Mar 17, 2013, 10:30 PM EST
Before the NCAA Tournament bracket was released there were a number of teams many believe to be capable of winning a national title. Given how wild the regular season was that list is longer this season than in years prior, but there’s only so much that can be determined without knowing what the paths of those teams would be. Now that we know the field of 68, which ten teams are most capable of winning the national title?
The Cardinals are the top overall seed and with good reason, given their 29-5 overall record and Big East tournament title (after winning a share of the regular season title). The Cardinals aren’t the best perimeter shooting team, with Luke Hancock being their best long-range option, but they defend well and have depth at all positions. If Russ Smith can remain under control (by Russ standards, of course), Louisville can win another six games in a row.
The Hoosiers may have lost in the semis of the Big Ten tournament but that’s just as much an issue of the matchup (Wisconsin’s won 12 straight in the series) as it was how well Tom Crean’s team played. Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo lead the way for the Hoosiers, who certainly don’t lack for depth. Three key veterans over the next couple of weeks are Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey and Christian Watford. If they all contribute that helps make up for an off night from either Oladipo or Zeller. And if this group defends, Indiana can win it all.
The Blue Devils are 17-1 this season with their full rotation available, with stretch four Ryan Kelly being a difficult matchup offensively and a key figure defensively. With Mason Plumlee in the middle and Seth Curry on the perimeter Duke has three primary scorers on which to rely, and guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon will figure prominently as well. They also have head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who’s been through more than a few of these rodeos himself.
Point guard play is still somewhat of a concern for the Jayhawks but it must be noted that both Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe have raised their level of play over the last month. The other key for Kansas: Ben McLemore embracing the moment as this team’s star. There will be a point in this tournament when the Jayhawks need him to make a play, and while most remember the three against Iowa State there have been moments where the freshman hasn’t grabbed the reins. With veterans such as Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey at Bill Self’s disposal the Jayhawks have plenty of experience both on the court and on the sideline.
More than a few people have rushed to discount the Bulldogs due to the number of wins against teams ranked outside of the RPI Top 100, with many of those coming against WCC opposition. But Gonzaga has the tools needed to win a national title, led by forward Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk went from redshirting last season to earning All-America honors, and Harris has been a dependable figure in Mark Few’s rotation for four years. The guard play is solid, and if they defend well on the perimeter the Zags can go where no prior Gonzaga team has gone before.
With an average age of 22.3 years the Hurricanes are the oldest team in the field, and they’re talented as well. Sophomore Shane Larkin leads the way at the point and the other four starters are all seniors. Kenny Kadji causes problems for opponents at the four with his ability to step out beyond the three-point line and Durand Scott and Trey McKinney-Jones are both quality options on the perimeter. The key for Miami: Reggie Johnson. While he didn’t have the best of weeks in Greensboro his talent should not be underestimated, and head coach Jim Larranaga has the experience needed to help the Canes navigate the Big Dance.
7. New Mexico
The Lobos won both the regular season and tournament titles in the Mountain West, and given their performance on the court throughout the season Steve Alford’s team should be considered a serious threat to win it all. Kendall Williams and Tony Snell form one of the best backcourt tandems in the tournament, and with Hugh Greenwood and Jamal Fenton the Lobos have some depth there as well. Inside Alex Kirk’s path is similar to that of Kelly Olynyk’s as a back injury forced him to redshirt last season. They’re not a great offensive team but due to their execution and defense, New Mexico has no issue winning “ugly.”
The Hoyas have one of the best players in the country but this pick isn’t solely about sophomore forward Otto Porter. John Thompson III’s team has matured steadily as the season’s worn on, with point guard Markel Starks and freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera being two of the players who have shown the most growth. Georgetown’s solid offensively but they’re even better defensively, as their defensive efficiency is among the best in the country. And with a talent like Porter, Georgetown has a star capable of carrying the team a long way.
9. Michigan State
Keith Appling’s gone through his struggles this season but the prospect of facing non-Big Ten opponents could result in a jump in his performance. Inside the Spartans have Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, with the latter playing very well in their Big Ten semifinal loss to Ohio State on Saturday. Freshman shooting guard Gary Harris is their best perimeter shooter, and then there’s the Tom Izzo factor. He’s been one of the game’s most successful NCAA tournament coaches over the last decade, which will only help Michigan State in tense situations.
The Wolverines didn’t finish the regular season well, losing three of their last six games, but don’t give up on John Beilein’s squad. Trey Burke has been the best point guard in the country, and with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas the Wolverines don’t lack for shooters. Michigan was one of the most efficient teams in the country and they take care of the basketball as well. Inside Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary will need to hold their own on the glass, and if Michigan can regain some sense of balance (Burke can’t do everything) they can get rolling again.
Dec 5, 2013, 1:30 AM EST
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Drexel 85, Cleveland State 82 (3OT) Frantz Massenat led the Dragons with 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and as a team Drexel converted 14 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points. Cleveland State’s Jon Harris scored 27 points to lead the way for the Vikings, with 24 of those points…
Dec 5, 2013, 12:21 AM EST
No. 1 Michigan State’s inconsistency final came back to bite them. The Spartans shot 35.9% from the field and 7-for-24 from three as they got dropped by North Carolina, 79-65, at the Breslin Center on Wednesday night. Michigan State had erased an 18-4 deficit, tying things up at the half, but the Tar Heels used…
Dec 5, 2013, 12:19 AM EST
During the preseason there were more than a few people who believed that Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles had the pieces needed to be one of the more improved teams in college basketball. With al five starters back from last season’s 16-17 squad, led by guard Olivier Hanlan and forward Ryan Anderson, there was both…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:39 PM EST
At this point in the season it seems safe to say that North Carolina has just one consistent perimeter shooter in sophomore point guard Marcus Paige. Entering Wednesday’s game at No. 1 Michigan State, Paige was responsible for 18 of the Tar Heels’ 21 made three-pointers. And with Paige also being their best overall perimeter…
Dec 4, 2013, 9:39 PM EST
Ohio State entered Wednesday night’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup with Maryland ranked No. 5 in the country. The Buckeyes were No. 2 according to Kenpom, which is largely the result of the Buckeye’s stifling defense. Thad Matta’s team leads the country in defensive efficiency, holding their opponents to 39.0 eFG% (effective field goal percentage), forcing…
Dec 4, 2013, 9:24 PM EST
In a game in which both No. 8 Wisconsin and Virginia struggled to make shots, redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser who was the most accurate shooter and made the plays that helped the Badgers pick up the 48-38 win in Charlottesville. Gasser (team-high 11 points) attempted just two shots from the field but he made…
Dec 4, 2013, 7:47 PM EST
Among the many interested observers at No. 10 Duke’s 79-69 win over No. 22 Michigan was former Duke great Grant Hill, who during his time in Durham was an incredibly versatile player. In analyzing the play of current Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker, some have made the comparison between the Chicago native and Hill. On…
Dec 4, 2013, 6:02 PM EST
With the changes in the way that contact is being called, college basketball has seen an increase in the number of fouls called and the number of free throws attempted in 2013-14. This has been one reason why scoring’s increased after being historically low last season; added opportunities to score by way of an “unchallenged”…
Dec 4, 2013, 4:45 PM EST
A J.J. Avila layup with a second remaining on Saturday gave Colorado State a dramatic 85-83 victory over New Mexico State, and it turns out that the result may have come at an even greater cost for the Aggies. Junior reserve forward Remi Barry went down in the first half with a left knee injury,…
Dec 4, 2013, 4:01 PM EST
GAME OF THE DAY: North Carolina at No. 1 Michigan State, 9:00 p.m. ET So which North Carolina team shows up tonight? Will it be the one that beat Louisville handily at Mohegan Sun earlier this season, or is it the group that lost to Belmont at home and UAB on the road? The Tar…
Dec 4, 2013, 2:54 PM EST
DURHAM, N.C. — The story of No. 10 Duke’s 79-69 win over No. 22 Michigan on Tuesday night was some combination of the Blue Devils’ defensive prowess and the Wolverine’s offensive struggles. Whether you believe that Michigan’s horrendous night, which saw them score 50 points and shoot 39.1% from the floor in the first 38…
Dec 4, 2013, 12:53 PM EST
On Tuesday night, Duke knocked off Michigan at Cameron Indoor Stadium, which was big news for both the Blue Devils, who had been struggling defensively for much of the first month of the season, and the Wolverines, who have never looked this bad offensively in the John Beilein era. It was bigger news for Coach…
Dec 4, 2013, 12:34 PM EST
The Julius Nyang’oro case took another turn this week, as the former UNC African-American Studies professor was indicted by a grand jury in North Carolina. He’s facing a charge of obtaining property through false pretenses, a low-level felony with a maximum punishment of 30 months in prison, although according to the Raleigh News & Observer,…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:51 AM EST
Who is the best shooter in the country? It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:46 AM EST
Tuesday was a big night for Stetson’s basketball program. Not only did the Hatters pick up their first win of 2013, but Kentwan Smith made became Stetson’s first player to make it to POSTERIZED. Alley-oops off of a set play are the best, aren’t they? (h/t Dan Forcella)
Dec 4, 2013, 1:50 AM EST
GAME OF THE DAY: Boise State 69, Utah 67 Lost in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge hype was the battle between Mountain West and Pac-12 programs. The Broncos and Utes entered as two of the time scoring teams in the nation, but both struggled from the field early. Derrick Marks had 17 points and Anthony Drmic added…
Dec 4, 2013, 1:01 AM EST
It took until the later stages of the second half, but No. 18 UCLA remained undefeated following a 89-76 win tover UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion. The game was much closer than the final score, as one of the contenders in the Big West gave the Bruins a fight throughout. The Gauchos…
Dec 3, 2013, 11:43 PM EST
The Big Ten got its first win in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge from Iowa’s offensive firepower. The Hawkeyes, playing in front of a raucous crowd, held off a Notre Dame second half comeback, countering the rally and holding off the Fighting Irish in a 98-93 win on Tuesday night. The Irish posted 43 points in…
Dec 3, 2013, 11:26 PM EST
DURHAM, N.C. — Caris LeVert is a good basketball player. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that there aren’t five players in college basketball that are more improved than No. 22 Michigan’s 6-foot-6 sophomore, and nothing about the 24 points he had against No. 10 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday…
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