The best time of the sports year has finally come. On March 19, 68 division I college basketball teams will come together for one of the most fun, crazy and unscripted tournaments in all of sports that has rightfully earned the nickname, “March Madness.” A lot has changed since we last looked at the top teams in contention for the title, with a lot of new faces rising through the ranks. Let’s take a look at the new top-three teams in the nation and see which school has the best shot to cut down the nets this year.
Earning their first No. 1 ranking of the season recently, the Bulldogs have been outstanding all year sitting at 29-2 on top of the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga’s only two losses came to top ranked Tennessee and North Carolina in back-to-back games, while also earning an impressive win over Duke earlier in the year.
The main concern with Gonzaga is the toughness of their schedule. Going 1-2 against top-ranked teams with an easy conference schedule does not bode well come tournament time, as the Bulldogs went undefeated in the WCC by outscoring opponents 86.2 to 59.2. Gonzaga will need to realize early in the tournament that they will have to keep pushing the pace like they did against their conference foes if they want to remain successful.
One of the most complete teams in the nation, there’s no doubt the Bulldogs will make a run in March. Gonzaga could also get Killian Tillie back this season, a versatile big man that has dealt with injury for most of the season, but could add an extra dimension to the Bulldogs play. Gonzaga only has their conference tournament left to play, as they look to sweep their way through much like they did in the regular season.
Remaining as one of the top ranked teams since our last analysis of the college basketball field, Virginia has continued its historic season with impressive wins over top ranked North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Louisville to move to 27-2 on the year. With the Cavaliers last game of the regular season remaining at home against Louisville, Virginia’s only losses on the season have been at the hands of Duke.
Much like it has all season, Virginia’s defense has been on fire, not allowing opponents to reach more than 60 points in their last six games. Only three times have the Cavalier’s allowed more than 70; twice in their losses to Duke, and in a win in the first month of the season against top ranked Maryland. As the tournament approaches, it will interesting to see if Virginia can hold impressive offensive teams like Gonzaga and Tennessee or if they will falter like in their games against the Blue Devils.
The Cavalier’s are certainly playing their best basketball of the season right now, most recently coming off one of the most impressive second-half performances of the year on the road against Syracuse. Virginia outscored the Orange by 28 points, and made 10 of 13 threes during a stretch in the half. Over the past three games, the Cavalier’s are also shooting 62.1 percent from behind the 3-point line. This defensive-minded team certainly has some offense, and will give a lot of teams trouble on both sides of the ball come tournament time.
Sneaking their way into the top-three rankings recently, the Tar Heels have also been playing some of their best basketball down the stretch, earning wins on the road against Duke and at home against Florida State and Syracuse. North Carolina currently sits at 25-5 on the year, with their only losses against non top-ranked teams coming from Texas and Louisville while also losing to ranked Michigan, Kentucky and Virginia.
A big key to the Tar Heels success has been the production from their bigs, who combined for 70 points and 30 rebounds in the win against Duke. Luke Maye also dropped 17 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in North Carolina’s most recent win against Boston College, putting the Tar Heels one win away from a share of the ACC regular-season title.
North Carolina’s last game of the regular season is a rematch against Duke on senior night at home. It should be a game for the ages, as Duke has struggled without Zion Williamson but is ever so desperate for a win against a top-tier opponent.