From 16-to-One: Ranking the Remaining Teams’ National Title Chances

Posted: March 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

ImageThe first week is over, and if you are anything like myself, most if not all of your brackets have eroded into confetti. 16 teams still remain alive for a national title, and below is a list from the least likely to the most likely team to be crowned 2013 champions two Mondays from now:

16. La Salle Explorers

It has been a nice ride for the Explorers, and the fact that they get a mid-major in Wichita State should lend to their chances of advancing. But, La Salle’s first two victories (I do not count the stupid financially motivated play-in-games) came by a combined four points, and Ron Baker and Wichita have already proven that they have what it takes to “Shock” their opponents.

15. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

What a story this school has been. For the first time in history, a #15 seed has advanced to the Sweet 16. Of course, the Eagles have quite a daunting task in their midst, as they get set to take on #3 Florida, who squashed FGCU last year. I give them the edge over La Salle merely because of their knack for brutally one-sided upsets. But, I cannot seriously consider this team as a championship contender.

14. Marquette Golden Eagles

Marquette was able to ride Vander Blue into the Sweet 16. But, their combined total margin of victory is just three points. If one shot goes the other way in either of their first two games, the Golden Eagles are back in class right now. Their reward for their narrow victories? A matchup with Miami followed by a potential meeting with Indiana. Good luck.

13. Oregon Ducks

It has been a phenomenal resurrection in Oregon, as the Ducks rode a Pac-12 Tournament championship into the field. Their victories over Oklahoma State (13 points) and Saint Louis (17 points) were monumentally impressive. In any other bracket, Oregon would have a real fighter’s chance. But, unfortunately, they sit in the Midwest, with Louisville, Michigan State, and Duke all waiting beyond the horizon.

12. Wichita State Shockers

The biggest thing Wichita State has going for it is the bracket. After knocking off perennial postseason disaster Gonzaga in the Round of 32, the Shockers get #13 La Salle, then the winner of #2 Ohio State and #6 Arizona. None of those teams are overwhelmingly more talented than Wichita State, who will continue to ride Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker.

11. Syracuse Orange

Any other year, the Orange would probably be a favorite at this point. But, as a #4 seed in a difficult bracket, Jim Boeheim’s group has a tough task ahead of them. Even if they do upset #1 Indiana on Thursday, Syracuse will still have to deal with #2 Miami before they reach the Final Four. The good news is, Syracuse is playing better than they did against their conference opponents this season. The bad news, they haven’t played anybody, trashing #13 Montana before squeaking past #12 California.

10. Arizona Wildcats

This is another team that has not played anyone. We will certainly know more about the tenacity of this group if they are able to knock off #2 Ohio State this weekend. Arizona was once a top-five team and winners of their first 14 games this season (including wins over Miami, San Diego State, Colorado, and Florida). They struggled against the Pac-12, but, have picked it up recently.

9. Florida Gators

I doubt that Florida loses to Gulf Coast. The mere fact that this is a rivalry game of sorts hurts FGCU more than it does the Gators. Billy Donovan’s team has poise, experience, and talent. But, they have been wildly inconsistent at times, and did not exactly play the most demanding schedule in the SEC. They also have not beaten anyone this tournament, having slayed Northwestern State before pounding a Minnesota team that fired their coach the following day.

8. Michigan Wolverines

The Wolverines were 16-0 and #2 in the nation on January 12th. The following evening, they succumbed to Nebraska and kicked off a very mediocre run during their conference schedule. The good news for Michigan fans is that they looked as good as ever against VCU on Saturday, and the only teams they have lost to recently have been very talented defensive units. The bad news, they are playing a very talented defensive unit in Kansas.

7. Michigan State Spartans

I love Tom Izzo’s experience and poise during game day. I also love Adreian Payne and the fact that Michigan State has not lost to an unranked team this season. I do not love their schedule, which would require victories over Duke and Louisville this weekend just to make a trip to Atlanta. If they do advance to the Final Four, however, they would likely be well-prepared to win their first national title since the Mateen Cleaves days.

6. Miami Hurricanes

Miami benefits from getting Marquette tomorrow, a team they should soundly defeat. If their next opponent is Indiana, Miami has a fighting chance as well due to their proficiency from beyond-the-arc. Temple showed on Sunday that the Hoosiers’ guards can be exploited by talented perimeter scorers. Miami has a problem at times with playing down to their competition, so watch out for that.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

In any other region, the Buckeyes would be just another team in the fold. But, with Gonzaga and New Mexico’s ouster in the first weekend, the Buckeyes are now the prohibitive favorites to advance to Atlanta from the West. The good news for those in Columbus, Ohio State has not lost since February 17th (10 games). The bad news, five of the seven teams they have lost to this season are still in the tournament.

4. Indiana Hoosiers

Tom Crean’s Hoosiers escaped a scare against Khalif Wyatt and Temple on Sunday. They will need to play better offensively if they hope to outlast the Orange. Indiana has been pretty consistent this year, with their only losses coming against teams with strong defensive foundations. The good news, only one team that Indiana lost to this season is still alive in the tournament (Ohio State). The bad news, Cody Zeller has not exactly looked like a top-five pick this March.

3. Kansas Jayhawks

Save for a one week stretch at the beginning of February where Bill Self’s Jayhawks were defeated in three consecutive games by Big-12 opponents, the Jayhawks’ two other losses this entire season came nearly four months apart (Loss to Michigan State, 11/13 – Loss to Baylor, 3/9). They do not have a ton of impressive victories, although their defeat of Ohio State in Columbus in December was nice. The good news for the Jayhawks is that they are playing great defense led by interior presence Jeff Withey. The bad news is that they will continue to have a tougher route to the title than those on the other side of the bracket.

2. Louisville Cardinals

Rick Pitino’s Cardinals were the #1 team in the country for a reason. They can score, led by Russ Smith, and they play defense with big Gorgui Dieng parading the middle of the paint. But, Louisville’s path to the championship is more difficult than most, seeing as how they have already lost to Duke this year. Still, the Cardinals have the players capable of keeping this run up, and a team that has not lost by more than a possession since January 22nd cannot be counted out of any game.

1. Duke Blue Devils

There is just something about the Devils that suggests they could continue this run all the way to the title game. They have not lost a non-conference game all season, and the only ACC team that remains is Miami, who they could not meet until the title game. Duke proved itself capable of defeating Louisville already, having beaten the overall #1 seed 76-71 on November 24th. With Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly, anything is possible. My hunch tells me that whomever comes out of the Midwest will win the title on April 8th.

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