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The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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April 21, 2024

The Black & White’s guide to your March Madness bracket

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@MarchMadnessMBB
Here is The Black & White’s guide to this year’s March Madness.

March Madness is finally upon us, and with just days until the madness begins, here are The Black & White’s top picks for championship favorites, possible championship contenders, dark-horse candidates and Cinderella teams:

 

Championship Favorites 

These teams are the best of the best and are ranked at the top of the bracket with the best title odds. More often than not, one of the top-seeded teams ends up taking it home, so most likely, one of these six squads will be hoisting the championship trophy in a month.

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#1 UConn Huskies (31–3)

The Huskies are currently the best team in college basketball and the favorites to win it all. They have the guards in Tristen Newton, Cam Spencer and Stephon Castle and have their big with future lottery pick Donovan Clinigan holding it down in the paint. When the whole roster is healthy, this UConn team is scary, and they’re just now hitting their peak going into March. Although the team is seemingly unstoppable, they aren’t perfect; when Clinigan has an off night, the boat can start to get rocky. Their perimeter defense can struggle when Clingan is off the floor, and if teams can run them off the three-point line, things could go south for the Huskies.

#1 Purdue Boilermakers (29–4)

After being only the second one-seed ever to lose to a 16-seed, Purdue looks to change the narrative this year. Leading the charge for the Boilermakers is seven foot one inch Center and Wooden Award winner —given to the best college basketball player in the country —  Zach Edey. Purdue runs their offense through Edey, and with sharpshooting wings Fletcher Loyer, Mason Gillis and Lance Jones, the Boilermakers can create space for Edey to dominate the paint. The flaws of Purdue often come in the second half; they have a problem with closing out games and keeping bad teams in them. 

#1 Houston Cougars (30–4)

The Cougars have objectively the best defense in the tournament, ranking top five in an array of defensive stats, including blocks, steals and turnover percentage. This team isn’t big, but they’re athletic and can regularly hold teams under 50 points. They don’t have one superstar, just five well-rounded starters who play intense defense and can run the floor. Though no singular player runs the show, their best has to be Big 12 Player of the Year Jamal Shead, an all-around guard who can do everything from smothering the opponent’s best player on defense to facilitating for his teammates on offense.

Despite their dominant defense, the Cougars often struggle on offense and don’t have depth at most positions, but their defense will make up for what the offense lacks. Houston games won’t be entertaining for the average basketball fan, but for defense fanatics, it will be a field day.

#1 North Carolina Tar Heels (27–7)

After missing the tournament for the first time in decades just a year prior, the Tar Heels have climbed to the top of the ladder as a one-seed. North Carolina’s offense is run by star point guard and ACC Player of the Year RJ Davis, who averages 21.4 points a game and shoots 40.6% from behind the arc. The other standout player for the Tar Heels is fifth-year senior center Armando Bacot. Bacot holds it down on both sides of the ball, averaging 1.5 blocks and a double-double per game. Despite being mostly composed of transfers, this team has some of the best chemistry in the NCAA. Their Achilles heel is their lack of athleticism compared to the competition, along with a small backcourt.

#2 Tennessee Volunteers (24–8)

At the helm of this Tennessee team is Sec Player of the Year and elite scorer Dalton Knecht. Knecht runs this offense with an average of 21.1 points per game, in addition to seven 30-plus-point games. The Vols have surrounded Knecht with key players like point guard Zakai Ziegler and big man Jonas Aidoo who, have raised the Vols’ offensive efficiency to an elite level. Tennessee has all the pieces to bring it home, but their one fault is that they occasionally find themselves in offensive droughts. If the Vols can keep their offensive consistency, they will be a scary matchup for anyone in March.

#2 Arizona Wildcats (25–8)

Headlined by UNC transfer and Pac-12 Player of the Year Caleb Love, the Wildcats have an inconsistent yet explosive team. When this team is on, they are unstoppable, yet the backcourt of Love and Kylan Boswell play off each other. However, when they can’t get the offense rolling, things can go bad for Arizona. Currently, the Wildcats have a higher chance to win the tournament than one-seed UNC, according to Vegas. This Arizona team can beat anyone when they are firing on all cylinders, but it all depends on the duo of Boswell and Love. 

 

Possible Championship Contenders

This list of six teams includes the ones right up there with the top dogs, yet for some reason, aren’t ranked as one of the best. These teams could win and are some of the public’s favorite teams. It’s not uncommon to see a three-to-five seed win it, so don’t be surprised if one of these comes out on top.

 

#3 Kentucky Wildcats (23–9)

Kentucky has one of the most impressive offenses in the tournament, headlined by four elite scoring guards, Reed Sheppard, Rob Dillingham, Antonio Reeves and D.J. Wagner. Dillingham and Sheppard are both freshmen projected to be lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft, and Sheppard was this year’s SEC Freshman of the Year. Although this duo is dominant on the stat sheet, Reeves takes the cake, averaging a consistent 20 points a game. Along with scoring the most, this Wildcats team has one of the highest paces in the tournament. Despite their notable weakness — lackluster defense — this Kentucky team will beat others simply with offense, scoring 100 plus points on multiple occasions.

#3 Creighton Blue Jays (23–9)

The Blue Jays have an interesting offensive scheme, with no real explosive ball handler. They run their game through Ryan Kalkbrenner, a seven foot one inch, who is three-time reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Accompanying Kalkbrenner are three knockdown three-point specialists: Steven Ashworth, Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander. The Blue Jays are amazing at stopping opponents from getting off shots from beyond the arc and forcing them toward their bigs in the paint. Other than not having a facilitating guard, this team lacks depth due to unimpressive reserves on the bench. Creighton is one of the only teams to have taken down tournament favorite UConn in the regular season, and by a large 19-point margin as well.

#3 Baylor Bears (23–10)

The Bears have an exhilarating, fast-paced, efficient offense that ranks among the top teams in three-point shooting and inside-the arc-scoring. They also rebound 35% of their misses. Baylor is led by big man Yves Missi and forward Ja’Kobe Walter — an athletic, versatile player who will likely be a lottery pick in the NBA draft. Although those two run the show, the Bears are very spaced out scoring-wise, with six players on the team averaging double-digits. The one thing that prevents this team from being a favorite is the absence of a lockdown defender or defense in general.

#4 Auburn Tigers (27–7)

After coming off a dominant win against the Florida Gators in the SEC Tournament on Selection Sunday, the Tigers look to disrupt the East division of the bracket. Auburn’s frontcourt duo of Johni Broome and Jaylin Williams carries the team’s efforts. Broome averages 16.2 points and 8.4 rebounds, along with 2.5 blocks. The Tigers’ defense stands out, partially due to the amount of subs that come in, with 10 players averaging over 10 minutes a game. The team’s weakness comes from the frontcourt; Auburn lacks a true guard and enough talent to be tourney favorites. This team could make some waves in the tournament with their unique composition and streaky play.

#4 Duke Blue Devils (24–8)

Duke has Final Four caliber talent with elite scorers in Kyle Filipowski, Tyrese Proctor, Jared McCain and Jeremy Roach. Each of these guys can take over a game and lead the Devils to a win, and not many teams have the defenders to match up with them or meet their level of talent. Like many other teams of similar caliber, Duke has problems on the defensive side of the ball and struggles with protecting the rim. If the Devils can find a way to put all their talent together, they are capable of hanging with any team. 

#4 Kansas Jayhawks (22–10)

The Jayhawks are the definition of team basketball, as they lead college basketball in assist rate and have an elite starting lineup. When healthy, Kansas can compete with any team in college basketball — but they aren’t. Their two best players, big man Hunter Dickinson, who averages a double-double, and the Big 12’s leading scorer Kevin McCullar Jr., are not at their best due to recent injuries. The Jayhawks tend to play their starters for the majority of the game, which could lead to more injury problems or overall fatigue when they play faster, more athletic teams. The team’s health will determine how far they go in March, and if they limit their injuries, they could make a serious run come crunch time.

 

Dark-Horse Teams

These are the unlikely title winners, yet could go on a run deep into the tourney. All these teams have high upside and could very well gain a spot in the Elite Eight or maybe even the Final Four if everything goes right.

 

#6 BYU Cougars (23–10)

No team is as reliant on the three-point shot as the Cougars; they take over half of their shots from beyond the arc and tend to make them. BYU runs a unique five-out offense where all their players on the floor can shoot, and when they have a good night from range, things can look scary for their opponents. But yet again, an underwhelming defense hinders an impressive offense. The Cougars have one of the worst forced turnover rates in the country and can’t protect the rim against high-flying teams. If this team heats up, they may make a deep run in the tourney, but otherwise, a first-round exit is possible.

#7 Washington State Cougars (24–9)

Washington State is a well-balanced team that can play offense and defense at an elite level. The Cougars tend to attack the rim rather than shoot the deep ball, and with efficient scorers like Jaylen Wells, Myles Rice and Andrej Jakimovski, this team can break down any defense it comes across. Wazzou’s one defect is that they don’t have the depth to run with some of the faster teams, as they tend to play their starters for a large majority of the game. Before the season, the Cougars were picked to rank at the bottom of the Pac-12, and they have already smashed those expectations and could defy the odds once more with a run in March. 

#7 Florida Gators (24–11)

Florida has a high-level offense with subpar defense, alongside an entertaining backcourt of sharp-shooter Walter Clayton Jr. and facilitator Zyon Pullin. The Gators can score high numbers night in and night out, but can’t seem to stop teams on defense, especially in the second half. To add to the weak defense, primary shot-blocker Micah Handlogten left the SEC Championship Sunday with a scary leg injury. Although their defense may hold the Gators back, they can run the floor and put up big margins. However, if their offense isn’t going, Florida could take an early exit. 

#7 Texas Longhorns (20–12)

Texas has the pieces to be a legit tournament team, it’s just the question of whether they can put it all together. When the offense is run through stars Dylan Disu and Max Abmas, the Longhorns tend to succeed. Disu is a veteran big man who averages 15.8 points a game and shoots 50% from three, while Abmas averages 17.1 and runs the point. Pair those two with lock-down defender Tyrese Hunter and athletic wing Dillon Mitchell, and that’s a recipe for a March Madness run. That being said, the faults of this Texas team are glaring— they are terrible at perimeter defense, rebounding and, most of all, coming together and playing as a unit.

 

Cinderella Teams

The Cinderella teams, everyone’s favorite, are those unlikely to make it past the first round, yet have the potential to make some waves and bust some brackets. These teams are the underdogs but have a chance to shock the country and put their school on the map.

 

#11 NC State Wolfpack (22–14)

NC State is on a roll, and after dropping four straight games just before the conference tournament, the Wolfpack turned it around, winning five in a row and being crowned ACC Champions. This team can score, and don’t be surprised if they keep their March win streak alive by just out-scoring the opponent. At the helm of the Wolfpack is guard DJ Horne, leading the team in both points and steals, but alongside him is DJ Burns Jr., a massive big man weighing 275 pounds at just six foot nine. Despite those talents, the reality is that before they started winning, NC State was subpar at best and wouldn’t even be considered for a March Madness bid if it were not automatic.

#11 New Mexico Lobos (26–9)

New Mexico is a fast team and has a backcourt that could rival Kentucky’s in speed and explosiveness. They have the talent to pull off upsets, and the Lobos seem to have their sights set on the Sweet Sixteen. Although they might be an 11-seed, New Mexico is currently favored to win against six-seed Clemson. Led by two-way scoring guards Jaelen House and Donovan Dent, these Lobos are set to bust some brackets come time.

#12 James Madison Dukes (31–3)

JMU has three players that average double-digit points per game, with the most being 17.4, coming from Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Terrence Edwards Jr. The Dukes only lost three games all year and dominated their conference but have yet to be battle-tested against top-ranked teams. It will be interesting to see how they perform against the five-seed Wisconsin Badgers, their first-round opponents.

#12 McNeese Cowboys (30–3)

The Cowboys thrive in the chaotic style of basketball they create, with intense defense. McNeese forces a turnover on one-fourth of the opponents’ possessions. One could refer to them as a “poor man’s Houston Cougars,” and with an impressive defense, alongside four players that shoot 40% or better from beyond the arc, these Cowboys could be in for a ride.

#15 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (22–11)

This team is fast, one of the fastest in the country, and with star guard Don McHenry running the show, an unlikely yet possible upset could be brewing for the Hilltoppers. McHenry is a shifty guard who thrives in the pick and roll, especially with Georgia Tech transfer Rodney Howard. Western Kentucky got the luck of the draw when they received Marquette as their opponent, and an upset for the ages could happen for the Hilltoppers. 

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