Find out which teams from power conferences can advance furthest
Tim Castaneda || Sports Writer | @xTIMBOxSLICEx
Photo Credit: Valerie Cheatham, Photo Editor, @valeriecheatham
All through the year it’s been the year of the Wildcats for NCAA men’s division I basketball. Kentucky cruised through the 2014-15 season to a 31-0 record, its first regular-season clean sheet in the school’s history. As many pundits say, the team looks destined to make a return to the national title game for the second-straight year.
That only raises the question, besides a dominant Kentucky team, which other teams, specifically from power conferences pose a threat to Kentucky’s bid for a NCAA national championship?
A look into some of the Athletic Coast Conference’s top teams quite possibly be the solution for a March Madness run. The conference finished with two teams, Duke and Virginia, ranked No. 2 and No.3 in the nation, respectively.
Of the two, Duke holds the advantage in wins versus RPI top-100 teams with 17. In addition, the Blue Devils’ offense, featuring potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft Jahlil Okafor, ranks third nationally averaging 81.3 points per game. However good their offense may be, the Duke defense leaves you not so much sold with their 146 rank, as they give up 65.7 points per game.
If you’re not sold on Duke’s chances, their ACC counterpart Virginia provides numbers that may lead you to a successful bracket. Virginia, the fourth-ranked team in RPI, holds 15 wins versus RPI top 100 teams. While the Cavaliers lack a flashy, high-scoring offense, averaging just 65.5 points per game as a team, they make up for it with their nationally top-ranked defense, allowing only 50.2 on the year.
The Pac-12 conference also boasts a couple of feared opponents with nationally ranked No. 5 Arizona and No. 17 Utah. The Wildcats of Arizona are ranked No. 7 in RPI, which includes seven wins against RPI top 50 teams, but also two losses to lower ranked in RPI. Those losses come from unranked opponents UCLA and Arizona State.
Nonetheless, they proved on Feb. 28 versus, then No. 7, Utah that they can win when the game matters, as they went into a hostile environment in Salt Lake City stole one from the Utes. Not to mention, the Wildcats rank third in the country in scoring margin, outscoring their opponents by an average of 17.7 points each game.
The play of Arizona’s NBA prospect Stanley Johnson, who averages nearly 14 points to go along with 6.6 rebounds per game, is going to be vital in the success of this team.
On the other hand, Utah’s team comes into the month with perhaps its best team in decades. When talking about the top teams in terms of outscoring the opponent, the Utes are right there in the conversation with a scoring margin of 15.5, good enough for No. 7 in the nation. As a team they are No. 9 in the nation in field-goal percentage, hitting 48 percent of their shots. Freshmen center Jakob Poeltl heads his team in that category with 68.9 percent shooting, which ranks fourth in the nation among all individual players.