The college basketball regular season ended on March 8 and with it came the final Associated Press (AP) rankings before Selection Sunday. While the results of conference tournament play will factor into the seeding, I’ll take a look at the projected one and two seeds from the AP rankings and discuss their chances in this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship Tournament.
The University of Kansas has been the best team in the country for the past two months and have been unbeaten since Jan. 11. The Jayhawks avenged that loss, and they have continued to win despite some late game scares.
Kansas relies heavily on their five starters and typically only rotates seven or eight players during the course of a game. While this lack of depth could hurt them in the tournament, they have two stars in Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike that can make big time plays down the stretch. Even with the limited rotation, Kansas has the makeup of a Final Four team.
Gonzaga University always seems to be ranked near the top of the polls, but it remains a mystery how the Bulldogs will fare in the Tournament. This year’s Gonzaga team faced a weak schedule, but they have six players averaging in double figures and can score in the paint as well as from beyond the arc. In a year where no team has been able to dominate, Gonzaga has the talent to compete with any team in the country.
The University of Dayton has been in and out of the tournament for the past decade. Obadiah Toppin has been a beast this year for the Flyers, averaging 20 points and eight rebounds per game. The Flyers cruised through the Atlantic 10 Conference this year without losing a game and finished the regular season 29-2.
That being said, Dayton didn’t beat a ranked team all season. They will have to prove that their stellar year wasn’t just the product of a weak conference.
Florida State University has been very competitive in recent years, but last season marked its first Atlantic Coast Conference regular season championship in program history. Though the Seminoles are not quite as deep as they have been in previous years, they still have several players that contribute solid play.
However, Florida State doesn’t have that “go-to guy” that we see on most Championship-caliber teams. Devin Vassell and Trent Forrest lead the charge for the ‘Noles, but neither are the kind of star player that can be leaned on heavily during crunch time. This Florida State team has a lot of potential, but is prone to having off games against inferior teams.
After no team managed to hold on to the No. 1 ranking earlier in the season, Baylor University held the position for a long stretch before dropping a few games and ultimately finishing at number five. Baylor worked its way to the top through its strong defensive play, and their experienced starting lineup has the toughness, grit and maturity you want to see in a tournament team.
Offensively, Baylor has trouble scoring, averaging only 71 points per game. Their defense first style of play worked for the majority of the regular season, but their inability to score cost them several times this year, and in the NCAA Tournament, one bad offensive night can end your season. I don’t think Baylor can score consistently enough to make a deep title run.
San Diego State University was the last unbeaten team before they lost to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and ultimately finished with two losses. The San Diego Aztecs are a fun team to watch: Malachi Flynn can do it all, and Yanni Wetzell has a very polished game on the interior.
Despite the pair of losses late in the season, the Aztecs looked legit during their unbeaten run, blowing out several teams in the conference and even beating some tough teams early on in the season. Flynn is the kind of player you want on a tournament team: An experienced play-maker that can take over when his team needs him to. It’ll be interesting to see where they are seeded and who they match up against, but San Diego State is built for the tournament.
Coming in at number seven, Creighton University seems overrated for a team that finished with a 24-7 overall record. Creighton finished 13-5 in Big East Conference play, but they don’t have any major wins outside of their conference foes.
Creighton is usually a solid three-point shooting team. However, as seen from their 20-point loss to St. John’s University where they shot 14 percent from beyond the arc, they struggle without three-pointers. This weakness adds a lot of pressure to their shooters in the tournament, and one bad shooting night could very well be the end of their season.
The University of Kentucky Wildcats have been all over the rankings. After an early appearance at number one, a home loss to the University of Evansville set the Wildcats back and dropped them out of the top ten.
Still, Kentucky has settled into a rhythm, and their recent 18-point second half comeback against Florida is a very good sign as they move toward the tournament. Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey have been making plays all season, and Nick Richards is as solid as they come. Assuming Ashton Hagans returns, Kentucky has all the pieces to make a deep tournament run.
With the regular season being a roller coaster of ups and downs for many teams across the country, the field is wide open for any of these teams, or the 60 other teams in the NCAA Tournament, to win the Championship.