Contender or Pretender: Finding college basketball’s next champion

Every year college basketball fans around the world excitedly fill out their brackets in hopes of doing the impossible, being perfect. Whether you are serious about this process or just looking to have some fun with friends, I am here to help find the contenders and pretenders of college basketball.

CONTENDER:

GONZAGA: Surprise surprise, the Bulldogs once again enter March as a major player. Led by Drew Timme and star freshman Chet Holmgren, the Zags are firing on all cylinders with the top offense in basketball, averaging 90 points per game on 53.6% shooting, ranking 1st in the nation for both. It does not stop there however, in March two things will always have extreme importance, that being rebounding and defense. Gonzaga ranks 2nd in allowed field goal percentage, 8th in blocks, and 3rd in total rebounding. Remember the name Rasir Bolton, the Iowa State transfer is one of the most underrated players in the country, and will be featured in my upcoming article on every tournament team’s X-factor.  So, even with all the question marks surrounding this team entering the season, Gonzaga has silenced every doubter and is once again primed for a deep run.

PRETENDER:

PROVIDENCE: I may be in the minority here, but I do not see the hype with the Friars at all. Throughout the season they have lived off the motto, “a win is a win”, scraping by inferior opponents consistently, or taking advantage of opposing teams’ depleted rosters, as highlighted by their 47th place KenPom rating. They are quite literally the most ‘mid’ team you will ever see in both the eye test and statistically. For what it’s worth, they are also rated as the luckiest team in the nation, which is essentially a measurement of the deviation between a team’s winning percentage and what one would expect from its game-by-game efficiencies. They are currently slated as a three seed and depending on who they meet I may have my easiest round one upset pick of the year.

CONTENDER:

TEXAS TECH: Yes, the Red Raiders still find themselves as a contender after losing head coach Chris Beard to BIG 12 rival Texas. This is one of those teams that you watch and can just tell their best basketball is still ahead of them, with what I believe to be the best defenses in the country [while playing in the best conference] Texas Tech is poised for a nice run in march, and they are getting hot at the right time. Winners of four of the last five, the Raiders are clicking, and Terrance Shannon is finally starting to look like himself after an injury-riddled junior season. If Shannon can build off his strong week and look anything like he has in the past, Tech has a rotation with eight legitimate starting quality players, I am loving the outlook here.

PRETENDER:

HOUSTON: Let me make this very clear, at full strength Houston is not a pretender, but that will not be the case. Tramon Mark and Houston’s best player Marcus Sasser are both out for the season and as the season has progressed, their absences have begun to show. This Cougars team has zero quality wins, stacking up the injuries, and no go-to scorer [sorry Kyler Edwards, you will never be that guy]. I will be happily fading the Cougs earlier than the field.

CONTENDER:

UConn: I have been very back and forth with this team all season, some days I feel like they can make a serious run, and others I have them losing quite early. While I do believe they’re a year away from reaching their true potential, I will trust my gut and list them as a contender. They are an elite defensive group, and they get rebounds as well as any team in the country especially on the offensive boards. My main issue with the Huskies, however, is that they lack a number one option. So many times this year I have found myself aggravated with the offensive inconsistencies they struggle with, it seems to always be a Tyrese Martin night, or an RJ Cole night, or an Adama Sanogo night. To be successful, they need to figure out how to all perform well at the same time.

PRETENDER:

TENNESSEE: The Volunteers are hot, and I will give them props for that, since being embarrassed against Kentucky, they have won 7 of the last 8 and are trending upwards. Rebounding and defense are extremely important, and that is even more the case in March. The Volunteers rank well outside the top 100 in rebounding, allowed field goal %, and outside the top 200 in field-goal %. In addition, not that it truly matters, but Tennessee is currently slotted as a 5 seed, and with the history of the 5v12 [12 seed has won at least one game vs a 5 seed in 31 of the past 36 years] the Volunteers are looking primed for a disappointing out.

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