By Seth Rivello
The men’s NCAA basketball season is winding down and the team rankings are fluctuating every week. Teams that are normally in the top-10, like the Kentucky Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks, are being replaced by teams like the Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers.
Rolling into a fresh week, the Virginia Cavaliers hold the top spot in the rankings. The offense isn’t highly explosive but it wins with defense and efficient shooting. Virginia leads the nation in points allowed, only giving up 52 per game. There are only two players who score in double digits on this team. Kyle Guy is a sophomore guard and Devon Hall is a senior guard. Guy shoots the ball 40 percent while Hall shoots 46 percent from the field and that same percent from behind the arc.
Virginia usually makes a nice run in the tournament but it usually has more shooters than this year. Another downfall to this team is the lack of big men. Someone will have to grab rebounds when the guards start missing their shots, if not, other teams not playing small ball can feast on the boards. The Cavaliers might have the best defense but you need to match that with offense.
Cincinnati, sitting at fifth in the nation, is somewhat similar to Virginia. The Bearcats hold their opponents to only 55 points per game. They have four double-digit scorers, and have big men incorporated in the offense. Cincinnati has an impressive 23-2 record but the two losses show a lot. Its back-to-back losses came from at the time 21st-ranked Xavier and the fifth-ranked Florida Gators.
The record may look nice and the team is built well but none of that matters when the only two ranked teams you’ve played all season beat you. With six games left, the 19th-ranked Wichita State Shockers will take on the Bearcats twice in the next two weeks. Two big wins can prove a lot for the Bearcats, even one will prove something.
The team that is first in the nation in scoring, averaging 88 points per game, is the Oklahoma Sooners. Freshman guard Trae Young, who is leading all players in points per game with 29.5 is pretty much all the Sooners have. He’s had nine games where he’s scored over 30 points and four where he put up over 40. Young is Oklahoma’s offense which is mainly why it sits at a record of 16-9 and ranked nationally at 23rd. The Sooners have six wins against ranked opponents and only two losses.
Fans love watching Young play and fill up the stat sheet but I would shy away from picking Oklahoma to go far in your March Madness bracket. One high scoring player can’t carry a team through six rounds of big time basketball. If you don’t believe me look at the past with Jimmer Fredette, Doug McDermott and D’Angelo Russell.
As much as I love fourth-ranked Xavier and big-time playmaker Trevon Bluiett, you can’t pick against the Duke Blue Devils. At the moment, ranked twelfth in the nation at 20-5, it’s big wins get overlooked by losses. An early 11-game win streak that included beating two top-10 opponents at the time (Michigan State, Florida) was ended by unranked Boston College, plus losses to Virginia, North Carolina, NC State, and St. John’s.
Coach K and his main platoon Marvin Bagley III, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent Jr., Trevon Duval, and Wendell Carter Jr. have this offense scoring 88 points per game (second in the nation), grabbing 42 rebounds per game (second in the nation), and averaging around 18 assists per game (fifth in the nation). It’s last championship came in 2015; this team is primed for a run.