Friday, March 12, 2010

Quick Look at Some Not So Dark, Dark Horses

At the risk of sounding redundant, Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse = Final Four contenders. There is nothing that has transpired, or will transpire during the course of these conference championships that is going to change my mind on that. Not Syracuse's loss to Georgetown in their first Big East Tournament game, nor Kentucky trailing at half to Alabama. I've never viewed lackluster performances in conference tourneys from teams that are likely already recieving a 1 seed as that big of an indictment. Especially not when they're playing teams that still do have something to prove. (Of course, if it turns out Onuaku is a no go for Syracuse for the NCAA Tournament, that would be sufficent to change my mind.)

The far more interesting aspect is how well teams with work left to do rise to the challenge. Whatever arguments you choose, or choose not to listen to, there is a lot more fluidity to the top 25 than there has been in a while. Duke, West Virginia, Georgetown, Ohio State, Kansas State, Baylor are all teams with legitimate Final Four hopes. And some of them are making impressive cases for themselves.

Your Other 1 Seed Candidates (not chopped liver) At the moment, Duke, Ohio State and Kansas State probably have the best shots left at grabbing the final 1 seed (assuming Syracuse doesn't slip from the 1 seed category, opening up 2 slots).

Duke struggled a little with Virginia, before putting them away 57 to 46. So long as they make the ACC championship game, however, I think they have the best shot at the 1 seed, and they're deserving of it. If they win the ACC tourney, obviously there isn't any debate. From what I've seen coming down the stretch from Duke, I do feel like this is a different Blue Devils squad than in years' past and one that has developed enough of an inside game that they could be a serious threat.

Ohio State Whatever struggles Duke had in their first ACC Tourney game, it was nothing like Ohio State's. They needed a last second miracle shot from Evan Turner at half court to put the Wolverines away, 69 to 68. Next up is Illinois, who got off to a hot start against Wisconsin and held on. This is going to be an incredibly interesting matchup. Illinois is probably safely in the tourney now, but I don't think they're going to play like a safe team. This also begins the tournament endurance test for the Buckeyes who again played David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Evan Turner and William Buford all 40 minutes in today's contest. If they can race through 3 days of the Big Ten Tournament and emerge victorious with 4 starters averaging that much playing time, I will bench my fatigue concerns for them in the NCAA Tournament. If they slip up, it's full on fatigue fretting.

Kansas State Jacob Pullen and company are fresh off of a bodacious booty spanking of Oklahoma State. Watching that game, you really got the impression that Kansas State is gelling into a highly tuned, higly functioning team. They are the anti-Texas. They won 83 to 64, with no shortage of offense. But, it was team offense. 20 assists on the game, passing up bad shots for the open man. And they paid attention to the basics, outrebounding Oklahoma State 41 to 25. Assists and rebounding aren't the sleek, shiney elements that every team is focusing on when they come into these games. It's the teams that are paying attention to them that win. I would absolutely love to see a Kansas State vs. Kansas Big XII Championship game.

Others, For Your Consideration

Georgetown Let's face it, Greg Monroe made Syracuse look downright silly. He only had 15 points, but his passing hurt the Orange just as badly as they desperately tried to swarm him again and again. And Chris Wright played like the best guard in the country last night. Make whatever case you want for Sherron Collins, he could not have been nearly as effective as Chris Wright was when moving at those speeds. I know Georgetown hasn't been consistent. But, if they can buckle down for the Big East Tournament, why not that other tournament that starts in a week or so.

West Virginia So the Mountaineers did what Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh all couldn't last night in the Big East Tournament. They advanced. It might have taken another one of these last second miracle 3s that are cropping everywhere from Madison Square Garden to Conseco Fieldhouse, but as the other top 3 seeded Big East teams can attest, a win is a win. West Virginia does not have a true point guard and that is a legitimate deficency. Still, strong inside play, length, athleticism and crippling defense can go a long way towards compensating. Other than Syracuse, I don't feel particularly bullish about any other Big East team's Final Four chances. If I'm going to be surprised, however, I'm looking at West Virginia or Georgetown to do it. Sorry Villanova.

Baylor The Bears "beared down" on Texas last night in a dominating 86 to 67 win. Has Texas really fallen this far due to inconsitency and confusion that feels like it could have only been ordered up by FEMA? Well, yes. That doesn't mean that Baylor isn't legitimate. Baylor really has all the pieces they need for the NCAA Tournament. LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter are two of the best guards in the nation, and you can double that as far as Ekpe Udoh goes at center. Pay attention to the winner of the Kansas State vs. Baylor game tonight, because the victor just might have what to give the Big XII two Final Four teams.

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