If there is anything that people have learned about college basketball this season, it is that the national championship crown has no clear-cut frontrunner. Sure, Purdue has long been the No. 1 team, even when it lost at its rival Indiana. But the Boilermakers are not blowing teams out.
The March Madness schedule is great because it takes a bracket of 68 teams and, in three weeks, crowns a champion. That first weekend is incredible because so many games are overlapping, and it figures to be one of the least productive days for those who work.
Selection Sunday, in which the final conference championships are played and the bracket is set, is scheduled for March 12. Teams will find out their fates with some bubbles burst among hopefuls. The bubble watch has been fascinating in and of itself because teams keep beating each other up who are vying for a spot in the field.
Who Fits the Glass Slipper?
One of the great reasons people enjoy March Madness is the bracket competitions, and other various games played around the games. Every year there are bracket busters, whether it is in the first round or a team that makes a run and becomes the Cinderella darling everyone roots for.
That is what St. Peter’s was to the 2022 event as the Peacocks beat Kentucky and Purdue en route to an Elite Eight appearance. Its stars were able to make money off name, image, and likeness, and their coach left for a bigger job at Seton Hall.
What goes into building a Cinderella-caliber team? Well, there are a number of factors. The mid-majors who have juniors and seniors with some chemistry in the coach’s system are maybe the most important element. Teams who are efficient on the defensive end and are quality free-throw shooting teams, and have high offensive efficiency are among those.
The Kent State Golden Flashes already has 20 wins and a season margin of 10.8. They have good depth, with eight players averaging at least 5.0 points per game, too. But they are one of the more popular teams.
How about a quality league whose two best teams are 77th and 78th in the KenPom rankings? The Drake Bulldogs (21-6) and Bradley Braves (19-8) are hoping to close the regular season playing for the Missouri Valley Conference championship on Feb. 26. They also hope to secure the league’s automatic qualifier bid at Arch Madness. Each has veteran rosters, takes care of the ball, and plays tremendous defense.
Oral Roberts is another veteran roster with former tournament star Max Abmas who led the program to the Sweet Sixteen two years ago. Then Florida Atlantic was previously ranked in the AP top 25 and is at 24-2.
Who Are the Contenders?
At 23-2, the Boilermakers have to be considered. Center Zach Edey may win Player of the Year, and he stands 7 foot 4 and will be a mismatch for every team he faces.
Historically, teams that are top 40 in KenPom offense and top 22 in defense have won the national championship since 2002, and every team since 2004 was ranked in the top 12 of the Week 6 AP poll. Then 28 out of the last 33 were top 11 in the AP preseason rankings.
The only teams who fit those criteria are Houston (23-2), Tennessee (19-6), and Kansas (20-5). Those who could also meet those criteria are Purdue, Alabama (22-3), Arizona (22-3), Texas (20-5), Virginia (19-4), UConn (19-7), and UCLA (20-4).
A lot can change over the final month of the season, though. Other factors to look for, like mid-majors, are teams with upperclassmen who have played together, and especially teams with veteran guards.
UCLA certainly fits that mold, with Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaiquez returning from the Bruins’ Final Four team from two seasons ago. The Houston Cougars are known for defense under Kelvin Sampson and also are a veteran team. Those may be the two most popular picks heading into the NCAA Tournament as a result, but expect Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, and Gonzaga to also fit the mold.
From other levels, Indiana has a ton of talent, and so does Marquette, Saint Mary’s has a future NBA guard, and Gonzaga still has a lot of experience from its consistent runs.