There is a new Fox Sports column out by Jeff Goodman http://msn.foxsports.com/cbk/story/5163306?GT1=7429 that lists the top 5 contenders and top 5 pretenders for the NCAA basketball championship. Its early but the non-conference season can give us an idea about who will be pretty good during the madness.
UCONN - hard not to list them in this group. The Huskies won the Maui Invitational versus the toughest field the island has ever seen. I said a year ago, that if Rudy Gay stayed four years, UCONN would win at least one title in that stretch. Maybe this is it.
Duke - Well they were everybody's preseason pick and they are unbeaten. So I guess they have to still be a contender. My usual practice is to pick against the favorite. And with the quality of teams I have seen in December, I'd do that here if I was filling out my bracket now. But with K on the bench and their past history, it wouldn't be a shock if they cut down the nets come March.
Washington - As Goodman notes, nobody has really given the Huskies any notice. I have. I think Washington has played just about as well as anyone this year. Their win over Gonzaga the other Sunday night was as thrilling of a game as you'll see. Lorenzo Romar has proven to me that he can flat out coach. If I was making a hire right now, he'd be on my short list.
Louisville - Getting David Padgett back is going to make them better. But I just haven't been impressed enough, yet, to make them a true title contender. That could change in the upcoming weeks. But for now I say pretender.
Michigan State - I'm already pumped for their January 5 matchup with Illinois. And with Izzo's track record, you have trouble discounting their chances. I was really impressed with how they handled themselves against Wichita State this past weekend. A week ago, I'd have said not strong enough to win 6 in a row. Right now, I'd seriously consider them.
Villanova - Goodman contends that the Cats need more out of Fraser or an injury return from Sumpter. Well I don't think Sumpter's coming back. But 'Nova hasn't shown anything on the floor yet, that keeps me from thinking they don't have enough to win it all. Sure we know they could be better. But maybe this is good enough. I'll be watching closely how they handle the rigors of the Big East.
Memphis - Goodman's concern is the youth. But college basketball is a younger game now. Syracuse won with 3 freshman and a 2 sophomores the other year. It can happen. But my concern is does the watered down C-USA keep them sharp enough come March. I'm guessing not.
Florida - Right now, I've got the Gators as a major player in the whole mix. I think their inside/outside balance will be a major benefit in the tourney. Maybe they need the go-to guy that Goodman speaks of. We'll see.
Gonzaga - Adam Morrison. Adam Morrison. Adam Morrison. Adam Morrison. Danny Manning. It doesn't happen often but sometimes one player wins the NCAA championship. I'd probably bet against Morrison and the Zags. But they have already provided three classic games this year, Michigan State in Maui, Oklahoma State and Washington.
Texas - One loss has made everyone sour on the Horns. I still think they are pretty good. Might not be solid enough to win it, but let's check back when that torching Duke put on them isn't so fresh in our minds.
Illinois - If you're a friend of the Fan, and their need to be more of you, you know I love the Illini right now. Right now, they've proven the most to me.
Clemson - The Tigers are still unbeaten and may surprise in a watered down ACC. I'll be interested in their showing in San Juan next week. But right now they are a pretender.
Wisconsin - The Badgers have been consistent, and their style gives teams fits in March. Probably not offensive enough to win it all. But they are a major sleeper for me right now.
Michigan - Are the Wolverines any good or have they just not played anyone yet? We'll find out soon enough?
Pittsburgh - The Panthers are quietly going about December business. They are getting better. Their defense makes it tough on people. Come March this team could be a force.