NCAA Tournament Contenders to Back

These four teams stand out as serious threats to make a Final Four run and have a legitimate shot at a championship. The market prices reflect that potential but these squads check the boxes of true contenders more than several of the other teams at similar seeding and pricing.

East: Marquette
South: Alabama
West: UConn
West: Grand Canyon

Whether you're playing futures, brackets or just the day-to-day matchups, put these four schools on your radar as legit contenders.

2023 NCAA Tourney Contenders to Back

(2) Marquette Golden Eagles

(Big East, Automatic Bid)

SU: 28-6
ATS: 21-12-1
O/U: 17-16
PPG: 75.5
OPPG: 69

Opening Matchup
Friday Mar. 17 vs. Vermont (2:45 p.m. ET)

Recent spread numbers are not that overwhelming for the Marquette Golden Eagles, who only stand 6-6 vs. the number their last eleven games.  But a season’s worth of pounding in the top-heavy Big East might have had something to do with that, and besides, Marquette was winning almost all of the time;  since three-early season defeats (no cheapies, and all close, vs. Purdue, Mississippi State, and Wisconsin), Shaka Smart’s troops have won 22 of their last 25 games. 

And if they indeed hit a bit of a lull late in the regular season, they pulled it together at last week’s Big Ten Tourney at Madison Square Garden, winning the event for the first time and doing so in style, taking out hot UConn in a classic semifinal and then romping past Xavier in the finale,  jumping out to a 33-12 lead in a flawless first half exhibition of basketball.  We have liked Shaka’s team a lot since that late November blowout of Baylor, as the offense can run thru either heady lefty  PG Tyler Kolek, once again among the nation’s assist leaders (7.9 APG ranks second), and also thru the high post and deft-passing 6-9 Oso Ighodaro. Among the nation’s leading assist teams, this edition knows how to share the ball, and has the most - refined look of any Shaka team we recall.  Overall good spread value all season with a 20-12 mark vs. the line.

(1) Alabama Crimson Tide

(SEC, Automatic Bid)

SU: 29-5
ATS: 19-14-1
O/U: 15-18
PPG: 82.2
OPPG: 68.7

Opening Matchup
Thursday Mar. 16 vs. TBD

We don’t know of a conference tourney winner that needed a big effort last weekend like the Alabama Crimson Tide, which lost some altitude late in the regular season amid the considerable distractions of the off-court news involving star F frosh Brandon Miller, who continued to play as the storyline developed.  No coincidence, perhaps, that Bama failed to cover its next  four  games after the news broke, and would lose on the final Saturday of the regular-season schedule at Texas A&M.   

Eight days later, 'Bama would avenge that loss to the Aggies in the rousing finale at Nashville after previously handling Dance-bound Mississippi State and Missouri without much drama, and suddenly the Tide has a menacing look once more and enters the Dance as the top overall seed.  Note that the Miller storyline can’t be swept under the rug by Nate Oats, and will continue to linger, though if that was indeed bothering Bama in the past few weeks, it looked as if they have learned how to deal with the distractions if the SEC Tourney effort is any indication.  

(4) UConn Huskies

The UConn Huskies have plenty of options to make a deep run. (Getty)

(Big East, At-Large Bid)

SU: 25-8
ATS: 21-11-1
O/U: 18-15
PPG: 78.5
OPPG: 65

Opening Matchup
Friday Mar. 17 vs. Iona (4:30 p.m. ET)

Sometimes we don’t mind looking hard look in the Dance at a team that might have bowed out early in its conference tourney.  In UConn's case, it was a narrow semifinal night loss last Friday to eventual winner Marquette, so no shame in that 70-68 setback which in fact might prove a bit of a blessing for UConn, which got not only an extra rest day last Saturday but also plays in the Friday-Sunday sub-regional rotation at nearby Albany (first up will be Rick Pitino’s Iona). 

Prior to that close loss to Shaka Smart’s bunch, the Huskies had won six straight and covered eight in a row, suggesting their midseason lull was not well behind them.  Remember, the Huskies stayed unbeaten until New Year’s Eve, when they had risen to as high as number two in the polls, and dominated non-conference opposition, beating all of those foes and covering 10 of 11 (only spread L by a half-point when beating Buffalo by 20), with a non-league victim’s list that includes  Alabama, Oregon, and Iowa State, vanquished in rapid-fire succession at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland during Thanksgiving week. 

With the nation’s top rebounding rate, ranking in the top 15 in both offense and defensive efficiency, and various shooters spinning around the often-dominant Adama Sanogo (17 PPG) at the high post, Dan Hurley’s bunch is also a pretty fun team to watch.

(14) Grand Canyon Antelopes

Rayshon Harrison and Grand Canyon will meet Gonzaga on Friday. (Getty)

(WAC, Automatic Bid)

SU: 24-11
ATS: 15-18
O/U: 25-8
PPG: 75.3
OPPG: 66.8

Opening Matchup
Friday Mar. 17 vs. Gonzaga (7:35 p.m. ET)

Follow along here, because this isn’t a traditional “shade” for the Grandy Canyon Antelopes

Rather, it’s a nod to one of the strongest and most-enduring “totals” trends that we ever recall, as Grand Canyon has now gone “over” an astounding 23-3 its last 26 games, which dates  back to when the World Cup was still going on in early December.  And much of that streak came before the Lopes’ offense really got into gear as it was last week in the WAC Tourney at the Orleans Arena in Vegas, when GCU scored 82 points per game across its four wins in five days. 

The Lopes shoot a lot of 3-balls and convert them at a very respectable 38.3% rate (ranks 16th nationally), with everyone in the lineup capable of shooting triples.  Watch guard Chance McMillian, who hits nearly 45% of his triples, but the offense really spins around Presbyterian transfer G Rayshon Harrison (17.7 PPG), who hit for 30+ twice in the WAC Tourney, including 31 in the title-clinching win over Southern Utah.