The best time of the year is here. That’s right, it is time for March Madness, the most exciting tournament in all of sports. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to put a different spin on March Madness and hold a draft of sorts, picking teams that can win a national title and listing some reasons why it is possible said teams could win the whole thing. With the help of my brothers @reidanderson615 and @ptown023 we decided to hold our first ever NCAA tournament draft, picking five teams apiece and also picking one mid-major team just for fun. The rules are simple: we each pick 5 teams in serpentine order (aka Round 1 Hunter, Peyton, Reid; Round 2 Reid, Peyton, Hunter; and so on and so forth), we cannot pick teams another person has chosen, and Gonzaga does NOT count as a mid-major. Now that the rules are explained, let’s get right into it.
1st Pick- Hunter- Duke
It’s simple really, when fully healthy, Duke is the best team in the country. With superstars Zion Williamson (22.1 PPG & 8.9 RPG) and RJ Barrett (22.9 PPG) leading the way and point guard Tre Jones playing suffocating defense, Duke can beat any team in the country. If Cam Reddish (13.7 PPG & 32.7% on 3’s) is hitting shots and role players, such as Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White, and Alex O’Connell, are playing well, then no one will even come close to beating Duke.
2nd Pick- Peyton- North Carolina
Roy Williams has coached one of the nation’s hottest teams back into the NCAA tournament for the fifteenth time in his career. The Tar Heels have a unique combination of veteran leadership and talented youth that place them among the favorites to win it all. With double-double machine Luke Maye (14.7 PPG & 10.5 RPG), point man Coby White (16.3 PPG & 4.2 APG) and sharpshooter Cam Johnson (16.9 PPG & 46.5% on 3’s) leading a deep and talented roster playing at a blazing fast tempo other teams are not used to, no one should be surprised when they see the Tar Heels celebrating their second NCAA title in the last three seasons.
3rd Pick- Reid- Virginia
Coach Tony Bennett has created a culture around Virginia that preaches defense. This year’s team has carried that designation of being a stout defensive team well once again this season, holding opponents to just 55 points per game, the lowest mark in the country. The difference with this squad is their offensive firepower, something Virginia has lacked in seasons past. Led by Kyle Guy (15.6 PPG) and De’Andre Hunter (15.1 PPG), this team is capable of running the table on the offensive end. Pair that with their defense first mentality and you have a team that has every reason to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
1st Pick- Reid- Kentucky
It is a known truth that a John Calipari-coached squad can and will find success in March. Kentucky emerged as one of the best teams in college basketball mid-way through the conference season. PJ Washington (14.8 PPG & 7.6 RPG) and Reid Travis (11.1 PPG & 6.9 RPG) combine to make one of the most offensively skilled frontcourts in the country. Kentucky’s “X-Factor” lies within freshman guard Tyler Herro. Averaging 14.2 points per game, he can provide the spark Kentucky needs behind the arc if he remains consistent. Mix in solid point guard play from fellow freshmen Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, you have a team that Big Blue Nation will welcome back to Lexington as National Champions.
2nd Pick- Peyton- Tennessee
The Volunteers were one of a few teams vying for the final number 1 seed on Selection Sunday until they were upset by Auburn in the SEC championship game. Despite the loss, the roster is loaded with talent that can win games. SEC player of the year Grant Williams (19.2 PPG & 7.5 RPG) and Admiral Schofield (16.6 PPG & 6.2 RPG) are arguably the second best tandem in college hoops, behind Duke’s Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Jordan Bone (13.5 PPG & 6.2 APG) has emerged as one of the top point guards in the country. If the Vols can get consistent shooting from Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner and big man Kyle Alexander can stay out of foul trouble, they will have a great opportunity to come out of the South region and bring a national championship to Rocky Top.
3rd Pick- Hunter- Gonzaga
After coming oh so close to a title in 2017, the Bulldogs of Gonzaga may well have their best team yet, and will be a heavy favorite to cut down the nets in April. Despite losing their conference title game to St. Marys, Gonzaga is a team loaded with talent and experience. With Rui Hachimura (20.1 PPG & 6.6 RPG) and Brandon Clarke (16.5 PPG & 8.4 RPG) dominating the frontcourt and long-range snipers Zach Norvell Jr. (15.3 PPG) and Josh Perkins (11 PPG & 6.5 APG) manning the backcourt, not to mention a finally healthy Killian Tillie working his way back into the rotation, Gonzaga has all the pieces to finally win a national championship.
1st Pick- Hunter- LSU
This was a tough pick. On one hand, I can see LSU winning the whole thing and on the other hand, I can see them losing to Yale in the first round. Why I picked LSU here is because the talent is undeniable. Tremont Waters (15.1 PPG & 5.9 APG) is one of the best point guards in the country, Naz Reid (13.7 PPG & 7.2 RPG) is one of the most intriguing frontcourt players in the country, a beast inside who can hit 30 foot daggers. The emergence of freshman guard Javonte Smart (11.5 PPG) and the steady play of Skylar Mays (13.4 PPG) gives LSU the weaponry to win a national title, so long as they avoid Duke in the Elite 8.
2nd Pick- Peyton- Michigan State
Tom Izzo and the Spartans have a tough draw being the 2 seed in the East Region, where Duke sits as the 1 seed. Regardless of their placement in the bracket, Michigan State certainly has the talent to win a championship. Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston (19 PPG & 7.5 APG) is a potential All-American and leads a team that has talent across the board. Guard Matt McQuaid (9.4 PPG & 42.3% on 3’s) provides outside shooting that will be crucial to the Spartans success. Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins have provided solid interior play all season long. The biggest thing the Spartans have going for them as the tournament begins is the return of junior big man Nick Ward (14.4 PPG & 6.3 RPG). If Ward can come back from his recent injury and pick up where he left off in his contributions to the team, the Spartans definitely have what it takes to push past a potential Elite 8 matchup with the Blue Devils and cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
3rd Pick- Reid- Florida State
Leonard Hamilton’s squad has potential to be two different types of teams. They could either find a way to slip up against a rather talented Vermont team in Round 1, or they could scrap their way into the final weekend of the tournament and claim the first national title in program history. The key to the Seminole’s success is the selfless style of play they regularly exhibit in games. Mfiondu Kabengele leads the team in scoring at a modest 12.9 points per game. This team shares the ball more efficiently than most, playing a style of basketball that is hard to compete with. Their rather impressive run in the ACC tournament leads me to believe that if they can find a way to win an inevitable matchup with Duke, they can win the whole thing.
1st Pick- Reid- Syracuse
There is a reason the ACC is the best conference in college basketball. That reason just might be that a team who finished sixth in the conference is talented enough to win a national title, if Tyus Battle returns fully healthy. Averaging 17.2 points per game, Battle is the kind of player that can carry his team on a championship run much like Kemba Walker did with UConn in 2011. Elijah Hughes (13.4 PPG) and Oshae Brissett (12.4 PPG) contribute quality minutes in the frontcourt, and the emergence of coach Jim Boeheim’s son Buddy as a reliable outside shooter makes the Orange a very formidable team.
2nd Pick- Peyton- Wofford
Wofford emerged this season as one of the best mid-major programs in college basketball. Fletcher Magee (20.5 PPG & 42.8% on 3’s) and his perimeter shooting has been a huge factor to the Terriers success. Magee is not alone though, as contributions from senior forward Cameron Jackson (14.6 PPG & 7.5 RPG) and junior guard Nathan Hoover (13.2 PPG & 45.7% on 3’s) earned Wofford a 7 seed. Wofford ranks fourth in the country in made threes this season, and Magee and company will need to continue to hit from deep to advance far in the tourney. If Wofford is hitting outside shots, and continues to play solid defense, they are perfectly capable of knocking off Kentucky and North Carolina to win a title.
3rd Pick- Hunter- Michigan
The Michigan Wolverines are looking to not only return to the National Title game for the 2nd year in a row, they are also looking to cut down the nets. Led by coach John Beilien, we know that the Wolverines will be tough on defense. With a solid core of talent led by upperclassmen Charles Matthews (12 PPG) and Zavier Simpson (9.2 PPG & 6.6 APG) and talented youngsters in freshman Iggy Brazdeikas (15.1 PPG & 5.2 RPG) and sophomore sharpshooter Jordan Poole (12.8 PPG & 37.2% on 3’s) Michigan has the talent and pedigree to make a return appearance in the national title game.
1st Pick- Hunter- Texas Tech
When you think of Texas Tech you probably are not thinking of their basketball program. However, since coach Chris Beard arrived in 2016, Texas Tech has risen steadily up the basketball rankings. Led by sophomore superstar, and local kid, Jarrett Culver (18.5 PPG & 6.3 RPG) the Red Raiders are one of the toughest teams in the country. Guards Davide Moretti (11.6 PPG) and Matt Mooney (10.9 PPG) were one of the better tandems in the Big 12 this season and Tariq Owens (2.4 BPG) is one of the better shot blockers in the nation. Getting past Michigan and Gonzaga are major obstacles to getting to the Final 4 but any team that plays tough defense and has a superstar player will always have a solid chance to cut down the nets in April.
2nd Pick- Peyton- Wisconsin
Wisconsin is one of the least flashy teams in all of college basketball. Their brand of slow-tempo offense and gritty defense is not the most exciting thing to watch, but it frustrates opponents enough for the Badgers to be able to win games. If senior forward Ethan Happ (17.5 PPG & 10.1 RPG) can continue his dominance in the post and guard D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison can maintain the defensive intensity that has held opponents to under 62 points per game this season, the Badgers will have a shot to finish what Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker could not do in 2015 and walk away with the title.
3rd Pick- Reid- Nevada
Nevada is a serious title contender largely for one main reason alone: they boast the most experienced roster in college basketball. Starting five extremely talented seniors and bringing seasoned junior Jazz Johnson (11.2 PPG) off the bench has been a very successful formula for coach Eric Musselman this season. This group has had success on this stage before, returning virtually every player from last years Sweet 16 team. In college basketball you either have star freshmen, or experienced veterans, and this Wolfpack team has the latter: guys that know what it takes to win, and who have been there before. Look out for the Wolfpack in the coming weeks
Every year a surprise team makes a run to at least the second weekend of the tournament, if not further. Whether it be Loyola-Chicago making it to the Final 4 last season or point guard Makai Mason putting on a show taking Yale to the Sweet 16 in 2016, the NCAA tournament is a place for unforgettable moments from the so called “little guys” which is why we pay respect and each choose one mid-major team we think can advance far into the tournament.
1st Pick- Reid- Belmont
Coach Rick Byrd’s Belmont team is, statistically speaking, one of the most impressive offensive teams in the country. As a team, the Bruins average 87.4 points per game, second best in the entire nation. Dylan Windler, a 6-8 combo forward who is a likely 2nd round NBA draft pick, leads all scorers with 21.4 points per game, while also grabbing 10.7 rebounds per contest. Kevin McClain (16.3 PPG) and Nick Muszynski (14.9 PPG) provide the extra offensive firepower that can be more than overwhelming to the toughest of defenses, making them a serious, as well as viable, threat to make a similar run to that of Loyola-Chicago last season.
2nd Pick- Peyton- Buffalo
The reason why the Buffalo Bulls have found so much success this season is clear: This team can flat out score the basketball. The Bulls average just shy of 85 points per game, good enough for fifth in the country. Three members of their starting five average at least 14 points per game, led by senior guard C.J. Massinburg (18.3 PPG & 6.6 RPG) and senior forward Nick Perkins (14.4 PPG & 7.3 RPG). Their level of offensive production make them an easy Cinderella pick and if they figure out how to prevent teams from matching them shot for shot, the Bulls could potentially make their way to a Final 4.
3rd Pick- Hunter- Murray State
This is a simple pick for me. Any team that has a player like Ja Morant can advance far in this tournament. Morant is a superstar, likely top 3 pick in the NBA draft, point guard averaging a gaudy 24. 6 points per game, 10 assists per game, and 5.5 rebounds per game. Morant is not alone though, with guards Shaq Buchanan (13 PPG) and Tevin Brown (11.7 PPG) and forward Darnell Cowart (10.4 PPG & 6.5 RPG) being more than capable running mates. If you are looking for a mid-major team that could potentially make a Cinderella run, the team with one of the best players in the country is a solid place to start.
If you would have drafted differently, please let us know in the comments.