On Sunday night the bracket was finalized, and it is time to make some picks. The NCAA basketball postseason will kick off with the First Four in Dayton on Tuesday. It will conclude with the National Championship game in Phoenix, Arizona on April 3.
2017's installment of March Madness promises to be thrilling, with no single super-team ready to win the championship. Here, we take a look at some of the top contenders.
UCLA - Led by star freshman, Lonzo Ball, the Bruins posted a strong 29-4 record while competing in a highly competitive Pac-12 conference. This team is very intriguing this year. Three seeded UCLA has a convincing tournament resume with wins versus Kentucky, Oregon, and Arizona. Along with Ball, this team is led by senior Bryce Alford (coach Steve Alford’s son), TJ Leaf, Aaron Holiday (brother of NBA player Jrue Holiday), Isaac Hamilton, and Thomas Welsh. While they may sometimes be slightly inconsistent, when they are playing their best basketball this team is almost unbeatable. They will have a tough road to the final four though, in a region with North Carolina and Kentucky.
Duke - The Blue Devils are very interesting this year. After having a great start to the season, the Blue Devils really struggled without Coach K when he missed a few games after having back surgery. However, Duke overcame a tough schedule and many bumps in the road to end the season on a hot streak as ACC champions and they snagged a two seed. Duke is led by wildcard senior Grayson Allen, dominant freshman forward Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, Harry Giles, and Amile Jefferson. They are really unpredictable and at times can look like just an average team, but at other times, Duke looks like a potential national champion. When they play lockdown defense, they can be unstoppable. My prediction is that the Blue Devils either lose early or makes a run far into the tournament.
Arizona - The Wildcats just came off of a big Pac-12 tournament win against a very strong Oregon team. Arizona has an impressive tournament resume with their only losses coming to tournament teams such as Butler, Gonzaga, Oregon, and UCLA. They also have wins against teams like Michigan State, UCLA (twice), Oregon, and USC. Arizona is led by Allonzo Trier, Lauri Markkanen, and Kadeem Allen. This team is always consistent and is poised to make a big tournament run. Coach Sean Miller will have the two-seed Wildcats ready to go in a region that also features Florida State and WCC champs Gonzaga.
North Carolina - The one seed Tar Heels, led by junior point guard Joel Berry, should not have a hard time making the Elite Eight. With their experience and great size in the front-court, the Heels seem poised to make a deep run into this tournament. Forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks are both seniors looking to go out with a win. Junior forward Justin Jackson has blossomed into a star this season, averaging 18 points as well. This team was left heartbroken in the National Championship game after being stunned by Villanova, and they look ready to enjoy their revenge.
Villanova - Your reining National Champs are back in the big dance, this time as the number one overall seed. With a weak top half of their region, the Wildcats could walk right into an Elite Eight clash with Duke. Many analysts argue that this 31-3, Big East champion version of Villanova is even better than last year's team. They returned senior forward Kris Jenkins, who hit the unforgettable three-pointer, who has averaged 13 points per game. This team belongs to no single player, but the leader is definitely senior guard Josh Hart. Coach Jay Wright knows how to keep his team composed under extreme moments of pressure, which goes a long way in March. Villanova looks formidable in this year's tournament.
Kansas - The Kansas Jayhawks come into March Madness at 28-4 and as the one seed in the Midwest region. Though they saw their winning streak snapped at Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks were very consistent this season. This is their seventh one seed under coach Bill Self, a March veteran. Kansas is another team led by experience. Senior guard Frank Mason runs the show for the Jayhawks and will need to take over some games. Their toughest matchup before the Elite Eight will come against either Big 12 foe Iowa State, or a huge Purdue team. Either way, it's tough to pick against the Jayhawks.
Kentucky - Coach Calipari's Wildcats are led by freshman yet again this March. The NBA talent factory otherwise known as the University of Kentucky features a five star back court and solid size. While defense is an issue for Big Blue Nation, their talent can blow teams out of the water, especially if they have good match-ups this March. Dearon Fox, Malik Monk, and Bam Adebayo will certainly turn heads this tournament. Kentucky's lack of experience may be concerning to some, but Calipari will be sure this group is composed. Kentucky will have to go through two of Cincinnati, UCLA, or UNC to reach the Final Four, though.
Sleeper pick: Michigan - Michigan is the sleeper pick of this year's tournament because of their crazy momentum right now. Winners of 10 of their last 12, including the Big 10 championship, the Wolverines have caught fire at the perfect time. They have no issue scoring, led by their two senior guards Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. who both average double figures. Michigan is a team to watch out for in the Midwest region, but they will have to potentially beat Louisville and Oregon just to face Kansas for a trip to Phoenix.
March Madness is an amazing time of the year. Let's hope for some epic games and good luck on your picks.
Photo Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution