Best players no one knows about
Dylan Windler: Belmont
Ja Morant of Murray State is not the only great player in the Ohio Valley Conference. This season, the 6 foot 8 inch Windler is averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds per game, all while shooting three-pointers at a 44% clip. Windler is a matchup nightmare for teams, as he can play down low with big men as well as step out of the lane to not only make threes but to take his defenders off the dribble as well.
Fletcher Magee: Wofford
When I say that Magee is one of the greatest shooters in college basketball history, I mean it. He is just three made three-pointers away from holding the all-time NCAA record. This season, Magee is shooting 43% from three-point range and averaged 21 points a game on his way to being named the Southern Conference player of the year. Both Magee and the Terriers are very dangerous, as he leads a team that has not dropped a game since before Christmas.
Brandon Clarke: Gonzaga
Clarke, a transfer from San Jose State, is the forgotten man on this Bulldog team that only lost three times. The big fella is averaging 17 points, 9 rebounds, and is second in the nation with just over 3 blocks a game this season. His shot blocking ability as well as offensive efficiency is a major reason why Gonzaga’s offense and defense rank 1st and 5th in the nation respectively.
Jarron Cumberland: Cincinnati
Just like the Bearcats as a team, Cumberland is a player who flys severely under the radar. He was named American Athletic Conference player of the year, averaging 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Cumberland is a jack of all trades player, as he is one of the best shooting guards off the dribble, and also shoots threes at nearly a 40% clip. Cumberland has the capability to take over a game single-handedly and could lead the Bearcats on a run deep into the tournament.
Be careful when picking these teams
The Tigers had been having a dream season, eclipsing twenty-five wins in a season for the first time in 11 years. But it may all have come crashing down less than two weeks ago when Tigers’ head coach, Will Wade, was suspended indefinitely due to his role in allegedly paying for the services of top recruits. The Tigers, led by point guard Tremont Waters and hot shooting big man Naz Reid, have talent but are without one of the best coaches in the country. Never is coaching more important than in the NCAA tournament, and Wade’s poor decision making may come back to hurt his team early in the NCAA tournament.
This Jayhawk team is a hot mess. Due to two suspensions and an injury, Kansas is down two starters as well as a big contributor off the bench. The Jayhawk’s were unable to extend their Big 12 conference regular season champion streak to 15 because of their struggles especially away from home. Kansas went just 8-9 away from home, and do not have a favorable draw for a potential second-round matchup with Auburn. Do not be shocked to see this Kansas team make an early exit.
Although I don’t think UVA will lose to a #16 seed again this year, the Cavaliers have been notoriously known for early exits in the tournament. In 2014 and 2015, they were a #1 and #2 seed respectively and lost both years to Michigan State in the sweet sixteen and round of 32 respectively. In 2016, the Cavaliers, as a 1 seed, choked away a 15 point lead late in an elite eight game to lose to Syracuse. And finally, last year, Virginia lost what might go down as the biggest upset of all time to #16 seed UMBC. So what exactly makes the Virginia team so vulnerable? Their pace of play. Because Virginia plays such a slow game, when they get behind, they make life very difficult for themselves. One thing that certainly benefits the Cavaliers is that a lot of teams in their region also play a very slow game.
Jordan Caroline, Nevada
Caroline is one of the toughest players to guard in all of college basketball. Standing at 6’7 235 pounds, he is a very versatile player averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds and shooting 40% from three. Opposing teams don’t seem to have an answer of how to guard him, if you put a guard on him he will bully him in the paint, but if you put a big man on him, he will take him outside to both shoot and play off the dribble. However, Caroline did not play in the Mountain West conference tournament due to an Achilles injury. He is expected to play in the tournament, but if he’s not close to 100%, Nevada will have a tough time winning.
Zavier Simpson, Michigan
Simpson is not only one of the most underrated point guards, but players in the entire country. There may not be another player that’s as important to their team as Simpson is. He is one of the best facilitators and defenders, and can completely control the tempo of a game. Simpson can do it all, as he averages 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists a game. The knock on Simpson is his shooting. He only shoots three-pointers at a 30% clip. Opposing teams are going to force Simpson to beat them with his outside shooting, and if he is able to connect on some of them, he makes Michigan incredibly dangerous.
Kabengele is the leading scorer for the Seminoles, all while coming off the bench. He won the 6th man of the year award in the ACC, averaging 13 points and 6 rebounds a game. Kabengele is also one of the best defenders in the country, averaging 2 blocks a game. In games in which he scores 15 or more points off the bench, the ‘Noles have lost just once. If Kabengele can get it going in the tournament, FSU has the chance to go to a final four.
Final Four: Duke, Michigan, Virginia, UNC
Why Duke- The Blue Devils have two of the best players in all of college basketball players in Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Pair that with a bracket that could see them being unchallenged until a possible Elite Eight matchup with MSU, and Duke should have a great chance to get to their first final four since 2015
Why Michigan- The Wolverines have the three key components to go on a run in my eyes: Great coaching, great defense, and timely shooting. John Beilein is one of the best coaches in the country, the Wolverines own a top 5 defense, and Iggy Brazdeikis and Jordan Poole can make big shots.
Why Virginia- Although their recent NCAA tournament struggles have been well documented, I think this may be the year Tony Bennett guides a team to his first final four. This UVA team is much better suited to play under pressure with big-time players in Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter, and I think that these two help lead the Cavs to a Final Four.
Why UNC- Scoring. The Tar Heels can flat out score the ball with Coby White, Cam Johnson, and Luke Maye making a three-headed monster. That along with a hall of fame coach in Roy Williams is more than enough to lead this Tar Heel team to a final four.
National Champion: UNC