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March Madness on the horizon in college basketball

Now with the beginning of February, the time clock for March Madness begins to speed up for fans. Play across the entirety of college basketball intensifies, as the level of chemistry among those able to make it to the tournament improves the capabilities of all players. At this point in the season, the contenders are becoming clearer. This season has become one of the most unpredictable years of college basketball, with seven teams occupying the number one seeds. Upsets riddle the top 25 teams seemingly every week. Going into February, there are many candidates contending for the 2020 title.

For the first time in a while, Baylor holds the number one seed. This is no fluke as their schedule has been filled with tough games, yet they sit at 17-1. They have had notable wins against No. 3 Kansas, No. 12 Arizona, and No. 17 Villanova. They are currently ranked as a top 10 defense and have a backcourt duo averaging just under 30 points a game, which mirrors the exact statistics that Kansas had last year when they won it all. Second-year guard Jared Butler hopes to guide the team deep into March, averaging 15.8 points and 3.1 assists per game, leading the team in the former category. The other member of the backcourt duo is guard MaCio Teague, who is averaging 13.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. 

After winning it all last year, Kansas has returned at full force with a team that has the ability to bring a championship home in back to back seasons, which would make them the first team to accomplish the feat since Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators pulled it off in 2006 and 2007.  With players and a coaching staff that know how to win a championship, many analysts have Kansas listed as the best team in college basketball. Concerns have risen when they are challenged with other seeded teams, posting a 2-3 record in the regular season against seeded teams. One of the major keys to their success is the improvement of second-year guard Devon Dotson, who leads the team in points per game with 18 and forces critical ball movement. Another player making major contributions is third-year center Udoka Azubuike, who is dominating around the rim with 9.5 rebounds, while additionally putting up 12.8 points per game, second only to Dotson on the squad. Kansas is currently one of two teams to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, making them a satisfying team to watch and a well-rounded contender.

As per usual, Duke continues to have its name on the contender list. Although they sit all the way back at the ninth seed after holding the first seed earlier this season, Duke still poses a March threat. Duke remained in the top three all season, but lost back-to-back conference games, leading to their slide in the seeding. However, Duke has dominated all over the leagues, sitting at 18-3 overall. Last time Duke won March Madness in 2015, they were led by then first-year center Jahlil Okafor, who stands at 6-foot-10-inches tall. Now they are led by 6-foot-10-inch tall first-year Vernon Carey, who is averaging 17.4 points per contest. Another asset to this dominant squad is second-year guard Tre Jones, who is one of the few returners from last year’s super team. Jones averages 14.9 points and 6.8 assists per contest while showing consistent hustle on both ends of the court. Duke has been a contender every year since winning the title in 2015 and hopes to bring it once again.

Though these three teams stand above the rest at this point in the season, the glory of college basketball is the historic rise of players and teams to stardom through hardship and a trial by fire in the March bracket, showing once again the unpredictability of sports. Be on the watch for teams with young rosters and easy schedules, such as Michigan State and Gonzaga, respectfully, to storm into the bracket with a head of steam to take on these top contenders for another excellent month of college basketball.

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