bring a style & a system to the table & recruit to said philosophies. The millennial coach, the new generation coach that will have success & soon will become the standard will be basketball purists who enjoy the idea of each season being a piece of artwork. You have to enjoy the journey that becomes the painting that is your season. The demand for a winning culture either cultivates pressure or it creates opportunity. The Zags very likely will be one of the last teams standing again as they rate 6th in the country in defending the two.
New Mexico State/Murray State
To be completely candid, there wouldn’t be any amount of shock if every 12 seed in the tourney advances. The 5-seeds:
West Virginia, Kentucky, Clemson & Ohio State have all been exposed in one way or another. Fast forward to March & the 5-seed is never a gift.
No 5 seed has ever won a national championship & the only two to ever make a Final four (Butler & Michigan State in 2010) had arguments for being under seeded.
These teams find themselves here as they have tons in common: defensive systems committed to being disruptive, elite athletes who have committed to the system & a Buchanan from Mississippi that Smoove had a hand in cultivating before now.
These kids have worked their entire lives for this moment & chose the schools they did for a chance to shock the world.
What are the chances they both advance to the Sweet 16 out of San Diego? You’ll just have to watch & find out.
Congratulations Florida & TCU. You’ve drawn the teams with the most to prove in this year’s tournament without having fully established an identity for yourselves. This is your tape. Regardless of who wins either play-in game, not only are you playing a team of equal or greater talent, but the nerves are gone.
Houston, of its own volition, has the potential to shake up the tournament as a confident, well-coached Kelvin Sampson team has before but looking past Steve Fisher’s protégé would be a mistake. All four 11-seeds could change the trajectory of this tournament but be on the lookout for at least one. My bet?
The Ramblers of Loyola Chicago.
The team with the most to prove, the most dominant player in the country on a nightly basis & the coach whose name has been drug through the mud the most over the last 60 days.
This is a team that has every reason to fail. Most bets have them failing & in order to win a national championship, teams have to thrive in adversity.
You have to have the capacity to win ugly games.
Win games with your third or fourth offense.
DeAndre Ayton gives Zona the type of game changing player necessary to accomplish these things.
Not to mention some veteran, frustrated help around him.
Is this the year it all comes together for Izzo & crew to bring home their second national championship? All signs say yes.
The most wide-open season field ever feels a lot like that tournament in 2000 that was filled with upsets & teams playing above their seeding.
That 2000 team had made the Final Four the previous year before losing to Duke. Cleaves could’ve gone to the NBA but decided to return to school. The rest is history.