March Madness is only a stone’s throw away as 68 teams vie for the honour of becoming the national champion of the NCAA Tournament.
The action will be fast and furious featuring a myriad of blowouts, boilovers and buzzer beaters while at the end of it all, one team will lift the trophy as the national champions.
Here’s our conference by conference guide to the major contenders.
Arguably the deepest conference in the nation, the ACC could provide up to three of the four teams in the Final Four.
North Carolina, Duke, Notre Dame, Florida State, Louisville and Virginia could all make deep runs if the cards fall their way but regular season champions North Carolina and ACC Championship winners Duke loom as the top two prospects.
The Tar Heels are paced by Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks while Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils boast a starting five full of scoring power, headed by forwards Jayson Tatum (pictured above) and Harry Giles, who could be top 5 picks in the next NBA draft.
Before the American Championship final, you would have said SMU and Cincinnati were both championship contenders but SMU blew the Bearcats away in the final, 71-56.
The Mustangs handcuffed the Bearcats and that’s championship calibre defence right there and there.
SMU are serious contenders and any side in their bracket would be feeling very nervous.
The A10 got an extra team in the NCAA Tournament with Rhode Island upsetting VCU in the tourney final to join VCU and regular season champions Dayton in the NCAA Tournament field.
Despite an early exit in the A10 tourney, Dayton are the conference’s leading hope despite not notching a single win over a ranked team.
The Flyers however, do have wins over tournament teams; Vanderbilt, Rhode Island and VCU.
Defending national champions Villanova are the standout team in the Big East and it’s no surprise they won both the regular season title and Big East Championship.
Seton Hall and Xavier could surprise but the Wildcats are the conference’s best hope again.
Nova opened the season with 14 consecutive wins and with Josh Hart (pictured above) pacing their offence, Nova boast one of the nation's most potent offences.
The Wildcats are tough, determined and have a deep roster, all the credentials needed to capture a successive national championship
Surprise Big Ten Championship winners Michigan were dealt a tough draw but this is a team full of confidence after a late-season surge which saw them upset regular season champions Purdue and fellow tourney teams Minnesota and Wisconsin in the Big Ten tourney.
Maryland faded late in the regular season and will need a big boost from Melo Tremble if the Terapins were to make a deep run.
Like the ACC, the Big 12 could deliver multiple teams to the Final Four, led by regular season champions Kansas and Big 12 Championship winners Iowa State.
The Jayhawks (28-3) went 5 of 7 against ranked teams in the regular season, chalking up wins over Duke, Baylor (twice), West Virginia and Kentucky.
Standout guard Josh Jackson was voted the Big 12’s top newcomer while senior guard Frank Mason III (pictured above) was the league’s leading scorer with 20.5 PPG.
The likes of West Virginia, Baylor and Kansas State can’t be discounted and can all be dangerous on their day.
As expected, the Moutain West supplies just one team in the tournament field after Nevada won both the regular season and conference championship tournament.
The Wolfpack went 28-6 in the regular season but lost their sole game against a ranked team, Saint Mary’s.
It was a dominant season from the Pack, but will the lack of matches against ranked opponents prove costly?
Bubble team California missed out on a ticket to the big dance but the Pac-12 will be well represented by the big three of Oregon, Arizona and UCLA.
The Bruins will look to freshman guard Lonzo Ball (pictured above) while the Wildcats, winners of the Pac-12 tournament will be paced by giant European Lauri Markkanen, who leads the team in 3-point attempts and accuracy (43.3 percent).
The Ducks suffered a massive blow with senior forward Chris Boucher ruled out with an injury but still have the exciting Dillon Brooks to lead their charge.
As always, the SEC is all about Kentucky but the SEC powerhouse hasn’t been as dominant this season as they have been in the past.
Still, it would be a brave man or woman to rule out the Wildcats who boast a proud and illustrious history in the NCAA tournament.
Arkansas, Florida, Vanderbilt and South Carolina are also in the mix but the no.2 seeded Wildcats look poised to go the deepest on the back of freshman forward Bam Adebayo (pictured above).
WCC frontrunners Gonzaga are the real deal and a near flawless 32-1 season is a fair reflection of the stellar season they have enjoyed.
The Bulldogs went 4 of 4 against ranked teams including wins over Iowa State, Arizona and Saint Mary’s (twice).
The Zags will be paced by junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss and senior centre Przemek Karnowski.
Could this be the year the Zags take that extra step to national glory?
North Carolina are deserved favourites and the Tar Heels will be desperate to atone for last year’s finals defeat to Villanova.
The Wildcats have been widely tipped to go back-to-back but it rarely happens in the NCAA Tournament and the last team to achieve the feat was Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators in 2006-07.
Duke, Gonzaga and Arizona all have legitimate claims to the title while the likes of Kentucky, UCLA and Louisville have the ability to make deep runs.
A fully healthy Oregon would have been a major threat but a season-ending injury to senior forward Chris Boucher could derail their campaign.
Regular season Big 12 conference champions Kansas have flown under the radar after their early exit from the Big 12 championship tourney but they can’t be discarded.
Kansas will have Josh Jackson back in the line-up and the well-rested Jayhawks are primed to strike.
Unibet Odds: North Carolina 7.50, Villanova 8.00, Duke 9.00, Gonzaga 9.00, Arizona 9.50, Kansas, 9.50, Kentucky, 12.00, UCLA 16.00, Oregon 18.00, Louisville 19.00, Purdue 21.00, West Virginia 21.00, Baylor 31.00, Florida State 36.00, Saint Mary’s 36.00, Virginia 36.00
Final Four: Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Notre Dame
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