The North Carolina Tar Heels are one the favorites to win it all in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but they don’t exactly look like champions. Schools like Michigan State may not have the pedigree or talent, but they seem the more imposing side as March Madness gets underway today.
Winning the NCAA Tournament is about more than just being the best team in the country – it is about proving it every single game. Even a slight misstep by the more talented side can cause major upsets that make the event all the more entertaining.
The team that often wins it all is the one that looks most like a champion. In the stat-dominated landscape of modern sports, we are so used to using the calculator to understand teams than our eyes.
In March, you can throw the numbers out, as those who look like winners will be the ones cutting down the nets in New Orleans.
Here are five teams that have the look of a champion.
The Spartans (27-7, 13-5 Big Ten) started the season unranked and back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Duke confirmed the voters' beliefs. However, Tom Izzo, as usual, got his side rallied up and took the Big Ten title, both in the regular season and the tournament.
Coming out of the deepest conference in the country as champion earned the school a deserved No. 1 seed and has them going into the tournament as the only No. 1 not to lose their last game.
Tom Izzo is at his best in March. His feat of six final four appearances in 12 years is an unprecedented mark and makes him one of the game's all-time greats. That alone could give them enough of a look to being champions.
However, they are also bolstered by one of the game’s best players, Draymond Green. The senior forward is everything you want in a college athlete. He is intelligent, a leader and always taking the pressure on his shoulders to perform.
While there may be other better players out there, there is no one that works harder to make his team great than Green does for MSU. That kind of character is what makes champions in March.
The Golden Eagles (25-7, 14-4 Big East) very quietly put together an excellent second half to their season, finishing second in the Big East.
With an outside threat from senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom and an inside presence from senior forward Jae Crowder, they have experience in the two key positions that win in the tournament. Both players were members of the team last year that rode an 11-seed all the way to the Sweet 16 and with a year more experience, look to do more.
But what really makes them a threat is the way they spread the ball. Their 16.8 assists per game is seventh best in the country and shows the kind of depth necessary to succeed in the tournament.
Add that to the fact they have one of the better defenses in an offense-heavy conference and the parts that go into looking like a champion.
The Seminoles (24-9, 12-4 ACC) were the most annoying team in the ACC this year. They were the kind of side that you had no problem getting by if you were on, but would be embarrassed by if you even relaxed for a minute.
Though not at the same talent level as Duke and North Carolina, they were able to pull off victories twice over both sides, earning themselves a No. 3 seed. Winning five games in a row—including one each over the Tar Heels and Blue Devils—make them one of the hottest teams going into the tournament.
The Seminoles are a streaky team at best, which can make their tournament hopes either far-fetched or incredibly likely. Should they continue this run of form they are on, there is really no team that could stop them. However, if they get cold they could be out after the second round.
It’s tough to tell until the first tip off, but if they come out firing, then there is little doubt in my mind that they won’t look like a potential championship side.
The Buckeyes (27-7, 13-5 Big Ten) had a poor season given the expectations we had for them coming into the year. Picked as the preseason Big Ten favorites, they played themselves out of that early with losses to Indiana and Illinois.
However, much of the lack of early success was due to injuries to their big man, star forward Jared Sullinger. Sullinger was expected to dominate the inside like no other in the game this year. He has, but he has been spotty in his production.
As of late, he has turned it on and started to put up the kind of numbers we expected all season. He is a force in the paint, out-muscling everyone on the boards and shooting his way to 17.6 points per game.
He was the leading scorer in each of their Big Ten tournament games, averaging 24 points per game. If he can continue this into NCAAs, he should make Ohio State a favorite to win it all.
I know it is an easy pick, but it is hard to argue against.
The Wildcats (32-2, 16-0 SEC) go into the tournament as the overall No. 1 seed, earned through an impressive undefeated record in the SEC regular season. John Calipari has once again assembled a team of future lottery picks with one year to make it all come together.
Player of the Year front-runner, freshman Anthony Davis, leads the team in scoring and rebounds and is arguably the most well-rounded player in the tournament. He does not exactly have the strength of a traditional big man, but his athleticism makes him craftier than any other.
Beyond Davis, Kentucky has six players who average over nine points a game and all of them shoot over 40 percent. It is difficult to game plan when you can’t double up in the paint with shooters that are that lethal.
With size, depth and talent, Kentucky is one of the favorites to win it all. John Calipari’s teams always look like champions, but this year may be one of the strongest and will likely give him his first ever NCAA title.
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