1. UCLA – Best win anybody’s had by far when they took out UK in Lexington, and have done nothing since to invalidate that. Questionable defensively but that offense just might be good enough to make it irrelevant.
2. Villanova – Something about them has me thinking no repeat but there’s still a lot to like. So much experience, lots of physical and mental toughness, and a go-to guy in Hart. Lack of size makes them vulnerable to certain matchups they’ll likely see in March but then again, would have said the same thing last year.
3. Baylor – For example, I think Baylor could potentially give Nova all they want and then some. Hard to trust Scott Drew but that frontcourt is something else. If the guards hold up, they have a chance.
4. Duke – Finally getting their guys back. This could be that rare year where Duke actually has to peak in March, just because of the impact of all their injuries. Very clear that their upside is just higher than anybody else’s, though.
5. KU – I know about their guards and Josh Jackson seems to be settling into playing at the level I’d expected after a little bit of a bumpy start. Have to wonder if the Carlton Bragg thing will shake them up at all but certainly a team with most of the elements you look for. JJ could be the kind of guy to put a team on his back for 6 straight in March.
6. Gonzaga – Some good wins already and you have to wonder if this is finally the year. This is the best balance they’ve had between high level guards and post players in awhile…of late, it’s seemed as if they usually had one or the other but not both, at least not at this level. Could they run the table in the regular season? I’d say @St. Mary’s is the biggest game standing in their way.
7. UNC – I was buying in heavily after Maui but their performance in Bloomington made me rethink things. I believe it comes down to this…if they can shoot the way they did prior to the IU game on a more or less consistent level, they should be higher than this. I’m back to thinking I can’t give them that benefit of the doubt just yet.
8. Kentucky – I still don’t understand what happened against the UCLAns, and that’s why I have UCLA #1, because if UK couldn’t slow them down…at home, mind you…I wonder if anybody can. In the meantime, UK has tremendous athleticism, should be elite defensively, etc. I just wonder about the jumpshooting. Teams with that weakness usually end up with one day in March where it rises up and bites them.
9. Creighton – Fun team, sort of the UCLA of the Midwest. Can’t say I completely buy into their defense or their size enough to figure on a run to the Final Four but then again, that offense is really something and might just be enough.
10. IU – This is entirely dependent upon OG Anunoby getting back reasonably soon. Without him, I think they’re missing the piece they need at both ends to be a truly elite team. With him, they might be that.