Meet the championship contenders

Iowa State

Fred Hoiberg's squad secured the Big 12 tournament title with wins over Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor. The Cyclones have won eight of their last 10 games and 11 of 14. They're hot at the right time. They're not the biggest team in the field, but they outplayed two of the biggest frontcourts in the country, Kansas' and Baylor's, on their way to the Big 12 tournament championship in Kansas City. The Cyclones can stretch the floor with five players who shoot 35 percent or better from the 3-point line. And Georges Niang, DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim rival any threesome in the field. Iowa State has certainly had its erratic moments, and things get ugly when shots aren't falling from the 3-point line. But when they're rolling, few teams can stop the Fighting Hoibergs. They proved that in Kansas City, and they could prove it again with a run to the national title.


The last team that entered the NCAA tournament with the top two picks in that year's NBA draft left with the championship. The year was 2012, and Kentucky, enhanced by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, won the crown in New Orleans. Andrew Wiggins has evolved into the versatile offensive and defensive threat that he was expected to be prior to the season. The freshman could have an explosive NCAA tournament and do what Carmelo Anthony did for Syracuse 11 years ago. But the destiny of Bill Self's program centers on the health of big man Joel Embiid. If Kansas gets through the first weekend and Embiid rejoins the team after missing time with a back injury, the Jayhawks will be in position to win their first national title since 2008. Wiggins and Embiid can lead them to the national championship.


Ignore the seed. The Cardinals are playing like a 1-seed, not a 4-seed. They're not last year's Cardinals. But they boast a similar mojo right now. And their defense (sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy) resembles the unit that won last year's national championship. They've also caught fire (one loss since Jan. 30) in recent weeks. You know who else did that? Last season's national champs. Russ Smith, once again, anchors a program that has to be considered a threat to win the national title. Smith doesn't have Peyton Siva, but this year's Louisville backcourt is still capable with Chris Jones, Luke Hancock and Terry Rozier. And Montrezl Harrell (14.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.3 BPG and 1.1 SPG) has been doing ridiculous things for months. Rick Pitino's crew might repeat.

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