With only two Sundays remaining before the fateful March Madness selection Sunday, the end of the 2023 NCAA Men’s College Basketball regular season is fast approaching. Over 5000 college basketball games have already been played, and each university has begun its journey to reach the title at the end of the tournament.
There are 351 NCAA division one men’s college basketball programs, with only 68 of them earning an invite to the big dance in March. As the season rolls on, teams slowly separate themselves into packs within the rankings: the contenders, the tournament qualifiers, the bubble teams, and those who should start focusing on next season. We are now at the point of the season where most programs have identified themselves, and we have a better overall picture of what the tournament should look like come March.
While there are many teams who have made their case to be considered a tournament qualifier when selection Sunday comes, there are only a few that have achieved the right to call themselves contenders. A few of the telltale signs of a contender, from examples of the National Champion of every season for the past two decades, is their offensive and defensive efficiency and maintaining a strong rank for the entirety of the second half of the season.
There are a number of powerhouse programs that have emerged this season, and we hope that they can sustain their runs into the tournament. Below I’ve detailed my five picks for March Madness championship contenders and what makes their squads so dangerous.
1. Houston Cougars
The Cougars have enjoyed a spectacular season under head coach Kelvin Sampson, as they’ve cruised to a 25-2 record, 13-1 conference record, and currently sit on top of the AAC rankings. The Houston Cougars are the best team in the country for net efficiency, as they rank 4th in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive efficiency.
This entry should come as no surprise, as the Cougars currently hold the number 1 spot in the AP rankings. They’ve gone unbeaten in nine away games and boast the best record in the nation. Senior Marcus Sasser will surely hope that he can lead his experienced team on a dominant run to the championship.
2. Arizona Wildcats
What might be a head-scratching entry to some, this was an easy pick for me. The Wildcats have enjoyed a 24-4 record 13-4 conference record, and sit 2nd in the SEC. Despite a less-than-impressive conference record, Arizona is one of the country’s best teams and has the makings of a national champion.
The Wildcats rank 9th in overall efficiency in the nation, as they rank 7th in offensive efficiency and 41st in defensive efficiency. The impressive offense also ranks 3rd in the nation in assists to field goals ratio, 12th in rebounding margin, and 17th in turnover differential, which are important determining factors of a successful basketball team.
Head coach Tommy Lloyd will hopefully be able to capitalize on his team’s fantastic play and make a deep run in March. This team most likely won’t get a number one seed, as they’re currently ranked 7th in the AP rankings, but they’ll definitely be a team to watch.
3. Purdue Boilermakers
The favorite until their disappointing run of three losses over four games, the Boilermakers still have the makings of a national champion. Purdue head coach, Matt Painter, has led his squad to a 24-4 record 13-4 conference record. His team opened the season with an impressive 13 win-streak and a 22-1 record over 23 games before their losing skid.
The Boilermakers rank 4th in the nation in overall efficiency, as they rank 8th offensively and 22nd defensively. In addition to this, they also lead the nation in rebounding margin, rank 6th in turnover percentage, 18th in assists-to-field goals ratio, and 29th in turnover differential.
The experienced squad is led by Junior Zach Edey, Purdue’s star center who’s averaged 22.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game this season. After a disappointing loss in 2022 sweet sixteen, Edey hopes to lead his team to victory this time around.
4. Kansas Jayhawks
The defending national champions have followed up their impressive title-winning campaign with a similarly dominant performance. Legendary coach, Bill Self, has created another dominant basketball team, as his squad has compiled a 22-5 record and 10-4 conference record and currently leads the Big 12.
Kansas has the 7th best overall efficiency in the nation, with a 15th ranking in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This stat is true to form, as the Jayhawks excel on both sides of the ball and have one of the most balanced teams in the nation. In addition to their efficiency, Kansas ranks 14th in the nation in assists to field goals ratio and 22nd in turnover differential.
The Jayhawks are led by Senior Forward Jalen Wilson, who averages 20.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Wilson will certainly look to lead this talented team back to the promised land as they prepare for their 2023 March Madness journey.
5. Alabama Crimson Tide
Currently 2nd in the AP rankings and 1st in the SEC, some may question why the Crimson Tide fall below their contender counterparts. The answer isn’t that I don’t think they can win it all, but rather they are slightly less likely than the other teams that lie above them on this list. Alabama still has all the makings of a national champion and will surely make an exciting run in a few weeks.
Alabama has enjoyed a spectacular season and compiled a 23-4 record 13-1 conference record. They also currently rank 2nd in the nation in overall efficiency, as they rank 13th in offensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency. This impressive squad also ranks 13th in the nation in rebounding margin and 35th in effective field goal percentage.
Alabama head coach, Nate Oats, has led his team to a great season and can hopefully lead his team to an even better tournament run. His team will be guided by Freshman Forward Brandon Miller, who has 18.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game this season. A school usually in search of a College Football National Championship, Alabama will certainly have its eyes set on a different trophy come March.
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