By Andrew Holman | The Duquesne Duke
The NCAA Selection Show is still three days away, but honestly the millions of brackets that will be filled out in the coming week are already busted.
It’s March and that means madness is brewing, but this year it’s going to be the truest definition of madness. Unlike 2015 where three dominant No. 1 seeds (Duke, Wisconsin and Kentucky) unsurprisingly advanced to the Final Four, the 2016 field is wide open.
Parity is the most frequently used word in college basketball it seems, but that’s for good reason. After the 18th release of the AP Top 25, six different teams have held the No. 1 ranking: North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State, Kansas, Oklahoma and Villanova.
People who have watched their fair share of college basketball in 2015-16 know that the results of the 2016 big dance are going to be nearly impossible to predict. No team will enter the tournament with less than four losses.
For those who just started following college basketball after the conclusion of football, here’s a little preview of what to watch for.
The best teams in the field feature many of the traditional powers: Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina and Villanova. All of these teams rank in the top-15 all time in NCAA tournament wins.
Then there are a few other teams who will earn high seeds in 2016 tournament that don’t have quite as much history as the aforementioned programs. Xavier, Virginia and Oklahoma are three of those teams that have legitimate chances to reach the highly anticipated Final Four.
The two high seeded teams to watch in 2016 are Michigan State and Xavier.
Tom Izzo and the Spartans seem to always find a way to make a run once tournament time rolls around. In 2015, Michigan State entered the tournament as a No. 7 seed and found itself cutting down the nets and playing in the Final Four when it was all said and done.
Denzel Valentine started the season as a trendy pick for Player of the Year and although that honor is most likely going to Buddy Hield of Oklahoma, Valentine is still one hell of a basketball player. The rest of the Spartans roster will not necessarily stand out, but with Valentine and Izzo it’s impossible to count them out for another deep run.
Xavier is probably the deepest team in the country with six guys averaging at least 9.0 ppg and a 10 man rotation. They also bring a unique 1-3-1 zone defense that is going to be incredibly difficult to beat with little time to prepare.
Chris Mack is deserving of the National Coach of the Year Award for the job he has done with this Musketeer group that finished the year 26-4. This is the year where Mack and Xavier push past the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight and find themselves in the Final Four for the first time in school history — they are that good.
Everyone likes a good Cinderella story and this year, the teams most likely to fulfill that role are Northern Iowa and St. Bonaventure.
Northern Iowa surprised many people when they won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, defeating Wichita State in the semi-finals and Evansville in the championship game to clinch another NCAA tournament berth.
The Panthers had the early season win over No. 1 North Carolina, but then went 2-6 in their first eight conference games. However, UNI finished the season winning 12 of their last 13 games and will be a team that not many people want to play in the Big Dance.
St. Bonaventure is the one team on this list of four who is still on the bubble. Their tournament fate will likely lie in their performance throughout the Atlantic 10 tournament. However, the Bonnies are on a roll winning 10 of their last 11 games to finish the regular season including wins over Dayton, St. Joseph’s (twice) and George Washington.
The Bonnies finished as co-champions in a competitive A-10 Conference and have the talent to compete with many of the best teams in college basketball. However, they played a weak non-conference schedule so it remains to be seen just how they stack up. Nonetheless, it’s always good to be playing the best basketball of the year when March rolls around and that’s exactly what St. Bonaventure is doing.
Don’t try to predict the madness this year, because it’s a hopeless cause. This season is the year to sit back and just enjoy the parity that makes the Big Dance the most intriguing sports spectacular year after year.