March Madness: Tournament teams that can make or break your bracket

     March has finally arrived, which can only mean one thing in the world of sports: college basketball’s annual championship tournament, March Madness. 

     The tournament, including 64 Division I qualified teams from each major conference, is played in a single-elimination format split into four regions, where each team is ranked off their merit by a collegiate selection committee on Selection Sunday. 

     These four universities are near guarantees to make the tournament field in the coming weeks, but where there are pros with these teams, there are cons, and the risk of picking them to go far in your bracket could be detrimental. 

Gonzaga University 

     Gonzaga has become a mystery in the eyes of college basketball connoisseurs, with a majority of fans wondering just how far they can make it without another disappointing loss late in the tournament. 

     The Bulldogs, who currently rank as the number one team in college basketball’s most recent AP poll, are led by their duo of forwards who can stretch the floor: junior Drew Timme and freshman Chet Holmgren. 

     Many professional basketball analysts project Holmgren to be one of the top picks in this year’s NBA draft, averaging 14.4 points per game on 44% shooting from behind the arc. Defensively, his 3.4 blocks per game rank fourth in Division I play. 

     The story behind Gonzaga is this: Despite being a top contender for the last five seasons, playing in a conference with little to no competition looks like it has hindered their post-season play. The Bulldogs have never won a national championship, appearing in the title game in 2017 and 2021. 

     Gonzaga, like every season, seems like the dominant force that has assembled the key pieces to make a championship run. However, if history repeats itself, their chances of hoisting the trophy come April don’t seem any more likely than other top seeds in the tournament. 

University of Wisconsin—Madison 

     The Wisconsin Badgers have had their fair share of tournament heartbreak, whether it was their championship loss to the Duke Blue Devils in 2015, or Chris Chiozza’s game-winning floater for Florida in the Sweet 16. 

     Wisconsin seems to have found their jackpot player, however, in sophomore forward Johnny Davis. Davis is pegged as one of the top players in the country, and a leader for the 2022 Wooden Award. 

     Along with fifth-year guard Brad Davison and junior forward Tyler Wahl, the Badgers have quietly snuck onto the top level of the Big Ten standings, with Purdue and Illinois keeping their pace. 

     The Badgers are headlined to be a top seed in the tournament, with a 3-to-4 seed being their projection. However, their wins have been very close, with seven of their last ten wins being by single digits, even against unranked opponents. 

     Davis will attempt to lead the Badgers to the promised land this post-season, hoping to nail a second championship appearance of the 2010s.  

     All the Badgers do is win, win, win. But if closing games is their biggest weakness, a lucky underdog could snatch their tournament hopes right from their fingertips. 

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Loyola University Chicago 

     The Ramblers of Loyola University-Chicago have spent the majority of their tournament time being idolized by those watching them, seeing a real-life Cinderella unfold as they beat overdog after overdog. 

     Starting in the 2018 NCAA tournament, the Ramblers, who were an 11 seed, defeated higher-ranked teams Miami, then Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State, all favorites in their respective matchups, to reach the Final Four for the first time in program history. 

     Unfortunately, a loss to one seed Michigan derailed their hopes, but they recovered in the 2021 tournament, defeating the top ranked Illinois Fighting Illini as an 8 seed to reach the Sweet 16. 

      Now, Loyola-Chicago projects to enter the tournament as an 11 seed once again, despite leading the MVC with a 22-6 record behind senior guard Lucas Williamson and junior guard Braden Norris. 

     If underdogs are your forte, Loyola-Chicago has a solid chance of becoming upset makers once again. But the risk of picking a lower seed still remains, and a first-round exit is still possible. 

University of California, Los Angeles 

     Another projected top team in the 2022 tournament, the UCLA Bruins had a historic season the year before, being one of the only teams in tournament history to go from the First Four to the Final Four. 

     Propelling the Bruins forward this year has been their stellar guard play, with five out of their top six leading scorers being in the backcourt, with senior forward Cody Riley being the only exception. 

     Last year’s UCLA squad saw a lot of promise from guards Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr, earning prospect looks in this year’s NBA draft. Sharing the floor together, they have seen career-highs in points per game. 

     It’s become very hit-or-miss when the Bruins step onto the floor, with a 2-3 record against ranked teams this season. Their 20-6 record keeps them at fourth in the Pac-12 conference. They’re projected to be a 4 seed in the upcoming tournament. 

     The Bruins, like other teams in their conference, are streaky, unpredictable and hard to pin down. Is that exactly what a championship contender looks like, or will UCLA tumble once again?