With only three days left until the NCAA Tournament brackets are announced, March Madness is in full form. Many conference tournament titles are yet to be won, so this weekend will prove to be a survival of the fittest for programs that may lie on the bubble.
Although the tournament field is not set in stone, the top seeds have been all but selected. Remarkable seasons from teams like Villanova, Virginia and Duke have put them in great position to sit atop the bracket, while teams like Kentucky will have to prove themselves in conference tournament play this weekend.
Potential No. 1 seeds:
The Virginia Cavaliers are coming off an impressive 28-2 season that included an ACC regular-season title and a unanimous No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll that should translate to the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance. With wins against North Carolina, Clemson and Duke, the Cavaliers currently sit first in the nation in strength of record, and they have proven they are the best team in the nation. Head coach Tony Bennett will look to carry a strong defense deep into March for a trip to San Antonio.
After spending five weeks at No. 1, Villanova was able to bounce back from a pair of conference losses and finish the season on a strong note. Despite not winning the Big East regular-season title for the first time since 2013, the Wildcats were able to sweep Xavier – winning by double digits in both matchups – and add wins against Gonzaga and Tennessee. Led by national player of the year candidate Jalen Brunson, the Wildcats have the ability to repeat history by winning the national title, as they did two years ago.
Big East regular-season champion Xavier proved itself to be ready for the big stage by finally dethroning Villanova for the regular-season conference title, despite suffering two losses to the Wildcats. Led by Trevon Bluiett, the Musketeers are just as dangerous as any team in the nation and are well-deserving of a No. 1 seed. With wins over Baylor and Cincinnati and season sweeps against Butler and Seton Hall, Xavier will look to carry its success into the Big East tournament and shoot for the Final Four.
Moving west, there is no team in the nation that is more accustomed to success than Kansas. After winning their record-setting, 14th straight regular-season title, the Jayhawks silenced any early-season doubt and proved that their chances for a national title are as alive as ever. What once seemed like a team that was struggling has turned into another powerhouse in Lawrence and a near-lock for a No. 1 seed. With key wins against Kentucky, TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech, the Jayhawks can secure their position with a run in the Big 12 Tournament and should be penciled in for a late-March run.
Potential No. 2 seeds:
Top to bottom, there has not been a team in the NCAA this year that has faced more adversity than Michigan State. After losing two of three in early January, the Spartans rolled into the Big Ten conference tournament with 13 straight wins before they fell to eventual champion and in-state rival Michigan. Led by star guard Miles Bridges, the Spartans knocked off North Carolina, Notre Dame and Purdue en route to a conference regular-season title. The Spartans’ weak No. 61 strength of schedule ranking is due in part to the lack of competition within Big Ten play and is the only thing holding Michigan State back from being a No. 1 seed.
Another high-profile team at the end of an up-and-down season is the Duke Blue Devils. Despite losses against St. John’s, Boston College and Virginia, the Blue Devils were able to gain some of the nation’s best wins against Michigan State, Florida, Clemson and North Carolina. Led by Marvin Bagley III and Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils have what most other teams lack: experience. This “we’ve been here before” mindset will make Duke as dangerous as it has been in years past. Coupling this experience with its 16th-ranked strength of schedule in its pocket, this team is destined for a Final Four run.
In the year following former star-player Caleb Swanigan’s graduation to the NBA, the Purdue Boilermakers surprised many with an impressive season. After early losses to Tennessee and Western Kentucky, the Boilermakers won 19 straight games that included wins against Arizona and Michigan. After a loss in the Big Ten championship, Purdue will be coming into the tournament with losses in four of their last nine games as it clings to the hope that it can right the ship in the field of 64.
Despite losing nine games this season, North Carolina is dangerous. With big wins against Tennessee, Ohio State, Clemson and Duke, the team currently has the No. 1 strength of schedule and No. 8 strength of record in the nation. The Tar Heels also hold 10 wins against FPI top-50 teams and only one loss to a team outside the top 50. The defending national champions proved that they can compete with anyone, and veterans Theo Pinson, Joel Berry II and Luke Maye will look to repeat last year’s dominant effort.
Considering the chaos that has ensued throughout the 2017-18 season, the NCAA basketball tournament has certainly earned the nickname “March Madness” this year. Teams like Butler, VCU and, most recently, South Carolina, proved that Cinderella stories can come out of nowhere. These eight teams that are destined for top seeds better watch their backs. It is March, and it is mad.