Blue bloods prepare for Final Four

March Madness is here

By Josh Kurelac

The 2012-2013 men’s college basketball season has been filled with parody.  The inconsistent play of basketball teams throughout the country has coaches, players, expert analysts and fans scratching their heads.  As March begins, it’s time for teams to start playing their best basketball of the year.  At the end of this month, four teams will advance to the Final Four in Atlanta, Ga.  Here’s three teams that have a legitimate chance to attain that goal.

Indiana Hoosiers (24-4) (12-3 Big Ten)

College basketball’s most talented team, Indiana, leads the Big Ten, which is the nation’s toughest conference.  The Hoosiers started the year by winning 15 of 16 games, before losing to Wisconsin 64-59 in Assembly Hall.  Indiana rebounded nicely after the loss, winning 9 of the next 10 games.  That streak was ruined by Minnesota who defeated Indiana 77-73 in historic Williams Arena on Tuesday.  Hoosiers fans shouldn’t panic.  Indiana’s four losses have been by a combined 13 points.  Indiana finishes the regular season with home games against Iowa and Ohio State, before traveling to Ann Arbor, Mich. for the season finale against the Michigan Wolverines.

This Hoosiers team is built for success in the NCAA Tournament.  Indiana is second in the nation in scoring, averaging 82.2 points per game.  Cody Zeller leads Indiana’s scoring attack with 16.3 points per game.  Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo average double digits in scoring, as well.  Rebounding is a key to success for any team in March.  The Hoosiers control the boards, averaging 38.7 rebounds per game.  To compliment their scoring attack, the Hoosiers play solid defense.  Indiana has allowed only seven teams to score more than 70 points this season.

Head Coach Tom Crean has done a great job leading Indiana basketball back to dominance.  Each year, the Hoosiers have improved under the leadership of Crean.  He has the experience and coaching ability to get this team to the Final Four.  If the Hoosiers can continue to score, rebound and defend, not many teams will be able to stop them on their way to Atlanta, Ga.  A clutch end-of-the-game performance won’t hurt the Hoosiers chances either.

Gonzaga Bulldogs (28-2) (15-0 WCC)

Since losing on a buzzer-beater at Butler on January 19, Gonzaga has been the hottest team in college basketball.  The Bulldogs have won 11 straight games as they prepare for the season finale at home against the Portland Pilots.  To compensate for the lack of competitive teams in the West Coast Conference, the Bulldogs played and defeated five teams from the Big 12 during their non-conference schedule.  Despite all of Gonzaga’s success this year, the number 13 hasn’t been kind to the Bulldogs.  Illinois and Butler, the only two teams to beat Gonzaga this year, were both ranked 13 when they knocked off the Bulldogs.

Gonzaga is ninth in the nation in scoring, averaging 78.3 points per game.  Seven-footer Kelly Olynyk leads the Bulldog attack with 17.8 points per game.  Elias Harris, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. all average more than nine points per game.  Gonzaga plays well defensively too.  Only two teams have scored more than 80 points against the Bulldogs this season.  If Kevin Pangos and David Stockton can match the physicality of some of the bigger and stronger guards across the nation, then the Bulldogs will have a legitimate chance to make the Final Four.

Long-time Gonzaga Head Coach, Mark Few, has organized one of his most talented groups of players at Gonzaga this season.  He looks poised to lead the Bulldogs to their first ever Final Four appearance under his direction.

Kansas Jayhawks (24-4) (12-3 Big 12)

The Jayhawks are three wins away from at least a share of their ninth-consecutive Big 12 regular season championship.  Kansas started the year winning 19 of 20 games.  But, the Jayhawks struggled at the beginning of February, losing three straight games to unranked opponents.  Since the three game losing streak, the Jayhawks have won five straight games, including a road win in double-overtime at Oklahoma State and a road win in overtime at Iowa State.  Kansas has two home games against West Virginia and Texas Tech, before the season finale in Waco, Texas against the Baylor Bears.

Kansas has four seniors in the starting lineup, but the Jayhawks are led by freshman Ben McLemore, who averages 15.9 points per game.  Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford average more than ten points per game, and Kevin Young is another scoring threat, averaging 7.8 points per game.  The Jayhawks rebound the ball as well as any team in the nation, averaging 39.7 rebounds per game.  Kansas plays suffocating defense, holding teams under 60 points in 18 of the 28 games they have played this season.  Senior leadership, efficient scoring and rebounding, defense and contributions from bench players will be essential to the Jayhawks’ Final Four run in March.

Head Coach Bill Self has the Jayhawks in the conversation for a National Championship yet again.  Following one of the best coaching jobs of his career last season, Self has the Jayhawks playing as well as any team in the nation this year.  In a college basketball season filled with inconsistent performances from every team, the Jayhawks have found consistency in their defense.  Self knows that rebounding and playing well defensively is vital to a team’s success in March.  And, if Elijah Johnson can build off of his performance against Iowa State, the Jayhawks will be a legitimate contender to cut down the nets in Atlanta, Ga.

Other teams worth noting: Miami (FL), Duke, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Georgetown, Louisville

Note: All statistics are current as of March 1 at 9:30 p.m.