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From Ian Bethune, The UConn Blog

Hot Teams to be Aware of Ahead of March Madness

Selection Sunday is… one week away! Seven days from now, America will turn on their televisions and, for the first time in two years, be sitting on the edge of their seats to find out where their favorite teams are seeded and how favorable/difficult their path to Final Four is. Casual fans will be telling themselves things like wait, Gonzaga is the number one overall seed? They always choke! and where’s Duke? Where on this bracket is DUKE? Meanwhile, more hardcore fans will be simultaneously agonizing over who to pick for the 8-9 and 7-10 matchups while also getting amused with how many teams Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, and Dick Vitale say have “second-weekend upside” for March Madness.

Everyone is going to want to pick at least two of Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois, and Michigan––the four projected one seeds right now–– to reach the Final Four. But, as we all know, there’s always one or two 3-7 seeds who make a run in the Tournament. A few days ago, I had a draft of this article titled “Good, Under the Radar Teams to Know for March Madness.” Since then, the two teams I’m about to go into more detail on have picked up national attention. So, if you’re a more serious college hoops person, the following should reassure your feelings on these two teams. If you’re more of a casual, you’ll now be aware of these teams’ upside a week in advance of the Selection show.

Team 1: UConn Huskies

UConn has been a sleeper since the start of the season simply because they have a man named James Bouknight. However, Bouknight had an elbow injury early on, and UConn went just 4-4 without him. The first time I saw this UConn team play was without Bouknight. The guy who jumped off the television for me was Andre Jackson. Jackson is a crazy athlete with a sense of innocent joy for the game. Initially, I couldn’t tell what position he was, as he was simply “an athlete” in my eyes. Jackson is only averaging 2.8 PPG, but coach Dan Hurley clearly knows the value that he brings. He’s been increasing his minutes ever since Jackson returned from an injury of his own.

Guard Play

The strength of this UConn team is it’s guards. Obviously, Bouknight is there, and I’ll touch on him some more later. But they also have R.J. Cole, Tyrese Martin, and Jalen Gaffney.

Cole is a short point guard who’s simply a really good game manager. He’s the second-leading scorer on the team at 12.6 PPG but he also leads the team with 4.3 APG. He’s a good on-ball defender as well.

Martin is a bigger guard with an edge. He actually leads the entire team in rebounding at 7.3 per game, as he has a knack for knowing where the ball will be off the rim. I like to think that he’s a great complementary piece to Bouknight, with Martin being the tough-nosed enforcer guard next to Bouknight being the smooth-scoring guard.

And then there’s Gaffney–– a likely starter on most college teams. He comes off the bench for the Huskies and is a really steady presence. He’s never out of control and can make stuff happen off the dribble. He’s also a solid three-point shooter. The aforementioned Jackson is also listed as a guard, for the record.

Big Men

UConn also plays four big men, of which three are seniors, which is something you like to see. The quartet consists of Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley, Josh Carlton (the three seniors), and freshman Adama Sanogo. None of them is anything special, but they’re each solid players. Whaley and Polley are closer to the stretch forward type while Carlton and Sanogo are more of the traditional back-to-basket type guys. Coach Hurley likes to use different combinations of these four to give the opposing team different looks. With nine good players in the rotation, junior guard Brendan Adams has seen his minutes decrease lately.

At the end of the day, though, everyone knows this team will go as far as James Bouknight takes them. Bouknight is averaging a whopping 20.2 PPG, which is very impressive for a guard in college basketball. It’s clear watching him play that he has a certain swagger to him; he moves unlike anyone else on the court and has that “I’m going to get a bucket here” type of vibe. In college basketball, unlike the NBA, a singular guard can carry a team far in the NCAA Tournament. Bouknight is totally that guy. Additionally, in college basketball, storylines are a big thing, and so, with it being 10 years since Kemba Walker led UConn to a national title and seven years since Shabazz Napier did the same thing, it almost feels like America is due for a UConn guard to continue that tradition.


Team 2: Arkansas Razorbacks

Arkansas has three cool things working for them: Coach Eric Musselman, their best player Moses Moody, and the run of games that they’ve been on.

Musselman is by all accounts a great coach. You might remember him as the coach of that Nevada team a few years ago with the Martin twins who reached the Sweet 16 after pulling off an amazing comeback win against 2-seeded Cincinnati in the Round of 32. Musselman is a lively character; he’s almost overly animated. His offensive philosophies are moving and passing. He requires everyone on his team to run a sub-5:50 mile, with the exception of 7’3″ Connor Vanover. He also wants his team to make at least 200 passes per game. This combination makes Arkansas a tough team to defend for 40 minutes.

Moses Moody

You know what’s fun? A dude named Moses being your best player. The funny thing is that Moody was actually the 4th best player on his high-school team last year, at least according to the recruiting rankings, and is now the best player on his college team. (He played at Montverde with Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barns, and Day’ron Sharpe) Moody is averaging 17.5 PPG and has put up back-to-back 28-point performances. At 6’5″, he’s shooting 38.6% from beyond the arc and also averages 5.7 RPG. It must be a really cool feeling knowing that you have a guy named Moses on your team in crunch time who can go get you a bucket.

Starting Cold, Finishing Hot

The Razorbacks played eight bad teams in non-conference play to start their season, so the narrative around them entering SEC play was “they could be good, but they haven’t played anybody yet.” They began conference play 2-4, with losses to Missouri, Tennessee, LSU, and Alabama. Missouri and Tennessee at the time each were ranked top 12 in the country. Alabama has gone on to win the SEC regular-season championship and has a good chance to be a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. But since that slow start, Arkansas has not lost a conference game, rattling off 11 straight SEC wins.

In fact, their only loss since January 16th was a narrow loss at Oklahoma State (the Big 12-SEC challenge weekend), which is nothing to hang your hat on given that the Cowboys have Cade Cunningham and look to be a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Plus, three of those 11 straight conference wins have been revenge wins against Missouri, Alabama, and LSU, which you like to see.

Moses Moody

Other Hot Teams to be Aware of

Purdue has won five straight games and has a top 20 offense and defense in the country. Georgia Tech is winners of six straight games and also has a dude named Moses (Moses Wright) who leads the team. The Yellow Jackets have three guys who average 15+ PPG.