March Madness 2023: Houston we are set for liftoff
Published 10:23 am Thursday, March 2, 2023
For the past few weeks, sports fans have been reeling for any kind of competitive sports entertainment after football season came to a close three weeks ago when the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 57 on Feb. 12. Hope is just in the horizon for sports fans as NCAA men’s basketball conference tournaments and the 2023 NCAA March Madness Tournament lie just weeks away. Here are some teams, players and upsets fans should look out for to make some noise this month and possibly etch their names in college basketball history.
The first team I am going to outline are the obvious favorites and overall best team during the 2023 regular season, the Kansas Jayhawks. After winning it all in 2022, the Jayhawks came back in 2023 just as good, if not better. The Jayhawks finished the 2023 regular season ranked third overall in the top 25 with a 24-5 record. Competing in a Big 12 conference in 2023 that saw four teams in the top ten at one point in the season, the Jayhawks have racked up quality wins including seven wins against ranked opponents. The Jayhawks best win of the regular season came on Feb. 18 against the number nine team in the country, Baylor, as the Jayhawks had an electric second half, putting up 55 points as they cruised to an 87-71 victory.
Talent wise I think the Jayhawks are the most talented team in the country. They essentially have three players in their starting five who can score the ball and will most likely be in the NBA at some point within the next few years. Their big-three of KJ Adams Jr, Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson are all averaging double figure points on the year, with Wilson being the team leader at 19.6 ppg.
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The Jayhawks will be the majority pick to make a Final Four run when the tournament begins in two weeks.
A team out west that I have been impressed with this season and think can make a run in the tournament are the UCLA Bruins. For the past three years, the Bruins under coach Mick Cronin have posted a .728 win percentage and made a final four appearance in 2021. This season, the Bruins have posted a 25-4 record and are ranked fourth overall in the country. The Bruins are clicking at the right time as they have posted a 22-2 record since suffering back-to-back losses in the first month of the season.
Something that sets the Bruins apart is their age and experience. In a sport that is dominated by one and done freshman, the Bruins top three scorers are all upperclassmen. Senior Jamie Jaquez Jr. leads the Bruins with 17 points per game, followed by junior Jaylen Clark with 13ppg and senior Tyger Campbell with 12.5 ppg. The Bruins have players who have experienced the grind and pressure that comes with playing in the big dance. Look for them to make a strong push in the tournament.
One team that is considered an underdog that has the potential to bust brackets during the tournament are the Indiana Hoosiers. As one of the true bluebloods of college basketball, Indiana has struggled during the past decade but are finally starting to see their flowers bloom with head coach Mike Woodson. Although the Hoosiers have not necessarily been a powerhouse this season, they are ranked as the 14 best team in the country with a 20-9 record and with five wins against ranked opponents. The Hoosiers have also had an extremely tough schedule, having to play two top five out-of conference opponents in back-to-back games as they fell to Arizona and Kansas in the first month of the season. Since then, the Hoosiers have found their stride as they most recently completed the season sweep of the Big 10 regular season champions in Purdue.
The Hoosiers have found magic with their senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis who is averaging 20 points per game on the season on 58% shooting as well as 11 rebounds per game. His best game of the season came on the road against Illinois where he notched 35 points while shooting 78% from the field as he led the Hoosiers to a blowout victory. If the Hoosiers can rely on Jackson-Davis and can consistently string together wins, the Hoosiers could very well bring basketball pride back to the state of Indiana.
Aside from these three teams, I can see teams like Tennessee, Gonzaga, Texas and Kansas State all make runs in the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Beginning on March 16, 64 teams will begin an all-out sprint to see who can be the last one standing in Houston, Texas at the end of April cutting down the nets. Don’t worry sports fans, your weekends are about to be saved.