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Whilst things are coming to a boil in the NBA, we have come to the annual showpiece event in the NCAA. Mark Ross talks us through what we can expect in College Basketball’s ‘March Madness’

College Basketball is hotting up as we edge ever closer to the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. More commonly known as “March Madness”. In 2022, the finals will be played on March 15th at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. But what is March Madness? Let’s take a quick look.

There will be a total of 68 teams involved in the tournament. 32 of these teams will automatically qualify after they win their conference tournament. The remaining 36 are selected by the NCAA selection committee based on their performances. After that, the committee will seed all 68 teams.

The tournament then starts with the “First Four”. This involves eight teams playing for four spots. The four lowest-seeded automatic qualifications and the four lowest-seeded selected teams will play in the First Four and the winners head on to the main draw of the tournament. March Madness comes to an end with the “Final Four” playing in two semi-finals before the Championship bout. Games are played all over the country as the rounds are whittled down to the finals in New Orleans on March 15th.

Like all college sports in America, the conferences can be difficult to keep up with. Numerous different conferences all over the country make up the full college slate of games. With 32 conference tournaments up for grabs, the upcoming few days get more and more exciting. So far five conference tournaments have finished up and have sent their winners onto the Tournament. The Big South tournament finished with Longwood advancing, the Missouri Valley tournament sent Loyola Chicago, the Ohio Valley tournament ended with Murray State being crowned champions. From the Southern tournament and the Sun Belt tournament, Chattanooga advanced after a closely fought contest with Furman, and Georgia State defeated Louisiana 80-71 to win the Hercules Tires Sun Belt Championship.

So five teams have already qualified and 27 further teams will have qualified by Sunday 13th March 2022. Speaking of the 13th March 2022. This is the date that the selection committee will select the further 36 teams that make up the final teams in the draw. So, if teams lose out this week then all hope is not lost. A chance for selection still exists and more so, a chance at a true Cinderella story will begin. Look at Loyola Chicago in 2018, or the Steph Curry-led Davidson Wildcats in 2008. March Madness invented the Cinderella Story so why can’t it be your team this year?

As we enter the second week of the Conference Finals, selection Sunday is fast approaching. For many teams, this week will mark the end of their journey. But for many more, this is just the beginning. As teams battle for tournament titles to secure their bid to the main tournament we are bound to see some fantastic team performances and outstanding individual performances as players try to be their team’s hero.

So, who out of the 68 teams are the favourites for the “Final Four”? The consensus favourite for the whole tournament is and has been for a while, the Gonzaga Bulldogs (4/1). Gonzaga is chasing down their first Championship in program history and can punch their ticket to the dance with a win against Saint Mary’s Gaels. Despite losing to them earlier in the season, this is as close to a formality as you can get. Gonzaga made it to the championship game in 2021 before losing out to Baylor 86-7. They will be hopeful that they can go one step further in 2022.

Despite losing Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert to the NBA after their second-place finish last year, Gonzaga continued where they left off with only three losses heading into the tournament. Gonzaga has the number one player in the 2021 recruiting class in center Chet Holmgren and they added in Hunter Sallis. Sallis is only the second five-star recruit in program history. Gonzaga is the number one ranked team in the country and should be considered the hot favourites.

Rounding out the “Final Four” is likely to be the Kentucky Wildcats (8/1), the Arizona Wildcats (6/1), and the Duke Blue Devils (12/1).

As mentioned earlier, however, March Madness is all about the Cinderella Story. Two teams to look out for are the UCLA Bruins (25/1) and the Houston Cougars (40/1).

UCLA is currently ranked 17th in the country with a record of 22-6. However, they have endured a bit of a slump in recent weeks dropping three games. Before this, they were ranked sixth in the country. If they can find their form from earlier in the season they are worth a look. UCLA made it to the “Final Four” in 2021 before losing out to Gonzaga. Their biggest issue is inconsistency on the defensive side of the ball. If they can sort this out before the main tournament commences then they could be in with a shot.

As for the Houston Cougars, they are another team that spent some time within the top 10 ranked teams in the country. Currently sitting at the number 14 spot, the Cougars deserve to be higher. They currently rank sixth in adjusted efficiency. The only knock on them is that they haven’t beaten as many “top teams” as some of their rivals. They are a long shot at 40/1 but you never know, it’s called March Madness for a reason.

Let the madness begin…

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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