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The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

College basketball year-end awards predictions

Tips for picking a March Madness winner
The first tip-off of March Madness is one of the most anticipated events of the college basketball season each year.

As the calendar flips from February to March, many people are excited for the upcoming spring break and the warmer weather ahead. For the basketball fanatics, March is home to the greatest sporting event of all time: March Madness. 

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament always carries so much deserved hype. Die-hard college basketball fans as well as people who have never watched a game in their life come together to watch a 68-team field get cut down to one team. Many of the viewers are watching to monitor their filled out bracket. Men and women of all ages take part in filling out their brackets, trying to accurately predict the winners of each of the 67 games. 

The possibility of correctly guessing the winner of every single game is nearly impossible. According to the NCAA, the odds of a perfect bracket can be as low as one in 9.2 quintillion. It must be noted that these odds are if every game was a 50-50 coin flip. So the big question becomes: Who is gonna win this year’s tournament? Well, with the use of statistics and other measurables, my job is to narrow down the field and figure out who’s got a chance. Here are five things that I am taking into consideration when filling out my bracket and picking my winner: 

  1. Experience matters in March. Every NCAA tournament champion from the past 13 years has consisted of multiple upperclassmen who were an important part of their team’s success. Take a look at last year’s champion, the UConn Huskies. Following their championship last year, they had three players depart to the NBA. In 2021, the Baylor Bears’ top three scorers were all either juniors and seniors. Virginia brought home the title in 2019, a year after being upset by UMBC. They were led by two juniors and a sophomore that would all go pro the following season. Teams that have been there before are less likely to be rattled by the bright lights and big crowd. 
  2. A first-year head coach has never won a title, and most championship teams have been guided by proven coaches. Kansas’ Bill Self, Kentucky’s John Calipari, and UConn’s Dan Hurley are just some of the many notable coaches in college basketball that have proved to win when it matters. Teams with head coaches that are inexperienced with the Big Dance tend to fall short, so when filling out your bracket, keep that in mind. 
  3. March Madness champions always have great point guard play. The point guard is known as the quarterback of the basketball court. A great point guard will elevate the entire offense, especially in big games. With that being said, it’s no surprise that 13 of the last 14 tournament Most Outstanding Player awards have gone to guards. Some notable ones include Tyus Jones for Duke in 2015, Joel Berry II for North Carolina in 2017, and Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo in 2018. Picking a team with good point guard play is always a good idea. 
  4. Every champion since 2002 has been top 57 and 37 in KenPom offensive and defensive efficiency going into the tournament. Having a well balanced offensive and defensive team is incredibly important. Taking a look at this year, six teams make a strong case for this. Houston boasts the nation’s top defense, along with being ranked 17th in adjusted offense. Purdue is ranked 2nd in offense and 22nd in defense while Arizona is 7th and 11th. Returning champion UConn is ranked 4th and 18th. Tennessee and Auburn both have top 16 offenses and defenses. 
  5. Schools with large student bodies tend to excel in the tournament. Every school over the past 13 years has had an enrollment of over 10,000 students. It’s no surprise that teams with more students and resources are more successful over the smaller schools. This will help to weed out the schools with less money and infrastructure. 

With all this being considered, who’s the right pick? Purdue makes a strong case, led by 2023 National Player of the Year Zach Edey. After earning a 1-seed last year, Purdue was stunned by the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, who became just the second 16-seed to defeat a 1-seed in NCAA history. The other? Virginia in 2018, who eventually went on to win the 2019 National Championship. If you believe in history repeating itself, then Purdue might be the pick for you. 

The defending champion UConn Huskies look to go back to back in 2024. Tristen Newton, who played a big role in the national championship team from a year ago, leads the team in points, with 15.2 per game, and assists, with 5.9 per game. Only one team has been able to repeat as champion of the tournament since 1965, with the Florida Gators winning it all in 2006 and 2007. History is definitely not on the Huskies side, but they have the talent and experience to get it done. 

Arizona has posted a strong 2023-24 campaign thus far, as they are in the hunt for a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. Led by North Carolina transfer Caleb Love, the Wildcats have five players averaging double-figures in points. A 13-4 conference record has put Arizona atop of the Pac-12. The Wildcats played a grueling non-conference schedule, consisting of five ranked opponents, which may prove to be beneficial in the tournament. 

Playing in the toughest conference in the nation, Houston has a case to be the favorite heading into the tournament. The Cougars are led by guard L.J. Cryer, who averages 15.2 points per game. While their offense can come to play on any given night, Houston prides itself on the defensive side. Their defense is ranked No. 1 by a wide margin. Their incredibly tough conference makes up for their subpar non-conference schedule. Road wins at Baylor and BYU show that this team can play with anybody, anywhere. If I had to fill out a bracket at this very moment, they would be my pick to cut down the nets in Glendale. 

Teams such as Tennessee, Iowa State, Kansas, Marquette, Duke and North Carolina all deserve recognition and are worthy of being championship picks. The reality of filling out a bracket is that the odds are stacked against you when picking a winner. This year especially, there are so many good teams that have the chance of going all the way. The unpredictability of the tournament is what makes it so special and also so frustrating. My best advice is to have fun with filling out your bracket. This tournament only happens once a year and will be gone before we know it, so make sure to soak it in and enjoy every single game.

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