New names chasing a national title


Florida State (mercifully) ended the SEC's reign of college football national titles. College basketball could face similar upheaval this season.

Since Florida won its first NCAA tournament title in 2006, every title has been won by a team who has held the trophy before.

It's a tad obnoxious when you think about how exclusive it has become. Louisville got its third title last season, as did UConn in 2011 and Kansas in 2008. North Carolina claimed its fifth in 2009. Duke followed with its fourth in 2010. Kentucky's eighth came in 2012. And, of course, Florida was greedy enough to go back-to-back in 2007.

We've seen the surprising runs to the Final Four in recent years by Butler, VCU and Wichita State. This season we shouldn't be surprised at all to see an "outsider" win it all.

Some, such as the Shockers and Iowa State, are searching for their first program title.

"There are a lot of talented teams, a lot of different places," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "I coached in the Missouri Valley for a long time and Wichita's got a very good team this year and had a great run last year."

The Ducks haven't won a title since the inaugural NCAA tournament in 1939. They, like others including Wisconsin, are aiming for a championship for the first time in a lifetime. Either way, the old guard should consider itself warned.

That's partly why No. 1 Arizona, which last captured the title in 1997, isn't taking anything for granted. Wildcats coach Sean Miller said they had to strike a balance between expecting to win as an elite program and understanding they still have to earn it.

"There are some teams, players, coaching staffs that have been here and been at the top of the mountain in college basketball and that's part of what makes our program great," Miller said.

"The tradition is part of why you want to come to a place like Arizona to play or coach at because not only is there a lot expected. You have the support to get there."

While Arizona is establishing itself as a team looking like a title front-runner, a few of the unusual suspects are quietly lining up throughout the top of the polls, too.

Wichita State

Last title: Never
Key stat: The Shockers' current win streak, now at 15 games, is the longest in school history.
Fits the description: Since 2006, there has been at least one Final Four participant to make it back the following season.
Potential Most Outstanding Player (MOP): Cleanthony Early. He simply gets it done -- whether scoring, rebounding or needing a stop on defense.

Iowa State

Last title: Never
Key stat: The Cyclones rank ninth nationally in scoring offense.
Fits the description: They're perfect in three games against ranked teams, including Tuesday's win over Baylor.
Potential MOP: DeAndre Kane. Against Baylor he became just the fourth Division I player to score 30 points, grab eight rebounds, dish nine assists and pick five steals in a game since 1997.

San Diego State

Last title: Never
Key stat: The Aztecs are 3-1 against Associated Press Top 25 teams this season. Their only loss? The second game of the season to Arizona.
Fits the description: They ended Kansas' 68-game nonconference win streak at Allen Fieldhouse.
Potential MOP: Xavier Thames, a 6-foot-3 senior guard who can score in flurries and always seems to have the answer the Aztecs need.


Last title: Never
Key stat: The Buffaloes have their highest ranking since Chauncey Billups helped them reach No. 15 in February 1997.
Fits the description: Wins over Kansas and Oregon solidified their résumé.
Potential MOP: Spencer Dinwiddie. Because March generally belongs to guards and he's one of the best floor leaders out there.


Last title: Never
Key stat: The Bears' only two losses have both come against ranked teams (Syracuse and Iowa State).
Fits the description: They rank in the top 10 nationally in rebounding margin at plus-10 per game.
Potential MOP: Cory Jefferson. The Bears' leading scorer and rebounder epitomizes their toughness on the glass.

Oklahoma State

Last title: 1946
Key stat: The Cowboys have outshot their opponents from the field in every game this season.
Fits the description: The Pokes backcourt of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown are what March runs are made of.
Potential MOP: Marcus Smart can fill out a stat sheet like few can. As attrition hits their roster, he'll help them make the adjustments.


Last title: 1941
Key stat: The Badgers rank in the top 10 nationally in fewest turnovers per game at 8.4.
Fits the description: They own marquee wins against Florida and Iowa.
Potential MOP: Frank Kaminsky. A 6-foot-11 junior forward who at 46 percent from 3-point range is a better shooter than most guards with the so-called green light.

Ohio State

Last title: 1960
Key stat: Before Tuesday's loss the Buckeyes ranked in the top five in defensive field goal percentage (54.9) and 3-point field goal percentage (24.3).
Fits the description: How uncharacteristic were the Buckeyes' 21 turnovers against Michigan State on Tuesday? The last time they had that many was Dec. 1, 2007 against Butler. They take care of the ball.
Potential MOP: Aaron Craft. The red-cheeked point guard didn't have a great game against the Spartans but remains great. Period.


Last title: 1939
Key stat: The Ducks are no longer undefeated, but they are the highest-scoring team in the nation at 89.4 points per game.
Fits the description: As a team, Oregon shoots the ball about as well as any team in the nation.
Potential MOP: Joseph Young. The guard who transferred from Houston is perhaps the best midsummer gift the Ducks have ever received.