While upsets happen all the time in the NCAA Tournament, there are usually only a handful of teams that can win the tournament. These teams are efficient on both ends of the floor and are usually battle-tested as well. The last team to win it all and not be top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency was UConn in 2014. That UConn team is the only team since 2002 not meet those parameters and still win the championship. With that being said, here are the six teams that can come out on top this March Madness:
This is the most obvious of the teams because they are the number one overall seed and have just two losses on the season. They weren’t highly thought of at the start of the season, as they weren’t ranked in the AP or coaches polls. There have only been four teams to go from being unranked in the preseason to winning it all since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. Virginia was underrated, but is now the team to beat in this tournament.
Why are they one of a few select teams that can win the NCAA Tournament? They rank first in points allowed per 100 possessions and 21st in points per 100 possessions. Their style of play slows the game down for opponents. The Cavaliers play lock down defense, then take their time to get a good shot by running good half-court offense.
Their bracket will be tough, with possible matchups with Kentucky, Arizona, Tennessee or Cincinnati, but Virginia has proven to be able to beat just about everyone they play this season. Can Tony Bennett finally find the tournament success that he desires?
Villanova did not win the Big East regular season title, but did win the Big East Tournament. The Wildcats have lost some questionable games this season, but have also beaten the best of the best. This includes two wins over number one seed Xavier, a win over number three seed Tennessee and a win over number four seed Gonzaga.
The Wildcats are the most efficient offensive team in the country, averaging 127.4 points per 100 possessions. They are also pretty good at defense, ranking 22nd in defensive efficiency. The offense is run by Jalen Brunson, who does a good job of setting up the offense from the point guard position. Villanova also has Mikal Bridges, a future lottery pick, who is a great two way player. His length helps him guard great wing players and limit their effectiveness.
They also have some difficult games that they will have to get through in their bracket. West Virginia, Wichita State, Texas Tech and Purdue are all possible matchups they could have in the second weekend of the tournament. At times they rely too much on three point shooting, but when they get good shots, they are capable of winning six straight games and taking home the trophy.
Duke Blue Devils
Duke had a great recruiting class, but was only able to obtain a number two seed. Even though they didn’t get a one seed, they have a better chance of winning the tournament than the one seeds not listed here. Like Villanova, Duke has beaten some great teams, but also has lost some head-scratchers.
A lot has been made about Duke’s defense this season, but has gotten much better the last month of the season. They rank seventh in the country in defensive efficiency now. The Blue Devils have gone to a zone defense and use their length to contest shots. They also rank third in the country in offensive efficiency, with great offensive threats like Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley III.
With their defense fixed, they have every opportunity to cut the nets down in San Antonio. They have a possible rematch with Michigan State in the Sweet 16 that could be the game of the tournament. Duke won the first matchup 88-81, but that game was months ago.
Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans only had four losses all season, but got a four seed. This was partially due to scheduling, but also an effect of the Big Ten being down this season. They only lost to NCAA Tournament teams this season in: Duke, Ohio State and Michigan (2x).
Michigan State is both efficient on offense and defense ranking ninth in both categories. They have too many good players to get on the floor consistently, so they are deep and stay pretty fresh. Another key factor here is that Michigan State ranks first in points per game with 19.8. This has helped them have five scorers in double figures for the season.
With stars like Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., the Spartans certainly have the talent to win it all. They will likely have to get past Duke in the Sweet 16, but if they get past that point, the Spartans will be more widely accepted as a favorite to win the whole thing.
Gonzaga got a four seed with only four losses on the season, because they play in the WCC. Their only loss to a non-tournament team came to St. Mary’s, who was a bubble team. They also beat quality teams such as Ohio State, Creighton and Texas.
The Bulldogs rank 12th in offensive efficiency and 17th in defensive efficiency. While they may not have the stars like the last two seasons, Gonzaga has some solid players that can help them win the title. They have five players averaging over 10 points per game and have some matchup nightmares in Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie. Point guard Josh Perkins has necessary tournament experience and has run the offense well in his first season taking over those duties.
The West region is there for the taking, as the number one seeded Xavier plays selective defense. The Musketeers rank 59th in defensive efficiency, which means Gonzaga should be able to do some damage on that defense. If they can get to the Elite 8 and play what will likely be UNC or Michigan, anything can happen.
The Wildcats are peaking at the right time, but are still the least likely on this list to win the NCAA Championship. They won the SEC Tournament, showing that they have improved throughout the season. Kentucky has won games over Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, West Virginia, Alabama (2x), Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee, who are all in the field of 68.
Surprisingly, Kentucky ranks 25th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in defensive efficiency. While their half-court offense still needs some work, they get out in transition very well. Their length is what helps them on defense, as there are times when the shortest person on the floor is 6’6″. They create matchup problems with 6’6″ point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, who has the size of a big man, but plays mostly on the perimeter.
The South region is going to be tough to come out of, especially for a very young team like Kentucky. The second round features a matchup with DeAndre Ayton and Arizona. If they happen to get to the Sweet 16 to play Virginia, they will have to play the game of their lives to win.