The NCAA tournament has ballooned in popularity over the years because of the upsets. but rarely does one of those lower-seeded Cinderellas or a team from a small conference actually cut down the nets. Who will have the honor April 7 in Arlington, Texas?. The Dagger identifies the seven teams that have the best shot of winning the national championship and three that don't.
1. Florida (No. 1 seed, South)
The Gators have won 26 consecutive games. They have been to the Elite Eight in each of the past three seasons. So don’t count on that winning streak weighing on them. This is an experienced group that loves playing together and for each other. Don’t get too excited if the Gators aren’t leading at halftime in one of their games in the tournament. During their perfect run through the SEC regular season and tournament, they were tied or trailed at halftime eight times and won. Florida is third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 57.9 points a game. Its only two losses came against ranked opponents on the road by a combined total of seven points.
2. Arizona (No. 1 seed, West)
The Wildcats have lost four games all season and two of them can be at least partially blamed on losing forward Brandon Ashley to a broken foot at Cal on Feb. 1. Once they regrouped and learned how to play without Ashley, they picked up where they left off. They’re coming off a loss in the Pac-12 title game to a very good UCLA team that some will overlook in their brackets. Here is something for all of you stat nerds to chew on. Arizona leads the nation in effective defensive efficiency, allowing just 86.9 points per 100 possessions.
3. Virginia (No. 1 seed, East)
If either Duke or North Carolina won the ACC regular season and tournament championships, they would be a favorite to cut down the nets. Virginia has those accomplishments, and some are still looking for reasons to doubt the Cavaliers. They like to muck it up and frustrate opponents with the pace of play. They generally get their way, which is why they are the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation.
4. Louisville (No. 4 seed, Midwest)
With apologies to Florida, no team enters the tournament playing better basketball than the defending champs. The Cardinals are fairly seeded and didn’t face much of a nonconference schedule, but they’re playing the kind of defense that led them to the title last season, and it’s tough to find a stronger combination of play-making guard, dominant big man and knockdown shooter than Russ Smith, Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock.
5. Michigan State (No. 4 seed, East)
Not many teams have a starting five worthy of comparison to the Spartans, who are back to playing like they did early in the season when they were a top-five team before a series of injuries. This team has all the ingredients, including a stellar big man in forward Adreian Payne and a great point guard in Keith Appling.
6. Michigan (No. 2 seed, Midwest)
The Wolverines were in the Final Four a year ago and understand what it takes to get there. They’re missing a dominant big man and don’t have the sensational play-making of Trey Burke, but they do have Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas. If they can win, perhaps, the toughest league in the nation, there is no reason they can’t win the national title.
7. Duke (No. 3 seed, Midwest)
Last time we checked Mike Krzyzewski was still coaching the Blue Devils, and that makes up for a lot. The issue for Duke is whether it can defend well enough to get it done. When teams score 70 or more, the Blue Devils generally lose.
Three that can't
1. Wichita State (No. 1 seed, Midwest)
It sure would be fun to see the Shockers prove everyone wrong for the second straight year, but it’s highly unlikely given the quality of competition they have faced all season in a weak Missouri Valley Conference and the quality of opponent they are about to encounter in a loaded region. It almost seems like the selection committee was determined to put as many road blocks as possible in their way. Good luck turning a fantastic season into something truly legendary, Gregg Marshall.
2. Kansas (No. 2 seed, South)
If Joel Embiid was playing, the Jayhawks would demand one of the seven spots above, but Embiid isn’t expected back until maybe the second weekend of the tournament and maybe not even then. If he does come back, chances are he won’t be the same player he was in parts of January and February. Andrew Wiggins has been fantastic at times over the past three weeks, but he isn’t leading Kansas to the promised land alone.
3. Creighton (No. 3 seed, West)
Take a minute and try to imagine a more compelling way to end the college basketball season than the tear-jerking moment that would surely occur if father and son, Greg and Doug McDermott, led Creighton to the national title. Doug McDermott is the leading the candidate for the national Player of the Year honor to boot. The Bluejays can shoot the lights out, but they're probably too reliant on one guy to go all the way.
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