Beauty Behind the Madness
What you need to know ahead of the NCAA mens basketball tournament
Bigoa Machar & Brendan Stasiewich, Arts Editor & Staff Writer
College basketball has always been rather predictable. For years, you could choose between two or three schools that have a chance to win it all, and you’d usually be right. This year, the entire league was flipped on its head, with many of the large schools falling short of expectations and underdogs coming up big when you least expect it. Picking your bracket will be much harder this year, but don’t worry, we’re here to make you feel a lot less stupid come bracketology season.
How the mighty have fallen
In past years, there have been certain schools that have straight up dominated the field. With the exception of their shocking defeat to number 15 seed Lehigh in 2012, Duke’s tournament presence has always been felt over the past few years. However, the reigning champions come into this year’s tournament looking their weakest in recent memory. Gone are dominant players Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor, who are now enjoying NBA success. Outside of their star guards Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram, the Blue Devils don’t have as much offensive firepower. Defensively, Duke as a team averages less than five blocks per game. With trouble on both ends of the floor, it’ll be interesting to see if they can have the same success they’ve had in years past.
Speaking of years past, Kentucky has always fielded some of the strongest teams I’ve ever seen, most notably their 2012 squad that featured now NBA players Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones. Much like Duke, the majority of their scoring comes from the backcourt, with Canadian Jamal Murray leading the way with 20.1 points per game (PPG). With sophomore guard Tyler Ulis also chipping in with a respectable 16.6 PPG, nobody on the Wildcats averages more that 11 PPG. Murray has also had more turnovers than assists this season, which is un-excusable for a guard. With the midwest region looking pretty strong, these Wildcats may need Troy Bolton to get them all in this together.
What about last year’s runners up over in Wisconsin? They have to be a decent pick, right? Not so fast. Wisconsin fell off the map faster than Frankie Muniz’s acting career. The past kings of the Big 10 aren’t even a top five team in their own conference this time around. Being upset in the second round of the Big 10 tournament by Nebraska, it would be a shock to the world if the Badgers made a run anything close to 2015’s outside shooting squad.
Teams to watch
Sticking with the Big 10 theme, Michigan State has looked impressive and are undefeated against teams outside of their own conference. While a couple losses to Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin looked to partially derail the Spartan’s season, the team still holds a 27-5 record and a conference title may be enough to give the Tom Izzo lead squad a number one seed when the brackets drop. In fact March may see a few “Valentine’s Days” of their own as Wooden Award favourite (an award for the most outstanding college basketball player) Denzel Valentine has taken the NCAA by storm this season. The 6-6 guard projected to go in the middle of the first round of the upcoming NBA draft has averaged 19.6 PPG to go along with 7.5 assists. Valentines’ ball moving abilities along with Izzo’s leadership may just give the Spartan’s the jump needed to win their third national championship.
With a lot of teams relying on their guard play to carry them to victory, North Carolina power forward Brice Johnson has been money all season. Like a Tim Hortons coffee, Johnson’s been averaging a double-double all season, putting up 16.7 PPG and pulling down 10.7 rebounds per game. Unlike Tim Hortons however, the Tar Heels actually have a good chance of winning this year’s tournament, which is the opposite of my Roll-Up-The-Rim chances. Might as well call me the Meek Mill of coffee.
While there’s no undisputed number one this “madness season”, like usual the Kansas Jayhawks have been steady and are the number one ranked team in both the AP poll and the coaches poll. Senior forward Perry Ellis, blessed with a 6-8 frame and probably an easy endorsement deal from the Perry Ellis clothing company once he turns pro, has averaged 16.7 PPG and looks to be a fringe second round NBA prospect. A deep tournament run by the 29-4 club would surely help Ellis’ stock and would just add to Kansas’ rich basketball history. While the first round games day this year will be known as national “call in sick to work day” we will once again see anxious basketball fans watching for the first ever upset of a number one seed but don’t look for Kansas to be the first to fall.