March Madness: A shift in the college hoops landscape

Colton Molesky
Staff Writer

The UMBC Retrievers made history by becoming the first No.16 seed to top a No.1 seed in NCAA Tournament history, topping off a series of fantastic upsets that seem to be the hallmark of the 2018 Tournament.

Headed into March, the doubt around the top teams in college basketball all had a nagging weakness that would eventually haunt them. The Virginia Cavaliers were susceptible to the 3-point shot, the Xavier Musketeers relied heavily on their guards, the North Carolina Tar Heels struggled with a strong frontcourt, the Arizona Wildcats could not hang up with a pave offense, and the Michigan State Spartans could not manage a win in an ugly game.

Even the teams left have flaws to keep the lower seeds in the tournament, with the Kansas Jayhawks and Villanova Wildcats desperately dependent on knocking down threes while the Duke Blue Devils struggle with bigs.

The losses and the flaws have played heavily into an even field narrative, with the top coming a little closer down to the bottom. Obviously, when it comes to March, some of the madness is based on the luck of the draw. The Kentucky Wildcats are sitting pretty after Arizona and Virginia were both bounced out in the first round. North Carolina had the misfortune of running into a Texas A&M squad not only built perfectly to beat them, but also finding them when they have put together a run.

And yet, the signs of life for the lower seed are still making a case in a year with four of the Sweet Sixteen teams clocking in above a No.7 seed (No.7 seed is the highest to win a championship). What is even more incriminating is the margin of victory, with a 21-point loss crushing Arizona and 20-point loss flummoxing the Cavaliers. Some will point to hot shooting for a single game, which again would have trouble with the depth of success from lower seeds.

The larger dilemma is experience is giving youthful talent a shellacking for immense helpings of this season’s bracket. Collin Sexton, Deandre Ayton, Tre Young and Miles Bridges have all been tossed. Granted, Kevin Knox and Marvin Bagley III still sit inside, seniors are not everything. But the tournament is a very good reminder that guys who have been around the block are just as dangerous in a win or go home setting as the lottery picks.

Who to trust

With that said, the top level teams left (Jayhawks, Blue Devils, and Both Wildcats) are a little harder to trust. Few teams seem reliable. In a race that holds both Nevada and Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet Sixteen while Texas A&M looks unstoppable, these are the two top seeds to trust.

Kansas is the more reliable of the Jayhawks/Villanova duo which lives and dies by the 3-point shooting. Hitting 40.3 percent of their deep shots for the regular season while also attempting 25 per outing gives them the best shot for their amount left in the tournament. The Jayhawks have four players who average double-digit points and three that shoot over 40 percent from three night in and night out. Senior point guard Devonte’ Graham leads the team that shoots better and looks scarier than even Nova.

Kentucky, the chosen one alluded to earlier, staring down a bracket cleared out by upsets. While veteran led programs have given one-and-dones a run for their money this year, Kentucky is still the poster child for young stars. Knox headlines the group, but Hamidou Diallo and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander both rack up points. Guard Quade Green is a 37 percent 3-point shooter who also leads the team with 1.1 blocks per game. The freshmen on the Wildcats are built to beat the field. Virginia and Cincinnati with their oppressive defenses are out. Arizona and the bigs that would have given a smaller Kentucky squad trouble is also gone. The Wildcats have an easy South bracket, leading to a Final Four matchup devoid of UNC or Xavier. Finally, the title will more than likely contain a 3-point shooting dependant roster that Kentucky’s length on the perimeter will give fits. This team is set up to win it all.

Photo: Kentucky guard Hamidou Diallo reacts after a dunk against Buffalo during the second half of a second-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

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