Checking out all 68 teams in the field

Kansas (5): If Joel Embiid recovers from the vague back issue that kept him out the past two weeks, Kansas is a national title contender. Maybe even a favorite. If Embiid doesn't come back and the Jayhawks lose one of the most important defenders in the country ... they're still good enough to make the Final Four. That's because some kid named Andrew Wiggins is still on the team. Whatever the Jayhawks lose in interior presence can more than be made up for by a slightly faster tempo and more fast-break run-outs for the potential No. 1 overall pick in June's NBA draft.

THE FAVORITES

Arizona (4): In a sense, the Wildcats have as much in common with the flawed-but-still-great teams in the preceding section: They're not a great offensive team. More specifically, Arizona is not a very good shooting team. The Wildcats have shot just 35.6 percent from 3 this season, 33.1 in Pac-12 play. The Wildcats were never a lights-out perimeter team, and they've never tried to be, as Arizona shoots just 26.5 percent of its field goals from beyond the arc. T.J. McConnell gets the ball inside. Arizona knows its strengths.

It helps that the Wildcats are the best defensive group in the country by a wide margin. Sean Miller's team plays the gapping, pack-line style made famous by Dick Bennett (Virginia coach Tony Bennett's father) at Green Bay in the early 1990s -- only he's running it with a group of players you might occasionally confuse for the Monstars. The Wildcats are so good defensively they can have one glaring flaw and still be one of the elite-elite tournament favorites in field full of great teams.

Louisville (3): Two teams in the country rank in the adjusted efficiency top 10 on both offense and defense. One of them is 34-0. The other is Louisville. The defending national champions aren't a top seed because the RPI doesn't value efficiency or margin of victory and Louisville's schedule simply wasn't as good as its peers'. But so what? The difference between a No. 1 and a No. 4 matters only in the matchups, and no team in any region would have wanted to see Louisville show up in its bracket Sunday night.

Some of the same names you remember from last March are here, particularly guard Russ Smith, who submitted a peerless, All-American-level two-way season. Luke Hancock, last season's Final Four MVP, is here too. And there are new faces: guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, forward Mangok Mathiang and powerful sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell, whose star turn took the Cardinals to a different level. No one is playing better basketball right now. Beware.

Wichita State (2): Is anyone out there still arguing that Wichita State didn't deserve a No. 1 seed? Anyone? No? Good. Because there's no reason to think of Wichita State as anything but a national title favorite and no way to greet them but with appreciation, gratitude and awe.

Page
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...