WILL the real contenders please stand up? In the last seven days Villanova (twice), Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma (twice), Virginia, Duke, Purdue (twice) and Arizona all ended up on the wrong side of the final ledger. All the rankings you look at will tell you no-one is sure which team is the best team in college ball this season, and after the past week, with everyone dropping like flies you can see why.
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WITH everyone suffering L’s last week the rankings are somewhat in flux as we try to determine the real threats to win the national championship. There are plenty of candidates but are they pretenders or the real deal?
ON Monday for the first time in over three decades, the Virginia Cavaliers found themselves on top of the college basketball world. No team in the country is better from a defensive standpoint right now (giving up just 57.4 PPG) as they suffocate their opponents en route to a 24-2 record. Their only blemishes came at the hands of West Virginia and Virginia Tech in OT.
ALL season long Virginia’s biggest competition has been Villanova, who is probably the best team in the country. A 1-2 record over the week didn’t do their reputation any good though, with unranked St John’s and Providence upsetting the Wildcats even though Nova were a combined 26-point favourite in those two games.
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VILLANOVA wasn’t the only top team who fell to Chris Mullin’s squad, with the Red Storm knocking off Duke four days earlier. Previously 0-11 in ACC games the Blue Devils fell to St John’s in front of a 19,000+ audience at Madison Square Garden. This wasn’t the first time the Blue Devils have stumbled this year with losses to unranked Boston College and NC State as well. Everytime Coach K’s freshman factory seems to hit their straps they falter and we lose faith in their ability to win it all.
THE Purdue Boilermakers were another team in the mix for a one-seed with senior big man Isaac Haas running the show. They seemed to lack the star power to truly contend and knock off the big named programs and they came up short in back-to-back games last week against No. 14 Ohio State and No. 4 MSU.
SPEAKING of MSU, despite all the carnage of late and all their off-court issues, the Spartans keep finding ways to win. Sitting near the top of their talent stacked conference, Tom Izzo’s men should win their remaining Big Ten games and be in prime position to claim a one-seed.
THE Spartans and Xavier are two of the higher placed teams who have avoided an upset in recent times with the Muskateers claiming to OT wins this month. Their only loss to a ranked opponent this year came at the hands of Villanova a month ago and a matchup against that same team this weekend will well and truly tell us Xavier’s position as a threat for a top rung come tourney time.
DON’T rule out a big run in the conference tournament from a team pushing them into No. 1 seed conversation. The Buckeyes are probably the best chance to dethrone the other teams mentioned already. Currently ranked 8th Ohio State with a 22-5 record after starting 5-3. In the ultra-competitive Big 12 the Texas Tech Red Raiders are another team who could surprise should they knock off Kansas and West Virginia to close their conference schedule. It’s also worth mentioning that Cincinnati (23-2) and Auburn (23-3) have surprised everyone so far this season.
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AFTER outlining the position for each of the top teams in the country it’s clear that nothing is set in concrete yet. With only four spots on offer for the nine squads mentioned clearly something’s gotta give, and a strong/weak showing in the conference tournaments could change everything.
BARRING anything crazy I think that Villanova and Virginia are locks for a top seed with the Wildcats probably the top overall seed. Xavier, Purdue, Michigan State are in a bunch below those two with the chance that one of the other outsiders climbs up. The Big Ten conference tournament could be very telling with Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue all fighting it out for supremacy. If I was a betting man I would have Xavier and Michigan State joining the Wildcats and Cavaliers as the tournaments’ top seeds, but with just under a month to go until the bracket is announced anything is still possible.
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