College basketball stars set for annual March Madness tournament

March Madness gets underway this month and this year’s tournament promises to one of the most exciting renewals in recent years.

The 81st edition of the NCAA Men’s division basketball championship is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, March 19, and will conclude with the final game on Monday, April 8, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Duke Blue Devils are big favourites to win the NCAA basketball competition for the sixth time, but each of the other 67 teams taking part will believe they can claim the prestigious trophy.

Two defeats in three games towards the end of February proved that Duke are not infallible, but an 87-57 victory over Miami Hurricanes saw them return to form with a vengeance on Saturday.

Star freshman Zion Williamson has missed the last few games through injury and Duke will be eager to see him return in time for March Madness.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN over the weekend that “we can’t and we won’t” put Williamson on the court until he’s 100 percent healthy.

As the Blue Devils’ leader in rebounding, blocks and steals and their second-leading scorer, it is easy to see how important Williamson is to the Blue Devils.

Despite his absence, Duke now boast a 25-4 record during the regular season and this talented group of players have the ability to go a long way in the tournament.

Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish will be attractive propositions in the next NBA Draft and Duke are worthy favourites to scoop college basketball’s top prize.

Gonzaga Bulldogs are also prominent in the betting having enjoyed an impressive campaign. The Bulldogs have defeated Duke this season and it would be dangerous to underestimate them.

Reigning champions Villanova Wildcats are another team who could come into the reckoning, although their recent form has been a little patchy.

However, a 75-54 victory against Butler Bulldogs over the weekend will have boosted their confidence and they could be a serious threat as they bid to clinch their third March Madness title in the last four years.

Virginia Tech’s recent victory over Duke showed that they could be dangerous opponents in the tournament. The Hokies led for most of the game, holding their nerve in the face of a Blue Devils fightback to secure a memorable victory.

Kerry Blackshear Jr finished the game with 23 points from 11 shots and grabbed 10 rebounds and is clearly a player to watch during the post-season tournament.

Other potential contenders include Virginia Cavaliers, Michigan State Spartans, Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers.

Of that quartet, the Cavaliers appear to have the best chance of success at March Madness. Offensively, the team currently has the second-highest scoring rate per 100 possessions behind Gonzaga.

The Cavaliers are also strong defensively, slowing down opponents and pressuring the ball wherever possible.

However, their slow-tempo could work against them at March Madness, with teams who play at a faster pace generally enjoying success in the cut-throat nature of the post-season tournament.

While the Cavaliers are certainly dangerous, Duke’s greater speed of play makes them an appealing bet to come out on top.

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Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.


The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
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