March Madness preview

With March already upon us, it is officially an American sports fan’s favorite time of the year, March Madness. The 64 team NCAA Basketball Tournament leaves fans astonished every year with buzzer-beaters, upsets, highlights and bracket busters for those who like to attempt to fill out the perfect bracket every year, which no one has ever done. Billionaire Warren Buffet even got in on the fun, offering one billion dollars to anyone who fills out the perfect bracket. 

Due to COVID-19, the tournament was canceled in 2020 and no champion was ever determined, so teams have a little extra fire under their steps to make a big run this year. The cancellation of the tournament resulted in the loss of $600 million for the NCAA. 

Although the tournament will be running this year, health and safety protocols are still going to be followed, so the tournament will look a little bit different. According to the IndyStar, here’s how it’s going to look:

  • All 67 tournament games will be held in different locations throughout Indianapolis, Indiana.
  • Game facilities will include Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington and a pair of courts at Lucas Oil Stadium. 
  • Participating teams will be kept on their own floors within hotels, and assigned specific meeting and practice areas within either hotels or the Indiana Convention Center, which will house practice space. Only Tier 1 individuals, athletes, coaches and support staff, will have access to those areas, and they will be closely monitored. 
  • Fans will be allowed at 25% capacity, which should still allow for there to be some energy at games.

While there may not be sold-out stadiums and electric atmospheres like past tournaments, it will still be fun to get to watch teams battle it out to be champions. With this being a year like no other, some of the more popular teams we usually see at the top, like Kansas, Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky, are all having some of the worst years in their school’s history. In fact, Kansas is the only school out of those that seem to have a spot in the tournament right now. 

With those schools being out, some other schools have found their way into the spotlight. Here are my current top teams heading into March.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Record: 24-0

ESPN Projection: No. 1 overall seed

Top Players: Cody Kispert, Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs

The Bulldogs have absolutely dominated everyone all year, with seven Quadrant 1 wins over Kansas, Saint Mary’s, West Virginia, Iowa, Virginia and BYU. They remain the only undefeated team in the country. They lead the nation in several stats, including an average margin of victory (23.6 PPG), Field Goal Percentage (55.32%) and an astounding 92.9 points scored per game. The Zags are a nightmare with their high-powered offense that can easily drop 100 points every single night. No one can undermine their talent, but every year the basketball world seems to have the same problem with the Bulldogs–their schedule. They play in the West Coast conference, one of the weaker conferences in Division I basketball, which leads people to believe that they won’t be able to handle playing all of the tough teams in the NCAA Tournament. But with their abundance of star power, the Bulldogs can certainly play with any team in the country, which is why they are the heavy favorites. 

Baylor Bears

Record: 18-1

ESPN Projection: No. 1 Seed

Top Players: Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua

The Baylor Bears have been the No. 2 team in the nation to Gonzaga the entire season, so the debate has been who deserves the No. 1 overall seed. But, those debates were ended when Baylor was defeated by No. 13 Kansas by a score of 71-58. The Bears even dropped in the AP poll down to the No. 3 team to the Michigan Wolverines. However, if the Bears can keep their strong defense going, knock off their final three opponents during the regular season and either win or make a deep run in the Big 12 Tournament, the Bears will be a no-doubt No. 1 seed. 

Michigan Wolverines

Record: 18-1

ESPN Projection: No. 1 seed

Top Players: Hunter Dickinson, Mike Smith, Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers

The third and last of the almost sure-fire No. 1 seeds are the Michigan Wolverines. Led by 7-foot-2 Freshman Hunter Dickinson, the Wolverines have eight Quadrant 1 wins against Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue, Maryland (2), Wisconsin (2) and Indiana. Their only loss was to Minnesota earlier in the season, and the Wolverines have made up for it recently with plenty of signature wins. They now claim the Big Ten regular-season title and are favorites to win the Big Ten Tournament. With a history of getting hot in the month of March, the Wolverines are not a team that you want to be paired up against on selection Sunday. 

Illinois Fighting Illini

Record: 18-6

ESPN Projection: No. 1 Seed

Top Players: Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier, Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo

While the previous three teams mentioned are locked to be No. 1 seeds, the Illini will have to impress the selection committee with a couple of big wins to hear their name called as a No. 1 seed on selection Sunday. They also possibly have the best duo in the nation with Ayo Dosunmu, a potential National Player of the Year candidate, and Kofi Cockburn, a ferocious big man averaging a double-double per game right now. Even though they’ve had their downfalls this season, when the Illini play well, they might be arguably the best team in the country. So, if they can get it together for six games at the end of the year, we might just be seeing the Illini raise the trophy in Indianapolis.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 18-7

ESPN Projection: No. 2 seed

Top Players: E.J Liddell, Duane Washington Jr., Justice Sueing and CJ Walker

Ohio State has been projected a No. 1 seed for the last couple of weeks but recently fell in the polls, due to a rough 73-57 loss to Iowa on Feb. 28. The Buckeyes have played 12 Quadrant 1 games and won seven of those against Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue and Penn State. They have also faced adversity while being without their star player E.J. Liddell for part of the year. When he’s on the floor, they look their best and pick up big wins. If Liddell is healthy, the Buckeyes could be a problem in the tournament. However, if he’s unhealthy, the Buckeyes really look like any other team on the hardwood. 

Iowa Hawkeyes

Record: 18-7

ESPN Projection: No. 2 seed

Top Players: Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, Jordan Bohannon and CJ Frederick 

Yes, I know. Another Big Ten team. The conference is absolutely loaded this year, and the Hawkeyes have been one of the best teams in the conference. All of the talk for Iowa seems to be about the heavy favorite for National Player of the Year, Luka Garza. The 6-foot-11, 265-pound center looks like he should be playing linebacker for the football team rather than shooting threes. He’s currently averaging 24.3 Points, 8.4 Rebounds and 1.5 Blocks per game during his tremendous season. If Garza proves to be unstoppable during the postseason, who’s to say how far Iowa can go. Garza and guard Joe Wieskamp also make up one of the more talented duos in the nation. 

West Virginia Mountaineers

Record: 17-6

ESPN Projection: No. 2 seed

Top Players: Miles McBride, Derek Culver, Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil and Oscar Tshiebwe

It has been a very up-and-down year for the Mountaineers, but despite all of it, it has been one of the best in school history, as the Mountaineers currently sit as the No. 6 team in the country. Miles McBride, perhaps the most clutch player in the country, pairs up with big man Derek Culver to create yet another powerful duo. The Mountaineers have six Quadrant 1 wins against Kansas, Texas Tech (2), Texas, Oklahoma and VCU. They also played the No. 1 seeded Gonzaga in an extremely close battle earlier this season, losing 87-82. While the Mountaineers may not have Wooden Award candidates or star power like some of these other teams mentioned, their defensive toughness and team play make them an ideal team for big games.

Dark Horse Honorable Mentions: 

Villanova Wildcats

Texas Longhorns 

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Loyola Chicago Ramblers

Final Four Predictions: Gonzaga, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa

National Champion Prediction: Gonzaga