Whether it’s the preseason, regular season, or even right after the NCAA Tournament ends in April, it is never too early to look ahead at favorite picks for the Final Four.
As always, there will be four regions, and whichever team makes it out of that region will participate in the Final Four: East, Midwest, West, and South.
This year, the Final Four will be in Houston at NRG Stadium; it was last hosted there in 2016 when Villanova hit one of the most iconic buzzer-beaters in the tournament’s history to knock off North Carolina.
Here’s what we know about the Gonzaga Bulldogs: they have plenty of talent, elite coaching, and play in a conference that will almost always allow them to enter March Madness as a No. 1 seed. Even though the Bulldogs have stepped up their non-conference schedule, there are certain inevitabilities for this team; the likelihood of them losing more than three or four games is slim to none.
As Gonzaga continues to build itself into a powerhouse in college basketball, its appearances at Final Fours will become more and more regular. For instance, the Bulldogs have reached two National Championship games in the past five seasons, two Elite Eights in the past seven seasons, and three Sweet Sixteens in the past six seasons.
Let’s not act like the losses of Andrew Nembhard and Chet Holmgren won’t impact this team. Still, their absence does give former five-star recruits Hunter Sallis, Nolan Hickman, and Efton Reid a chance to get more minutes. Chattanooga transfer Malachi Smith is another big-time player to add to this Zags team; he averaged 20 points per game last season. Additionally, super senior sniper Rasir Bolton will be back, providing solid minutes, shooting, and leadership to this squad.
The biggest returnee is Drew Timme, who doesn’t quite have the versatility to be a pro yet. Timme will likely solidify himself as one of the great collegiate players of all-time this season and has a legitimate chance of coming home with his first national championship and a Naismith Player of the Year award.
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It would be nonsensical not to include the North Carolina Tar Heels on my list of favorite teams to win March Madness in 2023. After an incredible run during the NCAA Tournament last season, the Tar Heels look to bring back all key players except for Brady Manek. The dynamic backcourt duo of R.J. Davis and Caleb Love is back in action, while fundamental big man Armando Bacot will also return, leading the frontcourt.
While Manek will undoubtedly be missed after his incredible tournament run, North Carolina was able to bring in coveted super-senior forward Pete Nance to replace him. Suppose Dontrez Styles, D’Marco Dunn, or the other three four-star recruits that head coach Hubert Davis brought in this season provide valuable minutes for this Tar Heels team off the bench. In that case, North Carolina will not only be worthy of their preseason first-overall rank but should maintain it for most of the year.
North Carolina managed to not only knock off the Duke Blue Devils in Coach K’s last home game at Cameron Indoor but also won in a Final Four showdown, one of the biggest games in the history of that rivalry. This team has proven they are built for the biggest games under the brightest lights. If it weren’t for a second-half tumble against a formidable Kansas Jayhawks squad in the National Championship game, they would be eyeing a repeat.
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Head coach Kelvin Sampson is in a groove in Houston; he has players bought into his style of play, which features defense and rebounding as the two most important aspects of the game. Last season, Houston was arguably the best rebounding and defensive team in the nation.
KenPom had Houston as the second-best team by the end of the season, behind only Gonzaga, despite losing in the Elite Eight to Villanova. Houston shot 1-for-20 from deep and still only lost by six points to the No. 2 seeded Wildcats in that game. If that doesn’t display just how incredible the Cougars were on the defensive end of the floor, then no statistic or further explanation will.
In the last two seasons, Houston has been to a Final Four (2021) and an Elite Eight (2022); it almost went to back-to-back Final Fours despite returning less than a quarter of its minutes from the 2020-21 season and then losing two of their best players, Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, to season-ending injuries. This incredible feat can’t possibly be exaggerated.
Even though the Cougars lost a ton of seniors from last year’s squad, they bring Sasser, Mark, and Jamal Shead back, rounding out one of the best backcourts, if not the best, in the nation. Additionally, they will bring in freshman sensation Jarace Walker, a likely lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, and four-star forward Terrance Arceneaux. With Shead at the lead, distributing at a high level, Sasser potentially being the best scorer in college basketball, Walker showing versatility and raw talent on both ends of the floor, and Mark as a Swiss Army Knife of sorts, this team could easily make another deep tournament run.
It would only be fair to admit beforehand that I am a die-hard Hoosiers fan. Still, I feel my overwhelming optimism is finally justified for the first time in a decade. Plus, what does it prove only to pick the consensus favorites to win March Madness? The Hoosiers brought back virtually every key player (save Parker Stewart and Rob Phinisee) and added a loaded recruiting class, consisting of two five-stars and one four-star, to their roster.
The Hoosiers’ most notable returnee, Trayce Jackson-Davis, is on the preseason All-American shortlist. Jackson-Davis paced Indiana last season with 18.3 points and 8.1 rebounds, highlighted by uber-athletic putback dunks and slick post moves in the paint. TJD opted to return to Indiana for his senior season after many NBA execs concluded that his jump shot wasn’t where it needed to be for him to be a first-round selection in the draft.
Not only did Indiana return TJD, but it also brought back his super senior (6th year) frontcourt partner, Race Thompson, Miller Kopp, and Xavier Johnson. The Hoosiers will be among the oldest and most experienced teams in the Big Ten and the nation. Additionally, Indiana brought in two five-star recruits, Malik Reneau and Jalen Hood-Schifino, to give it a perfect blend of experience and youth.
Indiana’s second unit should consist of Reneau, Hood-Schifino/Kopp, Tamar Bates (former five-star recruit), Jordan Geronimo, and Trey Galloway. It would not be an exaggeration to state that this second unit could, by itself, finish in the top half of the Big Ten. Expect the Hoosiers to be deeper, more experienced, and more talented than almost every team they face this season. The only thing between them and their sixth National Championship is three-point shooting, an issue they have had for many seasons.
The first time the term “Final Four” was used in reference to March Madness was in the 1960s. There are several examples of writers or journalists using the term in newspapers during this period. Many believed that the first year the phrase appeared was in 1975, but that was later dispelled. No other organization is allowed to use the term “Final Four” at this point, as the NCAA trademarked it.
There are 68 teams that compete in four different regions to try to make the “Final Four.” Eight teams compete in the “First Four” games, which serve as an extended concept of the “play-in games” that the NCAA Tournament first created in 2001. Initially, the field was expanded from 64 to 65 teams in 2001, but as of 2011, it has been 68 total teams.
While the phrase was initially used to describe a boy’s high school tournament in Illinois, it became popularized in 1982 by broadcaster Brent Musburger. The term uniquely describes not only the month in which the NCAA Tournament is played but also the buzzer-beating chaos and seemingly impossible upsets that it contains every single year. From busted brackets to small school “Cinderellas,” March Madness is one of the few times in any sport when the impossible can happen.
When “March Madness” first started in 1939, only eight teams were in the tournament. It is difficult to quantify how exponential the growth of “March Madness” has been through the years in terms of engagement and national interest.
The phrase “March Madness,” now used to describe the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament that span from mid-March to early April, was coined in the same year that the tournament began; however, it was not initially used in reference to the tournament.Instead, the phrase was first used by an Illinois High School Association member to describe their annual high school boy’s basketball tournament. A number of years later, the phrase “March Madness” became popularized on a national level to describe the NCAA Tournament. We have CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger to thank for the transition to the NCAA Tournament, as he used the phrase during games in the early 1980s.
There have been five teams that have made the Final Four as a No. 11 seed: LSU (1986), George Mason (2006), VCU (2011), Loyola Chicago (2018), and UCLA (2021.) Unfortunately, none of these teams won the NCAA Tournament, but they still cemented their place in March Madness history by putting together unforgettable runs.
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