Top College Teams on the Eve of March Madness

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For those people who don’t know much about college basketball but still get caught up in the excitement that is March Madness, this article is for you. Below are power rankings of college basketball’s top ten teams in America, which can help you work through your brackets.

 

1. Florida: Ranked number one this week is an experienced Florida basketball team. Seniors Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather will be key if they can have a strong finish toward the end of their season and a deep tournament run. Florida is considered by many to be the best team in the nation because their only two losses of the season have come from away defeats to Wisconsin and Connecticut (two top twenty five teams at the time). I’m slightly hesitant to pick them to make a run in the tournament because their conference schedule up to this point has not been as strong as, say, Syracuse. The SEC, besides Kentucky and Missouri, is actually quite bad. This means that more than half of Florida’s schedule is filled with a set of very mediocre teams. Lately, Florida had a strong showing against the then fourteenth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, beating them by ten in Kentucky, and at Vanderbilt this week.

 

2. Wichita State: At the second spot lay the Wichita State Shockers. They are a very exciting team that is undefeated so far this season, and should go without a loss for the rest of the season. If a tournament seed was solely based on record, they would be a no-brainer for a one seed, but that’s not the case. The Shockers are in the Missouri Valley Conference. That means that the majority of their schedule consists of very bad teams. Many, including myself, believe that they haven’t been tested enough to determine how good of a team they really are, but here is why I would give them the first seed regardless. They have the same core of players (Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early, and Fred Vanvleet) as their Final Four squad in last year’s march madness. Also, they have the experience in a tournament setting and have proven that they can be successful.

 

3. Virginia: The Cavaliers are a team that has seemed to hit their stride. The regular season ACC conference champions have won thirteen conference matchups in a row. After losing three games against top twenty five teams, Virginia now has a two-game win streak against the (at the time) fourth-ranked Syracuse and eighteenth-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers. The Cavs are led by leading scorers Malcolm Brogdon, averaging 12.6 points per game, and senior guard Joe Harris, who shoots an astounding 41% from behind the three-point line. The most impressive victory for Virginia is the aforementioned game against Pittsburgh. This game was at a brutally hostile Peterson Events Center, Pitt’s home court, that ended with a buzzer-beater three shot by Malcolm Brogdan. This silenced the crowd, and gave the Cavaliers a 48-45 victory. With a strong showing in the ACC tournament, Virginia could not be seeded lower than the two seed for the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year.

 

4. Arizona: Arizona takes up spot number four in the rankings, but, quite possibly, not for long. They have lost two of their last six games to very average teams in Cal and Arizona State. This is due largely to their loss of sophomore guard Brandon Ashley. This former starter averaged 11.5 points per game while also totaling about 6 rebounds a game. Without Ashley, this team isn’t as intimidating to opponents as it was before. Atop the PAC12, they are still a good team, and could make a run in the tournament, but they would need a lot of help from leading scorer Nick Johnson and the freshman sensation Aaron Gordon. Most recently, an overtime win at Utah and a seventeen-point victory at Colorado have given them a nice series of wins to help them get back on track.

 

5. Villanova: This week, fifth in the power rankings are the Wildcats of Villanova. Villanova, other than wins against second-ranked Kansas and a good Iowa team, doesn’t have a lot of exceptional victories. They have won the BIG EAST games they were expected to win, but haven’t achieved a win recently that proves that they still have what it takes to be a top ten team. This team relies heavily on junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston and senior guard James Bell. Together, the experienced duo gives the wildcats about thirty-one points per game. Villanova, although lacking a plethora of outstanding wins, does have quality losses. Their three losses have come at the hands of Syracuse and Creighton (they lost twice to Creighton). These teams are both in my top ten, and they possess much talent. With all of this said, I wouldn’t have Villanova going too far in my bracket only, as they have not proven that they are capable of doing so. At a probable two or three seed, I have the Wildcats going no further than the Sweet Sixteen.

 

6. Duke: Next lies Duke in the sixth spot. This is a team that is undoubtedly very good, but they are not quite in that upper echelon of elite college basketball teams because they hold a record of 3-3 against the top twenty five teams. Those three victories also were at home for the Blue Devils, which gives more hesitation, for me, to believe that they could make a postseason run. There are no home games during the tournament, so they would not be gaining any advantage from the Cameron Crazies. One person that could give the Blue Devils a lift above other teams late in the season is freshman star Jabari Parker. Parker, averaging 19.2 points per game, is a game changer. With him on the court, in addition to Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook, Duke has a very good chance to win on any given night. Even though the Blue Devils lost to a poor Wake Forest team last week, they did beat North Carolina decisively at home, largely due to the thirty point game of Jabari Parker.

 

7. Michigan: The Wolverines are a legit team. The 2014 regular season BIG10 champions have proven themselves with a good record against a brutal schedule. Michigan is 23-7, 15-3 in the BIG10, and 5-4 against top twenty five opponents. This team, although young (starting one senior, a freshman, and three sophomores), is very experienced because of the long tournament run last season, where they lost in the championship game against Louisville. Michigan’s season this year is also impressive because they lost their best two players from last year to the NBA draft. The Wolverines are lead by a trio of sophomores: Caris Levert, Nik Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III. Each of these players contributes a different skill that benefits the team greatly. Stauskas is a deadly shooter from behind the three-point line who can pass just as well, Levert plays lockdown defense and is one of the best one-on-one players in the BIG10, and Robinson brings great athleticism, which often ends in exciting the crowd in one way or another. The Wolverines are a balanced squad that is now playing for a one seed in the NCAA tournament.

 

8. Wisconsin: Wisconsin has had a rollercoaster of a year. At the beginning of the season Wisconsin looked to be a favorite for the BIG10 championship. Then, when conference play started, this team suddenly seemed very mediocre. Now, because of their streaky shooting, the Badgers are hot again. Wisconsin is on a six-game win streak in the BIG-10, with quality wins coming against 15th-ranked Iowa, 15th-ranked Michigan, and at home against a 9th-ranked Michigan State squad. This success is largely due to the play of junior forward Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky can do it all. He can shoot from behind the three-point line, from mid-range, and from close. Leading the team in rebounds at 6.4 per game, Kaminsky is vital for the team to have a scorer to balance out their barrage of three point shooters. Wisconsin, a projected two seed in the tournament, could raise their rank with a strong showing in the BIG-10 tournament.

 

9. Kansas: My ninth spot this week is held by the Jayhawks. Kansas has the potential to be a very dangerous team. With two potential top five NBA draft picks on the roster (Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins), Kansas is one of the most exciting teams to watch in the nation. Kansas is also one of the youngest teams in the nation. They start three freshmen in Embiid, Wiggins, and Selden Jr., a sophomore forward in Perry Ellis, and junior point guard, Naadir Tharpe. Another reason why Kansas could make a deep tournament run is because they dwell in the nation’s best basketball conference this year. The BIG12 is filled with quality teams. Seven out of their ten teams have been ranked at some point in the season. This means that Kansas has had plenty of experience playing plenty of good teams in hostile environments. The Jayhawks are 7-3, an exceptional record, when they face ranked opponents. If Andrew Wiggins, averaging 16.4 points per game, and Joel Embiid, team leader in blocks and rebounds per game, get hot, this team has the potential to be unstoppable come tournament time.

 

10. Syracuse: Ranked number two in the nation through week sixteen is none other than Coach Boeheim’s exciting team from upstate New York. Unless something crazy happens, Syracuse is almost a sure-fire one seed. They have a suffocating zone defense and can score in a variety of ways. Freshman Tyler Ennis and senior forward C.J Fair are only two of many players who can make a difference on the floor on any given day. Key wins include an away victory over Pittsburgh and a home nail-biter against new ACC rival Duke. Syracuse, last week, had a very tough week, losing two ACC games at Duke and home against a bad Boston College team who is far below .500. This week, another loss at home against Georgia Tech, has them free-falling down the power rankings. They, now, have lost three out of their last five games and could be seeded at the three or four spot in the tournament.

Teams that just missed the cut: Louisville, San Diego State, Iowa State

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