By Barry Janoff
March 26, 2015: The 2015 Men's Div. I Basketball Tournament is drawing record numbers for the NCAA and its media partners, CBS and Turner Sports, not only via on-air broadcasts but also through March Madness Live and other digital, mobile and fan-specific activations.
That is due in no small part to the fact that, entering the Sweet 16 games, many of the most popular men's college basketball teams are still in contention for the national championship.
The list is topped by the Duke Blue Devils, which has for the sixth year in a row been declared as America's favorite men's college basketball team.
Not far behind are the Kentucky Wildcats and the North Carolina Tar Heels at No. 2 and 3, respectively, according to a new Harris Poll from Harris Interactive.
However, people surveyed this year showed head coach John Calipari's team a lot of love, with 48% picking them to win the tournament.
Duke was second here, with 6% picking them to win the national title, followed by Wisconsin (5%).
The rise in TV and digital numbers also coincides with numbers from The Harris Poll showing that 47% of those surveyed follow college sports, the highest number ever from Harris in polls dating back to 2007.
College football is No. 1, with 39%, followed by men's basketball (25%), baseball (10%) and women's basketball (7%).
Also among the Top Ten favorite men's teams that made it to this year's March Madness Sweet 16: UCLA (6), Michigan State (8), Notre Dame (9) and Wisconsin (10).
Filling out the Top Ten favorite squads are thee that did not make it to the Sweet 16: Connecticut (4), Ohio State (5) and Michigan (7).
Notre Dame has not been in The Harris Poll since 2004.
Conversely, two teams from last year's Top Ten failed to make in this year: Syracuse (no. 6 in 2014) and Wichita State (no. 9).
On the women's side, the Connecticut Huskies were ranked No. 1 for the seventh consecutive time and eight time since 2003, with the team coming in No. 2 all other years, according to The Harris Poll.
Duke's popularity among people surveyed by The Harris Poll traces back to 1993. In the 16 college basketball polls conducted since then, Duke has finished No. 1 a dozen times and was ranked as low as No. 3 only once (1996).
During that period, under head coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke's men's team has won two national championships (2001, 2010), made the Final Four five times and has had 15 appearances in the Sweet 16.
Kentucky has not been No. 1 in The Harris Poll since 1998, and as recently as 2013 was ranked No. 10 among men's college basketball teams.
On the women's side, 33% picked Connecticut to win their tournament, followed at 3% each by Notre Dame, Tennessee, Maryland and Duke.
The growing popular in college sports among those surveyed by Harris supports statistics from marketing, licensing and sponsorship company IMG College, whose numbers show that more than 190 million people are fans of college sports and that sales of college merchandise is a $4.6 billion industry.
CBS and Turner, which is showing games on TBS, TNT and truTV, said they are seeing the highest viewership since they combined to show March Madness in 2011. March Madness Live, which streams all games to computers and mobile devices, has seen to date more than 11 million hours worth of viewer consumption, up 8% from the record set last year, according to Turner Sports.
The Harris Poll was conducted among 2,244 adults, of whom 588 follow college basketball, surveyed online between March 11-16, 2015.
See full results from The Harris Poll here.