No. 1 (South) Kansas: The Jayhawks had the best season of any team in college basketball this season. I hesitate to call them the best team in college basketball because teams that lack a true go-to star always worry me in a one-and-done tournament like this. That said, what Kansas has proven this season is that they have a number of different guys that can step up and have monster games in big moments. Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason. Those are good, veteran basketball players that have been through some battles with the Jayhawks, and Devonte’ Graham may actually end up being the key to their national title hopes. So while it is nice having an all-american you can count on, sometimes a team is more dangerous if their are four options offensively; teams can’t key in on one guy.
I also think the bracket that Kansas is in is easier than people realize. I can’t see them losing to Colorado or UConn, and while Cal or Maryland might give them some fits, it’s important to remember that there is a reason teams with that much talent are on the No. 4 and No. 5 seed lines, respectively. Cal is a different team away from Haas Pavilion and the only thing Maryland has consistently proven this season is that they are not the team we thought they were going to be in October.
No. 2 (Midwest) Michigan State: For me, the Spartans are the best team in college basketball right now. For starters, they have Denzel Valentine, who is the nation’s best player. He can take over a game unlike anyone else in the sport right now. But beyond that, the Spartans have shooters on the perimeter in Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes, they have a pair of big bodies inside in Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis and they have enough of a bench that they don’t need to play their starters 39 minutes a night. Throw in the fact that the Spartans will be playing in front of a friendly crowd in Chicago in the regionals, and I think this is the best chance that Izzo has had to win a title since he won a title in 2001.
And this is where I should mention Izzo is Mr. March, right?
No. 1 (East) North Carolina: I was sitting courtside for UNC’s run to the ACC tournament title in D.C. this week, and I got an up close view of some of the changes that that team has made in the last two weeks. They’re defending better, they’re rebounding better, they’re executing in the clutch more effectively. That said, I still have questions about Marcus Paige and his shooting slump and there are still red flags about the way that the Tar Heels defend ball-screens. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that the UNC we saw last week is a “new” UNC. But I will say this: If they play the way they did against Notre Dame and Virginia in the NCAA tournament, they’re going to have a great chance watching One Shining Moment from a podium.
No. 4 (East) Kentucky: There is no better back court in college basketball than Kentucky’s. Flat out. Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis are a problem, and when those two play the way that they have over the course of the last month, Kentucky can literally beat anyone in the country. It helps, however, to have Derek Willis knocking down threes and Skal Labissiere playing the way he did in the last week of the regular season instead of the way he played in the SEC tournament. But the ceiling is there for Kentucky. John Calipari can get his second ring.
No. 1 (West) Oregon: The Ducks are such a matchup nightmare for opponents given their ability to play small ball and spread the floor. Dillon Brooks is one of the most under-appreciated talents in the country, and Chris Boucher some how managed to fly under the radar for this long. But the most promising thing for the Ducks — their toughest matchup before the Elite 8 will likely end up being the St. Joe’s-Cincinnati winner. I’m not convinced that they’ll even see Baylor or Duke in the Sweet 16. Talent plus an easy draw is a promising recipe.
No. 3 (East) West Virginia: I hate trusting pressing teams to do anything against high-caliber competition, but I do think the Mountaineers got some favorable matchups on their way to through the bracket. No. 2 seed Xavier’s biggest issue is that they can’t handle pressure. No. 1 seed North Carolina’s question marks involve toughness, and no one is tougher than West Virginia. Michigan State doesn’t have a true point guard. Bobby Huggins’ return to the Final Four is not as crazy as I thought it would be.