Mark Clark: Best NCAA basketball teams as March Madness nears

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The regular season is over – and so are the post-season conference tournaments. The time is here for the annual March Madness to begin. Selection Sunday has passed. The teams have been selected to fill the 68-team single-elimination tournament bracket. It is time to make your predictions as to which teams will reach the championship game for 2019.

March Madness is a great event. College basketball fans get to watch 67 games over a 19-day period. The First Four games have been played now in Dayton, Ohio this past Tuesday and Wednesday. These teams played to see which would make it into the competition bracket which begins tonight in Hartford, Connecticut. The last game will be played April 8 in Minnesota at the Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium. That will result in this year’s national champion being crowned.

I am sure many of you are excited for the tournament to begin. You are ready to see which teams pull upsets. You are ready to find out which team will be dubbed this year’s Cinderella team. You are ready to see if there is one team that is ready to plow through the field of teams. Well, it’s time for those things to happen.

Despite how things looked at the beginning of the 2018-2019 college basketball season, there is no really dominant team in the field of 68. Oh, yes, there are some very good teams in the field. There just is not that one team that you can point at and say, “This is the one.” Nope, there is not one. Remember Duke began the season by scoring 118 points against Kentucky, but Duke is not the great dominant team of this season. The Blue Devils are good and may win it all, but they are not “the one.”

Because there is no dominant team, the championship is up for grabs. Maybe your favorite team will win it all. Me? I will just watch to see what happens, I have no favorite team right now. I may jump on a bandwagon or two before this tournament is over, but I am sitting on the side right now. Do I have any thoughts on which teams should be favorites? Of course, I think everyone has thoughts on who they think will be the teams to watch as the tournament progresses.

Here, I will give you some of my thoughts on which teams I think will be the favorites – favorites at the start at least. As the tournament goes along, I think there will be adjustments to those we all see as favorites as teams show how well prepared they are to play in this tournament.

The first team I think should go into the tournament as a favorite – the Duke Blue Devils. Yes, I said Duke was not “the one.” I said Duke was not the same team that beat Kentucky by scoring a ridiculous 118 points in its first game. But, I think Duke should be a favorite for at least one reason – tradition. The Blue Devils have always seemed to be ready to play in the tournament. They have not won it as much as some teams, but they have won a lot of NCAA tournament games over the years. There is no doubt Duke made a statement in the ACC Tournament when it beat North Carolina – a team that swept Duke during the regular season. The game was close, but Zion Williamson showed why he one of the best in college basketball when he scored the winning points by rebounding his own shot and putting it in the hole. He had 31 points and 11 rebounds against the Tar Heels. Williamson is a difference maker and a big reason Duke should be a favorite.

Gonzaga’s Bulldogs are another team I think are favorites. The Bulldogs must rebound from a loss in the West Coast Conference tournament to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. It should be possible. It seems the Zags make a deep run in the tournament every year. Let us remember the Bulldogs were the first team this season to beat Duke. They also have wins over Texas A&M, Illinois, Arizona, Creighton and Washington. Gonzaga only has one bad loss, so there is potential to win it all in this bunch. There is at least enough potential to consider this team a favorite.

Virginia’s Cavaliers are my third team to be considered a favorite. The team has 29 wins and three losses this season – two losses to Duke in close games and to Florida State. Those are not bad losses. If the Cavaliers make a deep run into the tournament, they may see the two teams that beat them again. Virginia also should enter the tournament with a chip on its shoulder because of a last year’s tournament’s performance. Virginia was a No. 1 seed last year and lost in the first round. That was embarrassing for the Cavliers. I do not believe an early loss is in the picture for Virginia this season. We will just have to wait to see what happens to this team.

My last team to consider a favorite in this year’s tournament is Kentucky. This is not a bunch of one year and done players/ It is better than most of John Calipari’s teams at Kentucky. It has a mix of youthful talent and experienced players. The team averages better that 76 points per game. I know they got drilled by Duke to start the season and the fact that it took a couple of months or more for the Wildcats to find an identity, but it is hard to ignore the talent here. It would be harder to ignore Kentucky as a favorite any year. This is not a year to ignore Kentucky.

Now, remember I said the favorites will be adjusted as the tournament is played. You may not agree with my choices – and they may turn out to be bad choices. However, these are the teams I see as favorites going in. The real test of whether these teams should be favorites is where they finish the season. We will have to wait to see where that finish is for these four.

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for 

The Citizen of East Alabama.