At this point in the season, we have a strong eight teams that I think have a realistic shot at winning the National title. Sorry, Texas Tech, UCLA, Villanova, anyone else, for differing reasons I don’t think you have a chance at winning the National Championship. We’ll get into the eight going in alphabetical order and start by breaking down why they can or can’t win the National Championship.
Why they can win: Overwhelming for most
We talk a lot about Arizona’s offensive firepower, which they have a ton of. Bennedict Mathurin is an All-American, who drills shots at an elite level and has elite size, Azuolas Tubelis is a perfect four-man, plus Kerr Kriisa, when on will drop 20 and demoralize you in the process. Defensively, Christian Koloko is as good of a rim protector as you can find, and this team defends at an elite level.
Why they won’t win: Inexperience in the Tournament
This Arizona team simply doesn’t have enough NCAA Tournament experience, making it hard to imagine that they will win the title. Only Oumar Ballo has been on a team that has made the NCAA Tournament, the rest of the team has not. Tournament experience isn’t a prerequisite to winning it all, but it sure helps. Kerr Kriisa also is likely to have a 2-11 night from three which would also doom their chances.
Why they can win: Frontcourt dominance
The Auburn Tigers have the perfect frontcourt and that is what makes this team so tough. Walker Kessler is a force around the basket, being a shot-blocking machine, as well as a high-volume dunker. Pair him with potential #1 pick Jabari Smith who has the size and shooting ability, earning him the title of being “Not Kevin Durant but he’s the Kevin Durant of College Basketball.”
Why they won’t win: inconsistent guard play
The perfect frontcourt is beneficial to the Tigers Tournament chances, but what could hold them back is their backcourt. It’s not that KD Johnson, Wendell Green, and Zeb Jasper are bad, because they most certainly are not, it’s that they can get a little wild. Wendell Green has games where he’s great but also makes bad decisions at times. KD Johnson plays as hard as anyone but can get a little wild too. This backcourt when on is blow-your-socks-off good but is inconsistent enough to lose them a game.
Why they can win: Shooting and Athleticism
There are not many teams more fun to watch than the Baylor Bears when they are on. Between Flagler, Akinjo, and Cryer drilling three after three, mixed in with good floor-spacing and athleticism up front. The Bears simply have everything you could want in an elite basketball team. In the first two months of the season, this Bears team was the best team in the sport and if they can get back to that level of play, watch out.
Why they won’t win: Health and inconsistent shooting
Part of the reasons for this Baylor team not playing at their same high level has been injuries all over the place, only Kendall Brown and Flo Thamba have played every game and Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua is done for the season. They still have high upside but the injury bug and not having enough quality depth because of those injuries might be what does them in. If it’s not health, James Akinjo and Adam Flagler are also susceptible to poor shooting performances, which can be disasterous.
Duke Blue Devils
Why they can win: Talent
This roster is oozing with talent, athleticism, and size that resembles NBA rosters. If this same roster played together three years from now, they might make the NBA playoffs. Paolo Banchero is such a good option at the four and has played his best against the best. AJ Griffin is healthy and shooting the lights out. Trevor Keels and Wendell Moore run the show at the point well and are size mismatches, Mark Williams is a great starting center because of his size and length. When this team is on, I don’t think there’s a team better.
Why they won’t win: Youth
Their downfall could ultimately be because of their youth. Already this year, Duke has sleepwalked against Miami, Florida State, and Virginia, which isn’t a promising sign. The Blue Devils certainly have as good of a chance as anyone to win but could also fall victim to a 7-over-2, second-round upset and neither would be surprising.
Why they can win: Three elite players
This Gonzaga team has three elite level players in Chet Holmgren, Drew Timme and Andrew Nembhard. Holmgren is not the best player on this team because of his size, shot-blocking, shooting, and freak abilities. Drew Timme has as good of footwork around the rim as anyone and can go off in any game. Andrew Nembhard isn’t as much a threat scoring the ball but is a premier passer, who avoids turnovers. Add in shooting around those three and this team has all you could need in a title contender.
Why they won’t win: Not battle-tested enough
While the WCC is decent by comparison to years past, it still doesn’t provide Gonzaga with enough tests. Each of the last 25 National Championship teams has lost a game after the start of February, while Gonzaga just doesn’t have enough of an opportunity to lose in the WCC. The Bulldogs also remain 1-12 against Top-3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, my stance remains that the league prepares them perfectly for a run to the Elite Eight, from there, opponents’ close game experience will be a factor in their potential defeat.
Why they can win: Wing play
Kansas is as good as any team 2-4 as you could get in the sport and that is what makes them a tough out. Ochai Agbaji is a First-Team All-American who is a sniper from deep. Pair him with Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson who both can run the point, shoot, and are tough defenders and this wing group is elite. DaJuan Harris and David McCormack are good at times and if they can be serviceable, this Kansas team has the ability to win six games in March.
Why they won’t win: Inconsistent play at the five
Many people point to the point guard spot as the reason why Kansas can’t win it all, but I think Harris has actually been a good compliment to their wings. Their problem is at the center spot. David McCormack is as inconsistent as they come, he can go for 15 and 15 one game and produce nothing the next, while there’s no real backup option behind him either.
Why they can win: Perfect roster construction
There isn’t a better College Basketball starting five than the one Kentucky possesses and that is why this team is so dangerous. Sahvir Wheeler is such a good point guard because he gets to the rim at will and defends tough, TyTy Washington is a good secondary ball-handler and provides decent shooting. Kellan Grady is a dead-eye sniper, Keion Brooks is a good mid-range threat and a decent defender. Add in that Oscar Tshiebwe is the best rebounder in College Basketball, a great interior presence, and is the National Player of the year favorite and this team is tough to beat.
Why they won’t win: Health and inconsistency
For starters, this team has dealt with injuries in every SEC loss, against LSU it was both Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington who got hurt. Washington got hurt again in both the Auburn and Tennessee losses as well and without him, this team’s ceiling drops dramatically. Add to that inconsistent play and this team certainly has the ability to fall come NCAA Tournament time.
Why they can win: Offensive firepower
This team is as good as anyone when they are on and that’s saying a lot. Jaden Ivey is the best pro prospect for a reason and that is because of his insane athleticism and shooting ability. Zach Edey is too big for teams and just is a weapon at the center spot. Trevion Williams is a great interior scorer and is a great passer and they have shooters galore. This team is extremely fun to watch when they get going and have a ceiling that opponents can’t match.
Why they won’t win: Defense and sleepwalking
The defense is a major concern, being outside the Top-75 defensively is always a bad indicator of Tournament performance. Add to that this team will simply sleepwalk when they get up by 20 or when they are playing an inferior opponent and allow those teams to come back. Championship teams put teams away and defend at a high level, which Purdue doesn’t do.