It’s a tournament like no other: 68 teams, single elimination, and one goal: to win the National Championship. With the numerous games comes the classic storybook narratives: the prodigious powerhouses, the unsuspecting Cinderellas, and the mid-major miracles. The teams are diverse, and one of the most special parts of the tournament is the melting pot of personalities that make the different universities unique.
On Sunday, March 12, the 68 contenders were announced on CBS’s Selection Sunday. Teams that won their conference tournament were granted an automatic bid, while the remaining spots were given to teams that didn’t win their conference, but have proven their legitimacy enough for the selection committee to qualify them. Now that the bracket is official (see graphic below), the games begin with the First Four taking place on Tuesday, March 14 and Wednesday, March 15.
First, the favorites. The following teams are those you may want to consider to go all the way on your bracket. Of course, there’s no guarantees in the single elimination tournament, but these groups are poised and focused to go all the way:
When it comes to March Madness, Duke is no stranger to the bright lights. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has won the National Championship 5 times in his coaching career, and the Blue Devils been preparing for March all year. Led by sophomore sensation Luke Kennard and freshman prodigy Jayson Tatum, the road to the tourney hasn’t been smooth, but they’re here and determined to win.
Last season, the Tar Heels lost in possibly the most upsetting fashion ever: a game-winning three from Villanova’s Chris Jenkins as time ran out. Being the runner-up in last year’s tournament, they obviously have the experience. It also helps that their team is led by juniors Justin Jackson and Joel Barry, along with seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. This is a team that knows how to win, and has been there before.
Head coach John Calipari has demanded success since joining the team in 2009, and the Wildcats haven’t disappointed. Calipari’s teams have been in 4 of the last 8 Final Fours, one of them ending in a national championship in 2012. The Wildcats are young, as the two leading scorers are freshmen Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, but Calipari has built a culture there that leads many to believe they are as capable of winning as anybody else.
You can’t count out the defending champs, and Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats have been ranked number 1 in the country for the better part of the year. Senior Josh Hart, sophomore Jalen Brunson, and senior Kris Jenkins already have 1 championship under their belt, and despite the great difficulty in repeating as national champions, Villanova might just prove that it can be done.
As you fill out your bracket, remember that choosing the correct national champion is valued just as much as correctly selecting each of the 32 first round winners. March madness is now in full swing, so brace yourself for a legendary ride to the top of the college basketball world.
By Carson Frost