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March Madness 2023: The Top 7 Teams to Watch

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2023 March Madness tips off with the First Four in Dayton, OH, on Tuesday night, then gets going in earnest with round-of-64 action on Thursday and Friday. The men’s NCAA basketball tournament is beloved for its volatility in any year, but 2023 feels like a wide-open tournament even by the standards of this famously chaotic event. No one team stood far above the rest during the regular season and conference tournaments, and nine or 10 teams seem like reasonable picks to plow through the NCAA bracket and win it all this year.

Of course, seeing one team hoist a trophy at the end is only part of the fun of this tournament. Some of the best athletic entertainment March Madness has to offer will arrive on the opening weekend, long before anyone is cutting down nets. With that in mind, here are seven teams to watch this month. Some made this list because they’re in contention to win the national championship, while others are here because they could pull off an upset over a team with a better shot at glory.

A full men’s NCAA tournament schedule is here. Round-of-64 games start at noon (EDT) on Thursday and run late into the evening on both Thursday and Friday. 

Related: The 10 Best Exercises for Basketball Players

2023 March Madness Preview

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The Crimson Tide are the field’s No. 1 overall seed. It’s warranted: The Tide blew past the SEC in both the regular season and the conference tournament. Freshman wing Brandon Miller is one of the best players in the country, and across offense and defense, Bama might be the most well-rounded team in the NCAA. Other than coughing up a few more turnovers than they’d like, there’s nothing in Alabama’s on-court profile that even resembles a weakness.

Sadly, Alabama’s tournament run will be overshadowed by a murder case. Prosecutors have charged former Tide bench player Darius Miles with capital murder in connection with a January shooting that ended in the death of a ​​23-year-old woman. The police allege that Brandon Miller brought Miles the gun that was later used in the shooting, though Miller has not been charged with a crime. Alabama’s handling of the matter has been a mess. It will be dystopian to watch the Tide compete for a title as if everything is normal, but that appears to be exactly what they plan to do.

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The Cougars are off to the Big 12 next year as part of an ongoing NCAA realignment wave. And they’re going out with a bang: They tore through the American Athletic Conference this year behind guards Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead. (Sasser has been injured but apparently will play in the tournament.)

The Cougars are tenacious on both ends of the floor. As they seemingly always do under coach Kelvin Sampson, this team gobbles up offensive rebounds, makes enough of its second chances, and plays lockdown defense. UH made it to the Final Four and the Elite Eight the last two years, and it certainly has the team to do it again. One potential fly in the ointment is that UH’s round-of-32 opponent will either be No. 8 Iowa, which has one of the country’s best offenses, or No. 9 Auburn, which is always capable of generating carnage on an opponent (or self-destructing—it is an Auburn athletics program, after all). 

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The Bruins haven’t won this tournament since 1995, and they’re now nearly 50 years removed from John Wooden’s historic dynasty that captured 10 national titles in 12 years.

But dare we say that UCLA is better now than at any point since its most recent championship? Coach Mick Cronin, now in his fourth year, got the Bruins to the Final Four in 2021 and has reestablished them as a nationally elite program in the two years since. Power forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. leads the way for a team that ranks No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency and finds plenty of offense to boot. 

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It was easy to forget about the Zags this year. After back-to-back years as the No. 1 overall seed (and continued frustration in their attempt to win a national title under the always-competitive Mark Few), the Bulldogs are just a regular great team this year. They lost a few blowouts early to elite Texas and Purdue teams, and though they won by 10 against Alabama, they didn’t have the same juice they’ve had the last few years with impending lottery picks like Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren on the roster.

But they still have Drew Timme, the bucket-getting center who set the program’s all-time scoring record this month. They still play at a lightning pace, and they still have one of the best offenses in the country. They’re also finding more success: Gonzaga enters 2023 March Madness on a nine-game win streak. 

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NCAA tournament success hasn’t come yet for the Aztecs under coach Brian Dutcher, but the law of averages says it should happen eventually. SDSU has evolved into a true mid-major power in the last four years by winning 30, 23, 32, and 31 games. Its 30–2 season in 2020 was particularly noteworthy, but the team didn’t get the chance to build on it because that year’s NCAA tournament was canceled due to the pandemic.

Regardless, SDSU has kept winning—and winning in a very formidable Mountain West Conference. Dutcher’s teams are always defensive nightmares for the opposition, and they tend to be perfectly competitive on offense. This year’s team fits the bill in both departments. After opening-round losses in all of Dutcher’s tournament appearances to date, SDSU’s fanbase deserves to see a round-of-64 win against College of Charleston on Thursday. 

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Penn State? Getting positive publicity? In basketball? Say it ain’t so, but the Nittany Lions are among the sport’s hottest teams. They won five in a row at the end of the year, including three games in a Cinderella Big Ten Tournament run that got them to within two points of NCAA No. 1 seed Purdue in the tournament final.

Guard Jalen Pickett is one of the toughest and most talented scoring guards in the country. Coach Micah Shrewsberry, a former Purdue assistant, has done an excellent job. His name has even come up for vacant coaching jobs at Notre Dame and Georgetown. Maybe he’ll win a few games in this tournament and compel Penn State to pay up to keep him.

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The Aggies are the analytics darlings of the tournament. Their 10-seed positioning belies that they’re the No. 18 overall team in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency ratings. USU is 12th nationally on three-pointers (38.5 percent) and chucks them up on more than 40 percent of its shots from the field. Guards Steven Ashworth (44 percent from deep) and Max Shulga (37 percent) could get hot and turn themselves into March Madness trivia answers if they make enough triples to push Utah State deep into the tournament. I expect them to beat No. 7 Missouri in an “upset” (in name only) in the first round.


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