The month of March has plenty of significance in American sports.
NBA and NHL teams are in the second half of their regular seasons, MLB teams are gearing up for their year during spring training — and college basketball is getting the lion’s share of attention, thanks to the NCAA men’s Division 1 playoff tournament many know as March Madness.
Sixty-eight teams compete in the bracket with the hopes of being the last one standing. Every year, there is insane unpredictability in the tournament and action just about every day in the second half of the month. These factors make it highly popular, as do the personal March Madness brackets.
Still, it can be confusing for bracket newbies. That said, let’s take a look at a few notes of significance as this year’s tournament begins.
1.) The Villanova Wildcats (30-4) and Virginia Cavaliers (31-2) have the best odds of winning the tournament on Bovada; the Wildcats have 6-1 odds, while the Cavaliers have 6.5-1 odds.
The reason Villanova is up on top is the team’s offense. It put up a nation’s-best 87.1 points per game during the regular season, thanks to some serious offensive depth. In all, six of its players put up over 10 points per game in the regular season, while the team posted a .504 field goal percentage.
2.) Virginia, by contrast, has the nation’s best defense; this team let up just 53.4 points per game during the regular season. The Cavaliers come from the Atlantic Conference, which has five of the Associated Press top-25 teams (Miami, Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia). It is unfortunate that they and No. 2-seeded Cincinnati (30-4) are both in the South Division, so only one of them can make it to the Final Four.
The Bearcats only allowed 57.1 points per game during the regular season, making them one of only two Division 1 schools in the country to let up under 60 points per game.
3.) March Madness gives fans a chance to see some top NBA prospects in their final career games. As college basketball players, they could be drafted in the next few months.
For those who are looking to see perhaps the biggest group of future NBA talent, check out some of Duke’s games. The Blue Devils (26-7) aren’t favored to win the tournament — they’re a young team, and five of their seven losses came from January 27 or later. Still, NBADraft.net shows they have five players projected to be selected in this year’s NBA draft: power forward Marvin Bagley (No. 2), power forward/center Wendell Carter (No. 8), guard Gary Trent Jr. (No. 16), guard Grayson Allen (No. 25), and guard Trevon Duval (No. 34).
All but Allen are freshmen this year; Duval is the only player projected to be taken outside of the first round.
4.) Anyone who wants to see the top player in college basketball this year should check out Arizona’s (27-7) games. USA Today projects that its 7 foot 1 inch freshman center, Deandre Ayton, will be the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
The Bahamas native is a finalist for the Naismith Award (college basketball’s MVP award), as he has put up 20.3 points per game with 11.5 rebounds this season. Although this time has arguably the top player in the country, playing in the Pac-12 will likely prevent this team from winning it all — no team from the conference has won the tournament in the past two decades.
5.) The nation’s top scorer, Trae Young (27.4 points per game) — a freshman and forward — gives Oklahoma (18-13) fans a reason to be excited. However, Oklahoma is the No. 10 seed in the Midwest section, and no team below a No. 8 seed has ever won the tournament.
6.) Regardless of what happens in the tournament, there is plenty to watch — and ratings are sure to be huge. According to Nielsen, last year’s National Championship game averaged around 23 million viewers.
That said, the tournament tends to be unpredictable, which is one of the reasons people like it so much.
If it were predictable, it would be nothing special.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.