NCAA Men’s Basketball
The college basketball season is essentially chopped up into three parts. You have the preseason, where teams play a bunch of tournaments and play games out of conference, that is the part of the season we are just wrapping up now. Then you have league play, where the team plays predominantly conference games to decide each league’s respective regular-season champions, that part of the season is just around the corner.
And finally, you have postseason play. For some teams, that is just their league’s conference tournament. For others, that could mean invitations to the various postseason tournaments like the CBI, or the NIT, and most notably, the Big Dance, the NCAA Men’s National Championship tournament. And even though March is still a long way away, we are going to take a look ahead and give you a breakdown of which four teams I think are going to be playing in Atlanta for this year’s Final Four!
2020 Final Four
This year the Final Four will be played at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 4th-6th. The Final Four is the culmination of a 68-team bracket that has played its way all the way down to the third weekend, and it’s last four teams. The winner will be crowned the 2020 Men’s Basketball National Champions.
This year the field is as wide open as it has ever been. We haven’t even finished December yet, and already six different teams have been ranked in the number one spot of the AP Poll, the record for an entire season is just seven. That tells us that this year, there is no dominant team, and any one of about thirty of forty teams could find their way to the Final Four!
I’ll give you the four teams that I like to make it to Atlanta, as well as three wilds cards that need to be considered threats, and a few long shots that could be this year’s Cinderella if things break their way in March. Let’s get started!
- AP Poll: 1
- Coaches Poll: 1
- Kenpom: 6
- McCarthy Athletic Center
- Spokane, Washington
- West Coast Conference
While this might not be Mark Few’s most talented Zag’s team, I do think it is his most complete. The Bulldogs have risen to the top of the rankings, and they have early-season wins over Oregon, Washington, North Carolina, and Arizona. Kenpom has them rated as the nation’s most efficient offense, which is a trademark of Mark Few coached teams.
But where this team stands out from past Gonzaga teams, is on defense. They are ranked at #44 for defensive efficiency, and they have size and athleticism that we just haven’t seen in Spokane. They are led by the nation’s best frontcourt with big men Kilian Tillie, Felip Petrusev, and Drew Timme all coming in at 6’10” or bigger.
All three of these guys have post up games and can protect the paint, but they can also space the floor and pull up from the mid-range or from deep. Tillie is especially hard to guard as he is a lifetime 45% shooter from three while shooting 56% from the field.
Gonzaga Starting Five
|Killian Tillie (Forward)||11.4||4.6||2.0|
|Filip Petrusev (Forward)||16.7||8.1||1.0|
|Anton Gilder (Guard)||10.9||2.8||2.0|
|Corey Kispert (Forward)||14.9||4.2||1.7|
|Joel Ayayi (Guard)||10.7||6.9||4.1|
Gonzaga did a great job of playing a strong non-conference schedule, and as they hit league play in the WCC conference, there are currently zero projected losses on their schedule the rest of the way out. That doesn’t mean their won’t be tough games, especially on the road against the likes of BYU or Saint Mary’s, but you can expect the Zags to hit Selection Sunday with close to thirty wins and they should be a lock for a number one seed.
Duke Blue Devils
- AP Poll: 4
- Coaches Poll: 3
- Kenpom: 2
- Cameron Indoor Stadium
- Durham, North Carolina
- Atlantic Coast Conference
For some reason, all the media wants to talk about right now is the fact that Duke found a way to lose at home to Stephen F Austin, a loss that snapped their multi-year home court, non-conference winning streak of over 150-games. Losses happen in college basketball, but don’t let that loss distract you from the fact that this team is really, really good.
The Blue Devils are never going to be far away from a conversation about the best teams in the country as they have been to twelve Final Fours under Coach K. They have two wins over top-five teams already this year, as they beat Kansas and Michigan State, and they are the favorites to win the ACC. And while his team doesn’t have the star power like last year’s team that had Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and RJ Barrett, they are still loaded.
You could find Duke guys on 30 national mag covers in the 2010s.
— Duke Basketball (@DukeMBB) December 26, 2019
Tre Jones is the leader at point guard, and he has really stepped up his game this year after deciding to forego the NBA Draft and return for another season at Duke. Jones is my current pick for the best point guard in the country, and he has seen his points per game (15.6) and assist per game (7.1) dramatically increase from last season.
And while Jones is the leader, it is freshman Vernon Carey Jr that is the star. Carey Jr leads the team in points per game (18.6), rebounds per game (9.3), and shooting percentage (61%). This kid is a matchup nightmare at 6’10” 270 pounds and had a coming out party against Michigan State on the road. In that one, Carey Jr lit up the Spartans for 26 points and 11 boards and announced himself to the nation as a player of the year candidate.
- AP Poll: 6
- Coaches Poll: 7
- Kenpom: 11
- Matthew Knight Arena
- Eugene, Oregon
When you look at the teams that make it all the way to the Final Four, the vast majority of the time, they are teams that are tested during the regular season. If you hit March Madness and you haven’t played against some elite teams, you are going to really struggle. This Oregon Ducks team has been tested several times this season, and they have shown that they deserve to be considered a Final Four caliber squad.
The loss to North Carolina looks much worse than it actually is, as the Ducks played the Tar Heels when they still had superstar Cole Anthony healthy. Don’t let the Tar Heel’s recent struggles with Anthony sidelined with an injury fool you into thinking that they weren’t a much better team when he was playing.
Oregon has a SOS of #26 right now. And those tough games are going to keep coming as the PAC-12 looks to be much improved this season. The league looks like it could get as many as nine NCAA tournament bids this year. By the time the Ducks hit the NCAA tournament, they are going to be one of the most battle-tested teams in the land, and that makes me think they are going to be up to the challenge of making it through the rigorous gauntlet that is the Big Dance.
2020 PAC-12 Contenders
- Oregon (10-2)
- Arizona (10-3)
- Colorado (10-2)
- Washington (10-3)
- Stanford (11-1)
- USC (10-2)
- Oregon St. (9-2)
- Arizona St. (8-4)
- Utah (9-3)
- AP Poll: 5
- Coaches Poll: 5
- Kenpom: 4
- Phog Allen Fieldhouse
- Lawrence, Kansas
I just talked about how I like the Oregon Ducks’ chances of making a deep run in the tournament because of their tough SOS. And when you look at the Kansas Jayhawks, they have played an even tougher slate than Oregon has! No team in the country has played a schedule as demanding as the Jayhawks have, and have a better record to show for it.
Kansas has top-100 wins over UNC-Greensboro, East Tennessee State, BYU, Dayton, and Colorado. The losses came to Duke, and Villanova, and both of those teams are currently ranked in the top ten of both major polls.
The Jayhawks have two superstars in Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. Dotson is on the same level at point guard as Tre Jones and Cassius Winston and could very well get national player of the year votes with his stat line of points (19.2), assists (4.7), rebounds (4.0), and steals (2.1). But the key to a run to the Final Four for Kansas will be Azubuike.
??????-?????? for the big fella!
Udoka Azubuike (12 points, 10 rebounds) picks up his fourth double-double of the season, 12th of his career ? pic.twitter.com/4fFfsyKpGN
— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) December 21, 2019
Azubuike is a seven-footer who, when he is on his game, is un-guardable. We saw this is against Dayton when he shot 12-15 from the field and scored twenty-nine points, including the first nine points of overtime to give Kansas a resume-building victory over the Flyers. The big man is shooting over 80% from the field, and if you don’t have a plan for him, he will destroy you.
Under The Radar Teams
You have seen my picks for the Final Four above, and to be honest, they really aren’t all that controversial. All of those teams are good programs that have recently made Final Four appearances. In this section, I am going to highlight a few teams that I think could surprise folks and make an unexpected deep run.
Does The Slipper Fit?
In this final section, we are going to take a look at a couple teams that are certainly not favorites to win it all, but could surprise a lot of people in March. These are the teams that you want to make sure don’t bust your bracket!
Are you on Santa's nice list? ?
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) December 25, 2019
We called this article a way to early Final Four preview, but in my book, it really is never too early to start thinking about the Madness that is March! Thank you for reading, and make sure you keep an eye on my daily NCAAM betting picks, where I give you the sharp betting advice you need to make money this year!