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The NCAA tournament is right around the corner and if this past weekend is any indication of what we’ll see in March, there are going to be plenty of upsets.
Kansas beat Baylor and is finally No. 1 in the AP poll again after being ranked behind Gonzaga and Baylor for the majority of the season. Gonzaga and San Diego State both lost as well, which opened the door for Dayton to sneak in at No. 4 this week. Penn State lost two straight games after cracking the top 10 last week, Maryland lost to Ohio State and TCU beat a tough West Virginia team in OT. Eleven out of the top 25 teams lost this past weekend.
The inconsistency of the season will make March a lot of fun and could bring the most upsets we’ve ever seen in the tournament. There are a lot of different things to consider when filling out a bracket, so here’s a look at 10 different teams that could make deep runs in the tournament.
Kansas Jayhawks (25-3)
Kansas is looking like the best team in the nation after Udoka Azubuike put on a pick-and-roll clinic against Baylor, finishing with 23 points and 19 rebounds (including eight dunks!). The way he is playing right now is going to be very tough for teams to stop once March rolls around. Kansas has been one of the most consistent teams all season long and it has the depth and talent to make it to Atlanta.
Maryland Terrapins (22-5)
This is the most talented team Mark Turgeon has ever had at Maryland, led by senior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. He’s averaging 16.4 points and nearly five assists per game. In a tough Big Ten that will be sending the most teams of any conference to the NCAA tournament, Maryland has consistently been on top. Add in the athleticism of potential first-round draft pick Jalen “Stix” Smith and this Terrapins team can be very dangerous in March.
Dayton Flyers (26-2)
The Flyers snuck into the No. 4 spot this week after both Gonzaga and San Diego State lost this past weekend. Dayton is now in discussion for a No. 1 seed and the way Obi Toppin is playing late in the season, Dayton could surprise a lot of people and be there in the end. The Flyers are a well-balanced team with four players averaging double-digits in scoring, including junior guard Jalen Crutcher, who has already hit a game-winning 3-pointer in overtime in a tough game against Saint Louis.
Kentucky Wildcats (23-5)
Each season, John Calipari has to basically rebuild his team from scratch with the high turnover of one-and-dones. The success of this year’s team is due to the sophomore backcourt duo — Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley — that decided to come back for another year. Add in potential NBA lottery pick Tyrese Maxey and the three-man guard rotation is almost unstoppable. Add in a healthy post man in Nick Richards, who went from just averaging four points last season to 14.3 points per game this season, and this is a Kentucky team that could be there in the end.
Creighton Bluejays (22-6)
This is a Creighton team full of great shooters. It is seventh in Division I basketball in 3-point percentage, shooting 38.5 percent as a team and 28th in field-goal percentage (47.1 percent). The Bluejays average 78.2 points per game thanks to the shooting of Marcus Zegarowski, Mitch Ballock and Ty-Shon Alexander.
Villanova Wildcats (21-6)
Villanova won the tournament two years ago and this year’s roster is cluttered with guys who were on that team as underclassmen. Junior point guard Collin Gillespie is the team’s rock and could have a Kyle Guy-like run leading his team to the Final Four. Throw in the supporting cast of players like Saddiq Bey and freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and this is a very solid Villanova team that could go deep.
Iowa Hawkeyes (19-9)
When things are clicking for Iowa, no one can stop the Hawkeyes and we’ve seen it consistently this season in a competitive Big Ten. The Hawkeyes are sixth in the country in assist/turnover ratio with 1.4. Big man Luka Garza is leading the conference in scoring with an average of 23.7 points per game and sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp is adding 15 points per game, including a 30-point performance in a win over Nebraska earlier this month.
Arizona State Sun Devils (19-8)
Bobby Hurley’s squad hit a rough patch in January but has gone undefeated in February and is sitting in first place in the Pac-12. ASU is definitely a team to keep an eye on as we head into conference tournaments. Junior point guard Remy Martin is leading the team with 19.1 points and four assists per game and is second in the Pac-12 in total points.
East Tennessee State Buccaneers (25-4)
This Buccaneers team is filled with upperclassmen who have been playing together for a few years now. In a No. 5 vs. No. 12 or No. 7 vs. No. 10 game, look for East Tennessee State to get that upset win in the first round. The team is led by senior guard Tray Boyd III who is averaging 17 points in his past seven games, including a season-high 30 points in a win over UNC Greensboro. This team could be the Loyola Chicago of the tournament.
Liberty Flames (26-3)
The Flames are led by senior guard Caleb Homesley, who has scored 20 or more points four out of the past five games. This is another potential 5-12 upset in March with an experienced team that puts up a lot of shots and is shooting 47.2 percent from the field this year. In a season where it’s anyone’s game each night, Liberty could go on a run early in the tournament.
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