NCAA Hoops: Title Up for Grabs This Year

arizonaoregonstate-wrIn the last couple of NCAA basketball seasons, we pretty much knew who was going to win it all by now. Two seasons ago, the Kentucky Wildcats were crushing everyone they played. With Anthony Davis in the paint, it was tough to get a shot off against the Wildcats. When the NCAA Tournament started, everyone knew they were playing for second place.

Last year, the Louisville Cardinals were not quite as dominant, but they were clearly the best team in the country and nobody was too surprised when they were cutting the nets down at the end of the season. With Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and company, they had the talent and the experience to go all the way.

This season we really do not have a team that we can say “that team is going to win it all unless they suffer an injury or a shocking upset.” The Arizona Wildcats are ranked #1 and are undefeated. But does anyone look at them ad say they are a lock? Not really. Last week they went to visit the UCLA Bruins and were nearly beaten. They are really good with guys like Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon, they have a lot of talent. Holding a conference opponent to 25 points was also every impressive when they downed the Washington State Cougars 60-25. But they really are not scaring people.

The Syracuse Orange would likely be the favorite to win it all if the tournament started tomorrow. They too are unbeaten at 17-0. But the ACC is down a lot this year so will we know how good the Orange really are before the start of the tournament? Wins over North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils won’t be the barometer it usually is.

The Big Ten is clearly the best conference in college basketball. With teams such as the Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State Buckeyes, Wisconsin Badgers, Indiana Hoosiers, Michigan Wolverines,and Iowa Hawkeyes, whoever can run that gauntlet and come out on top has to be a favorite going into the Big Dance.

Then there are those two Kentucky giants again. Do not be surprised if the championship trophy goes back to the Bluegrass State again this season. Both of these two teams is very talented and capable of making a deep NCAA run. The Wildcats lost an overtime thriller last night at the Arkansas Razorbacks, but do not let that fool you,  Bud Walton is one of the toughest road wins in the NCAA.

The brings us to the Florida Gators, a seasoned team with four starters in Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Wil Yeguete and Casey Prather who have each played in three Elite Eights already. If they can get five-star big man Chris Walker out of NCAA purgatory soon, watch out for them.

And do not forget the Wichita State Shockers, a Final Four team a year ago who is unbeaten this year. The one bad thing that could hurt them though is the weak conference they play in. That may not get them ready for NCAA play as they will be a marked team this year.

This has the looks of one of those NCAA Tournaments where anything and everything can happen. Everybody will go to the Big Dance thinking they have a great chance to win it. Because this year, they do.

Jim Folsom is a regular contributor to