On Sunday, 68 teams punched their ticket to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and will compete for College Basketball’s National Championship. Every team has an amazing story behind the success that has helped catapult their program into the Big Dance.
Here’s our top-5 storylines to watch for as we approach the beginning of the tourney later this week.
- Can Villanova repeat as National Champions?
The last team to win back-to-back titles were the Florida Gators in 2006 and 2007. That team was led by Al Horford, and Joakim Noah, and amazingly, had the same starting five for both teams. The 1991-92 Duke team led by Christian Laettner, is the only other team to repeat as champions in the last 44 years.
In other words. It doesn’t happen often.
Villanova returns three starters from last year’s title team. Seniors Kris Jenkins (the hero of the 2016 National Championship Game) and Josh Hart, along with sophomore Jalen Brunson give the Wildcats a powerful three-headed monster. They are the number one overall seed in the tourney for a reason and have all the tools to repeat as National Champions.
— Villanova MBB (@NovaMBB) March 12, 2017
2. Northwestern get its first EVER invite to the Big Dance
If you watch ESPN, you are very aware that the Northwestern Wildcats have made their first EVER trip to the NCAA Tournament. Alums like Mike Greenberg, Michael Wilbon, Adam Schefter and Britt McHenry haven’t been shy about who they’ll be rooting for this year.
— Michael Wilbon (@RealMikeWilbon) March 13, 2017
Northwestern is basically playing with house money. They’ve never been to the tourney. The city of Chicago knows all about teams not winning for a long time. Look no further than Wrigley Field and the 2016 Cubs. It’s all gravy from here for the Wildcats.
3. Can Duke ride the wave all the way to Phoenix?
There’s no middle ground with Duke. Either you love them or you loathe them. But this team is hot right now. They won four games in four days to win the ACC Conference Tournament and are a number two seed in the EAST region. The Blue Devils were the top-ranked team in the preseason and the expectations were Final Four or bust. After going through a rough patch with the Grayson Allen saga, injuries to key players as well as their head coach Mike Krzyzewski missing games due to back surgery, Duke is healthy and ready for a run. They’ll have to go through defending champion Villanova if they want to reach their goal but remember, it’s not always the best team that wins it all it’s often the hottest.
4. Where will Cinderella live this year?
Let’s be honest, we LOVE upsets (unless it’s our team of course). Everyone loves to see David beat Goliath. Last year, a 15-seed, Middle Tennessee State, ruined everybody’s bracket by defeating 2-seed Michigan State 90-81. The Spartans were many people’s favorite to win it all last year and they were ousted from the tournament in the first round.
Upsets happen every year. So who are the teams to watch out for this week?
–Florida Gulf-Coast made noise in the tournament back in 2013 when they reached the Sweet Sixteen as a 15-seed before losing to Florida. Now, Dunk City is back and faces another in-state opponent, 3-seed Florida State. Look out for the Eagles.
-It’s hard to call a team that made the Final Four in 2013 a Cinderella, but Wichita State as a 10-seed is a candidate for the glass slipper. After going 30-4, some feel their seeding was lower than expected but this is a team with a lot of confidence. The SOUTH is a brutal region. If the Shockers get past the first round, they would likely face Kentucky next. But this team is for real and can shoot the lights out. They’re a team nobody wants to face right now.
–Vermont has the nation’s longest winning streak right now at 21 games. They last lost December 21 at Butler. They are a 13-seed and face a tough Purdue team from the Big Ten but the Catamounts have had tournament success in the past and could create enough chaos to make a Sweet Sixteen run.
5. Who comes out of the SOUTH region? (North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA)
Three of the legendary franchises in the history of college basketball are all lumped into one region in 2017. The SOUTH is loaded with 1-seed North Carolina, 2-seed Kentucky and 3-seed UCLA. Whichever team comes out of this region will have earned it. North Carolina was a three-point buzzer-beater away from winning it all last year. Kentucky is young, fast and loaded. UCLA has the potential number one pick in the NBA Draft in freshman guard Lonzo Ball. This will be fun to watch.
You can fill out your 2017 bracket here and always remember to go with your first instinct.
Enjoy the Big Dance. It never disappoints.