We now enter the final, and most scrutinized, portion of the college basketball season. This week’s power rankings reflect team performances heading into the NCAA tournament. For that reason, the rankings more closely resemble the seed list released by the NCAA men’s basketball committee than the Associated Press or coaches’ poll. We think the committee did a terrific job seeding the field. Any one of our top 10 teams could walk away with the championship trophy and, honestly, we wouldn’t be surprised if any of our top 16 won it all. It’s been that kind of season. But, right now, we think Louisville and Kansas are playing the best basketball and wouldn’t be surprised to see them face off April 8 in the Georgia Dome.
1. Louisville – The Cardinals are now playing the way we expected them to when we made Louisville our preseason No. 1. This Louisville team has Final Four experience, has matured, and coach Rick Pitino is the best when it comes to adjusting during a game. He is a postseason genius.
2. Kansas – The Jayhawks start four seniors and a freshman (Ben McLemore) projected to be the top pick in the NBA draft. Jeff Withey is the best shot-blocker in the NCAA field and Travis Releford is one of the best on-the-ball defenders. KU also has most wins against teams in the field – 13.
3. Indiana – There’s so much talent on this Indiana team. No one is going to be surprised of the Hoosiers cut down the nets in Atlanta. Tom Crean must be happy to get away from the Big Ten. Indiana hasn’t won six straight games since late-December, into early January.
4. Gonzaga – It has been a historic season for the Bulldogs and they certainly deserve their No. 1 seed. Gonzaga can beat anybody. But after the second round, any team in the West Region could beat the Bulldogs too.
5. Miami – The Hurricanes drew a No. 2 seed in the tournament, but you’ve got to believe they are more like the fifth No. 1. Jim Larranaga is going to be picking up lots of Coach of the Year trophies. Don’t forget that he has Final Four experience, even if his players don’t.
6. Duke – The loss to Maryland in the ACC tournament proved once again that the Blue Devils are vulnerable if they shoot poorly. And 4-for-25 from beyond the arc is not good. So the question is this: When does Duke put up another another stinker?
7. Ohio State – The Buckeyes won the Big Ten tournament and any way you look at it, that’s impressive. Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft played in the Final Four last year and with the job Thad Matta is doing, the Buckeyes must be considered a title contender again.
8. Georgetown – Despite the loss to Syracuse in the Big East tourney, the Hoyas remain one of the most improved teams over the second half of the season. Good defense is a constant for Georgetown. If anything fails the Hoyas, it will be their offense.
9. New Mexico – The Lobos play in the Mountain West and don’t get national television exposure but Steve Alford has an excellent basketball team. Keep an eye on Kendall Williams and Tony Snell because if they are scoring, the Lobos can go very deep into the tournament.
|Jordair Jett directs the Billikens|
10. Saint Louis – This is not Cinderella. This is a very talented basketball team that went through tremendous adversity, including the death of coach Rick Majerus. Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett are about to become stars.
11. Michigan State – Point guard Keith Appling has been inconsistent, putting pressure on shooting guard Gary Harris, who is more than capable as a scorer and shooter. But the Spartans are at their best when they get the ball inside to Derrick Nix.
12. Kansas State – Rodney McGruder could become a star of this tournament. He’s in constant motion with the Wildcats setting picks for him all over the floor. McGruder can put this team on his back.
13. Florida – The Gators are stingy on defense, holding opponents to just over 52 points a game. Ole Miss managed 66 in the SEC championship game, including 40 in the second half. Billy Donovan must restore Florida’s efficient ways for the tourney.
14. Michigan – The Wolverines can’t look back. They’ve got too much on their plate. They’ve got to find a way to silence high-scoring guard Nate Wolters and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. It will not be an easy task.
15. Marquette – Give Buzz Williams credit for accomplishing so much with so little. The Golden Eagles have responded and grown, but they got a tough draw in Davidson. Jake Cohen and De’Mon Brooks make the Wildcats a handful.
16. Syracuse – The Orange fell into an offensive slump late in the season but seemed to turn that around in the Big East tournament until Louisville made its historic comeback in the championship game. Michael Carter-Williams needs to play well in the NCAA tournament, starting with the game against Montana.
17. Oklahoma State – Marcus Smart and the Cowboys got a good seed at No. 5 but the draw wasn’t kind. Opening against Pac-12 Oregon will be a challenge for Oklahoma State. And Saint Louis would likely be next.
18. Wisconsin – Ole Miss won the SEC tournament but the celebration must have been short when the Rebels found out they would face Wisconsin in the Big Dance. The Badgers defeated Michigan and Indiana before losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
19. Arizona –Solomon Hill said the Wildcats let the officials dictate their play against UCLA in the Pac-12 semifinals. That changed the tempo and Arizona came up short. Sean Miller’s team needs to be better focused from now on.
20. Memphis – The Tigers made it through Conference-USA undefeated but needed double OT to beat Southern Miss in the conference tourney. They enter the NCAA with plenty of doubters and a No. 6 seed in the Midwest Region.
21. Virginia Commonwealth – VCU coach Shaka Smart and his “havoc” defense deserve all the accolades. But the Rams are trending as a Final Four pick and that would require victories over Akron, probably Michigan, then Kansas and either Georgetown or Florida. That’s a pretty tall order.
22. UNLV– Led by Anthony Bennett and Anthony Marshall, the Rebels have enough talent to make noise in the postseason. Don’t forget about Mike Moser either. UNLV is the No. 18 seed overall, ahead of Wisconsin, VCU, Arizona and Butler but drew a tough second-round game against Cal.
23. Oregon – The Ducks are picking up sympathy from coast to coast after winning the Pac-12 tournament and receiving a No. 12 seed. Oregon has had injury problems and let control of the conference regular-season title slip away but this could be a dangerous team.
24. Creighton – Congratulations to Cincinnati. The Bearcats get the first chance to defend Doug McDermott, who averages 23.1 points this season. But you’ve got to be careful defensively because Creighton leads the nation in field goal percentage and is fifth in assists. This is not a one-man band.
25. Pittsburgh – The Panthers received the No. 8 seed in the West and honestly could be involved in one of the best second-round games of the tournament against No. 9 Wichita State. If the Panthers can get center Steven Adams more involved in scoring, they could become a very tough out.