CBT Roundtable: Final Four Picks!


February is right around the corner, which means that we’ve officially hit the stretch run of the college hoops season. 

With a little more than a month left in the college basketball regular season, we figured today would be as good as any to take a look at stretch-run Final Four picks:

Raphielle Johnson:

  • Arizona: The foul shooting is a bit of a concern but I think the Wildcats will be able to properly navigate that when the time comes. Their defensive versatility, with multiple players have the ability to defend multiple positions, is what stands out to me.
  • Syracuse: They need Trevor Cooney to get back to the form he displayed earlier in the season, and they can’t afford another interior injury with DaJuan Coleman out. However with Tyler Ennis & C.J. Fair leading the way I won’t bet against the Orange.
  • Kansas: Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden…and now Naadir Tharpe’s raising his level of play at the point. Deep, with a nice mix of youth and experience.
  • Michigan State: My preseason pick to win it all, I can’t bet against them even with Dawson and Payne currently out. They get healthy, the Spartans will get to Arlington.

Scott Phillips:

  • Arizona: The No. 1 team in the country is just so big, athletic and balanced. It’s hard for me to see a team knocking them off before the Final Four, especially if they stay out West like they should.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks have a chance to be scary good if Embiid and Wiggins keep improving — and stay consistent — and Tharpe stays steady with the ball. Kansas has played the most difficult schedule in the country; they’ll be prepared for all comers.
  • Florida: Billy Donovan has done it before and with the way this Gator group has persevered through close games, injuries and suspensions, they’ve been tested as much as anyone in the country when it comes to getting through adversity.
  • Michigan State: Much like Florida, the Spartans have dealt with injuries or illness to nearly all of their starting five while also playing a very tough schedule. As long as Michigan State stays healthy enough — which I believe they will — they are the best team in the country and I don’t see how they miss the Final Four.

Terrence Payne:

  • Kansas: The Jayhawks played a tough schedule early in the season, but within the last month the talent on that roster has really developed into a serious national title contender.
  • Syracuse: I like was the Orange have to offer, with plenty of holdovers from last season’s Final Four team and the addition of point guard Tyler Ennis. I’d be more confident in this pick if Trevor Cooney finds his shot again.
  • Florida: Chris Walker is set to join the Florida lineup in the coming weeks, adding another big body to that talented frontline. The Gators have dealt with injuries and Walker’s absence, and have been just fine so far. They can be dangerous with the whole team together.
  • Wichita State: Like Cuse, the Shockers have guys back that helped lead last year’s Final Four run. Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, an Cleanthony Early have the toughness and talent to bring them back in 2014.

Kevin Doyle:

  • Arizona: They are so tough defensively, and Nick Johnson is playing like a legitimate NPOY. Top to bottom, Arizona has all of the pieces to cut down the nets in April.
  • Florida: I still believe we haven’t seen the best that Florida has to offer. How Chris Walker transitions into the rotation will largely depend on whether the Gators firmly supplant themselves as a true national title contender.
  • Michigan: A trendy pick right now, but has there been a more impressive team during conference play? With freshman point guard Derrick Walton nicely filling the void Trey Burke left, Michigan is as lethal as they come on the offensive end.
  • Syracuse: The Orange made the Final Four a season ago, and they are better this season. C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis, and Jerami Grant is a trio that matches up with anyone out there.

Rob Dauster:

  • Arizona: The NCAA tournament is all about matchups. Arizona will never be on the wrong end of a mismatch, not with their size up front, the versatility of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and the defensive ability of T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson.
  • Kansas: Joel Embiid came into his own earlier this month. Andrew Wiggins has scored 56 points in the last two games. Naadir Tharpe is playing great basketball. If the Jayhawks hit their stride, if everything clicks, this is the most talented team in the country. Oh, and Bill Self.
  • Michigan State: Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Tom Izzo. They’re not healthy right now. When they are, do you really want to bet against them?
  • Florida: The Gators are elite defensively. Ask Tennessee. That’s before they brought in Chris Walker. They have some issues on the offensive end, but if anyone can iron out those kinks, it’s Billy Donovan.

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)