Here Comes the Madness: Who makes it to the Final Four in Minneapolis
The calendar has hit the middle of March and sports fans know what that means. It’s that time of year where people are glued to their televisions or some streaming service while at work, school, or on the road.
Brackets are forming and busting, hearts are racing, and a chance for one of two spots in the national championship is up for grabs. Yes, it’s March Madness time!
March Madness didn’t acquire its name for no reason. It’s a long and intense road to the national championship and nobody is to be overlooked, even a 16 seed as the University of Virginia found out last year.
Sixty-four teams make the tournament, but only four can make it to Minneapolis to compete for rights to the national champion honor.
As the games are underway and the bracket watch is in full force, here are some teams that you can feel confident in, if you selected them, to make a run at the Final Four in a few weeks.
Duke Blue Devils
The Blue Devils of Duke University have been a topic of constant national discussion, not only for the NCAA but for the NBA as well.
They have had another excellent season as one of college basketball’s top teams under the guidance of head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
After finishing the regular season with a 29-5 overall record, they became the 2018-19 ACC Tournament champs and are now entering the NCAA tournament as a 1 seed poised for a deep run that begins with 16 seed North Dakota St.
As one of the most efficient basketball programs on either side of the ball, Duke is a force to reckon with in the tournament. In the offensive realm, they average 83.5 points per game and shoot 47.7% and 30.2% on field goals and 3-point field goals respectively.
They know how to look for the open man with almost 16 assists per game and they crash the boards at will as their athleticism gets them around 41 per game. Defensively, the team has a knack for forcing turnovers on stolen passes and players like Zion Williamson help protect the rim as they average 6.8 blocks per game.
Duke is a perennial NCAA tournament team not only for their team play but for their numerous sources of individual talent which power them year after year. For this year, the spotlight shines brightly on the shoulders of three guys: guard Tre Jones, forward RJ Barrett, and forward Zion Williamson.
The latter, a gigantic freshmen phenom, is Duke’s workhorse on the glass and in the paint and has three NBA teams in the Knicks, Suns, and Cavaliers drooling over the possibility of selecting him with the No. 1 pick.
Tre Jones, brother of NBA guard Tyus Jones, and RJ Barrett are two of Duke’s biggest scorers and the two keep the pace of the game steady and force the fast break.
The Duke Blue Devils can certainly make it to the Final Four and for all the right reasons. Health won’t be an issue as all of Duke’s starters have played in most of the team’s games and losses are rare when Zion Williamson is on the court.
If there’s one fear to have for Duke, it’s their youth and their ability to trade talent for lack of vets and NCAA experience.
Be on the lookout for Zion and the Blue Devils to make a deep run and for Coach K to add more to his resume.
The Bulldogs of Gonzaga University are probably the top team to watch in this year’s tournament outside of the defending champs of Villanova.
Making the NCAA Tournament every year for the last twenty years with a few Elite 8 and Final Four appearances and three 1 seeds over the last six years, this team just keeps getting better under head coach Mark Few.
Two years removed from that defeat in the national championship as a one seed, they’re ready to prove that they can make a run for the title.
Gonzaga has one of the most amazing stat lines of any team heading into the tournament and in some categories they blow Duke out of the water. As a team, they average a whopping 88.8 points per game and their opponents in comparison average 49.0.
Their offensive efficiency is much better than Duke’s as they make over 50% of their field goal attempts and they rebound a lot to provide second chance opportunities. One of their team leaders, forward Rui Hachimura, leads all scorers with 20.1 and is second to Brandon Clarke in field goal percentage with 60.7%.
Defensively, Gonzaga’s numbers are just as admirable. They thrive at protecting the rim and making plays with their defense, racking up 7.6 steals per game and blocking 5.5 shots per game.
Their 49.0 average points against is one of the best in college basketball and that is thanks to guys like Brandon Clarke and guard Josh Perkins.
Gonzaga has dabbled with a few upsets here and there in recent years, but they are just as powerful as anybody in the bracket.
It may be daring, but it’s very possible that Gonzaga will win it all. Their region of the bracket is very favorable with the only other notables being the 2 seed Michigan and 4 seed Florida State.
The Bulldogs began the tournament with a matchup against 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson in which they won 87-49.
In last year’s tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers came in as a highly anticipated 1 seed and made history, however, it was a history they wish they could forget about.
After finishing the season with a 31-3 record and having one of the top defenses in the NCAA, they faced the 16 seeded UMBC Retrievers in the Round of 64 and were defeating 74-54. The loss marked a complete upset and the first time in NCAA tournament history that a 1 seed lost to a 16 seed.
The loss was a national story for some time and lingered over the Virginia players’ minds as they watched the Retrievers move on and their favorable chances at the national championship disappear.
Fast forward to this year’s tournament, and the Virginia Cavaliers are back in the same position as the previous, but this time with the memories of UMBC still glued to their brains and the need to just win the first round to prove to themselves that they are a good basketball team and can move on.
The defense is once again limiting teams to the middle 50’s in points and the offensive duo of guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome return along with a few other additions to average 71.8 points per game.
Guard Braxton Key comes over from the University of Alabama as a junior and provides efficient numbers in the rebounding category as he stands at 6’8”.
Virginia has all the right pieces that make a good basketball team and make them capable of a Final Four appearance if not a championship appearance as well.
They do have some competitors in the South region like 2 seed Tennessee and 6 seed and defending champ Villanova, but they can pull out of that region if they play consistently. The key for their success is getting past UMBC and returning to classic Virginia basketball in the NCAA tournament.
The Cavaliers were victorious in the first round with a 71-56 win over the 16 seed Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs after a sloppy start to the first half which made everyone ask, “Is this happening again?”.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The North Carolina Tar Heels are back in the NCAA for the eighth straight time since 2011 and the fifteenth team under the guidance of head coach Roy Williams who’s serving in his 16th season as head coach of the Tar Heels.
Since 2009, they’ve made the Elite 8 five times, the Final Four three times, and the national championship 2 times with a victory in 2017. With each passing year, it seems like nothing is changing with this team success wise.
They enter the 2019 tournament as a 1 seed in the Midwest region and a top favorite for the Final Four and national championship.
Roy Williams’s Tar Heels have the second most efficient offense in the tournament as their average points per game stands out 86.1 and they shoot 46% for field goals. The only team better than that offensively is Gonzaga.
Additionally, North Carolina can outrebound the best of them in that category as they average over 43 boards a game which helps them limit teams to close to 70 points per game. A chunk of these rebounds come from senior forward Luke Maye who averages 18.5 rebounds per game on both sides of the ball combined while scoring 14.8 per game as well.
For games that are close down the stretch, North Carolina has the ability to get to the free throw line and make their free throws under pressure to ice a game.
Their free throw percentage sits in the mid 70’s and they have a few guys that they rely on to sink those critical shots. One of them is senior guard Cameron Johnson who holds an 81.0% free throw percentage while averaging 17 points a game and shooting 51% on field goals.
If North Carolina has one predicament that can worry fans and those who selected them to go far in the tournament, it’s their tendency to start slow offensively at times.
The Tar Heels have had games where they’ve started off cold on offense and have had to make runs to get back into games and take the lead.
If this team can control the tempo of a game from the beginning and play efficient basketball, they are a team nobody wants to face on the path to the Final Four.
The Tar Heels began the tournament in this fashion before turning it around and upending the 16 seed Iona Gaels 88-73 and now advance to take on the 9 seed Washington Huskies.
Based on the games completed thus far, this year's March Madness is shaping up to be another thrilling and heart-wrenching one. There very well could be a surprise team in the Final Four, but don't be too shocked if these four teams make it to Minneapolis.