March Madness preview: the teams to watch


With just a week before the games kick-off, brackets are forming now, but which teams deserve a spot at the top? (Royalty-free photo by Todd Greene via Unsplash)

By Carlos Allen, Senior Reporter

March 14 starts the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament (otherwise known as March Madness) where the 68 best D1 teams in the nation get placed into a bracket with 5-6 rounds, in a win-or-go-home scenario – with the winning school being crowned victorious on April 3.

The Kansas Jayhawks (25-6) are at 8/1 favorites and are looking to defend their title. Even though the Jayhawks lost five seniors since their title win last year, they have had a couple of big wins this season against Kansas State (90-78) and Duke (69-64), showing that they have the firepower to win back-to-back championships.

The Jayhawks are led by junior forward Jalen Wilson, who is averaging 19.7 PPG, and freshman guard Gradey Dick, averaging 14.7 PPG.

Even with a few minor setbacks during the season that the team could not control, including injuries and the loss of several players from the previous year, there is no doubt that Kansas can win the title two years in a row. 

Pregame shoot-around at the Wells Fargo Arena before a March Madness game in 2016. (Royalty-free photo by Phil Roeder via Wikimedia Commons)

This year’s team to watch is the Houston Cougars (29-2) at 6/1 favorites. The Cougars are looking to seek revenge since they fell short last year with a disappointing loss to Villanova (50-44) in the Elite Eight.

The litter of Cougars is led by 6’2 senior guard Marcus Sasser, who is averaging 17 PPG.

Houston might not have the explosive offense everyone thinks a #1 seed should have, but having a defense that only lets up 56 points a game on average puts a lot less pressure on the offense.

I think [defense is] the hardest thing to teach in basketball,” head coach Kelvin Sampson said.

With a record like 29-2, there are high expectations for the Cougars this year. For those who want to fill out a bracket, Houston is a safe bet to win it all. 

The Alabama Crimson Tide (26-5) recently made major headlines when player Darius Miles allegedly shot and killed Jamea Jonae Harris, a 23-year-old woman. Brandon Miller, lead scorer for the Tide with 18 PPG, was charged with allegedly providing Miles with the firearm. Both were kicked off the team.

The negative publicity surrounding the team and school has not spoiled their hope to win the 2023 National Championship. The Crimson Tide, who are at 6.5/1 favorites, have not made it past the sweet 16 in March Madness history, but are trending in the right direction this year – besides the alleged incident.

Alabama had a few notable wins in their regular season versus top-ranked opponents, including victories against Houston (71-65), North Carolina (103-101 / 4OT), and Kentucky (78-52). Fans should have more confidence that the Tide can finally pull it off and give their program their first NCAA Basketball National Championship in program history.

Joe and Jill Biden attend a Villanova versus Oklahoma March Madness game in 2016, taking pictures with fans from Villanova, on April 2. (Royalty-free photo by The White House via Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, there is usually at least one college that blows fans’ expectations out of the water: last year, the “Cinderella story” was St. Peters, making it all the way to the Elite Eight by beating #2 seed Kentucky, #3 seed Purdue and #7 seed Murray State – all as a #15 seed. St. Peters eventually lost to #8 seed North Carolina, who went on to lose in the championship game. Even the “experts” said St. Peters would not make it past the first round since they were not a big-name school and nobody on the team had a D1 scholarship coming out of high school.

A few potential “Cinderella story” teams to look out for this year are Miami (24-6), Xavier (23-8), and Kansas State (23-8). All have demonstrated during the season that they can upset some of the favorites, but they will need to play at their best to do so – or get lucky.

The Miami Hurricanes are coming off an impressive March Madness run last year by knocking off #7 seed USC and #2 seed Auburn all as a #10 seed. The Hurricanes won the ACC Championship on March 4 versus Pittsburgh, a team they lost to prior in the season. The Canes are led by junior guard Isaiah Won, who averages 15.9 PPG, and by 6’7 big man Norchad Omier, who averages 14 PPG and 10 RPG.

Miami finished their regular season winning 8/9, with the only loss being  Florida State by one point. Even with that loss, Miami has some convincing wins after beating North Carolina (80-72) and Clemson (78-74), and winning a nail-biter against Virginia 66-64 to show fans that if this team is rolling, it is hard to stop them. 

The Xavier Musketeers have not made it past the Elite Eight in prior years, but always seem to be in March Madness (this year will be their 29th in the tournament). The Musketeers are led by senior guard Souley Boum, who averages 16 PPG and shoots just under 50% from the field. Another important part of the Musketeers’ lineup is 6’9 senior forward Zach Freemantle, who grabs 8 rebounds a game and puts up 14 PPG.

A few big wins this year for the Musketeers came in the second half of the season with two big upsets against UConn, the #2 and #19 team in that nation at those times. Xavier won (83-73) and (82-79).  The third showing of the Musketeers that suggests they can pull off multiple upsets in the “Dance” was a win against (at the time) the #20 ranked Providence (94-89). Boum scored a season-high 33 points by making four threes and shooting especially well from the field, making 11 of 19 shots taken.

Xavier has definitely shown what it can do against the top teams, but winning March Madness is a matter of being consistent on both sides of the ball, and that will make or break the outcome of the Musketeers’ season.

The Kansas State Wildcats want to make a name for themselves by winning the title since big brother Kansas won it last year. The Wildcats started off strong, winning 14 of their first 15 games. They beat their opponents in that 15-game stretch, on average, by 10 plus points, with a couple of the wins including a margin as wide as 48 points and as narrow as 3.

The Wildcats are led by Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell, who are separately dropping 17 PPG each. Johnson dominates the team in rebounds with 7, and Nowell leads the team in minutes played (36 per game), as well as steals (with 2.5 per game), and assists (with 7 per game).

The Wildcats split the two-game series during the regular season with the Jayhawks, but they have put together a lot of outlandish performances versus the top-ranked schools in the nation, beating Baylor (75-65) and Oklahoma (85-69), and claiming two wins over Oklahoma State (73-68)(65-57).

Betting people will likely pick a team with the bests odds, like Houston, Kansas, and Alabama. Those who are feeling good and want to win big might look to Miami (FL), Xavier, or Kansas State.

March Madness is always fun to watch, even for those who are not fans of basketball: the atmosphere in the stadiums, the fans’ passion and the energy they bring, and the thrill of watching each team play at a hundred percent – and for a few kids, the March Madness tournament will be their last chance at playing basketball at such a high level.