Volume 97 Issue 7 Sports

NCAA March Madness tournament to begin, no clear-cut No. 1

by Zach Seyko

On March 13th, 2016, the NCAA Basketball committee will meet for Selection Sunday to decide the first round of matchups for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Selection Sunday has been extended for an extra two hours this year, but the committee is going to have a tougher time seeding teams.

So far, there has not been a clear-cut number one team in the 2015-2016 season.. With Michigan State, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Villanova, Maryland and North Carolina, there has been a plethora of teams claiming the top spot in the rankings. This year, the top 25 teams have been constantly changing positions, and new teams sit atop the list at various points in the season.

The Big 12 is comprised of the most skilled group of schools heading into the tournament. Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech are all in position to secure higher seeds in March. Each brings their own game plan and unique basketball philosophies to the courts, so it will be interesting to see if one of these teams makes it to the championship in April. Kansas is one of the favorites to make it to the final round, but they have seen a share of surprising losses over the course of their season, like many of the other ranked teams.

Oklahoma, who is led by senior forward and Player of the Year Nominee, Buddy Hield, looks to continue their shock to the collegiate basketball world with their impressive season. Hield is second in the NCAA in scoring with 25 points per game. His experience and significant role in the Sooners’ offense makes the team a big threat to make noise in the tournament.

Moving onto the SEC Conference, six teams are predicted to enter the March Madness: Kentucky, Texas A and M, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Compared to last season, the SEC teams are not nearly as competitive. Kentucky, who remained undefeated all the way to the Final Four before falling to the Wisconsin Badgers, is struggling to stay in the top 10. Losing very important players to the NBA really affected the Wildcats coming into this season. Alabama and Vanderbilt are two teams on the outside looking in for a tournament bid. While they are projected to have a spot, they are at the bottom of the teams who are contending for the 68 slots.

Another surprise in the season came when the Duke Blue Devils fell out of the Associated Press’s top 25 rankings for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. This was temporary, as Duke bounced back and climbed back up in the rankings. They are currently ranked no. 15, but it has been anything but shy of a typical season for Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad. Sharing the ACC with teams like Virginia, Miami (FL), North Carolina and Notre Dame, Duke is up against some serious competition. Virginia has been described as one of the most complete teams and is looking to make a long run after being upset in last year’s tournament.

The Maryland Terrapins, who were the preseason top team, have consistently remained in the top 25 throughout the season while competing in the Big Ten conference. With guard Melo Trimble and freshman center Diamond Stone paving the way, the Terrapins look like a serious threat in March as well. Michigan State was one of the few clear-cut favorites, until their star player Denzel Valentine was lost for a short period due to injury. After returning to the lineup, Valentine and the Spartans were once again recognized as one of the better teams. The Spartans’ fate in the tournament lives and dies on the health of Valentine.

So what should people focus on when filling out their brackets? Answer: teams that are adept in experience and are heating up right in time for the tournament.

The popular teams that will be generally picked to win it all are going to be the Kansas Jayhawks, Michigan State Spartans, Maryland Terrapins, North Carolina Tar Heels, Virginia Cavaliers and Oklahoma Sooners. I believe that the Spartans and Jayhawks are most likely to avoid upsets and make it to the Final Four because of in the experience of the two teams’ head coaches Bill Self and Tom Izzo, respectively. While not currently ranked high, Duke and Kentucky should still be considered serious contenders. Kentucky head coach John Calipari knows how to motivate his teams to victory in the spring.

There are some teams that should not be overlooked when penciling in your picks. West Virginia and Texas play aggressive basketball with their full court press defenses. Texas’s head coach Shaka Smart, who coached the VCU Rams to a Final Four appearance in the 2011 tournament, possesses the talent he needs to overcome the tougher division one schools. VCU’s 2010-2011 team is considered one of the greatest Cinderella teams of all time. Seton Hall, Utah, San Diego State and Dayton are some other schools to consider when predicting upsets.

Some teams to avoid in the tournament are Villanova, Baylor, Xavier, Iowa and Oregon. These schools are notorious for losing early to lower seeds due to overhype. Villanova and Xavier are good teams, but do not play many elite opponents during the regular season. Villanova lost as a one seed in the second round of the 2015 tournament.

Since an official bracket has not been released, we do not know the specific matchups or the ranks of all 68 teams. March Madness is difficult to predict because of these games, which is why we look forward to the tournament every spring. As of right now, I believe that Michigan State will come out on top as the 2016 champion, but that could all change if their road to Houston is not as clear as some of the other teams’.

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