I haven't had time to lead up to the Who Can Win it All series this year, but I still want to do at least a couple. Part of the problem is it has taken quite a bit of time to figure this year out in college hoops. Teams have struggled. Injuries have mounted. Some leagues are extremely deep (Big East, Big 12). Some leagues are very shallow (Pac 10). And then there are leagues that look deep, but really aren't (SEC, Big 10, ACC).
If ever there was a year that mid major teams could make some serious noise, this is that year. Every team is flawed, some significantly. Every team is vulnerable. And with the way injuries have been going this year, unless you are really deep, I can't really put too much into any one team. That said, Contenders are still the top dogs, Threats are the next group and Pretenders are the overranked teams.
One side note that I think has to be mentioned here.
The point of emphasis on swinging elbows has been a big thing in college hoops this year. At least one major NCAA game will turn because a prominent player gets the showers after the officials review the video, and it will cost a team a game. That's part of what makes this so tough. A game could change depending on what the officiating crew sees in slow motion video, and there is no way to predict that because every crew enforces the intent part differently.
Contenders 1. Ohio State - They are still undefeated and Sullinger is a horse inside, ensuring that they can score in the half court. They are very good defensively, too. They are really vulnerable to the officiating though, because if Sullinger and Lighty aren't available, their offense could bog down against a good team.
Kansas - They can score on anybody. That shouldn't be a problem. Surprisingly, the problem is that this team (a Bill Self team) is just ok on defense. That scares me come March, when getting stops will be at a premium.
Texas - They can score, and they can protect the basket. The thing that hurts them is that Rick Barnes occasionally gets in the way of the talent on the floor. Still, they should be in every game, and if they start rolling, they have the talent to run all the way to Houston.
Duke - They have the scoring punch, and come March, it's guaranteed that no matter where they go, they will get the calls. Every team in the country should be afraid of that. I know I am worried that if KU sees Duke in the national semifinal that Marcus could get tossed for an incidental elbow while fighting Kyle Singler for a rebound. Ohio State and Texas should have much the same concern.
Threats 1. San Diego State - They are one of those mid majors that I think can legitimately think about going to Houston. They should stay out west for most of their games, meaning they will have an advantage if they catch an east coast team in an afternoon game.
BYU - Jimmer Fredette is the key here. Because he's not a big, he doesn't have to worry about fouls or elbows nearly as much as the inside guys who will be fighting for rebounds and position on every play. And every night, you have to worry about him going for 35. It's like Steph Curry, except with better supporting players.
Pitt - They will come out of the Big East as battle tested as anyone. They defend great. The issue, as it has been for the last few years, is can they score when they absolutely have to against a team intent on locking them up. If I knew the answer was yes, they would be one category higher. If I knew the answer would be no, they would be one category lower. Since I don't know, they are here.
Pretenders 1. Notre Dame - They are probably the fifth best team in the Big East, but right now, they are somehow a few spots up. I am guessing that will change in the coming weeks.
Wisconsin - always tough at home, always solid on the road, but again, can they score? I know they can defend, but their lack of punch makes me think they are ripe for an upset, especially since they can't overwhelm you with sheer talent.
Purdue - Just not healthy enough. Come March, they will need Robbie Hummel, and they won't have him.
Teams I have no idea what to do with, but wouldn't want to play in March 1. Tennessee - They are simply too talented to be the mess that they are. If they make the tournament as a 8-10 seed, be very wary of them. 2. K-State - see above. Also, they will defend. Even if you beat them, you will work to do it, and that could be your undoing in the next round. 3. Kentucky - If they put it all together, they can beat anybody. They aren't as talented as last year, but they have more shooters and still possess an ok inside game. And of course, Calipari has gone deep in the tournament with less talent than he has this year at UK. 4. Arizona - they gave KU fits, and they have two elite level players. That could be enough to win a couple of tournament games, maybe more, or flame out in the first round. 5. George Mason, Wichita State, St. Mary's, Temple, Xavier, Utah State - two of those teams will get seeded too low and pull upsets. I just don't know which two yet.
As always, discuss.