The regular season of NCAA Division I basketball is officially in the books. The season, as it always is, was full of upsets and surprises.
We saw North Carolina, the pre-season No. 1, fall flat against UNLV and Kentucky early in the season. The Tar Heels bounced back in the second half of conference play to win the ACC by easily dispatching Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
We also saw Kansas defy all odds and win their eighth straight Big 12 title. The fact that KU was able to win the Big 12 just blows my mind. It seems inconceivable that a team can win a BCS conference eight seasons in a row. Even Kentucky can’t do that in the lowly SEC.
Kentucky and Syracuse both blew by the regular season, with each team only losing once. Neither team seemed to have any weaknesses in their dominating seasons. Kentucky proves that even with a cast mainly full of freshmen that they can still hang with the upperclassmen.
The NCAA tournament is shaping up to be even more exciting than it normally is. The four projected No. 1 seeds are all considered favorites for winning the national championship. Kansas, North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky are all expected to be No. 1 seeds. In my mind, Kansas is the only one that doesn’t have a great chance to win the national championship. I think the Jayhawks are a good team, but I just don’t believe they have what it takes to win it all.
Even though Kentucky went through SEC play undefeated and dominated their opponents, I think they can win a national championship. I’m a firm believer that you have to have upperclassmen who have proven they can handle the mental aspect of the game. I believe the Wildcats will fall behind early in a game and not have the grit to come back for the win. I see John Calipari’s squad losing in the elite eight to a two or three seed.
If Syracuse plays the way they’ve played all year long, I see them as legitimate contenders to win the national championship. For the Orange to win, they’ll have to have solid play from sophomore Fab Melo throughout the tournament. Syracuse has the whole package, a proven coach and a star cast of players.
My favorite to win the tournament is North Carolina. The Tar Heels have flat-out brought it since their second-half melt at home against Duke. Carolina, in my eyes, is the complete package.
They have a seven footer in Tyler Zeller, the ACC Player of the Year. They have a point guard, Kendall Marshall, that is one of the best passers in all of college basketball. John Henson, who won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row, is one of the best shot blockers in the NCAA and can wreak havoc on opposing offenses. My prediction is that Roy and the boys will cut down the nets for the third time in nine seasons.
There are a few dark horses that have a chance of making it to the Final Four. Duke happens to be one of them. I don’t see the Blue Devils making it very far in the tournament, though. I don’t think they perimeter defense is good enough to make a tournament run.
For the past two seasons, we’ve seen at least one mid-major team in the Final Four. I believe that could happen again this season.
Wichita State has the best chance of making the Final Four this season. Unless Lamar or Nebraska somehow inexplicably makes the tournament, then the Shockers will be the most senior-laden team in the tournament. The Shockers have a seven- or eight-man rotation and are solid at every position. Depending on match-ups, Greg Marshall and his squad have a very good chance of making a deep run in the tournament.
Selection Sunday is this Sunday, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what the seedings bring us. I’d love to see Kansas or Kansas State play Wichita State somewhere down the line in the tournament. Make sure and keep an eye out for the Leader staff’s bracket predictions online following Selection Sunday.