By Dennis Berry
Before the start of college basketball we gave out 10 teams that could be 2013 NCAA title contenders. With these teams, we thought for sure we had the best chance to cut down the nets in Atlanta at the end of the season.
Some teams have done well. Others have struggled. Let us take a look back at our original order and then re-rank them based on what we have seen so far this year.
10. Duke Blue Devils
Right now it looks like we were way off on this one. The Blue Devils have been one of the best teams in the nation. They started the season 15-0 and just suffered their first loss of the season this past weekend at North Carolina State. Duke has been led by the senior duo of Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry. Duke will be a contender to win the ACC title and be a first seed. The only thing the Cameron Crazies need to worry about is the injury to senior Ryan Kelly. The Blue Devil's loss came without him being available. If he can return in time for postseason play, Duke should be just fine.
9. UCLA Bruins
We bought into the hype of the Bruin's freshmen class and early on it looked like we got fooled. It was unknown if Shabazz Muhammad would even be eligible this season. The Bruins were 5-3 to start the year – including a loss at home to Cal Poly with Muhammad. Since then, it appears that UCLA has figured things out. Muhammad is playing like the elite player people thought he would be. Ben Howland has picked up the pace of the offense and his players have responded with a nine game winning streak. The PAC-12 is not a tough league, with their toughest opponent being Arizona. The Bruins have reentered the Top 25 and should be there the rest of the season.
8. Michigan Wolverines
Like Duke, the Wolverines suffered their first loss of the season over the weekend at Ohio State. Michigan had been rolling through their schedule thanks in large part to the backcourt duo of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. The duo leads the team in scoring and is making a case for the best backcourt in the nation. Now we have to see how Michigan responds. The Big 10 is the toughest major conference this year. They still have to play at Minnesota, at Illinois, and at Indiana. If they can win two of those three games, we will know Michigan is for real.
7. Kansas Jayhawks
Again Kansas is another team that we were way too low on to start the season. They are 14-1 with their lone loss coming to Michigan State in just their second game of the season. Since then the Jayhawks have won 13 games in a row and look to once again be posed to claim the Big 12 Championship. The Jayhawks have been able to mix young talent with the veteran players to be one of the best teams in the country. You can see this when you look at redshirt freshman Ben McLemore and senior Jeff Withey. McLemore leads the team in scoring. Withey has been dominating in the paint and is one of the best shot blockers in the country. He even posted a triple-double earlier this season. Kansas looks like a Final Four team once again this year.
6. Florida Gators
Early on it looked like the Gators were on their way to a special season. They were rolling over teams to start the season and it was getting everybody’s attention. Then came a loss at Arizona when they built a large lead and let it get away. That was followed with a loss to Kansas State in Kansas City. Those losses soured everyone on the Gators. Right now the Gators should be considered the favorites to win the SEC. Because the SEC is down this season, many will look past Florida when filling out their brackets. That could be a mistake. They are a deep, experienced team that knows how to win in March. Not ready to say the Gators should be considered a favorite to make it to Atlanta, but we should not disregard them either.
5. NC State Wolfpack
The Wolfpack reminded everyone across the nation that they are still a dangerous team with their win over top ranked Duke this weekend. It was a marquee win for the program that came in with high expectations with their returning players and incoming freshman. It was a win they needed for their resume this season because they had lost in their other “major conference” matchups against OK State and then third ranked Michigan. Now the Wolfpack will have to battle with Duke for supremacy in the ACC.
4. North Carolina Tar Heels
This is the first of two teams that have been disappointing so far this season. The Tar Heels have struggled this year against the better teams on their schedule. The most surprising loss was at Texas. Then they started 0-2 in the ACC before beating Florida State on the road which could be a season changer. Still they have a long way to go. North Carolina does not seem like previous teams that have better athletes than their opponents. Outside James McAdoo, there is no real player that scares you. Even on defense they are not a shut down unit. Right now the Tar Heels are a bubble team, but some wins against NC State and Duke could change that.
3. Kentucky Wildcats
Speaking of bubble teams, that is where you will find the Kentucky Wildcats. The young freshman class has not lived up to the hype of another top ranked freshman class. They lost their first home game under John Calipari to Baylor in December and over the weekend lost a SEC home game to Texas A&M. The reason that the Wildcats are a bubble team? They have no good quality wins. Their best win came against Maryland to start the season, but that has lost a lot of luster in the past few weeks. Kentucky is going to be a better team come March, but the question is will they get enough wins to make the NCAA Tournament?
2. Louisville Cardinals
The only loss that Louisville has suffered so far this season was to Duke. Outside that lone loss, the Cardinals have been running teams out of the gym. Now they are the top ranked team in the new Top 25 polls. They are a great defensive team that can cause major problems with teams due to their pressure. If Louisville makes you turn the ball over, you are in for a long night. The only problem with Louisville is if a team can slow the tempo down and make it a halfcourt game. That is when the Cardinal's problems with outside shooting becomes a factor. Still yet, they look like a Final Four team as of right now.
1. Indiana Hoosiers
It seems that most of the country has forgotten about the Hoosiers. With the rise of Duke and Louisville, it seems a lot of the national spotlight has been taken off a team that many predicted would win the 2013 National Championship. Hoosier's fans should not worry. They are still one of the deepest talented teams in the country. They will have to fight to win the Big 10 this year, but that will only make them tougher come NCAA Tournament time. Indiana should be considered as close as a favorite to make it to the Final Four as you can get this time in the season.
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