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Top 5 NCAA Teams Heading into March Madness

March MadnessCollege basketball will be fast breaking on to your television very soon for the great March Madness. While Bracketology may not be a real class, there are tons of things to study and learn from its teachings.
Which teams will get upset in the first two rounds that no one saw coming? Can a higher seed make a run at the right time and shock the world like VCU did?

We fill out bracket after bracket on online sports websites, office pools and amongst our groups of friends trying to find the perfect combination that we hope will make us look like a genius. We go back and forth for days or weeks playing out the possibilities in our minds.

Well let me do some of the work for you. I’ve done my own studying and have come up with, what I believe, will be the Top 5 NCAA Men’s Basketball squads heading in to this year’s March Madness tournament.

Who Has The March Madness Edge?

When thinking about each team, I took in to account the following: road wins, team experience, ability to rebound and play defense consistently and the number of projected NBA pros on each team.

Let’s face it, none of these games are true home games so you have to be able to win on the road and not let the opposing team’s fans get in your head. You also need some upper-classmen leadership. It’s about the guys who’ve done it before showing the young guns the ropes.
Also, to win in this type of tournament you have to be able to play defense and rebound consistently. There’s no point of playing solid defense for most of the shot clock only to give up the offensive board for an easy second chance put back. That can be draining to a team.

Lastly, how many guys do you have on your team that are pro-level players? Truth be told, in NCAA Men’s Basketball, one guy can make all the difference. Kemba Walker for UConn caught fire at the right time and led the Huskies to the National Title. Being hot at this time of year matters. Your team has to know who they are, how to play their game and they have to believe in one another.

Top 5 Teams Heading Into the Tournament

#1 Kentucky Wildcats

The AP and ESPN/USA Today Poll’s No. 1 team. The Wildcats look primed and ready to be this year’s No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

They’ve got two huge wins over North Carolina and Kansas. However, those wins came very early in the season. While those wins do count for something, a lot of experts will tell you that early season basketball shouldn’t be a team’s measuring stick. The Cats also have two wins over the Florida Gators, who look to be a projected No. 4 seed in the Tournament.

Their only loss came on the road in Indiana. Looking at that game, they were out rebounded slightly and forward Terrence Jones had an awful game. Jones, who averages 12 points and almost 7 rebounds a contest, only had 4 points and 1 rebound. To top it all off, Jones was on the bench with less than six minutes remaining in the game. Last year he was projected to be a high NBA Draft pick. Thankfully for Kentucky, the NBA lockout kept a handful of the top NCAA talent from coming out in the 2011 Draft. With him on the bench, the Wildcats still made a run. However, the Hoosier’s three point range proved to be the nail in Kentucky’s coffin that night. All things considered, one bad game can’t break a season.

Kentucky has 5 players that are slated to be selected in the 2012 NBA Draft. Their top prospect is freshmen Anthony Davis. Davis’ length and wingspan in the paint makes him a nightmare in the middle for any team that would like to score inside. He is leading the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. Davis averages nearly 5 blocks per game.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is another young superstar in the front court who has had some monster games this season. Kidd-Gilchrist dropped a double-double on North Carolina with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Anyone will tell you that it takes some real talent to put up those kinds of numbers on a team that is already loaded with NBA-level athletes. His most impressive performance came against the then-ranked No. 4 Louisville Cardinals. Michael filled the stat sheet with 24 points and 19 rebounds.

As for experience, the Wildcats haven’t always been a team that you can look to have a lot of senior leadership. Their 6’8” senior point guard, Darius Miller, will be the one to steer the ship as Kentucky sets its sights on New Orleans. Miller combined with fellow backcourt mate, Doron Lamb, who is second on the team in scoring, look to be dangerous at all five positions on the floor.

The Wildcats are currently 11th in the nation in scoring defense and 10th in rebound margin. A lack of experience can make a young team vulnerable, but when you consider that this team has arguably the best front court in the country, I would expect to see Kentucky at the Superdome.

#2 North Carolina Tar Heels

The Tar Heels come in to this year’s tournament again loaded with NBA talent. Their biggest wins came at a neutral site against Michigan State to open the season, at home against Wisconsin and more recently against their Tobacco Road rivals, the Duke Blue Devils on the road.

However, we all remember their loss against the Duke Blue Devils on February 8th. The Tar Heels perimeter defense that night was atrocious. Duke knocked down 14 three pointers in the game. None bigger than the triple scored by Austin Rivers to win the game. All night the Tar Heels kept daring their long time rival to stroke the three, and stroke it they did.

The Tar Heels kept going under ball screens all night, which allowed open buckets for the Blue Devils, who make their living from deep. Despite Duke’s ability to hit the long ball, North Carolina’s front court was just too much for Duke to handle. The Tar Heels forward combination of Zeller, Henson and Barnes combined for 60 points and 31 rebounds.

The Tar Heels were up 82-72 with 2:11 left in the game. They looked to be walking away with this one, but we all know it’s not how you start the game but how you finish it. Duke hit 3 three pointers in the last 2 minutes, including the game –winner, to steal the victory from a North Carolina team that had no excuse for losing like that.

While the Duke loss is a loss that indeed hurts, that wasn’t their worst game of the season. That honor goes to the hands of Florida State. The Seminoles embarrassed the Tar Heels at home, 90-57. The Seminoles, like Duke, hit a high number of shots from deep. Florida State went 12 out of 17 from distance, which included an impressive 8 out of 10 three pointers made for senior guard Deividas Dulkys.

UNLV also exposed UNC’s inability to defend the three ball by drilling 13 of 32 from deep. The Rebel’s Chace Stanback lead the team with 28 points, including 4 three pointers.

I point those games out to show you a trend. When the Tar Heels get lazy and don’t defend the perimeter well, they can lose. Especially against a team with a hot hand, like a Duke, who loves to shoot the three on any given night.

Despite that glaring hole in UNC’s armor, they still have loads of NBA talent all over the floor. Their front court is only rivaled by Kentucky. The Tar Heels lead the country in rebounding, are second in points per game and with Kendall Marshall leading the charge averaging 9.8 assists the Tar Heels are fifth in the nation in assists.

This team is built to outscore you. In saying that, they still give up over 65 points per game to their opponent. Meaning that this team’s strength has to be rebounding and limiting their opponents to one shot. UNC leads the nation in rebound margin at 11.2 per game. That trend combined with better perimeter defense can lead this team all the way to New Orleans.

#3 Syracuse Orange

The Syracuse Orange comes in with senior leaders in the starting lineup, which I like over both Kentucky and North Carolina. Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph make a great combo that have the necessary experience to guide this team deep in to the tournament. Both will make solid pros on the next level.

The Orange has had big wins against Florida, Marquette, Georgetown and Louisville. All of which will have nothing lower than a 6 seed in this year’s Tournament. They’re 15-1 in the Big East, which is still one of the best conferences in the country for Men’s Basketball.
However, even in their biggest wins of the season, they’ve managed to just squeak by. They only won by 4 points at home against Florida. They also needed to go to overtime at home against Georgetown.
While winning and being able to win under any circumstance is what matters, the Orange have still had too many close calls.

In their only loss of the season to Notre Dame, Syracuse’s starters only managed to put up 28 points and they only shot 34% from the field as a team. Some have pointed to the fact that center Fab Melo not playing was why they lost.

I will say this, Fab Melo is a big body in the paint. In the second half, the Irish’s Jack Cooley did score plenty ending up with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Cooley definitely showed why Fab Melo was missed, but only from a defensive perspective. Melo only averages about 8 points and 5 rebounds a game. Yes, he’s a defensive anchor, but he’s far from a game changer.

The Orange had no excuse even with Fab Melo out. The bottom line was, they played terribly on offense and had their lowest offensive output of the season that night. The other eye raising factor is that this loss happened on the road. You have to be able to weather the storm late in the season on the road.

The Orange are another potent offensive team that is built to fill up the scoreboard before their opponent can even blink. The downside to the Orange is they have shown an ability to give up too many points and they’re ranked 127th in the country in rebounding. However, the Orange don’t beat themselves, as they average less than 11 turnovers per game and have arguable the best fast break offense in the entire country.

That means for the Orange to stay hot, they will have to continue to be the offensive juggernaut and become more disciplined on the boards. As long as they can do that, their chances of dancing in to March look promising.

#4 Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks are led by two talented upper-classmen, Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, who are sure to make it to the next level.

Junior forward Thomas Robinson has been one of the best players at his position in the country. Robinson averages 17 points and 12 rebounds per game. Robinson will be a strong candidate for player of the year honors come season’s end.

Senior guard Tyshawn Taylor is having a solid final season with the Jayhawks. Taylor is averaging 16.5 points and 5 assists per game. The only downside to Taylor is his assists to turnover ratio isn’t what you would hope for in your point guard. He’s more of a “score first” point guard, but with good reason because his offensive output is necessary.

However, the Jayhawks are average on the boards and in scoring defense. The Jayhawks are giving up a reasonable 60 points a game, but they are only 44th in the country in rebounding. Their big wins include Georgetown, Ohio State and Baylor and Kansas State twice. Keep in mind, Kansas State has beaten Missouri twice.

Speaking of Missouri, Kansas’ February 4th loss to the Tigers can be a bit misleading. Tyshawn Taylor scored 17 first half points, while Thomas Robinson ended the game with 25 points and 13 rebounds. In fact, the Jayhawks were up 8 points on the road with 3:16 left in that ballgame.

Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the Tigers’ Marcus Denmon scored 29 points including two huge threes down the stretch with 1:30 left in the game. Tyshawn Taylor had a quiet second half and missed a key free throw that would have tied the game late.

The Tigers hit 10 three pointers on the night and rest is history.

The other losses for the Jayhawks include: Kentucky, Duke, Davidson, and on the road at Iowa State. Kansas had beaten Iowa State two weeks prior to losing to them, so that loss is more of a wash than anything.

The loss that does stand out to me is the loss to Davidson, who looks to be a possible tournament team this year. Davidson knocked down 11 three pointers and held Kansas to 40% shooting at home. The Jayhawks only shot 26% from deep themselves. The Jayhawks simply didn’t play to their own level and got beat by a team that they let build too much momentum and ended up handing them a loss.

Kansas has a very strong team, but their weaknesses on defense and on rebounding are reasons for concern. However, a team led by a coach like Bill Self can always be primed to make a deep run in to March and with players like Taylor and Robinson, don’t be surprised if they end up in New Orleans.

#5 Michigan State

The Spartans are led by senior forward Draymond Green who is averaging a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds a game. Green is tied for 8th in the country in number of double-doubles on the season. He’s gone for at least 20 points and 10 rebounds against teams like Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Nebraska. Green’s best overall game came in a Spartan’s loss on the road to Indiana as he posted a stat line of 29 points on 10 of 17 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds.

While Draymond Green is the clear standout on this Michigan State team, the rest of the team is still very young. Their lineup includes a combined 10 freshmen and sophomores. Of which, only sophomore guard, Keith Appling, is making any consistent impact. All 6 of the team’s loses have come on the road or on neutral sites. Not good.

Michigan State has had key losses to UNC, Duke, Michigan and Indiana. Their most surprising loss came against Northwestern on the road. The Spartans allowed Northwestern to shoot 50 percent from the field, while Draymond Green only attempted 8 shots for the entire game. That combined with Michigan State’s inability to make their free throws (only making 17 of 27) and giving up 81 points, for a team who only gives up 58 points per game, will equal a loss more times than not.

I know some of you will point to their loss to Illinois by 1 on January 31st. However, keep in mind, Draymond Green was in foul trouble and then he left for the game with a knee injury and he didn’t return. Now that doesn’t excuse the fact that they shot only 24 percent from the field and an even worse 21 percent from three point range. The Spartans, I’m sure, will tell you that games like that won’t happen twice in a row.

I’ve mentioned a lot of downside to this young Spartans team, so how about some upside? Well, they earned a revenge win against their Michigan Wolverine rivals. They’ve also had convincing wins against tournament teams such as: Florida State, Indiana, at Ohio State and twice against Wisconsin.
In the Spartans second win against Wisconsin at home, they shot 52 percent from the field and scored 69 points against a Badgers team that leads the NCAA in scoring defense (giving up only 51 points per game). Draymond Green had a monster game with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Michigan State is also a discipline rebounding team as they are currently ranked in the top 20 in the nation in that category. They are 3rd in the nation in rebounding margin at 9.2 per game as well. On the defensive end, the Spartans are only giving up 58 points per game.

Michigan State has proven themselves plenty during the season, but their youth has showed up a number of times during the season. The Spartans must play for one another and allow their age to just be a number. If they can stay consistent on the boards and on defense they should get far in this tournament. However, if they can get hot on the offensive end, and get guys like Draymond Green and Keith Appling on a roll, the Spartans could very well end up in the Final Four.

I thought I’d finish off this article giving you a little more bang for your buck. Here are my top 3 bracket busters to consider:

• Wichita State
• Marquette
• Wisconsin

I hope this helps you with filling out your brackets for March Madness. Who do you think will end up in the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans? Tweet us or leave your comments below!

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4 Responses to Top 5 NCAA Teams Heading into March Madness

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