Previewing March Madness Contenders

The home stretch of the college basketball season is near, but there are still games to be played and jockeying in the rankings. Let's take an early look at the top four teams which would likely be slated as No. 1 seeds in their respective brackets. If all things remain the same at the end of the season, we could very well see Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, and the upstart San Diego State taking center stage when the Big Dance begins.

Baylor Bears (22-1) — The Bears have made a profound turnaround from last season where they were merely pretenders to the throne after finishing with a 20-14 mark, including a 78-69 win over Syracuse in the opening round of the national tournament, only to be bounced by top West seed Gonzaga in the following round.

But this year is starkly different, and Baylor has taken a big step up in class, so far that they are now one of the favorites to win the March Madness at +1022. Their only miscue occurred in their second game of the season against Washington at a neutral site in Anchorage, Alaska when they were stunned 67-64 as 5½-point favorites. Ranked No. 16 at the time, the Bears have won 21 straight games and are making it happen on defense, currently allowing just 58.3 points per game, which places them fourth in the nation in that category. If Baylor can get more offensive push as the season draws to a close then they will be a tough out for any team.

Gonzaga Bulldogs (25-1) — Hailing from the West Coast Conference will do the 'Zags no favors in terms of the selection committee, but their sterling record speaks for itself. Despite playing against their West Coast weak sisters, Gonzaga has defeated out of conference foes like Oregon, Arizona, Washington, and North Carolina with Michigan as the only blemish on their record.

Unlike Baylor, the Bulldogs have steamrolled the competition with a relentless offense, averaging 88.5 points per game and ranked second in the nation, while their glass game sees them hauling down over 40 rebounds per contest. It will be interesting to see if pure offense can win the day when the Big Dance begins, but right now, it's hard to argue with Gonzaga's success.

Kansas Jayhawks (20-3) — Kansas is no stranger to March Madness, having made the tournament each and every season over the last 30 years, while copping 15 conference titles and three national championships over their storied history. However, this season they have a monster in their conference, with Baylor having bested them by a solid 12-point margin back in January. However, a regular-season rematch looms large in a few weeks where they will travel to the Ferrell Center to face the Bears once again. Following that meeting, it would surprise no one if these two talented teams tip-off again in the Big 12 tournament which will have a large bearing on where they are seeded come selection time.

San Diego State Aztecs (25-0) — Despite a pristine 25-0 record, the Aztecs are ranked No. 4 in the nation at the time of this writing and that has everything to do with the caliber of competition, or lack thereof, in the Mountain West Conference. San Diego State is the proverbial big fish in the small pond with no challenges from nationally ranked rivals. However, their stingy defense, currently surrendering only 58.4 ppl and ranked a hair below Baylor at fifth in the nation in that category, is the hallmark to their success this season. They also own a surging offense that is getting more formidable as the season progresses.

The team's recent destruction of New Mexico secured them the Mountain West Conference championship, not to be confused with the MWC Tournament championship, which will occur once the regular season slate is over, with four games remaining.

Head coach Brian Dutcher remarked after the lopsided 82-59 victory, "The hardest thing in basketball, obviously other than winning a Final Four, is winning a regular-season conference title because you have to do it over the whole season. To have the title outright already with four games to play is an incredible accomplishment." Yet, it's understandable to wonder if their lack of top-flight competition will ultimately doom their chances for a deep postseason run.

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