While Alabama isn’t as prolific as it was last year from a record standpoint, this is still a deep and athletic team no one wants to see in the postseason. Alabama is buoyed by its guard play. The three-headed monster in the starting line up (Jahvon Quinerly, Jaden Shackelford, Keon Ellis) combine for an average of 43 PPG, 8 APG, 4 SPG, and 15 RPG.
Freshman JD Davison (posted above) is a dynamo — particularly in the open court. While the Crimson Tide does have a plethora of big men on the roster, none have completely replaced the brilliance brought last year by Herbert Jones. Still, this is a team who can beat anyone — especially when they’re hitting their threes.
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Texas essentially has a roster chock-full of mercenaries from different programs. On one hand, there was an expected adjustment in terms of gaining familiarity with one another. On the other hand, there’s a lot of talent on this roster — and it features one of College Basketball’s very best head coaches in Chris Beard.
This is the type of team who could go on a big run in the tournament if everything clicks into place. Utah transfer Timmy Allen has been UT’s best player. He’s been joined on the perimeter by Marcus Carr and Andrew Jones. Depth up front isn’t great. However, Creighton transfer Christian Bishop could turn into a huge X-Factor as a bouncy shot-blocking threat in the paint.
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USC is not a fun matchup for anyone. The Trojans can roll out a lineup in which they start four guys at least 6-foot-7. Their length and athleticism on the defensive end of the floor is impressive — as is the on-ball skills of bulldog point guard Ethan Anderson.
For the Trojans, it’ll come down to making shots. Memphis transfer Boogie Ellis might be the team’s best player as it pertains to shot creation. Drew Peterson is a lengthy 6-foot-8 wing with some Chandler Parsons to his game. Also benefitting head coach Andy Enfield is the fact that this may be his deepest team. Oh yeah — and they’re led by one of the country’s best big men in Isaiah Mobley.
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Veteran guard JD Notae is the star of the show for the Razorbacks. Averaging close to 19 PPG, he can score in virtually any way possible. Stanley Umude, Au’Diese Toney, and Jaylin Williams round out the core group. As is the case with Arkansas, they’ll press you, try to get under your skin, and will invariably try to speed you up on the offensive side of the floor.
This is not the type of team you want to play come March. While there’s not a ton of high-level NBA talent on the roster, Arkansas will come at the opposition in droves. Head coach Eric Musselman is a savvy dude — and will certainly have the Razorbacks ready to play.
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Providence is much better than people realize. Ed Cooley’s team starts four seniors and one junior. That’s a lot of collective basketball/experience accrued from this group. It’s not the biggest team in the world — though they make up for it with aggression, toughness, and discipline.
Two of the Friars’ starters (Jared Bynum, Noah Horchler) are assassins from beyond three (both over 40-percent). Additionally, having played a rigorous conference schedule totally toughens this group up on what to expect in the Big Dance.
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Illinois is one of the best teams in the Big Ten — and for a reason. They are led by All-America center Kofi Cockburn, transfer Alfonso Plummer, and lead guard Trent Frazier. The Fighting Illini aren’t elite in any one category. However, the presence of Cockburn down low really allows the perimeter to be spaced for open looks.
Duly, there’s the element of revenge. This team was a No. 1 seed in last year’s field — yet was bounced in the second round by Loyola-Chicago. You can bet Brad Underwood will be motivated to enjoy a deep run this year. Very few teams possess the same sort of inside-outside firepower capabilities.
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EJ Liddell is the man. He’s one of the most talented players in all of college basketball this season. Though slightly undersized, he’s more than comfortable in banging down low for contested finishes. Liddell also has the ball skills to take bigger players off the dribble. Whenever the Buckeyes need a bucket, you know where they’re going.
In general, this is a very well-coached team. They play together, for each other, and are constantly being battle-tested in the Big Ten. Also — watch out for freshman guard Malaki Branham. He’s already proven to be the best wing scorer on the roster.
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Duke probably has the deepest collection of NBA-ready prospects of any team in the country. Seattle native Paolo Banchero (pictured above) is expected to be a top-five pick. Wing A.J. Griffin is also projected to go in the first round. Heck — even fellow starters Trevor Keels and Wendell Moore Jr. could go in the first round of this year’s draft.
With all of this being the case, is Duke a lock to win the title? In a word, no. The Blue Devils have a very short bench, as the depth within the squad is rather abysmal. We could see Duke getting upset rather early. However, with the talent on the roster, you can’t count them out, either.
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Wisconsin is led by two guards: Veteran Brad Davison and surefire NBA lottery pick Johnny Davis (pictured above). Whenever you’ve got legitimate firepower in your starting backcourt, you’ve got a chance to move on within the tournament at a very high clip. Davis is a stud — and is often the Badger tasked with shot creation.
Big men Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl are workmanlike bigs. Despite averaging over 20 PPG as a combined duo, neither of them look for their own shot. They play within the disciplined confines of the offense. Wisconsin won’t beat themselves — which means you’ve really got to put pressure on them from an offensive standpoint.
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Baylor might not be as dominant as it was last year. With that said, a championship culture has been put in place here. There are expectations in Waco under Scott Drew’s stewardship. This year’s team has been beset by a number of injuries (including a season-ending knee ailment to talented big man Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua).
Still, there’s plenty of ability within this group. Arizona transfer James Akinjo is one of the team’s primary offensive options. LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler are both rock-solid guards. Matthew Mayer is one of the country’s most improved players, and freshmen Kendall Brown/Jeremy Sochan look like potential first-round picks.
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Even though last year’s team was offensively a juggernaut, this year’s team might be even better. Gonzaga isn’t as reliant upon the perimeter as it was last year. This is in large part thanks to Chet Holmgren. Holmgren’s unique skill-set enables him to play virtually anywhere on the floor. This includes as a facilitator — particularly in high-low situations featuring Drew Timme.
Julian Strawther has been a revelation on the wing, and the two highly regarded freshmen PGs (Nolan Hickman, Hunter Sallis) can both ball. Will this finally be the year for Gonzaga to get over the jump and win the NCAA Title? They’ve got as good a chance as anyone.
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This Kentucky team is quite different than most when looking at Coach Calipari squads. As opposed to relying solely on big-time recruits, Calipari decided to sprinkle in just a couple on a roster featuring mostly upperclassmen transfers. Oscar Tshiebwe is likely the odds-on favorite to win Player of the Year. He’s a monster on the glass, and has completely transformed Kentucky into a tough team.
However, transfers Sahvir Wheeler, Kellan Grady, and Jacob Toppin have helped out tremendously in that category as well. Wheeler — a former Georgia player — controls the tempo with terrific aplomb. Grady is a gunner from the perimeter (originally from Steph Curry’s alma mater), and Toppin is an energizer-bunny with a real nose for the ball. Throw in future lottery pick TyTy Washington in the backcourt, along with an emerging Keion Brooks, and you’ve got something potentially special.
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The casual basketball fan probably can’t name one player on this team. You won’t find a ton of high-end NBA prospects — nor will you see a bunch of flash. However, you will see a team coming at you in waves. Texas Tech plays 10 guys (who all average over 10 minutes a game). It enables them to stay fresh, but most importantly attack-minded on the defensive end of the floor.
Led by senior Bryson Williams and transfer Kevin Obanor, this is a highly physical/athletic squad. It’s the type of team playing with a real intensity. If you don’t match it, the Red Raiders will walk all over you. While not a tall team, they’ve got essentially a rotation of guys between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-8. This type of length and versatility on defense makes them tough to play against.
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UCLA might be the deepest team in the country. Mick Cronin has been forced into playing more of his bench options since starters Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jaquez, and Johnny Juzang have battled a few minor injuries. David Singleton is easily one of the best shooters in the entire country. Myles Johnson usurped the starting spot from Cody Riley, and has been providing UCLA with a legitimate post protector.
However, the real story is Jaylen Clark. The Inland Empire native is the team’s best on-ball defender. He’s also got a terrific feel for the game, and it’s got to a point where he actually may take over for Jules Bernard — a starter on last year’s Final Four team — for the remainder of the year.
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Arizona is for real. This team has a really nice mix of offensive efficiency and high-level defensive principles. Bennedict Mathurin is the unquestioned leader of this team. He can drive the ball to the hoop with ease, lock up opposing players quite well, and can also make plays for teammates. Think a younger Victor Oladipo with power athleticism.
Christian Koloko is a 7-foot pogo-stick in the paint. He gobbles up rebounds with ease, and does a terrific job in altering the shots that he doesn’t block himself. Dalen Terry is a 6-foot-7 glue guy with terrific athleticism, and lefty Azuolas Tubelis is a crafty post player with legitimate basketball I.Q. Unless Arizona struggles from three, we have a hard time not seeing this team in the Elite 8 (at the very least).
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Kansas is — shocker — atop the Big 12 Conference yet again. This year’s team has a very complete starting five. Of course, the team is led by sharpshooting guard Ochai Agbaji. The marksman is a very good shooter both from the field and behind the arc. Next to him is Christian Braun (the team’s second-leading scorer).
While ASU transfer Remy Martin hasn’t made the impact many thought he’d make, it’s opened the door for the diminutive Dajuan Harris Jr. to be the pitbull in the backcourt. Harris Jr. defends at a high level with his quickness, and also takes care of the ball. Rounding out the starting five includes bouncy/energetic big men Jalen Wilson and David McCormack. Kansas doesn’t have a ton of depth or size. However, its starting group is among the best in the country.
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Jay Wright intentionally loaded up on a rigorous non-conference schedule which included road games at UCLA, Tennessee, Syracuse, Baylor, and Purdue. As such — combined with Big East play — there’s not going to be a more battle-tested program in the country during the month of March.
Wright’s dribble-drive offense is still operated by wily veteran Collin Gillespie. Justin Moore is a powerful two-guard with the body of a linebacker, and both of Villanova’s starting wings (Brandon Slater, Jermaine Samuels) are as tough as nails. When you also consider that the Wildcats take care of the ball/bomb threes with terrific efficiency, they will inevitably be a tough out in the tournament.
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You’ll always have a puncher’s chance to be a great team when led by a future top-10 pick. Jaden Ivey is easily one of the more complete guards in the country. He can score off the bounce, shoot from three, be a playmaker for others, and be absolutely lethal from midrange. In short, Ivey is the type of player possessing the talent to take a game over.
Purdue’s starting five fits perfectly across the board. Ivey as the lead guard is paired with sharpshooter Sasha Stefanovic, glue guys in Eric Hunter and Mason Gillis, and a 7-foot-4 monster in the paint named Zach Edey. The Boilermakers also bring uber-talented Trevion Williams off the bench. The big man would likely start for 95-percent of other teams across the country.
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Auburn’s strengths collectively as a team sit in the realm of defense. Walker Kessler — a former 5-star transfer from North Carolina — is the best shot-blocker in the country. The general length of Kessler and Jabari Smith make it real difficult for opponents to finish in the paint/around the rim. Speaking of Smith, the dynamic freshman is a future top-three NBA pick.
With Auburn’s combination of athleticism and high-level coaching, the Tigers are poised to win the SEC en route to a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Bruce Pearl certainly has experience in these situations, as well.
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Tennessee has a savvy club led by a respectable coach in Rick Barnes. It’s a guard-centric team relying on toughness and discipline. Perhaps the team’s most talented player is freshman Kennedy Chandler. The lightning-quick first-year player can get to the rim with ease, and is a terror as an on-ball defender.
Vets Santiago Vescovi and Josiah Jordan-James help to further fortify the backcourt for the Vols. There’s a good mix of postseason experience within the squad. The frontcourt must play well if UT is to advance to one of the later rounds. We’re speaking specifically about senior John Fulkerson and freshman Brandon Huntley-Hatfield.
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