March Madness is upon us with the start of the NCAA Tournament, arguably one of the most exciting events in sports. An event where 68 of the nation’s best college basketball teams will go head to head in a three week, winner take all tournament. The tournament is led by number one seeds of Duke, Gonzaga, North Carolina and Virginia. These are the front runners to win the national championship come April 8. There is beauty to the madness with the unpredictability of the tournament, where last year the UMBC Retrievers pulled off the upset of all upsets as a 16th seed going on to defeat No. 1 seed Virginia, to write their names in the history books. It is one game, one shining moment, where anything can happen, but these four top teams will look to remain on top come Thursday when the madness begins.
One of the three ACC teams to earn a No. 1 seed is Virginia (23-3), coached by Tony Bennett. They come in looking to avenge last years early exit in the first round. However, Virginia will continue to stand by their core values of toughness and being one of the best defensive teams in the nation, as they only gave up 55.1 points per game. Although Virginia has always been known for their gritty defense, this is also one of the best offensive teams they have had in years. The Cavaliers are led by the excellent trio of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy and sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter, who is projected to be a top NBA Draft pick. They have been a top team all year long, with all three of their losses coming from opponents ranked in the top five, as they lost twice to their ACC rival Duke, and Florida State in the ACC tourney semifinal. They may not be the most exciting team in the tournament, but Virginia plays a traditional style game with an emphasis placed on the defensive end, that will put pressure on offensive teams.
One of the most talked-about teams in all of college basketball, with the most talent, spear headed by coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski, are the number one seeded, Duke Blue Devils (29-5). All eyes have been on the trio of Zion Williamson, T.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, with all three being possible top five picks in the NBA Draft. The Blue Devils are led by star studded, Zion Williamson as he has been unstoppable all year long, making Duke a championship caliber team. However, the team looked to be in jeopardy going 3-3 during a brief span when Zion was recovering from a minor knee injury. With Zion’s return, the Blue Devils returned to their standing as the best team in college basketball, avenging losses to rival North Carolina, and winning the ACC tournament. Hall of Fame Coach Mike Krzyzewski will lead this talented group headlined by the freshmen trio, looking to bring their relentless man-to-man defense and flashy offense to the tournament come Thursday.
From the west coast are the Gonzaga Bulldogs (30-3) who have been ranked the No. 1 team in the nation for the last month but stumbled in the West Coast championship by losing to Saint Mary’s. If the Zags had not lost in the conference tournament final, they might have been able to beat out Duke to secure the tournament’s top overall seed. The Bulldogs have a deep rotation with multiple stars led by Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke. Most people write off Gonzaga due to the benefit of playing a softer schedule and their lack of success in the tournament in past years, but they will look to establish themselves as one of the best teams in the nation and make a return to the Final Four for the second time in team history. Also, keep in mind Gonzaga was the only team to beat Duke at full strength this season when they won in the Maui Invitational.
Lastly, the North Carolina Tar Heels (27-6) also received a number one seed in the tournament after their strong performance in ACC conference play. The Tar Heels were able to take advantage with Zion Williamson out of the lineup, and secure two victories over Duke, while later falling to Duke at full strength by one point in the ACC tournament semifinal. UNC also beat fellow number one seed Gonzaga on December 15 to help boost their resume and help secure a top seed. They have been one of the most fun and exciting teams to watch this season with their up-tempo style of play, led by veteran experience coming from seniors Cam Johnson and Luke Maye, and younger players that provide the team balance. One of these younger players, freshman point guard Coby White, is a threat to score from everywhere on the floor and will be a huge part of North Carolina’s run come Thursday.