ROB DAUSTER: I don’t gamble, because when I do gamble, I always end up, ahem, making a donation. But we’re going to be doing a little betting today. I’m going to pick the five teams I think are most likely to win the national title, and you’re going to tell me why you’d take those five teams or take the rest of the field.
My five teams: Arizona, Michigan State, Syracuse, Kansas and Florida.
RAPHIELLE JOHNSON: I’ll take the field. While that’s certainly a quality list you have there, has there really been a team (or teams) who have shown themselves to be near unbeatable? I know what you (and readers) will say: Arizona and Syracuse are both undefeated still. However I can’t say that this season has struck me as one in which we can make a list of five teams in mid-January and say “that’s it.” Personally I believe Wisconsin has the goods to win it all (and even with their consecutive losses I think Ohio State will be heard from as well). And there’s also Kentucky, who may not look like a threat right now but with their talent why can’t they run off six straight in March/April?
RD: I hear you Raph, but if we’re looking at a “young team gelling to become dominant” team, that has to be Kansas the way I see it. Andrew Wiggins is starting to round the corner a bit, aided on by the emergence of Wayne Selden and the dominance of Joel Embiid.
And did you just say Ohio State? That defense, and Aaron Craft, is appealing, but if you want to rely on LaQuinton Ross, go right ahead. Fourth best team in the Big Ten. Yeah, I said it.
RJ: Ohio State has plenty of time to right the ship, and that includes accounting for Ross’ glaring deficiencies on the defensive end. Remember, they had to do the same for Deshaun Thomas last season and reached the Elite 8.
As for Kentucky, yeah they haven’t lived up the preseason hype. But why can’t they get going at some point in SEC play and ride that momentum into the NCAA tournament? I will say this: of the two young teams I would take Kansas as well. I just believe that this isn’t a season in which we hitch our wagon to five teams right now.
RD: I can get behind that theory, and full disclosure: Kentucky was the hardest team to leave off that list.
That said, I do believe we have a dominant team this season: Arizona. And I think they are easily the title favorite. The tournament is all about matchups. As the saying goes, style wins the fight. Arizona will never be in a situation where they’re on the wrong end of a mismatch thanks to the versatility of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. If needed, Arizona can go small because those two can play the 4/5. They can also play the 2/3 if Arizona needs to play big with Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley on the floor.
Oh, and should I mention T.J. McConnell’s three-point stroke finally showed up?
RJ: Fair points made there, especially about Arizona’s matchup versatility. And yeah, your three-point stroke is going to reappear when a team practically watches you shoot the ball as USC did McConnell on Sunday night (seriously, what in the world were they doing?). My question is this: outside of his 12-point outing against UCLA Gabe York’s done his best work against overmatched opponents. While that would be great for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament is that good enough for the second and third weekends? I’m a big fan of their rotation and execution, but I really think they’ll need York at some point. But in all fairness, if that’s my big question regarding Arizona the Wildcats are in pretty good shape.
However, they call it gambling for a reason. I’ll take the longer odds if that’s the case.
SCOTT PHILLIPS: I’m going with the field as well, and as close as I am to picking Arizona, I’m still not sold on any one team yet this season.
I don’t trust any of these teams to beat three of the top dozenish teams in the country for their final three games to be a guaranteed title winner. It’ll all depend so much on matchups and the uncertainty of elite young players — many of them freshmen — stepping up big in the tournament every single game.
Just too much of a crapshoot.
I do really like Arizona and I really like also Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team. Wisconsin can win in the 50s or reach triple digits and they’re a matchup nightmare on a quick turnaround because they can defend and create from multiple positions on the offensive end this season.
And if Florida gets healthy and Chris Walker gets to play, they could be very dangerous as well. The Gators have faced a lot of adversity this season and had different players step up in close games at different times. The Gators will be prepared for anything in March.
RD: I like this Wisconsin team a lot, and I’ve been asked this question a couple of times on the radio in recent weeks: I don’t think I’d put money on Wisconsin winning a national title. It’s been proven, time and time again, that if you don’t have NBA caliber talent on your roster, you don’t win national titles. Find me a team that won a national title without three players on their roster that were either A) Drafted by the NBA or B) Played in the NBA. Carmelo Anthony’s 2003 Syracuse team with Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara is one. UConn in 2011 with Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb is two, although that will change once Shabazz Napier gets drafted. Name another.
Who on Wisconsin is an NBA caliber talent?
RJ: I think Sam Dekker can be an NBA guys once his college career ends, and I agree with your noting that characteristic of national champions over the years. But, I think if anyone’s equipped to get over that “hump” it’s this Wisconsin team. They’ve shown the ability to play multiple styles without getting out of character, although their defending dribble penetration left something to be desired on Tuesday night.
SP: Sam Dekker already rates highly on Chad Ford’s Big Board and they have experienced and talented players at all five positions. Facing an elite interior scoring team concerns me with Wisconsin.
One team that we’ve failed to talk about is Wichita State. Can the Shockers get back to the Final Four and can they maybe win the whole thing?
I think much of that depends on the consistent play of Cleanthony Early, but sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet has filled in admirably.
Where do the Shockers rank among contenders and how far will they make it?
RD: Wichita State’s back court is one of the best in the country. Seriously. I can’t think of five teams who wouldn’t trade their guards for Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton. Cleanthony Early is a bit inconsistent, but Chadrack Lufile’s play inside has been a difference maker the last couple of weeks. I don’t know if they can win it all, but they will not be an easy out. Ever.