Before we know it, March Madness will be upon us. That crazy end to the NCAA basketball season when 68 of the country’s very best teams battle it out to see who can emerge victorious.
It’s a tradition that has a long history – the very first one took place way back in 1939 – and over the years it has grown bigger, better and more exciting/
So it’s no wonder that each year it gathers more and more fans, rooting for the team they want to see win.
One of the biggest appeals of the tournament is its record of upsets. One only has to look back at last year when, for the third year in a row, a number 15 seed saw off a 2 seed when Princeton narrowly won by 59-55 against Arizona and went on to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
But one team that hopes they won’t suffer the same fate as Arizona this year will be the 2023 winners, the UConn Huskies. Instead, they are aiming to take the trophy back to Connecticut for the second year running, making it a total of six victories and 37 times that they have made it through to the finals.
While achieving the latter is virtually a foregone conclusion, the March Madness odds suggest that they may not be the favorites to win outright.
We’ll take a look at which teams are ahead of them in the betting shortly but it may be of a slight concern for the Huskies that they were once favorites but have starting to slip.
The season so far
That said, it’s looking very good for the team on paper. In mid-January they sit proudly at the head of the Big East with an overall 15-2 win record including not a single home defeat.
Only Kansas and Seton Hall have beaten them, pretty good going by anyone’s standards.
One possible warning sign has been that the head coach Dan Hurley, now in his sixth year in the role, has said on the record that he believes last year’s winning team were stronger. But there are still plenty of reasons to believe that the Huskies can emerge victorious again.
Good morale is at the heart of any successful team so a real boost has also arrived at a critical moment for the team.
In the annual Associated Press men’s college basketball poll the team has been voted number one. They claimed 39 of the 63 first place votes which put them in a position that they last attained in the 2008-09 season.
Another confidence-inducing fact is that at least three members of the current roster look to be of great interest in the upcoming draft.
Leading the way is center Donovan Clingen. Averaging nearly 14 points per game and a 63.2% field goal percentage the stats back up his talent. Then there’s the guard, Stephon Castle. Back from knee surgery he has proved that he can defend from almost any position and has the strength to neutralize most forwards.
Also in the running to be picked up by an NBA team is Alex Karaban, the 6’ 9” forward who some think might be destined for the Milwaukee Bucks where he’ll surely pick up few tips from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Other players who could help them make it all the way again this year include Cam Spencer and freshmen Jaylin Stewart and Jayden Ross. Solo Ball is another good young prospect to watch, a player who has already been given opportunities to show what he can offer during Castle’s lay-off for injury.
Who could stop them?
There are a couple of other teams who are being mooted as the possible champions this year – and leading the way is Purdue. Currently leading the way in the Big 10 with a 15-2 record, the Boilermakers are fancied over not just UConn but also Houston and Arizona to be the team who will be cutting down the nets to the strains of One Shining Moment when April comes around.
Some commentators are also speculating that this could even be the year for Duke to come good. Heavily backed early on in the season they’ve had their ups and downs starting with losses to Arkansas and Georgia Tech. But they’ve rallied as the season’s progressed and players Jared McCain and Mark Mitchell have really started to show their worth.
Nor can you discount Kansas with Kevin McCullar Jr, Hunter Dickinson and Elmarko Jackson forming the backbone of an often formidable line-up.
So if UConn are going to achieve the double they’re going to need luck, determination and an injury-free run-in on the end of the season. But it’s not called March Madness for nothing so we’re just going to have to wait and see.
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