Photo Credit: Along the Boards
Kansas currently is the #1 ranked team in the country and is undefeated despite playing the last couple of games without one of their best players- Udoka Azubuike. My favorite part about this year’s Jayhawk team is that they aren’t reliant on one player. The last couple of seasons they have relied on the bulk of their scoring coming from one star player. Two years ago it was Frank Mason III who as the Naismith Player of the Year- carried this team to the Elite Eight but lost to Oregon after scoring only 60 points that night. Last year (to a much lesser extent than 2016-17) the Jayhawks relied on Devonte Graham. This team managed to make the Final Four before being blown out by Villanova. This year, the Jayhawks have four different players (D. Lawson, Vick, Azubuike, and Grimes) who have all scored 20+ points in a game, and Devon Dotson who has scored 16+ three different times. When the NCAA tournament comes, the Jayhawks should be able to make a deep run because of the scoring depth they have. Often times, bracket-busting upsets come when a team relies heavily on a one-star player and that player has a bad game. Jayhawks fans shouldn’t worry about this because they have five different guys who can score big numbers on any given night. For this reason, Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks are currently my safest bet to make the Final Four.
My second pick to make the Final Four might come as a surprise to some as they are currently on a two-game losing streak since they won the Maui Invitational. Sure Gonzaga has struggled against Tennessee, UNC, and Washington, but they did have a great showing during neutral site games against Illinois, Arizona, and Duke. But aside from their current resume, I like Gonzaga because (similar to Kansas), they have great scoring depth. Josh Perkins, Rui Hachimura, and Zach Norvell Jr. are one of the best trios in the country right now, and each of them can put up 20+ points on any given night. In addition to this, Gonzaga has been playing all year without one of their best players in Killian Tillie. Tillie is a 6’10” big man who shot 48% from beyond the arc last season and is set to start his third season with Gonzaga sometime in January. Once Tillie is back he will take this team from a big three to a big four. This team will give opponents nightmares in March with their ability to score points in an assortment of ways, especially with the three ball. Gonzaga has an easy conference schedule so they might go into March without a lot of experience versus tough teams, but their outstanding roster under Mark Few should be able to take them deep into the tournament.
Duke Blue Devils:
ESPN’s golden boys have had a successful year so far. Everyone knows they currently boast having the 2018 #1, #2, #3, and #17 recruits playing on their roster, but they also have gotten some needed depth out of players like Jack White, Marques Bolden, and Javin DeLaurier. With the insane talent they have on their roster, they are currently the favorite to win the national championship with the odds at +230. The one concern most experts have with Duke is the decision they have to make with who is going to take last second shots in tight games. In Duke’s loss to Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational Championship, R.J. Barrett took the last five shots for Duke and missed every single one of them. Luckily for Duke, they will likely have a few more opportunities in ACC play for them to work this issue out before March. It would not be a surprise to anyone to see Coach K take his incredible roster to Minneapolis for the 2019 Final Four.
This final pick was a tough one, but because of the Volunteers’ incredible duo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, I had to pick them. Williams is the reigning SEC player of the year and is certainly going to be in the running to win it again this year. One of his toughest opponents for this award will be his own teammate- Admiral Schofield. Below is a stat comparison of the two so far this season.
Grant Williams: 19.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.6 BPG, .8 SPG, 57% FG, 47% 3P, 80% FT
Admiral Schofield: 19.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, .3 BPG, .8 SPG, 49% FG, 43% 3P, 71% FT
Both of them have been incredible this season and should give Tennessee a good chance to make a national championship run this year. The biggest concern about Tennessee is their scoring beyond these two players. They will need players like Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner, and Kyle Alexander to step up in March if they want a shot at making the first Final Four in Tennessee Men’s Basketball history.
Auburn Tigers: The Tigers have an outstanding backcourt in Jared Harper and Bryce Brown, and have a lot of good depth beyond them. Don’t be surprised if Auburn sticks around late in the tournament.
Michigan Wolverines: Despite losing Mo Wagner to the NBA, the Wolverines are off to an 11-0 start and could make back to back Final Four appearances with John Beilein.
North Carolina Tar Heels: UNC has had a rocky start to their season, but they have an extremely talented and deep roster and could very well make some noise in ACC play and beyond.