March Madness Teams to Watch Ahead of Selection Sunday

By Mark Fordham
 |  4 mins
8E3DFB6F-93D4-478C-99D9-112C2BB6C04E  Fact Checked by Sean O'Neill
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March Madness Teams to Watch Ahead of Selection Sunday

In the coming weeks, USA sports betting sites and TV screens are going to have wall-to-wall coverage of March Madness. Before the madness ensues on March 14, the NCAA selection committee will have to seed the 68 teams and confirm which other teams will join the 32 teams that have automatically qualified for March Madness. Let’s now look at some of the big talking points before Selection Sunday. 

Are the Houston Cougars as good as the rankings suggest?

Houston ended the regular season with a 29-2 record and the No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25. The Cougars are clearly a good side, but they didn’t face the most formidable opposition in the regular season. That’ll change in the coming weeks, which is why many fans and experts are still a bit uncertain about Houston’s credentials. In fact, they lost to Alabama - one of the favorites for the NCAA tournament with college basketball betting sites - when the two sides met earlier in the season. 

The quality of opponents isn’t something in Houston’s control, of course. In Marcus Sasser, the team has a consistent player - Sasser averaged 17.1 points per game while shooting 43.1 percent from the field, but he isn’t a two-way talent like Zach Edey, Jalen Wilson or Drew Timme. No American Athletic Conference team has won March Madness before, either. There are multiple factors against them, but, of course, these traditions are there to be broken. 

They’ll almost certainly have to face one of Maryland or Arkansas early in the tournament. It’ll be a lot easier to gauge their ceiling after they face one of these teams. They’ll not just have to pull off a good result but also put in an excellent performance to cast the doubts away. If they accomplish this, it’ll give them confidence for the rest of the tournament and perhaps convince others visiting US betting apps that they are the real deal.

Gonzaga capable of toppling any program

Gonzaga finished the regular season ranked ninth in the nation – this is clearly a decent ranking, but it doesn’t relay the story of the team’s season. Gonzaga lost three times in its first eight matches of the season. The losses also came against ranked opposition: Purdue, Texas and Baylor. 

The Bulldogs have been a formidable outfit since that poor start – they’ve lost just twice since and won their nine straight matches to lift the West Coast tournament title Wednesday. The Bulldogs have beaten No. 4 Alabama this season and beat No. 16 Saint Mary’s by 26 points to win the West Coast tourney.

They appear to have peaked at the right time and have a player who can change the dynamic of a game on his own – Drew Timme has averaged 7.3 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, and 20.9 points per game with a field-goal percentage of 62.4. He is the real deal, and he has prior March Madness experience. They’ll most likely face Texas as the tournament progresses, which will be an excellent chance for some payback. 

UCLA the in-form NCAA team 

Most previews have settled upon Houston, Kansas and Alabama as the favorites for March Madness. They are backed by some strong narratives: Houston had the best regular season record, Kansas is the defending champions and Alabama beat more top teams than any other program in the regular season. 

UCLA has a few of its own just as the regular season has ended. The Bruins are on a 10-match winning run, they’ve ended the season ranked No. 2 in the nation, they’ve lost just four matches all season and they have two reliable scorers. This combination will make them popular college basketball picks.

Jaime Jacquez Jr. has been one of the stars of this season. He has averaged 8.5 rebounds and 17.5 points per game, with a field goal rate of 48.7%. He has been accompanied by Tyger Campbell, who has averaged 12.9 and 4.7 assists per game. Most other teams in the league have heliocentric attacks based on the talents of one player, but that’s not the case for UCLA. 

Teams can’t simply neutralize a star player and get away with it – they’ll have to keep an eye on both, which makes UCLA a terrifying prospect. 

Who will make the Final Four?

Kansas, UCLA, Houston, Purdue and Alabama have arguably been the top five teams this season. Everyone else has been a step below these programs. The simple answer would be four of the five sides, but things are more complex than that. 

The Jayhawks are the defending champions and look the most likely to go deep. Their biggest threat, Arizona, ended the season poorly with three defeats in their last six games. Kansas can rely on their experience and the talents of Jalen Wilson, who will be an easy college basketball prop bet pick. 

Houston, as mentioned earlier in the piece, is still a bit of an unknown quantity. The likes of Baylor and Tennessee won’t fear whatever Houston throws at them. Houston, however, has won far too many games this season – the sample size is too big to be considered a fluke. 

UCLA are the in-form team in the nation and have the team composition to give every opposition in the league a big headache, but they’ll have to go through some formidable opponents like Texas and Gonzaga. This part of the draw is really hard to call as things stand. 

We’re left with Purdue and Alabama, who will be on the same side of the draw. If this preview were written a month back, Purdue would’ve been the overwhelming favorites for the title, but a lot has changed since, and they find themselves the consensus fifth favorite with sportsbooks.

They’ve still got Zach Edey, who has been the outstanding performer of this season and will make any a team a contender he is in the college basketball lineup of, but Alabama is a battle-hardened team. The Crimson Tide have taken a few scratches but knocked out some heavyweights this season. The two sides look set to meet in the Elite Eight, which will be worthy of the final. Alabama will be favorites as things stand, but Edey could throw in a few surprises. As things stand, Kansas are the only team that looks like a Final Four certainty. 

Mark spent over a decade as a sports reporter and editor with and Bleacher Report. He is now a Content Editor at covering all manner of sports from the Premier League and cricket to the NBA and NFL.

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