Which Top College Basketball Teams have a shot in March?

Auburn center Babatunde Akingbola (23) and guard K.D. Johnson (0) react after a play against Oklahoma during the second half at Auburn Arena.
John Reed, USA TODAY Sports

There comes a time in every College Basketball season where we must ask ourselves: can this success be sustained? Can we continue to dominate our opponents night in and night out without even breaking a sweat? Does being one of the top ranked teams in the nation even matter in the long run?

The answer to all of these questions is of course a massive “no”. It’s a no of experience, an experience of undefeated teams beaten right at the last minute, Sweet 16 upsets, and so-called “dynasties” crumbling before they could ever become dynasties to begin with.

Today, I’m going to rank each AP Top 25 team on how they may fare in March based on stats, history, and scheduling. The worst 17 will simply be listed, without a detailed explanation or analysis, while the top 8 will have both. So, without further ado, let’s get into it:

25. Xavier

Record: 17-7
AP Top 25 Ranking: 25
Schedule Strength: 17th of 358

24. Murray State

Record: 23-2
AP Top 25 Ranking: 23
Schedule Strength: 253rd of 358

23. Saint Mary’s

Record: 20-5
AP Top 25 Ranking: 22
Schedule Strength: 92nd of 358

22. Connecticut

Record: 16-7
AP Top 25 Ranking: 24
Schedule Strength: 67th of 358

21. Villanova

Record: 18-6
AP Top 25 Ranking: 15
Schedule Strength: 5th of 358

20. Texas

Record: 18-6
AP Top 25 Ranking: 20
Schedule Strength: 55th of 358

19. Marquette

Record: 16-8
AP Top 25 Ranking: 18
Schedule Strength: 4th of 358

18. Ohio State

Record: 14-6
AP Top 25 Ranking: 16
Schedule Strength: 23rd of 358

17. Illinois

Record: 17-6
AP Top 25 Ranking: 13
Schedule Strength: 14th of 358

16. Providence

Record: 20-2
AP Top 25 Ranking: 11
Schedule Strength: 54th of 358

15. Tennessee

Record: 17-6
AP Top 25 Ranking: 19
Schedule Strength: 11th of 358

14. Michigan State

Record: 17-6
AP Top 25 Ranking: 17
Schedule Strength: 16th of 358

13. Kansas

Record: 19-4
AP Top 25 Ranking: 8
Schedule Strength: 3rd of 358

12. Houston

Record: 20-3
AP Top 25 Ranking: 6
Schedule Strength: 91st of 358

11. Baylor

Record: 20-4
AP Top 25 Ranking: 10
Schedule Strength: 37th of 358

10. UCLA

Record: 17-4
AP Top 25 Ranking: 12
Schedule Strength: 21st of 358

9. USC

Record: 20-4
AP Top 25 Ranking: 21
Schedule Strength: 87th of 358

8. Kentucky

Record: 20-4
AP Top 25 Ranking: 5
Schedule Strength: 47th of 358

How they got here: John Calipari may be the greatest recruiter in the history of the sport. He added TyTy Washington for this season and Shaedon Sharpe, Skyy Clark, Chris Livingston, and Carson Wallace will all join Kentucky next season. That’s a supreme recruiting job, even with Kentucky already being a historic school and therefore a great landing spot for any player looking to make a name for themselves. Otherwise, this year’s Kentucky team is top 10 in points, assists, rebounds, and field goal percentage. Sounds like a winner, huh? They are, but there is one problem: inexperience. While many players on the team are juniors and seniors, many have never played in a March Madness tournament. Kentucky has not been in the tournament since 2020, when it was canceled. Kentucky will be a coin flip once the games start.

What it will take to win: It will take a lot of acting for this team to make the Final Four, let alone the championship game. They’ll need to pretend like they’ve been in this spot before and claw their way up the pecking order. In particular, TyTy Washington, the freshman guard, has to continue his fiery play this year and Oscar Tshiebwe has to continue grabbing boards. Tshiebwe is averaging a whopping 15.9 rebounds a game, the most in the nation. Kentucky could have a big run with this duo, but it’ll take everything they’ve got.

7. Wisconsin

Record: 19-4
AP Top 25 Ranking: 14
Schedule Strength: 7th of 358

How they got here: Johnny Davis has arrived. The sophomore Player of the Year candidate has exploded onto the scene this season, averaging over 20 points a night along with 8 boards and 2.5 assists. That’s a massive jump compared to last year, when he only got 7 points a game and came off the bench. Their schedule has also not been easy, so there’s no fluff to those stats. They’ve won over Purdue, Michigan State, Houston, and Iowa, just to name a few. The supporting cast is not incredible, but it has held its own when they’ve needed a score. Upperclassmen Brad Davison and Tyler Wahl have been efficient scorers next to Davis. Don’t sleep on the Badgers, they look poised for a big tournament run.

What it will take to win: It will take a lot of effort for Wisconsin to win the whole thing. As good as Johnny Davis is, the team will need someone else to light it up in March. If Davis goes cold for any stretch, this team could be down for the count. They only put up 71.1 points a night while only holding their opponents to 66.1 points. This is not a great margin for a team this high up on the rankings. Still, if Davis is solid and someone becomes that second option, then we might see the Badgers make the run they’ve dreamed of.

6. Texas Tech

Record: 18-6
AP Top 25 Ranking: 9
Schedule Strength: 43rd of 358

How they got here: This might come as a surprise to some, as Texas Tech has not been incredible this season. My reasoning, they’ve been good with difficult circumstances. Looking at their roster, it’s hard to find a true Point Guard among the 6’6″ and 6’7″ guards on the team. The closest player to one is Kevin McCullar, who is one of the many 6’6″ players on the team. He is getting 3.4 assists a night, which is the most out of anyone on the roster. It’s not good, yet they’re still getting W’s. They have also only had sparkplug Terrence Shannon for 13 games this season, as he’s dealt with a back injury. These are incredibly difficult circumstances for a team to still wind up in 9th in the rankings, and there is reason to believe they have a shot in March.

What it will take to win: Luck. I’m not joking when I say that it’s going to take a whole lot of luck. But also, a whole lot of determination. It’s no secret that Texas Tech is lacking scoring-wise, and against the rest of the NCAA, that is going to be a major problem. Their defense is what has saved them so far, but there is reason to believe it won’t be as helpful when faced with a team like Duke, Arizona, or Purdue. I have some faith in their resilience, but how long can they hold on?

5. Arizona

Record: 21-2
AP Top 25 Ranking: 4
Schedule Strength: 49th of 358

How they got here: Arizona is one of those teams who was expected to be a lock in March Madness, but not be this good. The Wildcats have only lost two games this year thanks to excellent play from the trio of Bennedict Mathurin, Azuolas Tubelis, and Christian Koloko. These three have bullied teams on the boards, and because of it Arizona is the best rebounding team in the nation. In fact, they also put up the most assists per game, in particular because of sophomore guard Kerr Kriisa, who nets almost 5 a game. They have also thrived with a large amount of foreign talent. As they have 6 players born outside of the United States. What’s similarly amazing is that all three of their stars, Mathurin, Tubelis, and Koloko, are part of this group. Maybe the NCAA isn’t going global, it already is.

What it will take to win: Not as much as one might think. This team has all of the statistics in their favor, they even have a stronger schedule than Duke. Plus, they have a good amount of upperclassmen in the rotation, which is always helpful in deep tournament runs. All in all, this is one of the most underrated teams in college sports, as it was unranked in the preseason poll. Is this the year Arizona breaks their Final Four drought?

4. Duke

Record: 20-4
AP Top 25 Ranking: 7
Schedule Strength: 66th of 358

How they got here: Coach K has done it again. His Duke Blue Devils look like one of the best teams he has ever coached with their high-flying dunkers in Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, and Mark Williams and their sharpshooters in Trevor Keels, Jeremy Roach, and Wendell Moore. This is legitimately a team to fear when the games get competitive.

What it will take to win: It will take more for this team to win than one might think. It is historically difficult for a team this young to win it all. For reference, the last year a team won the tournament with less average years of experience per player was in 2015. That team: Duke. So, there is a chance, but that team had 8 future NBA pros. This team has at best, 6. And at least one of them will probably go undrafted. There is a lot of hope for a team like this. They have a boatload of blue chips and they’re playing for a school with an extremely storied history. One can only notice how similar this team is to those 2015 champions.

3. Purdue

Record: 21-4
AP Top 25 Ranking: 3
Schedule Strength: 29th of 358

How they got here: Purdue got to this point, #3 in the nation, because of a certain fellow named Jaden Ivey, but if we look past the breakout sophomore’s incredible season, we can also notice that this team has incredible depth. They have a 7’4″ monster of a center in Zach Edey, who looks more and more like an NBA prospect with every game. They’ve got Trevion Williams, the senior backup bigman who’s currently leading the team in rebounding. These three, plus the amazing supporting cast of upperclassmen, is 5th in the nation in scoring with 83.4 points a game. Now, this is all thanks to Jaden Ivey for the most part, but the rest of the squad deserves credit as well. It’s a very good time to be a Purdue fan.

What it will take to win: Really, for Purdue, all this team needs in March is to keep pouring on the points. Now, when they run into a team like Gonzaga or Auburn, that’s when they might need to switch things up a tad. A more defensive-oriented gameplan could help against Jabari Smith of Auburn, or some more hustle on the boards could help stifle Gonzaga’s bigs. It will come down to the leadership of these upperclassmen players. They are made up almost exclusively of sophomores, with 5 in the active rotation, and many of these players have little experience in March Madness play. This is when the older players step up and guide them to the promised land.

2. Auburn

Record: 22-2
AP Top 25 Ranking: 1
Schedule Strength: 19th of 358

How they got here: I don’t think many expected Auburn to be just this dominant. Sure, they have Jabari Smith, the endlessly versatile 6’10” Power Forward (Small Forward?). They have Walker Kessler, the hyped sophomore center coming off a freshman season at UNC where he didn’t get nearly enough playing time. On paper, we should’ve expected something like this out of this team. Why we didn’t? It’s Auburn; they’ve never been the school we expect to dominate all-comers and take no prisoners. Heck, this is the first time Auburn has ever been ranked #1. And yet here they are, destroying the competition, killing teams with a flare we haven’t seen before from the Tigers. Coach Bruce Pearl has built something special in Auburn, Alabama and maybe we should have come to expect this from him by now.

What it will take to win: Consistency. If they just keep doing what they’re doing, rolling over opponents with those 80.2 points per game, they should be a lock in the Final Four. It’s not like they’ve had an easy schedule either, beating three out of four of the currently ranked teams they’ve played, as well as playing in the tough SEC. Who to really watch out for on this team is Jabari Smith. Come March, if he plays as well as he is right now, 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, he is going screw up a lot of brackets. And we may be crowning Auburn as national champions for the first time in school history.

1. Gonzaga

Record: 20-2
AP Top 25 Ranking: 2
Schedule Strength: 111th of 358

How they got here: Gonzaga is, without a doubt, having the greatest collection of seasons in school history. The last time they missed the Sweet 16 was the 2013-14 season, excluding the obvious canceled March Madness in 2020. Coach Mark Few has taken this team to new heights in his tenure, leading them to the national championship twice, albeit losing both. The first time was in 2017, where they were eliminated by a surging North Carolina squad. Last year, they were thoroughly outplayed by Davion Mitchell’s Baylor Bears despite going undefeated up to that point. This year, they are playing without standout freshman Jalen Suggs, who left for the NBA’s Orlando Magic in the offseason, and Corey Kispert, the 2021 WCC Player of the Year who also left for the NBA. Instead, they added another freshman standout from Minnesota in Chet Holmgren, as well as retaining star junior Drew Timme. Gonzaga at times has not looked the part of that team from yesteryear, losing once to Duke in a thriller and Alabama next in a surprising upset. So, despite their success as of late one might ask themselves, is this team even as good as last year’s? Probably not, but they don’t have as large a target on their back for it. Everyone wanted to beat the Zags last year, as it would surely put them front and center as the team who knocked off the unbeaten top team in the nation. This year, however, they’ve already lost two games, and what a blessing that was; no longer are they the top dogs of the NCAA, they can sink into the shadows, and strike when the time is right (March).

What it will take to win: Defense, defense, defense. As long as they keep playing it, this team is going to be just fine. Look at it this way, last year’s Bulldogs allowed 69.7 points a night, this year’s Bulldogs: 64.7. That might not look like too much of a jump, but it is. And the player responsible for this jump is none other than Chet Holmgren himself. Holmgren actually leads the team in both defensive and offensive win shares, with 2.1 and 2.4 respectively. Holmgren is also averaging 3.3 blocks a game and 0.5 steals. This stat line, is in and of itself incredible for a freshman, let alone a 19 year old. Then we factor in the shooting. Holmgren is shooting a whopping 46% from deep on 3 shots a game. I can’t stress enough how invaluable that ability is for a 7-foot center. So, in conclusion, as long as these Zags can keep playing lockdown defense, and as long as Holmgren keeps sinking impossible shot after impossible shot, this team might have the best chance at cutting the nets down in March.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: