March madness and the race for the NCAA Final Four is well and truly on and competition is hotting up as teams vie to play a role in the showpiece chapter of the season. Form will certainly be a factor in who makes it, although other teams have shown that finding momentum at the right time of the year can be just as effective.
But who are the teams demonstrating either quality that are in with a shout of making an impact in the 68-team tournament? Each year, the competition becomes more difficult to predict, particularly as the so-called smaller outfits become better resourced and start to make gains on the traditional major players.
Here are our four picks to make it to the Final Four:
Michigan State Spartans
Widely regarded as being led by one of college basketball’s finest coaches, the Spartans could have the acumen that takes them all the way. Cassius Winston has caught the eye so far this season and if he can maintain top form in the weeks ahead then his contribution could help carry the team to success.
If they are to realize their potential then the Spartans must cut out the complacency that has seen them taste defeat against some of the less fancied teams, including the likes of Purdue and Indiana, and hit the court with the same intensity on a consistent basis.
One of several teams capable of upping their game at the business end of the season, the Spartans should never be written off, especially if coach Tom Izzo, who’s led the team since 1995, has anything to do with it. The Spartans are rated at +2200 to go all the way in the latest markets at Space Casino.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Unlike the Spartans, the Mountaineers have succeeded in building consistency into their performances over a number of months and aren’t as reliant on one or two big names to spearhead them to victory each time they hit the court.
In fact, their four highest-scoring players average almost neck and neck and though they have not quite hit legendary status, the quartet’s form bodes well for their hopes for the weeks ahead, as the team is less dependent than others on big efforts from individuals.
Whether or not the Mountaineers can climb to the top of the hill depends on their ability to turn their play up a notch in the coming weeks. While consistency may deliver you success over the year, it isn’t always enough to win trophies.
After falling agonizingly short of reaching the Final Four last year, the Bulldogs have more motivation than most at this pivotal stage of the season. And after having lost just once, against the Michigan Wolverines, they have certainly shown the form required to make up for last term’s disappointment.
Many will point to the fact that they haven’t faced many of the league’s toughest opponents in recent months, so in that sense, it is difficult to predict how they’ll fare against the very best, although their recent victory over Pepperdine underlines their credentials.
Success for the Bulldogs this year may not mean taking out the Championship, but they certainly have it within them to be in that quartet come March, and are joint-second favorites, at +900, to win the whole thing.
The final team on our list is the Baylor Bears, who enjoyed an incredible winning streak of 18 matches after a stuttering start to the season. That run of victories included seeing off some of the most able teams, including a big victory over the Jayhawks, and if they can rediscover that juggernaut-like momentum then the Bears could be a threat.
Recognized by many observers as being the most attractive and dangerous attacking side in the competition, the Bears’ structure going forward comes from their guards, who account for the majority of the team’s points this year.
It’s easy to see why the Bears are many people’s pick to go all the way and at the very least make the Final Four.