The Top Freking 10 sings a different tune this week. Instead of ranking the 10 best teams in the country at the present time, I’m grading out the 10 teams with the best chance to win the NCAA tournament, factoring in each squad’s season-long resume and tournament draw. That formula necessitates a change at the top, since the selection committee felt the best way to reward Wichita State for a 34-0 regular season was to stick them in one more of the more difficult regionals I’ve ever seen.
1. FLORIDA (last week: 2)
The young Wildcats of Kentucky gave the veteran Gators quite a scare in the finals of the SEC tournament Sunday, coming back from a 16-point second-half deficit to tie the game before falling 61-60. It was nice to see Florida in a close game, and also how they responded like one would expect in said close game. Of the four No. 1 seeds, the Gators have the second-easiest path to the Final Four, with No. 2 seed Kansas and No. 3 Syracuse the likeliest roadblocks in the Elite Eight.
2. WICHITA STATE (LW: 1)
If I was a betting man, I’d wager the Shockers having to beat these three teams to book a return trip to the Final Four: No. 8 Kentucky, No. 4 Louisville and No. 2 Michigan. That road through the Midwest Regional includes a team with the most raw talent in the country (Kentucky), the defending national champions (Louisville) and the reigning national runner-ups (Michigan). The region also includes the regular season Atlantic 10 champions (Saint Louis) and the squad with the possible No. 1 pick in the draft (Jabari Parker of Duke).
3. ARIZONA (LW: 3)
Kentucky and Louisville were the last top-rated teams in kenpom.com’s rankings in 2012 and 2013. They happened to go on to be national champions. The Wildcats have that distinction this year, and possess half the formula owned by the past four national champions: an elite defense and outstanding guard play. The past four national champs have all been ranked 13th or higher in kenpom’s adjusted defense rankings and trotted out game-changing guards – 2010 Duke had Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith; 2011 UConn had Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb; 2012 Kentucky had Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb; and 2013 Louisville had Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. If TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson raise their games in March, Arizona – kenpom’s No. 1 defensive team – stands a great chance of cutting down the nets in Dallas.
4. MICHIGAN STATE (LW: NR)
The Spartans’ bandwagon is getting crowded after their relatively easy run to the Big Ten tournament crown, which included victories over Wisconsin and Michigan. Prior to the Big Ten tourney, coach Tom Izzo said it was the most important conference competition in his 19 seasons leading Michigan State. Finally healthy, Sparty was clicking on all cylinders at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, with tournament MVP Branden Dawson, Adriean Payne and Gary Harris looking healthy and confident. There’s not a more dangerous No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, especially with MSU’s seniors not wanting to be the first group of four-year players under Izzo to miss out on a Final Four.