It’s that time of the year again. For some, it’s just another month. Maybe you’ll go on a nice vacation for spring break. However, for the college basketball superfan, it’s finally time for March Madness. March Madness, the nickname for the widely televised men’s and women’s NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournaments, is a spectacle filled with levels of intrigue and suspense unrivaled in the sports world. Every NCAA Division 1 conference tournament winner receives an automatic bid for entry, meaning that underdog squads are pitted against the juggernauts and titans of college basketball. Some notable upsets include #16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson’s shocking dismantling of #1 seed Purdue in the 2023 men’s tournament, and #16 Harvard triumphing over #1 Stanford in the 1998 women’s tournament. Stunning wins against the college basketball blue-bloods during this upcoming tournament may add to this list of improbable victories, but in most cases, the championship comes down to a battle of college basketball behemoths. As a result, here are a few of the favorites to watch for in the men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments. 

At the moment, the widely acknowledged favorite in the men’s tournament is the Houston Cougars. Coach Kelvin Sampson has led the squad to a dominant regular season, finishing with an authoritative 28-3 record. Senior All-American guard Jamal Shead heads a stifling top-ranked Houston defense that has propelled a great deal of their success. Even though they recently moved from the American Athletic Conference to the notoriously competitive Big 12 Conference, this switch has not deterred them in the slightest. The Cougars are geared up for a deep run in March.

However, a team not currently ranked #1 is looking to accomplish something not seen in men’s college basketball in almost two decades. Not since the Florida Gators in 2006 and 2007 has a team won back-toback NCAA championships. #2 University of Connecticut reigned victorious last year with a convincing victory over San Diego State, poised to do so again this year, and with a core consisting of guard Tristen Newton, sharpshooter Cam Spencer, and shot-blocking big man Donovan Clingan. Look for star first-year player Stephon Castle to have a major impact this tournament as well.

Another team that has been largely unstoppable as a pillar of regular season consistency are the Purdue Boilermakers. However, their questionable postseason resume brings up many questions about how successful they will be during college basketball’s most important month. In addition to their aforementioned loss to Fairleigh Dickinson, they succumbed to #15 seed Saint Peter’s in 2022, and fell short against #13 seed North Texas the year prior, in 2021. Nevertheless, their prospects may look brighter this year. They are again manned in the middle by the most dominant player in college basketball—the towering 7’4 center Zach Edey. With point guard Braden Smith elevating his shooting and playmaking this year, and the high impact transfer Lance Jones from Southern Illinois, Purdue might finally kick their habit of falling to higher numbered seeds in 2024.

On the other hand, the largest storyline of the women’s tournament is not necessarily its most dominant team, but rather its most entertaining player. Iowa University guard Caitlin Clark has been on an otherworldly tear this year for the #2 Hawkeyes, averaging an absurd 31.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game (her points and assists lead the nation). Most notably, she broke Pistol Pete Maravich’s all time NCAA scoring record (men’s and women’s) with an astonishing 3,668 career points. Clark shoots 30 foot jumpers with ease, finds her teammates for easy scores, and electrifies the crowd with her engaging style of play. Although the Hawkeyes are not expected to triumph over South Carolina in March, any team with Clark has a fighting chance to make history.

Speaking of South Carolina, they are the overwhelming favorites in the women’s tournament this year, with coach Dawn Staley again heading a program that has challenged the status quo of traditional powers, such as UConn, having almost guaranteed postseason success. The Gamecocks were champions in 2022, and are currently undefeated going into March Madness, putting them in a prime position to repeat their aim of reigning supreme in the college basketball world. Center Kamilla Cardoso and shifty first year guard MiLaysia Fulwiley are central figures on this talent filled team.

A couple of other intriguing squads in the women’s tournament include Louisiana State University and University of Southern California. LSU, the defending champs, is led by Angel Reese, who many have proclaimed as a major rival to Clark, due to the two matching up in the championship game last year. USC is powered by first year phenom JuJu Watkins, who is averaging 27 points per game on a team currently ranked #3 in the country. We will simply have to watch to determine if these challengers can dismantle Clark and the seemingly unstoppable South Carolina Gamecocks. 

Hopefully this rundown provided both an insight into the tournament and an exciting preview for the weeks of entertaining basketball to come. No matter what team you support, March Madness is bound to be a highlight-filled affair, with upsets galore and buzzer-beaters that shock and awe. Enjoy the madness, it’s March!