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 (according to kenpom.com) 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 nine teams that can come out on top this March Madness:
They got a number one seed this year, but that didn’t pan out well for them last year as they lost to UMBC. Virginia has rebounded well though to finish this season with only three losses. They lost to Duke twice and once to Florida State in the ACC Tournament. On top of that, they have plenty of good wins over ACC teams and even out of conference against Maryland and Wisconsin.
Their adjusted offensive efficiency or points per 100 possessions ranks second in the country, which is abnormal for a team that usually relies on defense. They also rank fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency, making them a well-rounded team. After last year’s defeat in the first round, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will be focused and ready for a Final Four run.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been to just one Final Four, but have a solid program that perennially competes to get that far in the tournament. They too have had a solid season with just three losses. Gonzaga fell to Tennessee, North Carolina and St. Mary’s who are all in the tournament. For most of the season, they breezed right through the competition.
Mark Few’s team ranks first in adjusted offensive efficiency and 16th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Both of those fall well within the parameters for their case to win a National Championship, but they have also been without Killian Tillie for a lot of the season as he deals with an injury. With him in the fold, Rui Hachimura, Josh Perkins and Brandon Clarke will all be able to be even more efficient.
Duke Blue Devils
The number one overall seed usually fits into the top 25 of both offensive and defensive efficiency and Duke is no different. They won the ACC Tournament with the return of Zion Williamson to help them capture the top seed in the tournament. Duke has only lost to Gonzaga, UNC and Syracuse this season, while picking up wins over Virginia (twice), Kentucky, Auburn and UNC (once).
Duke ranks sixth in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency. As the favorites to win the tournament, the Blue Devils just need to make sure that they can knock down outside shots on a consistent basis and to stay out of foul trouble to help achieve their dreams. With Williamson back, they will be a very tough out in this year’s tournament.
Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo has another solid season under his belt after the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament and had a share of the regular season championship. They did lose three games to teams not in the NCAA Tournament field (Indiana twice, Illinois once), but have battled through injuries to get a two seed. Their most impressive feat of the season may be there three-game sweep over rival Michigan.
On adjusted offensive efficiency, Michigan State ranks fourth, while on adjusted defensive efficiency they rank eighth. Izzo will be relying on point guard Cassius Winston to help lead the Spartans to the promised land. If he can cut down his turnovers, the Spartans might just win the whole thing.
Michigan just reloads at this point, as John Beilein continually fields good rosters every year. This season they lost six games, with three of those coming to Michigan State, one to Wisconsin, one to Iowa and one to Penn State. This team has proven themselves with wins over North Carolina, Purdue and a lot of solid Big Ten teams.
While they rank solidly at 18th in adjusted offensive efficiency, their calling card is their defense, which ranks second in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. They’ll need to get some big shooting out of Ignas Brazdeikis and players like Charles Matthews will need to step it up to help get Michigan over the hump and into contention for a championship.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels were inconsistent at the beginning of the season, but really put things together in conference play. They have just six losses on the year, with only their loss to Texas as one that came to a team that didn’t qualify for the 2019 NCAA Tournament. They beat Duke when the Blue Devils were without Williamson, but also won a game against Gonzaga as well as having wins over many good ACC teams.
North Carolina ranks seventh in adjusted offensive efficiency and 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency this season. With the emergence of Coby White at point guard, the Tar Heels now have a few stars. Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson can hit big shots, while Kenny Williams is a great defender.
Kentucky has had an up and down year, which started with their blowout loss to Duke in their season opener. They have had some struggles along the way, but are a solid team that can win the whole tournament. Their one loss to a team not in the tournament came to Alabama, but they have wins against North Carolina, Louisville, Auburn and Tennessee.
The Wildcats rank 13th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Reid Travis returned from a sprained knee in the SEC Tournament and will likely be closer to full health in the NCAA Tournament. With Ashton Hagans spearheading the defense at the point guard spot and a few shooters, Kentucky can go on a run this March. P.J. Washington will have to be a force on the interior though if the Wildcats wish to win the whole tournament.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Virginia Tech is one of the teams that barely slides into the qualifications of squads that can win the whole tournament. They lost just eight games this season, with their losses to Penn State and Clemson being the only ones to teams outside of the tournament. The Hokies do however have victories over Duke and Purdue that should give them some confidence.
Buzz Williams has led the Hokies to rank 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 25th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They have a future NBA player in Nickeil Alexander-Walker, but also have senior leader Justin Robinson returning from injury to help run the team for the NCAA Tournament. If healthy they have enough talent to go on a run this year.
While the Houston Cougars are far from their glory days, they had a great season that saw them lose just three games. They play in the AAC, which may not be the best conference, but still presents its challenges. They have victories over solid teams in Oregon, LSU and Cincinnati, which proves they are the real deal.
The Cougars rank 24th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 13th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Houston has a star in Corey Davis Jr. and a coach in Kelvin Sampson who has experience in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, they were seconds away from beating Michigan to advance to the Sweet 16, but then Jordan Poole hit a game-winner to end the Cougars’ run. They have played even better last season and are a threat to go deep in the tournament.