As usual, I'll be doing bracketology picks for the Bracket Matrix again, but that won't be for another couple weeks. In the meantime, I thought it would be a good idea to look at who the favorites are for the Final Four. While I'm not going to pick a national champion in this post, if you're interested in the current odds and lines on who's going to win the NCAA Championship, if you're interested in the current odds and lines on who's going to win the NCAA Championship, you can read up more here.
So without further ado, here are my early picks on the Final Four. As always, feel free to tear apart my analysis in the Comments section.
After getting off to their best start in school history, the Wildcats are one of the favorites to make it to Dallas. The Cats are playing excellent defense, allowing .88 points per possession, good for 4th in the country. In an era where the non-conference strength of schedule is highly scrutinized, Arizona has beaten Duke (neutral court), Michigan (away), and San Diego State (away). The Wildcats also have shown the depth of a championship-caliber team, with 7 guys playing 18+ minutes per game, and 4 guys averaging double-digit points per game (I rounded up Kaleb Tarczewski's ppg from 9.8 to 10). This team has a lot of size, with 4 of their major contributors at 6'7 or taller, and they've out-rebounded their opponents in every game except their last game at USC (a blowout win, by the way). Aaron Gordon has been as good as advertised, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has shown he can be a beast down low. There's no question this team is poised for a deep run.
What I really like about this Spartans squad is their balance. While guys like Adreian Payne can dominate in the paint, they also have guys like Keith Appling that can score in transition and hit jump shots. Sparty will switch between man and zone defense, so they can prepare for just about any offense. Another factor I like about this team is what Ken Pomeroy refers to as luck. Ken defines luck as a team's ability to win close games. Statistically, Ken doesn't feel that there's much more to it than luck, but I think toughness is a big part of what wins those close games. If you're going to go deep in the tournament, you have to be able to win the close games. Michigan State's overtime win against Ohio State in the Breslin Center proved just that. After giving up an enormous lead down the stretch, the Buckeyes had the Spartans on the ropes, but Michigan State found a way to get it done in overtime. Games like those helps teams grow up very quickly. Not to mention, coach Tom Izzo has certainly made his money in March, and having him at the helm will always give you an edge on the competition.
The Gators bring back 2 of their best players from last year's run to the Elite 8 in Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young. Casey Prather has clearly stepped up his game this year, scoring 17 ppg and playing 29 mpg, after only scoring 9 ppg and playing 17 mpg last season. Despite tough losses to Wisky and UConn, Florida has quality wins over Kansas and Memphis. Once again, this squad has great balance around the perimeter and in the paint, so they can attack you offensively in a variety of ways. Florida doesn't play much zone defense, so they have to rely on their athleticism to play good defense. Wilbekin, Young, and Prather are all seniors, so this squad has the experience to go deep. Having a coach that has won back to back titles at Florida doesn't hurt either.
The Buckeyes look pretty beaten up right now, having lost 3 in a row. I know what you're thinking, there's no way this team can get to Dallas. Hear me out though. This is the right time of year to go on a cold streak, because teams will fall asleep on Ohio State and get surprised when they lose. The Buckeyes have a month to hit their stride. There are two things I really like about this team. One is their balance. 6 guys are scoring 8+ ppg, and nobody is playing more than 26 mpg. This keeps guys fresh down the stretch, like the game at Michigan State. Sure, they lost in overtime, but the comeback Ohio State made down the stretch was nothing short of impressive. The other thing I like: Aaron Craft. How could you not like this guy? He's proven in big games that he can win. Perfect example: Iowa State in the Round of 32 last year. Craft took a (controversial) charge and made the go-ahead 3-pointer on the other end with less than one second remaining. With the game on the line, he's the guy I want as my point guard.