2016 March MadnesS Guide
Of all the stats that speak to the 2015-16 college basketball season’s nearly unprecedented parity, this fact screams the loudest: no school ranked No. 1 this year has held the position for longer than four weeks. Just when you found yourself getting comfortable with a Villanova or Oklahoma in the top slot, they stumbled. Same went for Kansas and Michigan State. With all the instability in the polls, we offer our best guess on how the tournament will pan out.
The Favored Four
As we were going to press, the Jayhawks had just defeated the on-again, off-again Texas Longhorns by 30 in Austin. That Kansas could dominate with two of its stars, Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III, combining for just 23 points goes a long way to showing just how scary this team can potentially be.
Though Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield will earn the votes and LSU’s Ben Simmons will get the ESPN segments, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine is arguably the most important player in America. You can measure Valentine’s points (19.6 a night) and rebounds (7.6), but it’s hard to quantify the heart he shows in the second half of tight games.
Amazingly, the last time the Tar Heels made it to the Final Four was the Ty Lawson- and Tyler Hansbrough-led crew from 2009. The current squad, which is anchored by future NBA lottery pick Brice Johnson, won’t ever be confused for that UNC team. Still, this talented bunch has shown glimpses of what it takes to bring a title back to Chapel Hill.
Holy goodness, Ryan Arcidiacono has been in Philly for a long time! For the 21-year-old senior guard’s last hurrah as a Wildcat, he’s chaperoning a well-balanced team of defensive studs (Daniel Ochefu) and dynamic scorers (Josh Hart) that should go a long way in the Big Dance.
(Almost) Elite Eight
There was an ugly stretch in early January when the Cavaliers lost three of four and seemed completely lost. Criminally underrated coach Tony Bennett didn’t panic; he simply recalibrated the GPS (i.e. team leader Malcolm Brogdon) and got his gritty UVA team (5-2 in February) going in the right direction again.
In the uproarious Cintas Center, this team is like the Golden State Warriors—Trevon Bluiett has moments where he’s Klay Thompson-esque from behind the arc; Miles Davis in space brings out the Steph Curry-like tricks with the ball. Too bad the tournament doesn’t take place in Cincinnati.
Through February, all-world Buddy Hield had nine games where he scored over 30 points. The only problem is that one-on-five scenarios don’t usually turn out that well. For the Sooners to have a real shot, senior guard Isaiah Cousins can’t have any more 3-for-13 nights.
The sensational Tyler Ulis may be 5 feet, 9 inches standing on crutches, but the kid always steps up in the biggest moments. Against ranked teams this season, he’s averaging 21.6 points and 7.3 assists. If Jamal Murray steps up, the Cats’ run won’t be a short one.
Georges Niang will leave the Cyclones as one of the school’s top all-time scorers and rebounders. But if he’s to add any postseason memories to that resume, he’s going to need fellow NBA prospect Abdel Nadar to live up to the preseason hype.
In Melo Trimble and Raul Sulaimon, the Terrapins have two guys who can easily score 50 combined points any game. And in the 250-pound behemoth of a freshman senior Diamond Stone, they have that imposing figure who can seal a game with a big board.
No, the Ducks didn’t come out of nowhere. Early-season wins against Baylor and Valparaiso prove as much. Oregon forward Elgin Cook didn’t just miraculously start playing last month either; it simply took a little while for all of his offensive ingredients to come together.
Physical and scrappy, these Aggies are far from the prettiest team in the tourney field. But whatever this Danuel House-led team lacks in aesthetics it more than makes up for in hustle and pass-happiness (ninth in the NCAA in assists).
Don’t Believe The Hype
Miami, Iowa, Indiana and Arizona
Valparaiso, Chattanooga, Marquette and Arkansas-Little Rock