March Madness: 10 reasons this year's could be one of best yet
There's about a month left in the regular season, but it's never too early to start counting down to Selection Sunday. We don't know who is in and who is out of the NCAA tournament, but it's clear based on the wacky season so far that this March Madness is loaded with potential.
Here are 10 reasons why this year's NCAA tournament could be the wildest yet:
1. Upsets galore
This has been one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Iowa’s loss last week was the 23rd by a top-five team this season, the most before February in history. And how does February start? With a loss by No. 2 North Carolina on Monday night. In all, five different teams have lost as No. 1 this season.
Why wouldn’t this trend continue into March? If the NCAA tournament is anything like the season has been, chalk could be in big trouble.
2. Buddy Hield
Top-ranked Oklahoma’s senior leader has established himself as the current favorite for the Naismith Trophy. He’s second in the country with 25.8 points per game and is shooting an incredible 52.8 percent from the field, 51.7 percent from 3-point range, and 89.6 from the free-throw line.
Hield is no stranger to the spotlight, either. In some of the Sooners’ biggest games, he’s lived up to the hype. He scored 46 points in the three-overtime loss to Kansas in January. He scored 32 when matched up against LSU and Ben Simmons this past weekend.
March is when stars become legends. Is Buddy Hield the next to etch his name into bracket lore?
3. Bench celebrations
Monmouth’s bench has achieved national fame for its celebration antics. The Hawks, currently atop the MAAC, are looking to make their first tournament appearance in 10 years. Whether or not they make it, they have certainly brought attention to the end of the bench, and there will be some cameras waiting to catch the next crazy thing any team does after a big 3-pointer or a monster dunk.
4. Freshman phenoms
LSU freshman Ben Simmons is not just one of the top freshman in the country, but one of the best players. He’s averaging 19.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. His Tigers are in contention for the tournament, but their chances have a lot to do with how they play from here on out.
Whether or not Simmons brings his must-watch game to the tourney, there should still be plenty of young talent to watch come March. Jamal Murray leads Kentucky with 17.5 points per game. Brandon Ingram is second for Duke at 17.0. California, another potential bubble team, features Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb.
Ben Simmons with the nifty, around-the-world assist. Just wow. https://t.co/LsQXpbiYmh— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) February 3, 2016
5. Blue bloods and new blood
Sure, Kansas, North Carolina and the like appear to be in contention for a national championship. But there could be some newcomers this year.
Top-ranked Oklahoma has been to four Final Fours, though the Sooners haven’t been to one since 2002. Iowa, currently No. 5, was last in a Final Four in 1980. Sixth-ranked Xavier and ninth-ranked Texas A&M have never been one of the last four remaining. Meanwhile, usual favorites like Kentucky and Duke may not have the high seeds they are used to.
With so many top teams that aren’t necessarily the “blue bloods” of basketball, this year’s tournament could be a great opportunity to see some history.
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PLAY TOURNAMENT RUN
The goal of the 30-second shot clock and new rules to reduce physicality were to encourage better pace of play and scoring. It seems to have worked.
As of December, scoring was up to 73.90 points per team per game, up more than five points from the same time a year ago. Total possessions, points per possession and field-goal percentage were all slightly up. That sounds like a recipe for even more excitement in March.
7. Kris Dunn
Providence’s star guard will have a chance to shine in March. A junior, Dunn is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 3.1 steals per game.
The Friars themselves are having quite an impressive season, at 18-5 despite Tuesday night’s loss to DePaul. They seem to be in prime position to make their third consecutive tournament, but they have not been to a Sweet 16 since 1997 or a Final Four since ’87. Can Kris Dunn lead Providence deep into March?
8. Shockers …
Don’t look now, but annual bracket-buster Wichita State has won 11 in a row and 14 of 15. An experienced squad led by Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, the Shockers have the look of a team that can make noise in March yet again. Just look at their past three years: 2013, a trip the Final Four. 2014, an unlucky third-round matchup with eventual runner-up Kentucky that handed them their first loss of the season. 2015, wins against Indiana and Kansas to reach the Sweet 16. Don’t be shocked when they do it again.
9. … and Shaka
Texas, like Wichita State, lost some games early, but has turned it around as of late. The Longhorns have won six of seven as first-year Shaka Smart seems to be getting his system to fire on all cylinders. Defensively, opponents are shooting 39.7 percent against Texas. In their past nine games, they’ve given up 63.4 points per game.
Offensively, Isaiah Taylor leads the way with 15.4 points per game, but with Cameron Ridley out with a broken foot, this is truly a team effort for the Longhorns. Nine other regulars average at least 10 minutes per game, though no one score more than 10.5 per contest. This is a team that has the balance -- and a coach -- to make things happen in March.
10. Same time, new channel
For the first time, TBS will have the main broadcast the national championship game, which will be held this year at NRG Stadium in Houston. The team-centric “TeamStream” broadcasts will be on TNT and TruTV.
Editor's note: The mention of any team reflects only the opinion of the writer and not a programs's actual chances to make the tournament. Here's how teams are selected for the tournament.