These four teams are all too familiar with the March scene. They are gritty and they excel during the two most important weeks in March.
- Michigan State — Of course, you can’t leave out Tom Izzo and the Spartans when the NCAA Tournament rolls around. No matter their seed, Izzo has his teams playing their best in this month. The Spartans have bowed out in the first round just twice in the last decade, and just four times since the Big Ten Conference was created in 1995. And here they are once again, in prime position, ranked No. 2 in the country and staring at possibly an overall No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. Denzel Valentine has been around for ages, but Michigan State always seems to have those type of players at their disposal, and he will lead the Spartans. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Spartans dance their way to the Elite Eight. While they are in a three-way tie for second in the Big Ten, the Spartans only care about being the last conference team standing.
- Wisconsin — Staying the Big Ten with the one team I despise the most, the Badgers. But I have to give them a round of applause for their gutsy performance this season. They were left for dead in January. Bo Ryan retired right before Winter Break, their record was 9-9 following a three-game losing streak as of Jan. 12, and the team was trending to miss the NIT. They rebounded, though. While most of the Badgers’ core of two consecutive Final Four teams is gone, Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes have really stepped, and the team is buying in to what new head coach Greg Gard is doing. Hayes has become the Draymond Green of the Badgers. He can score, rebound, pass, and defend. Koenig has become a knock-em-down three-point shooter, and freshman big man Ethan Happ is averaging 12 and 8. Wisconsin is always tough, and they will be an extremely tough-out during March Madness.
- Arizona — While the Wildcats are in fourth in the PAC-12, I have a feeling they have the type of team to make an Elite Eight run. This is a veteran squad led by Gabe York, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Ryan Anderson. Of their seven losses, five came by five points or less. This team shoots 48.8 percent from the field and can get hot from distance. As a team, the Wildcats shoot the three-pointer at a 36.8 percent clip, and have had 11 games where they shot 40 percent or better from beyond the arc. They have also had nine games where they hit eight or more threes in a game. The ‘Cats don’t take many threes, but the ability to hit timely ones in the NCAA Tournament is big, because three is still worth more than two.
- Kentucky — What? The Wildcats? You bet! Don’t sleep on Big Blue’s guard play. Jamal Murray and Tyle Ulis form one of the best backcourts in college basketball and they are heating up at the right time. One thing that may hamper the Kentucky is poor free-throw shooting. It’s been the Wildcats’ Achilles heel in the past, too. I think if they get a No. 4 or 5 seed, this team could be a big threat to a No. 1 or 2 when they meet. I believe this team could easily make the Sweet 16, and may just end up in the Final Four. Do not sleep on this squad.