Every year about this time, CNNSI publishes their 'Great 8', a pool of teams out of which they say will emerge the team to win it all. I have taken the liberty of reproducing that list here, but I have rearranged the teams according to my interest level. You will also find my thoughts interspersed.
Admit it: You thought the Jayhawks would do no better than 1-1 against Georgia Tech and Kentucky without Wayne Simien. I thought so, too, but we overlooked the Gladiator-quality heart of veterans like Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and Michael Lee. The Jayhawks can make a decent case for No. 1, by the way: Illinois and UNC may be the nation's most dominant teams, but neither has beaten a Top 10 team on the road as Kansas did in Lexington on Sunday.
I think he's pretty much on here. If Lunardi's first Bracketology is any indication, we have played an astonishing NCAA 7 tournament teams (Vermont, Pacific, GT, Kentucky, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nevada and South Carolina) so far. I think we are also the elite team that has the most room to improve, as well.
Wow. SI's preseason No. 1 opened a major can of whup-ass on Maryland Saturday, and two wins this week against Georgia Tech (at home) and Wake Forest (on the road) would vault the Heels past Illinois into "scariest team in the land" territory. Not to look past the Tech game, but how fired up are you for UNC-Wake on Saturday in their only regular-season meeting? The Deacs are feeling it these days, and if they can give us a game like the double-OT classic from last season, we'd be much obliged.
Everything I have to say about UNC can be found here.
For some reason the Cowboys got a major downgrade from pundits after losing a close one in Oklahoma City to Gonzaga. We know better, and now that Joey Graham is really starting to pour it on we're as committed as ever to the team the 'Bag tabbed as our personal choice to win it all back in November.
I wouldn't discount OSU at all, particularly if JG and JL are playing well.
Yes, it's possible the Illini will finally pick up an L at some point (with upcoming road games at Wisconsin on Jan. 25 and Michigan State on Feb. 1). But that wouldn't diminish our enthusiasm about a team that just keeps on proving its class. Had you told me in November that Luther Head would be on my midseason All-America team, I'd have said you were as ridiculous as Bruce Weber's lucky orange sportscoat. The way the Illini move the ball as a team, it's as if they got together with LeBron James and said, Let's start a trend of showing kids how to play the right way.
Illinois is among the best 4 teams in the country, but will Coach Weber ever stop disparaging the previous regime?
What was that we said way back on Nov. 24 when asked which unranked teams (at the time) had a chance to be top 10 outfits by season's end? The 'Bag named Charlotte (now 10-2) and B.C.: "The Craig Smith-led Eagles have the toughness and the experience (four returning starters) to be a potential top-10 team." Well, we knew that Smith and Jared Dudley would stand out, but if freshman Sean Williams keeps going off (he had a career-high 16 points and 10 rebounds against Providence on Saturday) then expectations for this bunch have to be revised even higher.
They have experience, but I've yet to see them play.
When Coach K called the 'Bag after the Blue Devils' win against Temple on Saturday, he sounded less like his twin Fredo and more like the Don himself. "We've only got seven guys right now, and every game is a challenge," he mumbled, his voice hoarse and tired. Not to worry. Duke has been underestimated all season, but not in this space. When Shavlik Randolph returns from mono, expect the Blue Devils to keep climbing until they peak in March.
Duke continues to win, just like KU, although they have yet to grind out some ACC games - we should know more in a few weeks.
So impressed was Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson with the Zags' de facto road win against Oklahoma State that he called Mark Few just to say, "Don't set your sights too low in March." Not many teams could have done that to the Cowboys, so we won't let losses to Missouri and St. Mary's dump us off the Gonzaga bandwagon. Fact is, we've already seen on the court (against Georgia Tech, OSU and Washington) that the Zags are capable of things few teams in the nation can do. Their challenge is to keep that up for six straight games without a letdown.
Few's Bulldogs are here to stay. Whether they can win a National Championship is another matter.
You might think I'm just doing this to avoid the wrath of Orange fans, who (along with Maryland partisans) have the most pronounced insecurities in the nation. But I really do like the chances of this group. Jim Boeheim's guys play a style that's unique among top teams, they have players who've gone all the way, and they just look different: Nobody else has a player quite like Hakim Warrick. It wasn't just Carmelo who won that title, you know.
After sitting amongst the Orange students at the Final Four in New Orleans, I would like nothing better than to boatrace Syracuse somewhere into 2008. Thankfully, that will happen if we meet them.
I think there are four likely contenders for this years NC: Wake Forest, Illinois, North Carolina and Kansas. Of that group, I most fear Illinois. If indeed, those four teams make it to the Final Four, you will see the highest ratings of any year in history. You can mark it down. Oh wait.
I just did.