March Madness 2016: Projecting Title Favorites and Potential Cinderella Teams

Brian Mazique@@UniqueMaziqueCorrespondent IIIFebruary 28, 2016

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. holds the ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Selection Sunday is March 13, and it's time to identify the most likely title contenders and a couple of teams to watch for a potential Cinderella run. In a season that has felt so unpredictable and wide open, identifying sleepers might be a little easier than finding favorites.

The Title Contenders

Kansas Jayhawks

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

Let's start with an obvious one. The Kansas Jayhawks are 25-4. They've won nine games in a row and no team has looked better in the month of February. Heading into the final two regular-season games against the No. 25 Texas Longhorns and No. 17 Iowa State Cyclones, the Jayhawks have excellent momentum.

Unless they falter in a major way down the stretch, they have a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament on lock. 

Head coach Bill Self led his team to a 12th-straight Big 12 regular-season title. Per Matt Tait of KUSports.com, Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Tubby Smith believes Self deserves Coach of the Year honors.

Smith said: "It’s amazing what [Bill] Self has done, and I think he deserves to be coach of the year. There’s been banter about me, but I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

With talented players like Wayne Selden (13.8 ppg), Perry Ellis (16.4 ppg) and Frank Mason III (13.8 ppg) leading the way, the Jayhawks have the talent and leadership to win it all.

Michigan State Spartans

Al Goldis/Associated Press

A less obvious selection is Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans. As usual, the team is expertly coached, but they have experienced some peaks and valleys through the regular season.

After starting the season 13-0, the Spartans have gone just 10-5 since. That includes a three-game losing streak in January. Heading into Sunday's battle with the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Spartans have won three in a row and are poised for a strong finish to the regular season.

Two of the Spartans' biggest qualities are their unselfishness and rebounding. Despite the fact that junior guard Darnell Valentine is the team's star player, as a unit they move the ball well. The Spartans lead the nation in assists and three-point shooting.

They are also among the nation's best rebounding teams. They're tied for sixth in that category. The Spartans play with high effort and their coach has a track record of bringing well-prepared teams to the NCAA tournament.

The Sleepers

Purdue Boilermakers

R Brent Smith/Associated Press

The Purdue Boilermakers have size, lockdown defenders and enough perimeter shooting to beat any team.

With A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, the Boilermakers can throw two 7-footers at opponents. When Hammons is motivated and playing aggressively, he's one of the toughest low-post covers in the country. With those two on the team, it's no wonder Purdue is tied with the Spartans in rebounding.

Swingman Rapheal Davis is the Big Ten's best on-ball defender and a dangerous three-point shooter from distance. He's knocked down 39 percent of his threes this season. He's one of five players on the roster with at least 50 three-point attempts that makes at least 37 percent of their shots.

If Hammons plays inspired basketball, Purdue could go a long way in the tournament.

BYU Cougars

Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

This might be coming out of the blue because the BYU Cougars are a bubble team, but they shouldn't be taken lightly as a potential Cinderella team. The Cougars are 22-9 and they have only played one ranked team.

Splitting the season series with Gonzaga means the Cougars need to do some work in their conference tournament to make the Big Dance.

The Cougars' senior guard Kyle Collinsworth is one of the nation's best all-around players.

He averages 15.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. He's one of four players on the team that averages double figures. Because of its balance, BYU's offense is one of the more difficult attacks to stop.

It ranks seventh in the nation in scoring and tied for ninth in rebounding. If they make the NCAA tournament, the Cougars could create some havoc in the first two rounds.

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