Question of the Week: Which NCAA Teams Can Make a Run?

By Eric Fishbin

Football is done and now the best time in sports is quickly approaching. For sports fans around the world, March is essentially synonymous with college basketball. From March 14 to April 3, 67 games will be played. With the historical exception of 1 v. 16 games (a 16-seed has never defeated a first-seed), anything can happen in the tournament. There are 65,536 possible Final Four combinations, and nobody has ever filled out the perfect bracket.

The AP Top 25 changes weekly for good reason; there is an abundance of parity in college hoops. We see ranked teams fall at home to unranked contenders during the regular season and we see Cinderella stories nearly go the distance in March. Predicting the outcomes in March is nearly impossible, but it is incredibly fun.

Villanova will look to defend its title, but many freshmen-powered squads have aspirations of cutting down the net in early April.  Kentucky’s backcourt of Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, projected top-10 picks, have the skill set to take UK to the championship, which they have not won since 2012.

Kansas, led by veteran Frank Mason III and rising star Josh Jackson, has the ideal balance of experience and youth, along with the talent to go all the way. Having defeated UK and Baylor on the road, and knocking off Duke at home, KU has proven its ability. Other dangerous squads include undefeated Gonzaga, UCLA, Oregon, Duke and Wisconsin.

March Madness is no misnomer; this tourney should be a thrill.

By Reed Shultz

Despite a drama-filled, injury ridden season thus far, Duke University will win the NCAA Championship. Four out of their last five losses can be attributed to outside factors. Come tournament time, Duke will be fully prepared to take home the championship. Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, two highly talented Duke freshmen, suffered injuries early on in the season partly causing Duke to lose their third game of the season against number seven ranked Kansas. Mid-season, the media attacked the Blue Devils after Grayson Allen intentionally tripped his second opponent of the year. He missed one game due to suspension, and Duke didn’t stand a chance in an embarrassing 14-point loss to Virginia Tech. In the wake of the suspension, and after Coach Mike Krzyzewski temporarily removed himself from the team to have back surgery, the battered Blue Devils lost back to back conference games on the road to number nine ranked Florida State and number 14 ranked Louisville.

Obviously you cannot discount any losses, as all teams are plagued by injuries, but recently Duke seems to finally be coming around to be Associated Press’ preseason number one ranked team. Tatum and Giles, projected number five and 12 overall picks in the 2017 NBA draft, are finding their true form. While UNC, Kansas and Villanova may pose serious threats, I think it’s Duke’s tournament to lose if they can stay healthy and focused. Their skill, combined with the tournament experience of Allen, sophomore scorer Luke Kennard, and senior Amile Jefferson will carry  Duke to their second basketball

championship in three years.

By Theo Asher

Baylor had a spectacular season and boasts a talented team, but they have been getting cold at the wrong time. The Bears have lost four of their last six, and failed to get revenge on Kansas. That first loss to the Jayhawks was understandable, but with a six-point lead at halftime… George W. Bush describes it best: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me [twice]– you can’t get fooled again.”

Another potential let-down in the tournament could be Gonzaga, who are currently ranked #1 in the country with an undefeated record. The last time they were a #1 seed, they were knocked out in the Round of 32.

The Kansas Jayhawks, the far-and-away RPI leaders in the nation, look tailor-made for the Final Four. All-American contenders Josh Jackson and Frank Mason III have the team rolling offensively, they have beaten the best of the best (Duke, Kentucky, Baylor) and they lost at home. Yup. After winning 51 straight at home, I think that falling to Iowa State last week in Allen Fieldhouse could be humbling for the team and could alleviate some of the pressure for their young stars.

While I absolutely love the way Villanova, Duke, Kentucky, and the lethal Pac-12 triumvirate are playing, North Carolina stands alone as my favorite to win it all. They have a gold mine of stars returning from last year’s championship-game heartbreaker, and the team is healing at the right time. Theo Pinson is finally healthy, and Justin Jackson is having a season for the ages, averaging 18.6 PPG. UNC is 2nd in BPI to only Villanova. Of note, a team within the top-two in BPI rankings has won the championship in four of the last five years.