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With March Madness just days away, it is time to review a few of our favorite Final Four picks.
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.
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No one should be shocked by this pick. Houston has been dominant all season, with only three losses; its most recent loss was to a tough Memphis team without All-American Marcus Sasser. The Cougars’ other two losses were against Temple by one point in an uncharacteristic performance and against No. 1 Alabama.
What makes Houston so great? According to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, it has the fourth-best defense. Houston’s physical play, quickness, length, and defensive IQ make scoring incredibly difficult, regardless of whether it is in the transition or the half-court.
The Cougars are able to combine their elite defense with a highly efficient offense. While they don’t score the most points per game, their efficiency is impeccable, ranking 11th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. Houston’s shooting is solid, as it averages right around 35% from deep and 46% from the field, but what makes it so incredibly efficient is the fact that it does not turn the ball over. The Cougars’ guards protect the ball, only averaging 9.9 turnovers per game, which ranks 13th in the nation.
The last component that plays into Houston’s dominance is its rebounding prowess. The Cougars rank sixth in total rebounding rate and third in offensive rebounding rate; this team crashes the boards as well as any other team in the nation.
Defense and rebounding are the two major components that go into head coach Kelvin Sampson’s philosophy, and Houston has been the best in these two areas over the past few seasons. As long as Marcus Sasser can avoid further damage with his groin injury, Houston has the experience, IQ, coaching, defense, and offense to make a deep March Madness run.
Can the Kansas Jayhawks win back-to-back championships for the first time since the Florida Gators did it in 2006 and 2007? It seems like they have a great shot after racking up 17 Quad 1 wins and holding the best resume out of any college basketball team in the nation.
Kansas may have lost its top two scorers from last season’s team, but it replenished its talent level by bringing in future first-rounder Gradey Dick, as well as Ernest Udeh Jr and Kevin McCullar Jr. Between those three and their four major returnees, Jalen Wilson, Dajuan Harris Jr, KJ Adams Jr, and Joseph Yesufu, head coach Bill Self again has a contending team.
The Jayhawks pride themselves in their defense, often converting turnovers and missed shots into transition opportunities, where they thrive. Kansas ranks seventh in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing merely 31.2% shooting from behind the arc to opponents, despite having the most demanding schedule in the nation. It is interesting to think what that percentage would have looked like with a more manageable schedule.
The only concern for Kansas is rebounding, which ranks middle-of-the-road in the nation in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. While its competition and strength of schedule made these percentages seem low, this is merely a relative weakness.
It is wild how much better the Gonzaga Bulldogs are offensively than any other team in the country. Gonzaga ranks first in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, and there is no close second. In that same metric, the Bulldogs have the 12th-ranked offense in the past decade.
Gonzaga’s list of offensive weapons is extensive: Drew Timme, Julian Strawther, Anton Watson, Rasir Bolton, Nolan Hickman, and Malachi Smith are all capable of posting big numbers on any given night.
Timme is undoubtedly the leader, a senior who averages 20.9 points and 7.3 rebounds and has the most experience of any of the Bulldogs in games of this magnitude; he should be able to keep his teammates grounded and in the moment.
Another notable benefit to betting on Gonzaga is the apparent gap in coaching talent between the Bulldogs’ Mark Few and any other coach they will cross paths with until at least the Elite Eight.
However, there are still a few concerns with this team heading into the NCAA Tournament, but the most notable is Gonzaga’s defense; it has consistently struggled on that end of the floor all season long. The Bulldogs now rank 76th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to shoot 35% from deep.
Still, it should not be that big of a deal for the ‘Zags to crank up the intensity on the defensive end, especially given their recent history. There is value here, and their path is not terribly difficult, as UCLA is without its third-best player for the remainder of the season, and it wouldn’t have to face Houston until after it got to the Final Four.
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A common trait of championship teams at the collegiate level is exceptional guard play. We don’t have to think that far into the past when considering the last time a team rolled out a three-guard lineup that scorched opponents. As a matter of fact, that team was Baylor two years ago.
The Bears have several players on their roster now who were on the championship team from the 2020-21 season, including Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer, Flo Thamba, and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. Flagler and Cryer have grown into two high-quality guards, capable of filling it up on any given night, as both are above 40% three-point shooters. Still, Baylor’s purest scorer is a future lottery pick, Keyonte George.
George is a versatile, three-level scorer who can get hot fast. It hasn’t been the most efficient season for George regarding percentages, but it does not take much for him to explode. He has had some high-scoring games this year, including a 32-point outing and two 27-point games.
Between George, Flagler, and Cryer, the Bears have their three-guard lineup that can eviscerate teams on the offensive end of the floor. Further, Baylor returned Tchamwa Tchatchoua to the rotation, giving it another big body with experience to deploy.
While Jalen Bridges is more of an apparent offensive threat, JTT has brought experience, hustle, and championship DNA to a frontcourt that needed more depth. He now has ten games under his belt and could start to return to form anytime.
Defense is the major difference between this team and the Baylor Bears from two years ago. In the 2020-21 season, Baylor finished 22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency, while it sits at 104th this season. This play is more of a longshot, as the Bears could turn it on defensively if they choose to, but at +550 to make the Final Four, it is hard to pass up.
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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Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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