The Road to March
It is finally that time of the year. College basketball is finally starting up again. In the next few weeks, the season will be fully underway, every team fighting for a spot in the National Championship in March. In the eyes of many, March is arguably one of the greatest months for sports fans. The March Madness Tournament is always a great time. People bet money on teams, and everyone tunes in to to watch all the games. This year looks like it will be an interesting one.
The top five teams in the preseason rankings were: North Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, Kansas, and Duke.
North Carolina is always a contender in the March Madness Tournament, and this year they started the season as the top ranked team. The Tar Heels are led by senior guard Marcus Paige, who averaged 14.1 points last year. While he was on the the Third Team All-American in the preseason rankings, he is still their top scorer and a legitimate threat. Last year though, he was hampered by injuries. The Tar Heels will also get some key contributions from forwards Brice Johnson (12.9 pts) and Kennedy Meeks (11.4 pts.). They have a good team but will have a hard time replacing J.P. Tokoto, a great defender for the team last year. The one thing that could end up hurting them this year is their huge lapses on defense, which they were prone to last year. Currently, North Carolina has already fallen down to the number nine rank, after a shocking defeat at the hands on Northern Iowa. They will look to bounce back quickly, and reclaim the top spot.
Kentucky once again started the season in the top five. They are always there thanks to Coach John Calipari’s ability to recruit some of the top prospects out of high school. Kentucky doesn’t have one go-to player as of now. They will probably only have two starters who were on the team last year. That would be rare senior Alex Poythress. He was a solid player his freshman and sophomore years, but was slowed by injuries last year. Their incoming freshmen this year look very good as always. Skal Labissiere is going to be the star of the frontcourt. He is 6-11 but only 225 pounds, so he may be slightly undersized. He will probably enter the draft after the season, so he must make his mark this season at Kentucky. The Wildcats will also be led by freshman guards Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray. They are both tough and physical guards who will look to do damage throughout the season. This is arguably the most talented team in the country. It is just a matter of all the players coming together and playing as one. A downfall for the Wildcats might be their inexperience, as most of them are freshmen. Kentucky started off very strong, beating Duke. They were ranked as the number one team in the country following the victory, but were then upset by UCLA. As a result, they will likely drop down to fifth or lower.
Maryland is the most surprising team in the top five. Last year they seemingly came out nowhere with a convincing season. They look to carry on that success this year. This year the Terrapins will mainly be led by sophomore guard Melo Trimble who averaged 16.2 points per game last year. He was a stud for them last year and is a preseason Second Team All-American. Maryland will also get key contributions from senior forward Jake Layman and senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who transferred from Duke. Maryland has a very good team. Trimble and Layman will play a lot of minutes, and head coach Mark Turgeon will have to find a way to divide up the remaining minutes. They will also have to reduce their turnovers, which was a problem for them last year. Maryland has been playing well, but they got beaten by North Carolina on December 1st.
Kansas and coach Bill Self are always contenders and will continue to be this year. Kansas still has senior forward Perry Ellis who averaged 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds last year. He will be a key player to their success this year. Wayne Selden and Frank Mason III will also be a big part of the offense for the Jayhawks. Freshman Cheick Diallo is also an intriguing player to watch. It will be intriguing to see what he can do. Kansas has a lot of upside and is a very good pick to win it all this year. Kansas has been playing very well but lost to Michigan State on November 17th, even though they held the lead late in the game.
Duke is the reigning National Champion. It should be fun to see what they can do this year. Duke doesn’t have much from last year. The only returning player is senior forward Amile Jefferson, who plays great defense and will hit the glass hard. It’ll be hard to replace all the stars they lost last year. Probably the most talented incoming freshman is forward Brandon Ingram. He is a great scorer and will probably be the top scorer from day one. So far he hasn’t lived up to all the hype. There is still a lot of the season left so hopefully he will grow as a player. They also have two other five-star recruits in Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard. In addition, Grayson Allen will start for the Blue Devils. He was on the team last year but didn’t play too much, though he did score 16 points against Wisconsin in the National Championship game. On paper, this doesn’t look like the best team Duke has ever had. The team seems to be in a rebuilding stage. Then again, so did last years team, and we all know what happened last year. Duke was looking a little weak coming into the season, and their weaknesses were exposed in their loss to Kentucky on November 17th . They haven’t lost since so their season is still very good.
A team that wasn’t in the preseason top five was Michigan State. They have arguably been the top team so far this season. They are led by senior Denzel Valentine. He is averaging 20 points and 8 assists a game. They have a few quality wins including one over Kansas. They are now ranked number one and will continue to stay atop the polls until they lose.
As the season plays out, the drama will increase. There will be plenty of heartbreak and rejoice. College basketball always has something in store for all of us. Whose year will it be, which teams will get upset, and who will be the cinderella story this year? We will soon find out.