By Tommy Guastaferro
This year college basketball is as deep and talent rich as any in the last decade. Unlike the past couple seasons, there are over a half dozen teams in the year’s NCAA basketball field that have a real and legitimate shot to take home the NCAA Championship. Let’s take a closer look at the seven teams who have the best chance of cutting down the nets on April 7.
Arizona – They’re kind of the Arrested Development of college basketball. Critics seem to love them, they have a good cast, but who has seen them play? Aside from just playing in late West Coast time slots, their biggest win came against Duke on a holiday weekend Friday night (Come on!). Freshman Aaron Gordon gets a lot of the hype, but junior guard Nick Johnson has been the real star this season.
Why They Will Win: Arizona has very good talent on a well-balanced team. They have been the most impressive team thus far and possess all of the tools it takes to make a deep tournament run.
Why They Won’t Win: Honestly, I don’t see any glaring weaknesses. I do think there are more talented teams and that may be the only roadblock for this squad.
Odds of Winning the Title: 4/1
Kentucky – This team is absolutely loaded on paper, but that doesn’t necessarily win championships. The talented roster has yet to come together as a cohesive unit, especially on defense. They also have looked very inconsistent on the offensive end so far this season. However, IF the young talent can figure it out…oh boy.
Why They Will Win: Kentucky is hands down the most talented team, and it’s not really even close. They played a D+ game against a veteran Michigan State team and still almost pulled off the victory.
Why They Won’t Win: I don’t see any real leadership yet. There is also the risk that all of this talent just doesn’t blend together and the young players never “get it.”
Odds of Winning the Title: 4/1
Michigan State – Tom Izzo has built an excellent team in East Lansing. They possess a good mixture of experience and talent. Unlike previous grind-it-out Spartan teams, this Michigan State team has shown a great deal of strength in a past paced transition offense.
Why They Will Win – Michigan State has the best backcourt in the country. Gary Harris should make a push for Big Ten Player of the Year and point guard Keith Appling has provided very good senior leadership.
Why They Won’t Win – This team really hasn’t “wowed” me so far this year. Their rebounding has also been a disappointment; something very rare for an Izzo-coached team.
Odds of Winning the Title: 5/1
Kansas – If Arizona is Arrested Development, then Kansas is L O S T. You get a lot of eye popping moments followed by a lot of “meh” with this Kansas team. The emergence of Joel Embiid has been nice for the Jayhawks, albeit inconsistent. They have beaten a strong Duke team, while dropping a couple against far less talented teams. Freshman phenom, Andrew Wiggins, has also been inconsistent over the so far this year.
Why They Will Win: They have excellent talent and I really like what sophomore forward Perry Ellis is doing. Kansas is a deep team who can throw eight or nine guys at you.
Why They Won’t Win: As noted above, two of their best players are inconsistent in their effort. Can they put it all together for 40 minutes against tough opponents in the NCAA tournament? I’m also skeptical of their point guard play.
Odds of Winning the Title: 6/1
Oklahoma State – Aside from having the best point guard and arguably the best current player in the country, Marcus Smart, the Cowboys are incredibly deep. Travis Ford plays eight guys over 17 minutes per game.
Why They Will Win: I like their talent combined with Smart’s leadership. Although only a sophomore, Marcus Smart plays like a veteran and his teammates feed off of that.
Why They Won’t Win: Interior play. No one on the team averages over 6.4 rebounds per game. That can prove deadly in the “win or go home” format that is March Madness.
Odds of Winning the Title: 8/1
Louisville – The defending champions have another good team in contention this year. They aren’t as good as last year, but the return of senior guard, Russ Smith, has really helped their chances of becoming the first back-to-back champions since the ’06 and ’07 Florida Gators.
Why They Will Win: They have several integral parts returning from a championship team. They are good defensively and can throw a lot at you.
Why They Won’t Win: I think Louisville misses Peyton Siva more than they like to admit. Sure Chris Jones is providing decent scoring, but his 2.6 assists against 1.6 turnovers aren’t going to get it done.
Odds of Winning the Title: 9/1
Duke – I’m hesitant to include Duke, but I will. Duke has the ability to outscore anyone, a valuable trait to have in the NCAA Tournament. Although they have looked lackluster at times so far this season, the talent and shooting ability of the Blue Devils cannot be denied.
Why They Will Win – Duke has two of the best pure scorers in the country with Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. They can score at will from just about anywhere on the floor. They are undoubtedly one of the most talented teams in the country.
Why They Won’t Win – Duke basically starts two guards and three small forwards. They just aren’t a balanced team. Unless Marshall Plumlee REALLY steps up, one bad shooting night and Duke is out of the tournament in March.
Odds of Winning the Title: 10/1
Teams that could make me look like a fool:
I’m just not sold that any of those four have what it takes to make a solid six-game run to win the title. Maybe in the coming weeks these teams will prove me wrong and we’ll revisit the issue. Until then, I fully expect couches to be burning on the campus of one of the seven schools broken down today.
Follow Tommy on Twitter: @_ThomasAnthony