Before the selection committee chooses the field of 68, one team stands out above the rest. Heading into the 2016 NCAA Tournament, the Kansas Jayhawks are the clear frontrunners to win the national championship.
Kansas entered championship week with +600 title odds, trailing only Michigan State. The Jayhawks are ranked atop the AP Top 25 Poll just ahead of the No.2 Spartans, and even though Kansas lost their one head-to-head matchup with Michigan State, they’ve proven that they are the team to beat in March Madness.
The Jayhawks won 11 straight games before the start of the Big 12 Tournament. During that stretch, Kansas defeated six teams that are currently ranked in the top 25, including No.6 Oklahoma and No.9 West Virginia. Overall, Kansas is 9-3 against teams that are currently ranked, posting the nation’s best record (27-4) while playing the 11th most difficult schedule. Michigan State ranks 87th in strength of schedule, and their win over the Jayhawks came nearly four months ago.
With a near guarantee to be named a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas has a clear path to the Final Four. March Madness if often associated with Cinderella teams and upsets, but ultimately, a team that has been recognized as one of the country’s best for the whole season usually ends up on top. In the last 20 years, 13 No.1 seeds have won the national championship, and 41 percent of No.1 seeds reach the Final Four.
With Bill Self at the helm, Kansas is led by one of college basketball’s best coaches. He’s delivered at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season championship for 12 straight years, and he’s put together one of the most well-balanced teams in the country.
Kansas lacks the NBA-level talent from recent seasons with the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Ben McLemore having moved on as underclassmen. But the Jayhawks have proven to be the best overall team with few weaknesses.
“I’m not going to apologize for our personnel,” Self told the Topeka Capital-Journal in February. “But we’ve run some lottery picks out there in the past, and we’re not running ’em out there right now. So I think it’s more of a really grind-it-out team this year.”
That’s not to say Kansas isn’t one of the most talented teams in college basketball. Perry Ellis has been terrific with 16.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. also chip in a little more than 13 points per contest, while Devonte’ Graham is averaging 11.2 points and 3.7 assists per game. Scoring 81.8 points per game, Kansas ranks fourth among teams from major conferences.
Kansas certainly won’t have an easy road to the national championship. The likes of Michigan State, Villanova, Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Xavier are competing for No.1 seeds, as well. But the Jayhawks are the best prediction when choosing a national champion before the NCAA Tournament begins.
North Carolina is considered to be the third favorite to win the national championship with +700 betting odds at Sportsbook.ag. The Tar Heels are followed by Xavier (+1200), Oklahoma (+1400), Kentucky (+1500), Villanova (+1500) and Virginia (+1500).