NCAA Basketball: No Clear Favorite on the Road to the Final Four

Karen Rosen
Denzel Valentine, highlights, sports
USA Today Sports

Houston we have a problem. With the NCAA basketball tournament beginning this week, no clear-cut favorites have emerged on the road to the Final Four in the Texas city. During the regular season, six different teams were ranked No. 1 and the top contenders are saddled with more losses—at least four apiece—than in previous years.

“That lends itself to thinking that we might have some craziness,” says CBS analyst Clark Kellogg. “There was a pretty good consensus about the best teams last year, and we don’t have that this year. There are about a dozen teams that look like they have what it takes to win six in a row.”

When the dust settled from the conference tournaments, Kansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Oregon had earned the No. 1 seeds. Kansas and North Carolina, plus Michigan State (led by Denzel Valentine, above) and Xavier, “have perhaps the best offensive balance of the teams in the field when you look at inside presence, perimeter scoring, depth and a good blend of youth and experience,” Kellogg says. Villanova is smaller in terms of size but does have 6-foot-11 forward Daniel Ochefu, “who’s a real rim protector.” And “just a notch below” those teams, Kellogg has his eyes on Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Iowa, Duke, and Maryland.

While some teams have made deep NCAA tournament runs a habit, fans must disrupt their routine and tune in to TBS, not CBS, for national semifinals (on April 2) and the title game (April 4). Starting this year and through 2024, TBS will air the Final Four in even-numbered years and CBS in odd-numbered ones. TBS had the semifinals last year, but this is the first time a cable network will show the championship game, ending a 34-year streak on CBS. Apparently, parity even extends to the networks.

The NCAA Basketball Championship begins Tuesday and Wednesday, March 15-16, with the First Four games, starting both nights at 6:40/5:40c on TruTV. The full bracket and schedule can be found at ncaa.com.