Jacked Up Sports
By Jack Reyering, Columnist
As college basketball conference tournaments wrap up Sunday, some teams are locked, vying for top seeds in the NCAA tourney. Others need strong showings in their conference tourneys to keep their bubbles from bursting.
During a season in which much of the media declared there were no great teams, those who will reach the Final Four is anyone’s guess.
While there may be no elite teams, there are certainly many great teams. The parity of this season undoubtedly demonstrates that. It might not be in sports writers’ best interest to declare a tournament winner because they will more than likely be wrong and look like a fool.
But, let’s do it anyway.
The following three teams are most likely to win it all. They might not be the best teams. They might not have the best records or come from the strongest conference. But they have what it takes to go deep in March and win the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan State has the best player in the country in guard Denzel Valentine. He might not win player of the year because Buddy Hield has a higher scoring average (25.1 points per game for Hield versus 19.6 for Valentine) and he plays in a tougher conference, but Valentine is a more well-rounded player. He makes his entire team better. To top it off, he’s a senior.
Last year may have been the year of the freshman, but 2016 is the year of the senior, and Michigan State has three great ones. Their top three scorers and minute players are Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello — all seniors. Factor in having one of
the top three coaches in the country in Tom Izzo and their ability year in and year out to make the Final Four (three in the past seven seasons), and Michigan State looks poised to win its first title since 2000.
Kansas is ranked No. 1 right now for a reason. It’s probably the best team in the country. KU shares the best record with Villanova. With an RPI ranking of 1 and only one loss to a team outside the top 100 in RPI, the analytics certainly support this claim. The Jayhawks are the top team from the top conference at the top of almost every poll. It would be foolish to count them out.
The NCAA tournament is all about coaching, and KU coach Bill Self knows what it takes to win in March. His team is well-rounded. Senior (citizen) Perry Ellis leads the team, but the Jayhawks have contributors from every class. Ten players on the roster average more than 8.2 minutes, which is a valuable asset when it comes to tournament-style basketball and playing games back-to-back.
Xavier has been overlooked by many analysts as a legitimate threat to win the title. The Big East is the fourth best conference, and the Musketeers are only the second best team within that conference. But looking up and down at Xavier shows they are the built with the exact specifications to win the tournament in a strange year like this.
Like Kansas, Xavier gets contributions from every class. XU is lead by seniors, but everyone who steps on the court contributes something to the game. They spread the wealth better than almost anyone, with six players averaging at least 9.5 points per game.
Like Kansas and Michigan State, Xavier is lead by a brilliant coach and has traditionally performed well in March, reaching the Sweet Sixteen five times in the past eight years. This is Chris Mack’s best team by far and it could be the first time he breaks through to the Final Four and beyond.
There are a myriad of teams who could crush these predictions. The path to the national championship is a long and grueling one, and winning the tournament means drawing good matchups. Any of these three teams could win it all, but they could just as easily lose in the second round. That’s why we love the tournament, and it could be why these predictions look foolish two weeks from now.
We’ll just have to see.