With games set to tip-off, it's time for the Aaron Torres Media staff to make their NCAA Tournament title picks!
Jamion Christian: Alabama over UCLA
Alabama’s Crimson Tide has the most talent; they are coached at a high level; and, they have played consistently well all season long. Barring any unforeseen things happening off the floor, I believe they will win it all.
When you look at NCAA tournament champions in the past, the ability to defend with pressure on the opposing best players becomes super important. Alabama can put a lot of different bodies on the floor to defend. The aggressiveness they play with allows them to turn someone's bad offense into immediate, good offensive opportunities for them.
They have the most outstanding talent in all of college basketball in Brandon MIller. And, Nate Oats does a great job of making opponents have to account for him every time down the floor. Miller has shown his ability to rise to the occasion against his best opportunities and the biggest challenges. With its dynamic supporting cast, Alabama has more than enough to cut down the nets in Houston.
Zach Krull: Gonzaga over Alabama
What's wild about this tournament, is that in an already wide-open field, pretty much every favorite coming in has question marks either with injury (Houston, Kansas, UCLA) or off the court issues (Alabama)
This is why I’m drawn towards a team that might be a little bit off the radar, and when no one is expecting them to do anything, they are going to come out on top. Mark Few is due to win a National Championship at Gonzaga. The Hall of Fame coach has made two Final Fours and national title games, along with 41 combined WCC Regular Season and Conference Tournament Titles.
And while the last two seasons have been very disappointing, with Gonzaga losing to Baylor in the Title Game and Arkansas in last season’s Sweet 16, there is absolutely zero pressure on this Gonzaga team. Especially in a loaded West region that also features the likes of Kansas, UCLA, UConn, TCU and more.
In addition, there aren’t many offenses that have been better as of late then the Zags. Gonzaga has the #1 ranked offense in the country per KenPom, and this team has been absolutely rolling for the past month. That includes scoring 77 points, on 58% shooting from the field, and 57% shooting from the floor, against a very good Saint Mary’s offense.
Drew Timme is the all time leading scorer in the history of Gonzaga Basketball, and it would only be right for him to go out on top with a National Championship. In addition, Gonzaga has a point guard that continues to look better and better in Nolan Hickman, plus a ton of shooters and experience to knock down shots around Timme.
This is the time for Mark Few and company to get it done.
Jake Faigus: Houston over Alabama
Houston has been the most consistent team in all of college basketball this season, while, as Jamion said, Alabama has the title of probably having the most talent.
Houston’s success in this tournament is going to be largely due to how healthy Marcus Sasser is. He’s probably going to be back at some point in the first weekend after Kelvin Sampson held him out against Memphis as a “precaution.” Sasser is a difference maker and is the best scorer Houston has and he averages 17 PPG. The Cougars also have four other guys after Sasser that average double digits, with the standouts being J’Wan Roberts down low and Jamal Shead on the perimeter. They’re extremely well-coached and rebound and play defense better than almost every team in all of college basketball. They’re second in scoring defense at 56.5 PPG allowed and are 19th in rebounding at 38.8 per game.
Alabama has been dominant in a loaded SEC. They’re led by Brandon Miller, who’s a freshman and future NBA Lottery Pick in this year’s draft. He leads the team in scoring at 20 PPG and in rebounding at eight per game. There’s a giant distraction cloud hanging over Alabama due to some off-court issues that don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Miller has looked great despite all that still. Mark Sears and Noah Clowney are also big keys for the Tide this season. Sears is a big key in the backcourt, while Clowney mans the paint down low. They can score at will and rebound better than any team in the country. They’re 7th in scoring at 82.2 PPG and are first in college basketball in rebounding at 44.4 per game.
These two teams played this season already, with Alabama beating Houston on the road 71-65. I think the Cougars get revenge. Houston’s defense ends up being the difference in the game and they slow down Miller enough to win a championship in their home city, completing Kelvin Sampson’s revival of the program.
Aaron Torres: Houston over Arizona
All year long we've heard that this is a wide open flawed field, and to a degree, I think the people who've said that are correct.
At the same time, there is one team that has all the requisite pieces needed to win it all. One team that does everything needed to win in March.
Experience, which Houston has, with an Elite Eight last year and a Final Four in 2021. Veteran guards? Havveeeeee ya met Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark and Jamal Shead? NBA talent? Sasser and Jarace Walker will be drafted this year. Elite coaching? Kelvin Sampson is that guy.
And while I worry about Sasser's injury, the draw lines up nicely, where I'm not sure it'll matter. Obviously, I expect the Cougars to cruise past Northern Kentucky, and I like them to cruise past Iowa in the second round (an Auburn game in Birmingham doesn't worry me all that much either) as well. From there, who really scares you on the other side of the bracket? Maybe Texas, if they can get that far, but that's really it.
In a season where everyone has flaws, Houston has the fewest. They will be your 2023 national champion.