The NCAA Tournament’s Contenders and Pretenders

The first four days of March Madness, the best week in sports, have come to a close, and they were fun. Forty eight games were played (1920 minutes of basketball), with twelve hours of nonstop basketball each day featuring the nation’s best teams. March Madness costs U.S. employers billions of dollars in lost productivity on the opening Thursday and Friday of the round of 64. College basketball fans around the globe call in sick to work or class with a case of March Madness fever, or pretend to work while streaming games all day because they just cannot miss a moment.

The games did not disappoint. Teams like Liberty, UC Irvine and Oregon busted brackets with their upsets, Duke and Zion were taken down to the wire against 7’6” Tacko Fall and UCF and Auburn fended off a hungry New Mexico State team in a game that came down to the final shot. All that being said, the bracket was mostly chalk, and only one double digit seed made it to the Sweet 16.

Now, we are onto the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, starting Thursday, March 21, and continuing into the weekend. I will tell you which teams I believe in, as well as which teams I am not as confident about.

I am loving Texas Tech. This is a team that led the country in team defense throughout the regular season. They went 28-6 and 14-4 in Big 12 play. In the tournament thus far they handled a good Northern Kentucky team in the Round of 64 and beat Buffalo in the Round of 32, handily at that, 78-58. This was one of the most anticipated matchups of the tournament, in my opinion, with Buffalo coming into March with 32 wins, the third most in the NCAA. But Texas Tech stymied them with their great defense, and Jarrett Culver, projected top ten pick in next year’s draft, had a double-double with 16 points, 10 boards and an added five assists. This team could go to the Final Four, matching up with a Michigan team that could easily lose in the Elite 8. Two of the nation’s top defenses will face off in that one. I like Culver and Texas Tech to advance.

I am not on the Duke train. Call me a hater, but I really don’t believe in this team. Yes, they have three lottery picks for next year’s NBA Draft in Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. Yes they have one of the best coaches in college basketball history in Coach K. But there is something about this team. They have lost to UNC twice (almost three times) and have been in a lot of close games. They barely beat UCF. This team also can’t shoot the three ball. They rank 339th in the nation at shooting the three at 30.2 percent. There are 351 Division I basketball teams. Enough said. I feel like this just isn’t a National Championship winning team. It doesn’t matter that they have Zion. I can see them losing to Virginia Tech, easily. Also, the whole world is rooting for Duke; what’s the fun in that?

I also love Oregon. This team barely made the tournament, going on a run in the Pac-12 tournament, in a brutal year for the Pac-12. They lost their best player, Bol Bol, early in the season, but have recently figured out their identity. They are currently riding a 10-game win streak under head coach Dana Altman, handily beating Wisconsin and UC Irvine. It’s a block party every time they play. Kenny Wooten was all around the rim blocking shots. He averages two a game and is a great rim protector. He gets up for alley-oops too, providing some excitement for the team. Payton Pritchard is also a crafty guard who scores points for the Ducks. This team is fast and athletic, and they can beat Virginia.

It will be another fun four days, and we will see who makes it out to the Final Four come Sunday night. We’ll have some crazy games, hopefully a buzzer- beater or two and some competitive basketball with some really talented players. So enjoy it and, as college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein says, we sleep in May.

Contact Cam Cobey at [email protected].