For the past decade, there’s been a handful of basketball programs that have been sure shots for your bracket all the way to the Final 4. There was the two-time defending champs Florida Gators, Mario Chalmers and the Jayhawks of Kansas, Anthony Davis’s Kentucky Wildcats, and last year’s Duke Starting 5.
These teams were dominant on both sides of the ball, spear-headed by future lottery picks. That 2012 Kentucky Wildcats team, in fact, is in the top 10 of best college teams of all time. All of these championship teams, for various reasons, had their own identity. They brought out the hate and the adulation from all. They embodied what March Madness is all about.
This year’s tournament lacks any of that shine. I couldn’t figure out what was missing until watching some of the conference tourneys over the weekend.
There is no dominant college basketball team this year.
The top 25 rankings changed often, with teams in the top 5 sometimes all losing in the same week. Duke was out of the top 25 for a brief stint. That should have made a lot of people happy except it’s not fun to hate Duke when they’re actually playing badly.
Bracketology is a science. ESPN dedicates an entire day of the week to it. However, this has become a season when picking a winner has little to do with statistics or home court advantage or even lineups. You could flip a coin or pick your favorite uniforms or use any other asinine method or probably be correct more than someone who pours over basketball analysis for a living.
While there aren’t any teams fighting to make the history books, there are a few players who caught my eye:
The Oregon Ducks are known for the Nike uniforms donned by their elite football team. Its basketball program, however, quietly climbed the top 25 rankings. The Pac-12 has been more misses than hits recently. The last Pac-12 team to reach the Final 4 was UCLA–a roster that featured Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook. Dorsey is no Westbrook, but he’s certainly a bright spot on this underrated team. Shooting 45% on the season, Dorsey is doing much of his damage from behind the arc. With Oregon earning a #1 seed after beating Utah, March will be Dorsey’s coming out show.
Villanova was upset by Seton Hall in the Big East championship game. The Big East is like the NFC South so losing doesn’t necessarily guarantee doom. Villanova is about as exciting as a Adam Sandler movie, though. Despite that, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching junior Josh Hart. As a combo, he’s able to do a little bit of everything well for the Wildcats. He’s an impressive rebounder to be a guard. He reminds me a lot of George Hill. Should Villanova not make it to the sweet 16, it won’t be because Hart didn’t step up.
What a difference a year makes for Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon! Last year, he shared the scoring responsibilities with Justin Anderson. The offense now goes through Brogdon. The senior guard has put the team on his back offensively, making a lot of big shots from downtown. However, he can be contained. Carolina’s Marcus Paige shadowed Brogdon in the ACC championship game where Brogdon went 6-22. So Virginia’s best shot at going deep in the tournament is Anthony Gill. Playing 28 mpg, Gill is a quiet presence on the floor. He’s most proficient when he’s rolling to the cup. The Cavaliers are going to need to use him to penetrate if Brogdon is off to a slow start.
The last HBCU team to shake up the tournament was Norfolk State when they upset Memphis, anchored by Kyle O’Quinn (who is now a Knick). This time last season, the Hampton Pirates went into the team of 68 with a losing record. This year, they’re coming off of a MEAC championship. Quinton Chievous could give the stout Virginia defense a problem because he’s a big guard who plays above the rim. He’s averaging a double-double this season with 11 boards. At 6’6, I expect Chievous to be on Brogdon. And you saw what 6’1 Marcus Paige did. This will be a game that’ll test Virginia early as well as give another HBCU the opportunity to shine.
I left off the obvious names because you’re going to be watching them anyway. March is the time when players can make history for themselves and their programs. There are some seniors who need to make their last push at maximizing draft stock. And of course, there’s the upsets. No matter the case, don’t over-think your picks.