Seeing The Future: Final Four Predictions

We’ve reached the midway point of conference play in college basketball, so it is time, however premature, to take a look to who will be cutting the nets down in March.

The Contenders

Villanova Wildcats: 21-2 (10-1)

Led by All-American contender Scottie Reynolds, the Wildcats boast one of the best backcourts in the nation. Their only losses this season came at city rival Temple and at Georgetown. Though some might write the Wildcats off after the shellacking they took this Saturday, anyone who watched that game could see that Georgetown would have beaten anyone in the nation playing that well. Villanova’s offense is nearly unstoppable once it gets rolling, averaging 85 points per game in a Big East Conference filled with athletic ability. Their bounce back win at West Virginia showed what a force ‘Nova can be when they’re firing on all cylinders. Though I worry about their lack of an inside presence, on speed and athleticism alone the Wildcats should be able to dominate most tournament teams.

Ohio State Buckeyes: 19-6 (9-3)

Though the Buckeyes are not on most radar screens yet, they will be soon. Three of their losses came when Evan Turner was out with a back injury. With him in the lineup, OSU is a top ten team and a lock for at least a three seed in the tournament. Turner is flat out sensational. He’s scored 59 points in his last two games, along with 17 rebounds and 11 assists. Come tournament time, having a go-to man in the last two minutes is crucial to success. For my money, with the possible exception of John Wall, Evan Turner is as good as they come. The Buckeyes have a number of quality wins, including a huge road win against Purdue. Their biggest test of the season will come February 20 at Michigan State, a game that could have huge implications for tournament seeding, as well as the Big Ten regular season title. Given the parity of this year’s college game and the inconsistency of many of the teams at the top, don’t be surprised if Ohio State is this year’s surprise Final Four team.

Kentucky Wildcats: 23-1 (8-1)

On talent alone, Kentucky is the best team in the country. We all knew John Wall would be good, but not many people knew he would be this good. His ability to carry the Wildcats through crunch time has already been the difference in three games this year. Were it not for the outstanding individual performance of Devan Downey of South Carolina, the ‘Cats would be the only remaining undefeated team in the country. Perhaps even more impressive than Wall so far has been DeMarcus Cousins. His quickness separates him from all other opposing centers. He has the fastest drop step in the college game, helping him shoot over 54 percent from the field. Any team that uses Patrick Patterson and Eric Bledsoe as third and fourth options is loaded with talent. Coach Calipari, however, struggles to harness his team’s raw talent and make them play as a cohesive unit. At times, Kentucky has struggled to move the ball and get good looks at the basket. In the South Carolina game, Cousins was unguardable, but his teammates failed to get him the ball on two straight crucial possessions. On talent alone, Kentucky will roll through the first three games of the tournament. Wall and Cousins should be able to get them by the next two games. But when they play a team with similarly gifted athletes and real defensive prowess, I think the Wildcats will go down in flames.

The Champion

Syracuse Orange: 24-1 (11-1)

How does a team lose Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf, and get better? DEFENSE. Coach Jim Boeheim has been criticized in the past for his refusal to change his 2-3 matchup zone when he lacks the personnel. This year, they have the personnel. The Orange play ferocious defense, frustrating offenses that have played against them the same way, with success, for years. What impresses me most about Syracuse is their poise. Former Boeheim squads thrived off of energy, making them nearly impossible to beat in the Carrier Dome. This group of players thrives on sapping energy from its opponents. Whenever an opponent makes a big basket, Andy Rautins is there to pour in a three. When he does, there is no chest bumping, no explosion from the bench. This is business as usual.

Transfer Wesley Johnson has been the missing piece to the puzzle, giving ‘Cuse the necessary size on the perimeter of that zone, as well as 16 points per game. Everyone in their eight man rotation averages at least 6.5 points per game. They score enough to beat anyone, and the zone wears teams down, frustrating even the most disciplined of offenses. Time after time, Syracuse opponents are forced into desperation shots as the shot clock winds down. They have been successful in both up-tempo and half court games. If teams that play against this zone every year can’t figure out how to beat it, how will out of conference opponents that have never seen it before stand a chance? Syracuse will be cutting the nets down this March (I know it’s April… somebody should seriously fix that).

Contact Kyle Blum at [email protected].