March. The craziest month on the sporting calendar, when Cinderella stories are written and dreams are realized.
The 2015-16 Division I men’s basketball regular season has come to an end, and there are currently more questions than answers. With every team having at least three losses on the season, the field has never been as evenly spread out as it is this year. This March has the ingredients to be the most chaotic dance in recent memory.
The journey to get to the big dance goes through the plethora of conference tournaments during championship week. Storylines underlie games across the board, as teams prepare for crunch time. A tournament that will get special attention is the SEC Tournament, where Ben Simmons and his LSU Tigers hope to win, and clinch a spot. Without an SEC Tournament championship, Simmons has the chance to become the first consensus number one pick to miss the tournament in about 40 years. Other tournaments such as the ACC and the Big 12 Tournaments do not encompass as fascinating storylines, but will serve as last evaluations for top teams including Kansas, West Virginia and North Carolina.
While the spotlight will certainly be shining on these big name teams, many should keep an eye out for sleepers who are primed to make noise against single digit seeded teams. Here are some teams to watch in March Madness.
The Shaka Smart coached Texas Longhorns have shown their ability to take down the elite teams that they possibly would be matched up against, come March Madness. Beating six top 100 ranked teams, including the No. 7 ranked Tar Heels, the Longhorns have demonstrated their innate quality of bouncing back, which has become their recurring story this season. The Longhorns know how to hang onto the ball, as they average only about 11 turnovers a game, which can benefit them greatly in the tournament. Another factor that benefits this Longhorn squad is coach Smart, who has experience in taking an underrated 11th seeded VCU to the brink of history in 2011. The Longhorns have all the pieces needed to make it deep into March.
Speaking of VCU, they are a deep sleeper that can finish the journey that they started in 2011. With a bid, this Rams team has the opportunity to repeat the history they created when they made a run to the Final Four as an 11 seed. Four of the five starters are returning this year for VCU, which provides them with invaluable experience and leadership. VCU takes pride in harassing the opponents offense, as they average about 10 steals a game, which is about two steals more than what the ‘11 squad registered. Coach Will Wade served as an assistant during the 2011 team’s run, which serves as more experience for the team as they are running their familiar system.
A team that has quietly built a solid resume for being a sleeper is the Monmouth Hawks. The Hawks sit atop the MAAC with a record of 27-7. If they receive a bid in the tournament, the Hawks have proven to be capable of making an uproar. Beating teams such as UCLA, USC and 17th ranked Notre Dame demonstrates their fearless demeanor towards big name schools. During crunch time, Monmouth can turn to their 5’8 point guard Justin Robinson who is averaging 20 points per game, while shooting 40 percent from three point range. Monmouth has the type of offense that can keep up with higher ranked schools, as they average 37 percent from three, while also hitting 78 percent of their free throws.
With many questions left unanswered, and plenty of storylines leading us into the big dance, this March will be one to remember.