The college basketball season is half way over and there are a lot more games to be played, but it is never too early to start predicting the Final Four. There has been enough games to see which teams are showing signs of being able to make a deep run in March Madness. These are the teams that I predict will be in the Final Four this season.
- Oklahoma Sooners- The Sooners have just one loss this season and it was to Kansas. That game went to triple overtime and was well played by both teams. If Oklahoma can go into that environment and battle that well, they have the potential to win it all this April. Oklahoma has a star player who can get points at any time, in Buddy Heild, which will come in handy in highly competitive games in the tournament. The other members of the starting five are also very talented and can score when Heild is being shut down. The guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are both talented and can be useful in the guard-centric game that is March Madness. The post has two good players in Khadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler who can get rebounds and score from the post. The only problem that may come to end the Sooners’ goals of reaching the Final Four are their lack of depth. Against Kansas, their bench had no player play for more than 16 minutes or score more than three points. The bench had a total of five points in the 55 minutes played. If the Sooners can get over their lack of depth they will be in the Final Four.
- North Carolina Tarheels- North Carolina has a very experienced team to work with this season. The most important player is point guard Marcus Paige, who does everything for the Tarheels. He has only played 11 games, but his ability to stay healthy will determine his team’s success this season. He averages 15 points and five assists per game and will get better once he gets 100 percent healthy. Brice Johnson provides North Carolina with an athletic big man who can score and play defense. Their other starting big man, Kennedy Meeks, has also had injury problems, but is a physical presence in the paint. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry average 13 points per game to help with the scoring punch. The Tarheels have talent and depth with nine players averaging over 10 minutes per game. They will need this depth come tournament time in order to reach the Final Four.
- Xavier Musketeers- The Xavier Musketeers have had one bad game all season and that was a loss at Villanova by 31 points. This happened to be under bad circumstances as point guard Ed Sumner had to leave the game with a significant head injury only a few minutes into the game. He still hasn’t returned, but Xavier has won every game since. The Musketeers have great shooters in, Trevon Blueitt, Myles Davis and J.P. Macura, who help stretch the defense. When the defense is stretched Jalen Reynolds and James Farr are able to face one on one coverage in the post, which is a match-up they usually win. When Sumner comes back, he and Remy Abell will be able to penetrate defenses and cause them to break down. The Musketers also have depth, so much so that they can’t find minutes for all of their talented players. If they can keep the players happy and playing as a team, they will be able to make their first ever Final Four.
- Kentucky Wildcats- Honestly all of the teams in the top 15 are so close in how well they have played that this spot is a toss up. Kentucky has beaten Duke and Louisville, but has lost to Ohio State, UCLA and LSU. With four trips to the Final Four in the last five years, John Calipari has a knack of getting his teams to peak late in the season. The Wildcats have great guard play, which is always a key to winning in March. Point guard Tyler Ulis has done exactly what his team has needed from him this season, by scoring, passing and defending. Jamal Murray is a great outside shooter, who can fill out a stat sheet within a couple of minutes. He does take some ill-advised shots, but outside of him and Ulis the rest of the team hasn’t scored enough this season for Murray not to shoot the ball a lot. The third starting guard is Isaiah Briscoe. Briscoe can’t shoot well, but does defend well and get to the basket on the offensive end. The big men have been the issue this season for Kentucky. Alex Poythress has been inconsistent, Marcus Lee can only score on dunks and freshman center Skal Labissiere hasn’t been strong enough to pull down rebounds or get his shots off. The inside is a mess, but Calipari will find a way to make Poythress more consistent before the year is finished, while the guards will continue to improve as the season goes on.