Wildcats poised to win it all

Nathan Kremer, sports editor

The most exciting tournament in all of sports is rapidly approaching. In less than three weeks March Madness will be encapsulating its viewers with buzzer-beaters, upsets, and Cinderella stories.

One of the most exciting aspects of the NCAA tournament other than the actual games is trying to predict the winner of each matchup. Today I will give my best attempt at predicting the teams that will round out the Elite Eight.

The eight teams that will reach the Elite Eight will be the Arizona Wildcats, Houston Cougars, Purdue Boilermakers, Alabama Crimson Tide, Tennessee Volunteers, Creighton Blue Jays, Kansas Jayhawks, and Kansas State Wildcats.

After four nail-biting games, the Arizona Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers, Tennessee Volunteers, and Kansas State Wildcats will reach the Final Four.

Arizona has a fantastic squad this season. They have arguably the best frontcourt in the country with 6’11” junior Ąžuolas Tubelis and 7’ junior Oumar Ballo forming a formidable duo. Arizona has a great mix between young players and veterans on its roster. Tubelis and Ballo are paired with fellow junior sharpshooter Kerr Kriisa. In the offseason, Arizona received the commitment of senior Courtney Ramey, who has had a productive season alongside Kriisa as he averages 10.3 points per game. The Wildcats also have an electric freshman coming off the bench in Kylan Boswell. Overall, Arizona is a great offensive team. They have the 10th-ranked offense in the NCAA and average 82.9 points per game. If Arizona can improve its defense, they will be well on their way to their first NCAA basketball championship since 1997.

The Purdue Boilermakers are by far the best team in the Big Ten conference. They have been ranked as a top five team for most of the season. The Boilers have been the most impressive team in college basketball. Purdue has a team that plays perfectly together. All of the players know their roles. They have the most dominant player in the country and soon-to-be national player of the year on their squad in 7’4” Zach Edey. Many critics will try to downplay Edey’s skill by saying “he is only good because he is tall.” This statement is simply not true. Edey is a match-up nightmare for any opposing defense. He is too good at finishing near the basket not to double him, but at the same time, he is skilled enough to pass out of a double team and find an open shooter. Another reason for the Boilers’ success is freshmen Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer. Both of these freshmen were not expected to have significant roles going into the season, but they have been stars in their first season. Overall, Purdue is one of the most efficient teams offensively, and they are one of the best-coached teams in the country. Matt Painter will finally reach his first final four as a head coach this season.

The Tennessee Volunteers are one of the most experienced teams in the country. They are led by seniors Olivier Nkamhoua, Santiago Vescovi, Tyreke Key, Josiah-Jordan James, and Uros Plavsic. The rest of their rotation primarily consists of freshman Julian Phillips and sophomore Zakai Zeigler. The defense of Tennessee is elite and ranks among the best in the country. They rank 1st in three-point defensive percentage (22%), first in overall field goal percentage (34.4%), and they have the best scoring defense in the nation. Tennessee does not have a dominant inside presence but they have elite perimeter players in Key, Vescovi, and Zeigler. If the Volunteers can keep up their defensive dominance for the rest of the season, they will be in every game until the final buzzer.

Another surprise team in college basketball is the Kansas State Wildcats. They are led by one of the best duos in the country in seniors Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell. Johnson has one of the most unbelievable stories in all of sports. Two seasons ago, Johnson was playing for the Florida Gators when he collapsed onto the floor and spent three days in a medically induced coma. No one was sure if he would ever play basketball again. This season he is now averaging 18 points per game and looks to help lead Kansas State to their first final four since 1964. In his first season as head coach, Jerome Tang looks to be a fantastic hire for the Wildcats. Kansas State was not a team anyone would have expected to be in the final four going into the season but by the way the team has performed so far, reaching the final four is a real possibility.

Meeting up in the final four will be Arizona versus Purdue and Tennessee versus Kansas State. The Arizona and Purdue match-up will be one of the best games of the season. Both teams are among the top in the country in offensive efficiency. Arizona will look to push the pace and speed up the tempo of the game. A big turning point will come in the first half when the duo of Tubelis and Ballo is too much for Edey to handle as he picks up his second foul. With Edey now on the bench, Purdue looks lost on offense. Arizona will be able to take advantage of this and form a big lead going into halftime. Purdue tries to fight back into the game but Arizona is too much to handle as they advance to the national championship game with the final being 89 to 78.

In the match-up between Tennessee and Kansas State, the Volunteers will look like the superior squad from the tip. Their tenacious defense will significantly affect Kansas State’s offense and cause them to turn the ball over. Tennessee will grow a big lead going into halftime and cruise to a win in the second half with the final score being 79 to 54.

The national championship match-up will consist of the Arizona Wildcats and the Tennessee Volunteers. Both teams are very similar and match-up well with one another. Due to Tennessee’s elite defense, this game will be low scoring. Kerr Kriisa and Zakai Zeigler both will hit huge shots at the end of regulation for their respective teams to send the game into overtime. In the final stretch of the game, the best player on the floor will come up huge. Tennessee will have no answer for Ąžuolas Tubelis in the paint and Arizona will win the national championship with a score of 76 to 70.