With all the commotion today regarding the new 68 team format, I started thinking about who will be the team’s playing in Houston come next April. Now I will admit that at this point, I am not gung-ho about the 68 team format, but it is better than what could have been (96). Though I do think we will hit 96 teams within the next 5 years. This was a ploy by the NCAA to ween people onto the idea of more teams into the tourney. But that is a story for another day.
So my early top 5:
This was a no brainer pretty much. The Dukies are the defending National Champions. They have arguably the best coach in the country. Not to mention they are the only 4 year program left in America. With stars Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith returning, and the addition of super point guard Kyrie Irving (you will hear more about this kid in the very near future), this team will once again boast the toughest trio in the country. Duke looks to be a definite team that will be playing at Reliant Stadium come next April.
2. Ohio State
Now many of you are sitting there like, this team just lost their superstar Evan Turner. How are they even being considered a top 10 team? I will tell you why, All Ohio Red. This is the top AAU team in the country and Ohio State has 3 blue chip recruits coming from this team, plus a couple of other studs. Jared Sullinger will be an instant impact player and I fully expect him to be in the running for Big Ten player of the year. I have talked about this in past blogs. This team has a great chemistry with their incoming recruits. The kids have played together for years and won together. Not to mention Ohio State has 3 returning senior starters, plus an emerging star in William Buford (who will be junior). This team is forreal. And they have that rare mix of great experience, and phenomenal talent. Thad Matta should have a lot of fun with this squad. In today’s college game, it is very rare to have a great mix of talented seniors and freshman.
3. Michigan State
You better believe that this team is hungry and excited to have their fearless leader, Tom Izzo back. Izzo always seems to find a way to take his team deep into March whether he has the talent or not. This year though, he has the talent. With Kalin Lucas (hopefully healthy), Durrell Summers, Draymond Green, and the extremely talented Delvin Roe, this team has a fantastic core. Plus the addition of super center, Adreian Payne, from that amazing All Ohio Red team. These guys will beat you up inside. This is a typical Tom Izzo team, but with more talent than he has had the past few years. These guys are very dangerous and hungry to return back to the Final Four for a 3rd consecutive year.
The Boilermakers are the real deal. And not the real deal like Gene Keady’s hair. This team will miss their rock Chris Kramer, but their talent and experience should make up for the loss of Kramer’s intensity level. Kramer was the only senior on the squad who saw significant time. They return a team that spent most of the year ranked in the top 5. A team that everyone thought had a legitimate chance to be playing in Indy before Robby Hummel went down. If Hummel comes back at full strength, I feel like the three-headed monster of Hummel, Moore, and Johnson will be near unstoppable. These three seniors are hungry to finally live up to the billing. And this should be the year.
This team was no Cinderella last year regardless if that is how America labeled them. They were top 10 in the preseason for a reason and I am giving them the love again this year. Though the loss of Gordon Hayward will hurt, they return Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, and Ronald Nored. Not to mention they have a very intriguing prospect coming by the name of Khyle Marshall. Marshall is not extremely highly touted, but has a similar style to a Gordon Hayward. Lastly, Brad Stevens is a fantastic coach. This man, though he had a talented team, outcoached coaching legends like Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo. So do not be surprised if this team goes deep into the tournament again.
Sleepers: Kentucky, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Kansas State (all teams that I could see sneaking into the Final Four)
So there you have my top 5. One thing of note. The Big Ten will be the top conference this year. I know many ESPN guys said that they would be the top conference last year. I feel like they jumped the gun and were a year early. They had a lot of solid teams last year, but this year, they have great teams at the top, and some depth. With the loss of only one player (Evan Turner), these teams will be deep, talented, and experienced.
In the words of Dickie V, “It’s totally awesome baby with a capital A!”
You got to love College Basketball.
Stay tuned for the next edition of Sportskraze.