Contenders Are Slowly Emerging

This is time of the year in which the contenders start to emerge.

The true contenders. The cream, risen to the top.

This year? This is a really muddled group of teams, to put it mildly. But we're starting to see some teams emerge. Here's five I really like.

New number ones have been rotated in and out faster this year than any year imaginable. This week, Villanova has emerged as the newest top ranked team. The Wildcats are 22-3 and certainly can make a reasonable claim to be at the top. They crushed a really good Xavier team and have only lost once since Christmas. Jay Wright always had a quick, talented guard team that rarely beats itself. The Wildcats lead a really strong Big East and certainly deserve talk of a top seed. However, earlier this year, they got pasted by Oklahoma. Pasted. How many teams have won the national title while getting walloped in the same season? Not very many. 'Nova is good, but we're not sure if they're great yet.

Then there's Kansas, arguably the hottest team. The Jayhawks started rusty but have clawed their way up the national polls and Big 12 standings, thanks mostly in part to being Oklahoma's kryptonite. Kansas swept the Sooners this year; their performance in Norman likely their best game all season. Kansas is starting to look the part of a title contender. But, KU has had a real clunker, as well, getting routed in Stillwater by Oklahoma State. Also, Kansas has to be the aggressor on the boards; in all but one of their losses, the Jayhawks were out-rebounded. The time they weren't? Iowa State, who is just incredibly tough to beat in Hilton Coliseum.

You have Oklahoma, who easily has the best player in college basketball. Buddy Hield has been good enough as a player and leader to guide the Sooners to conference and national title aspirations. OU could be a contender, but in doing so, two things must have to happen every game. First, Isiah Cousins must be an offensive force, enough to free up Hield and put opposing teams in a lot of trouble. Second, OU has to defend the perimeter as that's its Achilles heel. In their four losses, OU's opponents shot over 40% beyond the arc in three of those game. Again, the exception is Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum. Seriously, if the tournament was in Ames, I'd take the home team easily.

There's Iowa, who quietly leads the Big Ten and who really hasn't lost to a bad team yet. The Hawkeyes have a good assist to turnover ratio and was impressive in taking down Michigan State this year. Iowa still hasn't generated tons buzz, which is surprising, but they have had some trouble at the line. A team shooting 71 percent from the line could succumb to a team with a deep bench that can afford to press and foul.

And a good dark horse? Despite the beatdown they took from Villanova, I really think Xavier is a team to watch. They can shoot, they can steal, they can play defense and when they're on, they can beat anyone in the country. Trevon Bluiett is one of the best players that no one talks about and Xavier has solid wins over Dayton, Michigan, USC, and Providence. The Musketeers are likely to be a 2- or 3-seed (far from a typical dark-horse), but don't be surprised if they make a serious run to the Final Four.

Leave a Comment

Marketplace

Partners