Finally, March Madness is upon us.
It always seems like such a long January and February, before conference tournaments fly by in the early part of March. Now, less than a few days before the NCAA tournament starts in earnest and pretty much everyone in America is filling out a bracket, it's time to figure out which teams have a legitimate shot at winning the title.
I checked out this article from My Top Sportsbooks, and it's giving 15 teams a chance at winning a title at March Madness. Normally, I would scoff at that notion. But not this season
This year, it's not just parody that has me believing that more than a dozen teams have a legitimate shot at the trophy. There's just not a dominant team in college basketball. And the teams that are top-tier seeds in the tournament are vulnerable.
Here's my look at the top contenders for the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Of the 1 seeds...Villanova Wildcats
I really don't like the No. 1 seeds that much this season. Sure, they definitely deserve the recognition and should be among the list of likely Final Four teams. But the draws aren't that great, especially with a pretty good four/five seed line in all of the regions.
So, I'm siding with the team that scares me the least in the Wildcats. Virginia has been better all year, but I can't shake their past tournament history. Villanova brings solid tournament experience, along with a stellar offense, which ranks No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency.
Like every team this year, though, they have a major weakness. The Wildcats haven't defended well this season. Some teams can turn on the defensive pressure at this time of the season, and with all the athletes at Villanova's disposal, I'll take a chance with the Wildcats.
Of the 2 seeds...Duke Blue Devils
I'm not huge on the 2 seeds, either, but with the Blue Devils I get tournament-tested guys, who can score and play defense.
Duke owns the fifth-best offense in terms of efficiency and the 24th-best defense in efficiency. That's not bad, especially this season. The Blue Devils can play multiple styles, which is always a nice trait to have during March.
The Blue Devils have been inconsistent this season, especially at times on the defensive side of the ball. But if I'm going to trust any of these 2 seeds, I'm trusting Duke.
Of the 3 seeds...Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans will be on the short list of teams that many believe will win it all. Michigan State has a ton of talent and was one of the preseason darlings.
The team hasn't lived up to the hype, but they're still top-10 in offensive and defensive efficiency. There are a number of factors why the Spartans didn't match the preseason expectations, with one of the biggest being off-the-court distractions.
Michigan State will be a popular bracket pick...for good reason. They're a complete team, with Tom Izzo as the head coach.
Of the 4 seeds...Gonzaga Bulldogs
This could be the strongest 4-seed line in recent memory.
All of these seeds should be considered title contenders. Wichita State has the pedigree. Arizona won a major conference's regular season and tournament title. And Auburn won the regular season of a league that just sent eight teams to the Big Dance.
And then you have last year's runner-up, who is playing as well as anyone at the moment. The Bulldogs haven't lost since Jan. 18. They're big up front again. And they're really balanced, ranking third in offensive efficiency and 14th in defensive efficiency.
Their bracket is probably the easiest of the four, with a possible matchup with Xavier in the Sweet 16. Gonzaga has the easier road of the four-seeds, so I'll back the Bulldogs.
The best of the rest
If you're looking at teams that can catch fire, you shouldn't look past the Wildcats. They're really young, but the talent level is through the roof. Those freshmen are now much older than in the beginning of the season, and they can play defense.
The region isn't easy, so that creates some difficulties, but if the Wildcats can get to the second weekend, they will be difficult to handle for a Virginia team that sometimes goes silent on the offensive end.
Scott Levine is the Associate Editor for the Clinton Herald. During his free time, he blogs about fantasy sports and handicaps games. His Against The Chalk blog has earned him back-to-back Iowa Newspaper Association awards for Best Blog. Check out more at Against The Chalk.
Scott Levine can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ScottLevineCH