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What To Know Before March

The confetti on the Allegiant Stadium turf has been cleaned, officially ending yet another Football season, and leaving many sports fans lost in the abyss of winter.

Fear not, College Basketball is here waiting with open arms to take you in and save you from the winter's cold. But first, you need to be caught up so you aren't the dweeb filling out your bracket who thinks Caleb Love is still rocking Carolina Blue.

Best Team: Uconn Huskies

Let's start this one at the top. Uconn, despite losing their 3 best players from last year to the pros, is exactly where many of you left them last April. They are currently number one in the AP Poll with a bullet, as just last Saturday they gutted number 4, and at the time potential one seed, Marquette like a fucking fish on live TV for everyone to see.

The Huskies were able to supplement their losses from last years roster with a combination of transfers (Cam Spencer), Freshman (Stephen Castle), and internal development (Tristen Newton/Donovan Clingan) to bring together a roster that quite honestly could beat last year's champs. They are well coached, have no offensive or defensive liabilities, and have the perfect match of size/athleticism and skill to repeat. This years rendition also has potential lottery picks, something last years Huskies did not have at this point in the season.

Uconn has clearly established themselves as the countries best team for the second year in a row, but that does not mean they are unrivaled. Their competition near the top includes some familiar faces.

Purdue brought back nearly their entire roster from last year's number one seed, including National Player of the Year behemoth Zach Edey. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, evident by last Sunday's loss in Columbus, many of their issues from last year remain the same, specifically as it pertains to defending guards who can attack drop coverage in the mid-range. However, the black and gold still have enough around Edey to potentially put it together for 4 straight games and get to Arizona.

Speaking of Arizona, the Wildcats; who lost to Purdue in the non-con; are back and better than ever this season. A team built around an elite backcourt and Ballo inside, the Cats are a bit more explosive and versatile than they were last season, and may have enough to keep dancing long enough to do more than just host the final four. Unfortunately, I do not think this team will be able to get enough stops to get to that point, and seem like a candidate to bow out in the Sweet 16 similar to Alabama and Houston last season.

The last two teams I will mention here are Houston and Tennessee, Uconn's two biggest threats. Houston is back with a very similar roster to last season's top seed, with the addition of LJ Cryer to fill the void left by Cougar Legend Marcus Sasser. The Cougs are a backcourt driven offense that wants to drag you into the mud and win games in the 60s, but similar to last year, are very susceptible to a team shooting them out of the gym.

That leaves Tennessee as the last boa-fide contender. For my money, the Volunteers are the best pick to bring home the National Championship. They have the same defense first mentality, length, toughness, and athleticism of last years Sweet Sixteen team, but they have added the best scorer in the country in Dalton Knecht (more on him later) in order to help them through instances where the offense bogs down in the tournament. This is the reason I like the Vols to cut down the nets, they can win a game in the 100s or one in the 50s something that only Uconn can stake claim to.

Best Player: Dalton Knecht

As I just mentioned, Knecht is the best scorer in the country. The Northern Colorado transfer announced himself to the College Basketball World (at least the portion that locks in come October) in a scrimmage at the Breslin Center in East Lansing a few months back and has not taken his foot off the gas since. Whether it was 37 in the Dean Dome, or 39 at home against the Gators, the kid has proven he can flat out score and do it from all angles. Mid-range, 3, in the lane. It does not matter, Knecht is a walking bucket and he has the potential to go on a Kemba Walker esque run next month.

In terms of who will actually win POTY it will probably be Edey, but I have made it very clear on this blog and Cooler Talk that I do not really consider what he excels at to be playing the sport of basketball.

The rest of the country is oozing with talent as well. Some names to keep in mind when catching up and getting ready for the tournament: Robbie Avila: A man I have lovingly deemed "Kroger Jokic" in order to describe his play style and appearance. Indiana State's big man has the chance to take over the college basketball world the same way Cam Krutwig did coming out of the Valley a few years back.

Cam Spencer: Uconn's sharp shooter and spark plug, Spencer can be described as a hybrid of Fletcher McGee and Marshall Henderson. Or if you happen to follow Lakeview Men's league, myself. If Uconn rolls to another ring, you will probably hear Spencer's name north of 1,000 times.

Enrique Freeman: The second mid-major entry to this list, Freeman leads the country in both rebounds and double doubles. He has earned the moniker of "Unicorn" in order to describe his ability to score from both the post and behind the 3 point line. Freeman almost functions as a cross between a gazelle, Jared Sullinger, and Frank Kaminsky with his unique abilities. If that does not make much sense, well neither does how a talent like Freeman is in the MAC, something the whole country will realize if Groce and crew can make a Cinderella run.

Rob Dillingham: One of the most electric guards in the country, the fact that Rob made it from Donda academy to potential lottery pick is a miracle onto itself. He combines high flying bounce with one of the smoother jumpers in the country to bring a Malik Monk esque style back to the Blue Grass State.

Reed Sheppard: Dillingham's running mate off Calipari's bench, Sheppard has Kentucky Basketball in his blood. His father won a National Championship and Final Four Most Outstanding Player with the Wildcats back in the day, but the younger Sheppard is twice the player. Reed combines an outstanding IQ with cerebral touch and athleticism along with a polished skillset to fuel himself to being a potential top 10 pick.

Marcus Domask: The former Saluki has been a steady presence for the Illini since making the drive north on 74. He has an old school game that centers around his touch and ability to get to his spots. Domask has not been able to taste the tournament because of how deep the Valley has been of late, but now sporting the Orange Crush he is ready for his moment in the sun.

Tucker DeVries: One of the country's leading scorers, the couches son hopes to bring together a McDermott like recipe to Arch Madness this season in hopes of once again rolling through St Louis to the big dance. DeVries had one of his poorer showings last year against Miami and it more or less cost the Bulldogs the game. If DeVries can flip his fortunes this year Drake could still be hanging around come the second weekend.

There are plenty more exciting stars ready to erupt down the stretch and into the post season, those are just a few to keep your eye on.

Biggest Sleeper: Alabama Crimson Tide

Last season, the Uconn Huskies came from being a 4 seed to having one of the more dominant runs in recent memory. San Diego State went from a 4 seed to national runner ups, and Creighton was one possession away from a final four as a 6 seed. Miami even shot their way to a final four as a 5 seed after almost losing on the opening weekend to the previously mentioned Drake Bulldogs.

These teams, the 4-6 seeds that make deep runs, are some of the hardest to predict when rolling into March. They obviously have flawed resumes or else they would have been seeded higher, but places like Ken Pom love them.

The 2024 version of that may just be the Crimson Tide. Nat Oats' team has the best offense in the country and are never out of a game. Unlike last years team, there are no Player of the Year or potential top 3 picks on this roster, instead a combination of former transfers who can light it up from the land of good and plenty are powering the Tide to the number 7 spot in Ken Pom. Unlike the Huskies and the Aztecs last year, though, the Tide do not play any defense. This is typically a terrible sign for a team in the tournament, but much like the Hurricanes last season, I think Bama has enough fire power where this might not matter.

Kentucky could also fit this narrative as a sleeper with all their firepower and talent, Creighton and BYU should also be considered.

Cinderella: Akron Zips

Finally, what every college basketball casual fan is here for, the potential upset special. If you've made it this far into the blog, you have already heard me wax poetically about Enrique Freeman the double double machine at the center of the Akron attack. What you have not heard, however, is that the Zips also have Ali-Ali. Ali is a player so nice they named him twice, putting up 16 a game, he was also a fixture on the Zips team that game UCLA all they could handle two years ago. Much of that roster is back as is their coach John Groce, who knows his way around a Cinderella run, having made one with conference rival Ohio back in the day.

Some other names to keep an eye on would be the Indiana State Sycamores with Robbie Avila, or the Drake Bulldogs and Tucker DeVries, both formerly mentioned.

James Madison, McNeese State and Grand Canyon should also be considered when filling out your bracket, but none of these teams have the Sweet Sixteen level fire-power the Zips do.

Well, there it is, a little spark notes on the college basketball season so far for the casual who wants to hop on-board the proverbial magic carpet ride now that March is fast approaching.

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