Shocks and upsets are the name of the game as the highly anticipated March Madness Tournament will be in full swing this week. The following teams have proved to be powerhouses in the 2016-17 season and they are gunning for the coveted NCAA title.
The Jayhawks have been a long-standing institution when it comes to college basketball and this year, they uphold the outstanding reputation that they have built from prior years. Led by Frank Mason III, Kansas has a strong chance of winning the title this year. Heavy reliance on Mason’s talents, however, means they must maximize his time on the floor. The starting point guard is the catalyst for this team’s championship contention this year.
The defending champions are back and this time they attempt to defend their title against the likes of Kansas and UCLA. This year, the Wildcats have Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, who can play a variety of positions ranging from shooting guards to power forwards. This means the Wildcats could replicate the “Small Ball Death Squad” that the Golden State Warriors of the NBA sported in their 2015 title-winning season that was a challenge to defend.
The Bruins are back and gunning for championship contention this year with the arrival of Lonzo Ball. They are known for their seemingly loaded backcourt with returning players such as Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton who appear to be allergic to injuries. UCLA could make a serious run with the addition of the best point guard recruit in the country, Ball. If the Bruins could overcome their defensive woes, this UCLA team could be the undoing of the Final Four heading into the championship.
With the loss of their top scorers from last season, most fans have counted Gonzaga as a bracket risk. Their one light of hope however, lies in the return of their premier frontcourt in Przemek Karnowski. The seven-foot-one Polish centre has returned from injury along with a handful of quality players like Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. With the sheer size of quality players on their rosters, a team like Gonzaga can be playing two games simultaneously. It will be a challenge defending against the Bulldogs this year as they have at least two solid players who can play in each position.
This year, Oregon finally have their ducks in a row, as they easily establish themselves as one of the tournaments elite shot blocking teams. Led by their brand of the twin towers in Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher, the duo forms a formidable wall in the paint for the Ducks. If the Ducks could supplement their elite shot blocking with perimeter defense, this lineup could make a deep run in the brackets even against teams that rely heavily on guard play.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels are back this year sporting the same high level of intensity on the offensive glass this year with players like Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks who have developed as monsters on the offensive glass. Both players are top 80 in the nation for offensive boards and lead North Carolina in rebounds. With their deep arsenal of weapons in the paint, North Carolina rivals even the Ducks as the undisputed kings of the paint in the coming weeks.
This year, the Wildcats appear to be weaker in the paint with the departure of last season’s talented frontcourt. To supplement this, the Wildcats acquired a massive recruitment of three five-star quality freshmen along with a transfer in Keanu Pinder. Likened to the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the Wildcats can field a soccer team filled with quality players, which has the potential to make a deep run in the tournament this year.
The Wildcats are perhaps the most offensively creative team of this tournament. Kentucky’s offence runs on the “dribble-drive” offense developed by Vance Walberg that guarantees a basket in every possession if poorly defended. Led by one of the highly sought-after NBA draft picks, Malik Monk, Kentucky simply have their guards dribble to the basket for an easy layup, or dish out the ball to the open man if the defense responds. With their “small ball” like forwards who stand at six-foot-nine who enjoy standing at the perimeter shooting threes, this lineup becomes a nightmare to defend.
Baylor is another example of a team that refuses to give teams a chance in the paint. With Johnathan Motley leading the Bears with his outstanding numbers, the Bears’ main highlight is their ability to grab offensive boards. In the past couple of seasons, Baylor’s rebound game has been top of the pack. If they can stay healthy, this squad can prove to be a solid contender this year despite their lacking perimeter defense.
The Cardinals, as their name might suggest, are one of the peskiest teams in this tournament. Louisville takes pride in their defense. The Cardinals average 18.6 seconds per defensive possession, ranked second-overall, which results in a buffet of turnovers and bad shots for opposing teams. One of the troubles this team runs into is its lack of veterans on the floor. With its young core of players, this squad is prone to stumble against other giants within the tournament who have seasons and seasons of experience on the big stage.