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The NCAA Tournament, commonly called “March Madness” by hoops enthusiasts, kicks off on Tuesday, March 14th, when the “First Four” games are played.
The NCAA Tournament consists of 68 teams, including 32 that receive automatic bids by winning their respective conference tournaments and 36 that receive “at-large” bids, which a committee chooses.
There are four regions that teams get assigned to, each with a No. 1 through No. 16 seed. The No. 1 seed plays the No. 16 seed in the first round, while the No. 2 seed battles with the No. 15 seed, and so on.
Whichever seed makes it out of the four regions competes in the “Final Four”, two semi-final games that decide the teams who will play in the National Championship.
The Houston Cougars have the best odds at +500 heading into the NCAA Tournament. Houston posted a 31-3 record this season, with its most recent loss coming without Marcus Sasser, an All-American combo guard.
Other teams that are favorites to win the NCAA Tournament are Alabama (+650), Kansas (+1200), Purdue (+1000), and UCLA (+1000) Unfortunately for UCLA, the Bruins just lost their third-leading scorer and best defender, Jaylen Clark, to a season-ending injury, so their odds have lengthened.
Odds taken from Draftkings Sportsbook.
|San Diego State||+3500|
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Houston’s elite combination of rebounding and defense makes it a significant favorite to win the NCAA Tournament this season, especially after a 31-3 record with losses to only No. 1 Alabama, Temple, and No. 24 Memphis. The Cougars rank fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency and 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency behind incredible guard play; the combination of Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark, and Jamal Shead will cause havoc on defense, as most of their opponents have never experienced this level of on-ball pressure.
Freshman forward Jarace Walker has also provided consistent offense, averaging 11 points per game on 47% from the field and 34% from behind the arc. Head coach Kelvin Sampson has put together a string of strong tournament runs in recent years, so it would not be surprising to see a fully healthy Cougars team rattle off six-straight wins.
Besides the Houston Cougars, Alabama may be the most dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament. The Crimson Tide lean on likely top-three pick Brandon Miller for offense; he averages 20 points and pulls down eight rebounds while shooting 45% from the field and 40% from three.
Alabama’s supporting cast is also solid, with Mark Sears, Noah Clowney, and Javon Quinerly chipping in offensively. Even though the Alabama basketball program has had a ton of drama surrounding it this season, the Crimson Tide have still managed to play consistently; this could be their best season in program history, but the competition in the NCAA Tournament will mostly be more demanding than the SEC.
The Kansas Jayhawks have a legitimate shot at winning back-to-back titles and becoming the first team to do so since the Florida Gators in 2006 and 2007, which featured three future NBA players. Kansas relies on defense and transition to bury teams, forcing opponents into turnovers and maximizing those opportunities with speed.
Junior forward Jalen Wilson has led the Jayhawks on both sides of the floor, setting the tone every game. Bill Self has this team playing at a high level, but there is one area that they will have to improve if they want to win another NCAA Tournament: rebounding.
Kansas often rolls out small-ball lineups to exercise its versatility; however, giving up size can hurt it against bigger teams. Teams like Houston or Purdue could give Kansas trouble if the Jayhawks have to play them, but besides that minor weakness, they will have an advantage in most matchups.
Purdue has lived all season on the shoulders of 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey. Luckily, Edey’s shoulders are broad and strong enough to hold the weight of an entire college’s expectations. The Boilermakers have an offense that revolves around getting the ball inside to Edey and then working inside-out, relying on Edey to score in the post in one-on-one situations and make the correct read when he gets double-teamed.
It is an incredibly effective offense when that player shoots 60.6% from the field and averages only a bit more than two turnovers per game. The major rubs with Purdue are how poorly it shoots from three (32.6%) and the uncomfortably high reliance on Edey to stay out of foul trouble and play well. These concerns are enough to move the Boilermakers to Tier 2 but they are still dangerous.
Consistency is the bottom line for a Connecticut team that has sometimes looked like a contender but has also disappeared during portions of the season. One such example is UConn’s rough patch in January, where it lost five of six games, dropping from the No. 2 ranked team in the country to No. 24.
Still, the Huskies have an impressive 24-3 record outside of that stretch, furthering their narrative as one of the best teams in the nation. As a matter of fact, the Huskies rank fourth in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin metric behind only Houston, UCLA, and Alabama.
The dynamic duo of Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins put up a combined 33 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists per game; however, UConn’s bench depth is even more impressive. The Huskies play nine players for at least 13 or more minutes, giving them plenty of fresh legs to use throughout the NCAA Tournament gauntlet. As mentioned above, if UConn plays more consistently, it will be difficult to beat.
Gonzaga has not had the season many people expected, especially considering it returned Julian Strawther, Drew Timme, Anton Watson, Rasir Boltman, and Nolan Hickman while bringing in Malachi Smith.
The Bulldogs have some prolific scorers under a historic coach, so why are they in the second tier? Gonzaga’s defense has been incredibly underwhelming for a team with so much experience playing at the collegiate level; it ranks just 76th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, a significantly worse mark than in prior seasons. Still, the ‘Zags might be undervalued for that reason, especially knowing head coach Mark Few could take this team to another level in March.
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Few things have been as surprising as Texas’ ability to overcome the drama with head coach Chris Beard halfway through the year.
While the Longhorns couldn’t secure the Big 12 regular season title, they exacted revenge in the conference tournament, pummeling Kansas by 20 points. Now, Texas has put together a four-game winning streak and emerged victorious in six of its past eight games in the toughest conference in the nation.
The Longhorns have one of the best scoring guards in the country with Marcus Carr, a senior transfer who was originally at Pittsburgh and Minnesota. Carr posts 16 points per game on a 43/36/77 shooting split, a solid mark when you are being hunted every game. Sir’Jabari Rice, Timmy Allen, and Tyrese Hunter are all double-digit scorers, joining Carr as significant offensive contributors. Texas is not quite as strong of a team as Houston or Alabama due to having a weaker frontcourt.
Duke started the season with several unfortunate losses but has since been on fire. The Blue Devils finished the 2022-23 regular season with a 26-8 record and a nine-game winning streak, including another ACC Tournament championship.
They are one of the hottest teams in the country and have climbed to 21st in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin! Duke is led by Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach, one of the best guard-center duos in the country. Together, Filipowski and Roach have put this Blue Devils’ team on their back while the rest of the team develops.
The good news for Duke is the young guys have developed. Dereck Lively II has become a formidable defender, rebounder, and rim protector, while Tyrese Proctor has become comfortable running Duke’s offense and has found that balance between scoring and distributing for others. The Blue Devils are one of the last teams a potential opponent would want to play right now.
As always, the NCAA Tournament will be held in numerous locations. For the First Four, the games will take place in Dayton, Ohio, at UD Arena. The first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament will be regionally scattered; the locations include Albany, NY; Birmingham, AL; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Des Moines, IA; Greensboro, NC; Orlando, FL; and Sacramento, CA.The Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games will occur in Kansas City, MO; Las Vegas, NV; Louisville, KY; and New York City, NY. The final destination for the NCAA Tournament is in Houston, TX, where the Final Four will be hosted. This will be Houston’s fourth time as a host city, and it most recently held the Final Four in 2016.
The opening of March Madness will take place on the night of March 14, 2023, barring any unforeseen circumstances. March 14th and 15th will be the days that the First Four games occur.A few days later the first and second rounds will occur between March 16th and 19th. The winning teams of the first round will have one rest day in between games.If a team wins their first two games, assuming they were not a First Four team, they will have several days between the second round and the Sweet Sixteen. The Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games take place from March 23rd through March 26th. Finally, the 2023 Final Four will take place on April 1, 2023, and April 3, 2023. The Final Four will begin on April 1st, while the NCAA Championship, featuring the winners of those two games, will be two days later. The games will take place in Houston, Texas, at NRG Stadium.
To no one’s surprise, the UCLA Bruins are the winningest team in March Madness history; they have won 11 NCAA Championships, with the majority of those coming during John Wooden’s head coaching tenure in the 1960s and 70s. Other teams with a handful or more championships are the Indiana Hoosiers (5), Duke Blue Devils (5), North Carolina Tar Heels (6), and Kentucky Wildcats (8.) These teams, along with UCLA, make up what many consider to be the “Blue Bloods” of college basketball.
The Kansas Jayhawks are the reigning college basketball champions after an impressive comeback victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
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