March Madness is coming in a month and a half. You can almost smell it, and if you sit long enough you can hear it – at least in the state of Kentucky. Could this be one that we tell our kids about? Is this the year that analysts will compare to future NCAA tournaments?
I say yes. There is so much talent, so many good veterans and some hall of fame coaches who are doing some amazing things. Let me prove my case to you.
Some NBA analysts were depressed after so many amazing freshman decided to stay in college instead of entering the draft. That fact alone is why the 2013 draft was considered a dud compared to years past. Freshman like Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Michigan State’s Gary Harris were projected in the first round, but returned to their teams for their sophomore year.
Smart is averaging almost 18 points, 4.4 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game. His Cowboys are ranked 11th in the nation, with a record of 16-3. Similarly, Harris is leading his Spartans to a No.3 ranking (although they lost to Michigan Saturday) scoring over 18 points per game and dishing out almost three assists per game.
Another name that stayed is Creighton’s Doug McDermott. He made everyone Creighton crazy during last year’s tourney and was a hot name, which would have led him to be a top 15 pick for sure. McDermott is averaging almost 25 points and seven rebounds per game, helping his Bluejays to be at the top of the Big East standings with a record of 7-1.
Other players who stayed, but had a shot of being drafted; Louisville’s Russ Smith, Syracuse’s CJ Fair, and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein. There were probably a few more, but you get the point.
Have you seen Kentucky and/or Kansas play? Teams full of freshman are overwhelming some of college basketball’s best veterans. There is also some young player mixed with some veteran guys, making for dangerous teams come March.
Freshman like Tyler Ennis of No.2 Syracuse are leading their teams and dishing it out to the play makers. Duke’s Jabari
Parker is averaging almost 19 points per game while playing any position Coach K needs him to play.
The Kentucky Wildcats have nine freshman and each one of them play. Julius Randle, who is projected a top 3 pick in the 2014 draft, is a double-double king. The 6’9″, 250 lbs. Texas native is averaging 16.7 points and 10.6 boards per game while being double-teamed, sometimes triple-teamed. With James Young draining threes, the Harrison Twins getting better and better each game, this could be another year coach John Calipari wins a championship with a bunch of one-and-dones.
Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins is pretty much a household name. He was even before he committed to the Jayhawks. That is why it is no surprise he is averaging 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. But where did Joel Embiid come from? The 7-footer from Cameroon is a monster for Kansas underneath. Grabbing 7.4 boards and blocking almost three shots per game. His 11.1 points per game help his case as well. Frank Mason and Wayne Seldon are also freshman for Kansas who are major contributors.
Other freshman to note; Louisville’s Terry Rozier, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, Kansas State’s Marcus Foster and Florida’s Kasey Hill.
When it comes to the tourney you don’t always need veteran players, but you do need a coach who has been there before. A coach who has been under the lights, has been around the media coverage, and knows how to prepare his players to make a long run.
Louisville’s Rick Pitino is ready for another run this year. After going to two straight Final Fours and winning the National Championship last year, Pitino is molding his team the only way Pitino knows how. Junior wing Wayne Blackshear has been struggling to stay in the game due to foul trouble. What does Pitino do? He doesn’t start him. Now Wayne is averaging 16 points per game in the past three games coming off the bench. There has been a lot of roster issues, Chane Behanan was kicked off the team for violating university rules and Kevin Ware is sitting out, unable to come back after his broken leg from the Elite Eight. PG Chris Jones has also had some injury issues, but Pitino is arranging the lineup as he goes and having success.
Syracuse’s has just the right lineup for Jim Boeheim’s beloved 2-3 zone. Guards with long arms and big bodies underneath, he has enough talent to bring a championship to the Orange.
Arizona’s Sean Miller may not have the experience of Coach K, Boeheim, or Pitino, but his system is working for this year’s team. Arizona is 19-0 and there is no one on their schedule that has the talent to beat them. Miller is making a name for himself with a lot of talented young and veteran players.
Teams you will want to pay attention to:
Southern Mississippi– No.1 in Conference USA standings. 18-3, 5-1 in conference play. Senior guard Neil Watson is a very
good shooter and leads the Golden Eagles.
Mercer– Out of the Atlantic Sun Conference, the same conference as Florida Gulf Coast that shocked the world last year. Beat Ole Miss on the road in late December and have played a decent schedule.
Minnesota- Richard Pitino is doing pretty well in his first year with the Gophers while playing in a stacked Big Ten Conference. They have some quality wins under their belt, including Ohio State and Wisconsin. He also has some upperclassmen who are playing very consistent.
It is only going to get better from here. As conference play continues and players emerge, you will see just how good this year’s tournament will be.
So order a new TV, gather up all your vacation time and get ready for a phenomenal March Madness.
What are your thoughts? Comment below and let us know.