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March Madness often features underdogs that get the lion's share of the attention due to all of the fun that upsets can be. But at the end of the day, it is often the favorites that take home the championship and the glory that comes with winning such a difficult tournament to navigate. This year, though, plenty of the teams ranked near the top of college basketball could find themselves in for a short stay in the tournament as they may be poised to struggle under the bright lights of the bracket.
Duke has been one of the best teams in college basketball all season long, and are at or near the top of the list of favorites to win the NCAA Tournament. But there are some factors that could make them vulnerable when the action starts, with the health of Zion Williamson being chief among them. Williamson has missed time this season with knee problems. And though coach Mike Krzyzewski has said that he will be able to play in the ACC Tournament prior to the big dance, just how healthy Williamson is isn't known at this point.
If Zion can't play at full strength, Duke could be in trouble, as the team doesn't have the depth to deal with injuries the way that less top-heavy teams do. They could still end up winning the whole thing due to the wealth of talent in their starting lineup, headlined by RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, but Williamson's uncertainty could derail their entire run.
Virginia will always have one of the best defenses in college basketball as long as Tony Bennett is coaching them. But their style of play always makes them susceptible to an upset bid by one of the lower ranked teams in the tournament, and this year is no exception.
Virginia plays one of the slowest tempos in the country, if not the slowest. And while they can usually use their suffocating defense to make that work in their favor, the Cavaliers are just one good shooting day by an opponent away from being bounced like they were against UMBC last year.
Kansas as a program is a fixture in the late rounds of the NCAA Tournament, but this year’s team is having trouble finding its footing. If they don’t find it soon, they could be staring down an early exit of their own.
This season marks the first time in nearly two decades that the Jayhawks have failed to win the Big 12 regular season championship. And a big reason for that regression has been the season-ending hand injury of Udoka Azibuke. Losing one of the best big men in the country can make any team vulnerable, and could cost Kansas a deep run in this year’s tournament.
LSU, after years of irrelevance, are a top-10 team in college basketball. So why are they on this list of teams in jeopardy for March Madness? The answer to that question is uncertainty.
Members of the LSU coaching staff, including the team’s head coach, are out of action indefinitely. Recorded phone conversations have seen the Tigers’ head man discussing payment for players, which is the one thing you can’t do when recruiting in college basketball.
On the court, the Tigers are still one of the strongest teams in the tournament. But the distraction of controversy, combined with not necessarily knowing who will be coaching the team in the tournament, makes for a dangerous combination. At the very least, those who are planning on backing LSU to make a championship run should do so at their own risk.