March Madness is almost here

Christopher Bean, Assistant Sports Editor

It’s Feb. 27, and that means we’re two days away from the greatest month of the year: March. Not only does winter end, but we get to witness the greatest three weeks of the year: March Madness, the perfect name for it. When you think you’ve seen it all, madness happens right in front of your very eyes. Whether it’s from buzzer beaters to upsets, no one can predict what happens next. Last year was the first time in tournament history a 16 seed beat a one seed. No one will forget when UMBC beat Virgina by 20 to make the impossible happen. Even though it busted a lot of people’s brackets, that upset was so fascinating to watch, and goes to show you what March is all about. Let’s take a look at how March may turn out this year.

If you’re one of those people that wait to watch college basketball until March, or just don’t watch it at all, I’m willing to beat you’ve all heard of the phenomenal Zion Willamson. Williamson is the freshman star from Duke, and is surrounded by three other talented freshmen, arguably making the Blue Devils the team to beat this year. RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish join Zion as elite freshmen. All three are projected to be drafted in the top four spots of the draft along with Murray State star Ja Morant. Point guard Tre Jones is the other freshman who completes Duke’s roster. Jones is the best defender on the team, and makes sure Duke’s offense is flowing nicely on every possession. Duke is currently no. three in the nation. They suffered their third loss of the year last week to rival North Carolina, 88-72. Just over 30 seconds into the game, Willamson completely tore his shoe in half and suffered a minor injury. He missed his second game in-a-row last night against Virgina Tech. He is day-to-day and will be back soon. When the Blue Devils are at full strength, they are almost impossible to beat, and look to add yet another title to their University.

Staying in the ACC is no. two Virgina. The Cavaliers are 24-2 with both of their losses coming from Duke. Outside of that, they have been perfect and led by their suffocating defense. The Cavs are led by juniors Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. Both fit Tony Bennett’s system well and can shoot the lights out at any point in a game. Completing their roster is arguably the best two-way player in college basketball: sophomore De’Andre Hunter. Hunter is averaging 15.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game in his first year starting. Bennett has completely changed the culture of Virgina when he was hired right after the 2009 season. However, they have never been to the Final Four, and this team has a lot to prove after they lost in the first round to UMBC last year.

North Carolina completes the three-way tie at the top of the ACC. The Tar Heels are 22-5 and fifth in the nation. Roy Williams team is led by senior Luke Maye, who is averaging 15.2 points and 9.9 rebounds a game. Freshmen Cobe White and Nassir Little complete UNC’s roster. Little is a projected lottery pick but comes off the bench, just showing you how deep this roster is. The Tar Heels had a rough start to the year because of their difficult schedule, but are heating up at the right time of the year.

Shifting gears to the Big 10, they currently have six teams in the top 25, which is the most out of any conference beating out the ACC’s five. They are led by instate rivals Michigan State and Michigan. Both teams faced off on Sunday in a back and forth battle, but MSU held Michigan to only nine points in just under a 15-minute span, pulling away with a 77-70 win and now leads them by one game in conference play. Michigan State lost junior guard Josh Langford for the year who was averaging 16 points a game, and junior center Nick Ward Jr. is out indefinitely with a fractured hand. But this hasn’t slowed down the Spartans who are led by junior point guard and arguably Big Ten Player of the Year, Cassius Winston. Winston averages 19.2 points and 7.4 assists a game. MSU has been eliminated in the first weekend three years in-a-row, and this team looks to ride their big win on Sunday into the postseason. Michigan is 24-4 and have consistently one of the best defensive teams the whole year. The runner ups from last year seem to be getting better even though they lost three pieces from last year’s team. Freshman Ignas Brazdeikis has been very impressive, averaging 14.4 points a game. Even though the defense has been consistent, at times the offense has disappeared. If they can be consistent on both ends, there is no doubt they can get back to the title game.

The Big East has a two headed monster in Marquette and Villanova. Marquette is led by point guard Markus Howard who averages 25.3 points a game. The Golden Eagles are currently 10th in the country with 23-4 record. Villanova has taken a bit of a step back with a 20-8 record and currently on a three-game losing streak, but don’t count out the defending champs come tournament time.

The SEC is also a two headed race, led by Kentucky and Tennessee. Two weeks ago, Kentucky demolished the Volunteers who were no. 1 at the time. For Kentucky, it was their most complete game of the year, and just like UNC, the Wildcats are staring to perform at the level we see every year from John Calipari’s team. Before Tennessee lost to Kentucky, they were the best team in the country for a month in-a-row. Head coach Rick Barnes has changed the identity of Tennessee, who plays with a lot of tempo and physicality. It helps when you have two monsters in your backcourt in senior Admiral Schofield and defending SEC player of the Year Grant Williams. They average 35.9 points a game. Together they look to power the Volunteers to a long run in March.

Big 12 is very interesting right now because Kansas does not lead the conference, their rival Kansas State has a one game lead over them. Kansas did help themselves out after dominating the Wildcats 64-49 on Monday night, but will most likely need to win out and have Kansas lose at least one more game to continue their streak of winning the Big 12 which will be 15 years in-a-row. Texas Tech is also in the race with a 10-4 record in conference play and dismantled the Jayhawks on Saturday, 91-62. Neither one of these teams are inside of the top ten, but all three of these teams were in the Elite 8 last year and know how to make a run.

There are two teams that are not in the power five conference: Gonzaga and Houston. The Zags moved into the no. 1 spot this week and are 27-2. The are led by Rui Hachimura, Josh Perkins and Brandon Clarke. They went to the title game two years ago, and Mark Few’s team may be in for the long run again. Houston on the other hand has the fewest loses this year, and lost in heartbreaking fashion last to at the buzzer to Michigan. If it wasn’t for that, the Cougars could have easily been in the title game. Kelvin Sampson’s team is poised to the long run.

Last but certainly not least we have potential under dogs. Now it’s hard to say what double digit team will make a deep run, like Loyola-Chicago did last year, but two teams to look out for areSouth Dakota State and Murray State. SDSU is led by Mike Daum who is the 10th highest scorer in NCAA history, and scored his 3,000th point on Saturday. The Jack Rabbits are 23-7 and looking to make a deep run after losing in the first round three years in-a-row. I talked a little bit about Murray State before because they have a guy name Ja Morant. He is projected to be a top three pick in this year’s draft and reminds me a lot of Russell Westbrook. The Racers are 23-4 and have seven in-a-row. If they make the field of 68, this is another sneaky team to look out for because of the talent Morant possess.

March is almost here and that means madness is upon us. Sit back, relax and enjoy the entertainment because I guarantee you will see something you’ve never seen before.