Throughout the season multiple teams have stepped forward as possible threats to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament. But at this point in the season the list of teams capable of not only getting to the Final Four but finding a way to win the national title has shrunk considerably. Factors such as talent, how well a team is playing entering the NCAA tournament, experience and their path to a title have to be considered when having this conversation.
With those factors in mind, below are eight teams capable of winning six more games and cutting down the nets in Indianapolis. And the team at the top of the list won’t a surprise to anyone.
1. Kentucky (34-0): John Calipari’s Wildcats have vanquished every challenger to this point in the season, and they’ve done so at a level that has made them an even bet to win it all. The backcourt, led by the Harrison twins with Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis coming off the bench, has been good all year and the deep front court is anchored by Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns.
2. Arizona (31-3): Surprised to see a two-seed this high on the list? Well, you shouldn’t be. Sean Miller’s Wildcats don’t lack for skill or toughness with point guard T.J. McConnell being the leader. They also have depth, and with Brandon Ashley playing the best basketball of his career heading into the tournament Arizona has a piece they did not have a season ago (he missed the final month-plus with a broken foot).
3. Wisconsin (31-3): The Badgers won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles on the strength of one of the nation’s best offensive attacks (ranked tops in adjusted offensive efficiency per kenpom.com). Of course there’s the front court led by national Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky, and sophomore guard Bronson Koenig’s steadily improved since moving into the starting lineup after Traevon Jackson broke his foot.
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4. Duke (29-4): The Blue Devils put together arguably the best set of road wins of any team in the country (they won at Wisconsin, Louisville, Virginia and North Carolina to name four), and that was why they landed on the one line in the bracket. The freshmen, led by Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, were the headliners as the season began but senior guard Quinn Cook has been incredibly valuable. This can be a very tough team to slow down offensively, and Duke can get to Indy if they make some strides defensively.
5. Villanova (32-3): Jay Wright’s Wildcats have been the class of the Big East for the last two seasons, and after the disappointment of last year’s NCAA tournament appearance they’ll be motivated to play deeper into the Big Dance this time around. Villanova has a number of perimeter options, led by Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard, and JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu have been good in the paint.
6. Virginia (29-3): As the highest-ranked two-seed on the selection committee’s seed list, the Cavaliers weren’t far off in regards to earning a one-seed. Tony Bennett’s team has been outstanding defensively, but if there’s one question the Cavaliers will have to address it’s the health of Justin Anderson. After a broken finger on his shooting hand healed he they had to undergo an emergency appendectomy. He wasn’t himself at the ACC tournament, which is understandable, and if he’s shaken off more of that rust Virginia has the pieces to win it all.
7. Iowa State (25-8): When they’re rolling offensively Fred Hoiberg’s team is incredibly difficult to stop, as they’re capable of spreading teams out and attacking gaps with point guard Monté Morris and forward Georges Niang being their best playmakers. If the Cyclones are consistent offensively and don’t allow the ball to “stick,” which was an issue at times in the Big 12 tournament, Iowa State can get hot in the NCAA tournament.
8. Gonzaga (32-2): The Bulldogs tend to be overlooked because of their conference affiliation, but this is Mark Few’s best team and one that’s equipped to get to Indianapolis. They have both depth and skill in the front court, with Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, and the perimeter is deep with seniors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. leading the way.