Duke was 14-0 after beating Wake Forest in early January. Then came those back-to-back losses against North Carolina State and Miami, triggering panic over Duke’s defense and rumors that the season was falling apart. The Blue Devils lost only two more games, at Notre Dame and to the Irish in the ACC tournament. A lot of college basketball fans would love to see Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor go against Kentucky’s big men in the national championship game. With no disrespect to Okafor, Duke’s guards Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones create the best scoring opportunities for the Devils. Guards are often the key to March Madness. Forward Justise Winslow is another freshman contributor. A national championship game between Duke and Kentucky would feature an unusual number of freshmen on the verge of making money in the NBA.
Getty ImagesLance King
Was it an honor for Villanova to receive a No. 1 seed? Coach Jay Wright must be wondering that as he stares at the bracket in the East. If Villanova survives a region that includes No. 2 Virginia, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Louisville, No. 5 Northern Iowa and No. 6 Providence, the Wildcats from Philadelphia will be rather confident by the time they reach Indianapolis. Wright has built his program around great guards, and this team is loaded with Darrun Hilliard II, Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis leading the way. Villanova is ranked fourth in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, shoots 47 percent from the floor, averages almost 16 assists per game and is 23rd in points scored per game. The Big East wasn’t easy this season, and Villanova finished with a four-game advantage in the standings, then won the Big East tournament. Remember 1985?
It was disappointing to see Wisconsin and Arizona placed 1-2 in the West. Both deserve a shot at reaching the Final Four. Instead, we may get an epic contest in the regional final. These Wildcats have an outstanding lineup of Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell and Kaleb Tarczewski. Add in Gabe York and Arizona has six players averaging 9.1 points or better. Johnson, Ashley and Hollis-Jefferson all attack the boards, and Arizona is the closest thing to a defensive equal to Kentucky. This is a hungry team, constructed and directed by coach Sean Miller. Arizona’s three losses came in true road games and by a total of nine points. The Wildcats may have their best basketball ahead of them.
Getty ImagesEthan Miller
Frank Kaminsky should be the national player of the year, and that gives the Badgers the best player in the tournament. Kaminsky does so much for his team and brings the experience of playing in last year’s Final Four to the floor. Any coach would take a versatile big like Kaminsky, who averages 18.2 points and 8.0 rebounds. But he doesn’t have to do it alone. Coach Bo Ryan also has Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes. They average over 25 points and almost 12 rebounds combined. These are not your father’s Wisconsin Badgers. They shoot 48 percent from the field and can score in a variety of ways. They lead the nation in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. But they allow just 56.1 points, ninth best in the nation. Wisconsin could end Kentucky’s perfection in the national semifinals, then go on to win it all.
Getty ImagesJonathan Daniel
The 2015 tournament is all about Kentucky as the Wildcats continue their Pursuit of Perfection. Nobody will be happy in the Bluegrass State unless this mission is accomplished. Kentucky isn’t just perfect with a 34-0 record, the Wildcats also have the metric look of a champion. Borrowing from the analytical statistics of Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com), Kentucky’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency is 119.7 and the Wildcats have an Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of 85.8. That results in a Winning Efficiency of 33.6, better than the most efficient champion over the past dozen years (Kansas, 32.9 in 2008). The Wildcats are big and long, and it is hard to score on them. Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein protect the rim, and their blocks lead to those run-out slam dunks you see on the highlights so often.