As February comes to a close, the world of college basketball has been anything but quiet. A volatile few weeks for the programs at the top of the rankings has stirred the pot in anticipation of the most exciting time of the year: March Madness.
While there is never any shortage of drama as Selection Sunday draws near, the upsets of the past few weeks have made the anticipation for the tournament that much greater. Over the last few weeks, NCAA fans have seen Virginia, Villanova, Purdue, Cincinnati, Duke and Ohio State all drop games they were predicted to win.
This certainly shook up the rankings and amplified any concerns for these programs heading into the most scrutinous stretch of the season. Villanova, led by a string of veterans, looked to be the top contender for a while until their 3-pointer heavy offense went cold twice against St. John’s and Providence. This brought up concerns for how their style of play will hold up in March, a time where teams that are reliant on the 3-pointer have historically underperformed.
If there is one factor that may be commonly overlooked going into the tournament it is quality and consistency of a program’s coach.
As of now, Michigan State and Virginia sit atop the USA Today and Associated Press rankings with Villanova also receiving a small portion of first-place votes. Each of these programs have long-tenured coaches who have handled the pressures of going into the tournament as a high-seed before.
When analyzing the RPI rankings, the importance of a strong, experienced head coach becomes even clearer. With the proven programs of Virginia, Villanova, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas occupying five out of the top six spots it is clear that experience is important as the season winds down. The only “outlier” in the bunch are the Xavier Bulldogs led by Chris Mack, who while not a household name like Jay Wright or Mike Krzyzewski is no stranger to the big stage. Xavier has made it to the tournament seven of the last eight seasons.
Another exciting element of the high pressure end of the season is to watch how the top prospects perform under the spotlight. The added pressure sometimes can swing scouts’ minds in determining which players to prioritize heading into the 2018 NBA Draft.
The 2018 draft class has become deeper than originally expected, as top players, such as Jaren Jackson of Michigan State, have shown they are more NBA-ready than was predicted at the start of the season.
In previous March Madness performances, we have seen current NBA stars break out during the end of the NCAA season and ride that momentum into a sterling career in the league. Everyone remembers Steph Curry’s rise to fame during Davidson’s run in 2008 and Kemba Walker and UConn’s impractical run in 2011.
This year scouts’ eyes will be on top prospects like DeAndre Ayton (Arizona), Marvin Bagely III (Duke) and Trae Young (Oklahoma), among others.
Finally, another interesting aspect of the tournament each year is the surprise team that comes from a mid-major conference. It seems this year that Rhode Island is the team to keep an eye out for as the Rams have snuck into the top 25 and rank eighth in RPI.
Contact Matt Gentile at [email protected]