On Tuesday night I was lucky enough to take in a Miami Hurricanes game in-person for the second time this season (the first time was in a one point Miami win on the road at Boston College). The second ranked ‘Canes dispatched a very good Virginia team by a final of 54-50 in front of an electric crowd at the BankUnited Center. At this point there is no arguing that Miami, which is currently on a 14 game winning streak, is one of the nation’s top teams. Here is a look at some of the teams that have a legitimate shot at cutting down the nets in Atlanta this April.
#2 Miami Hurricanes
The Hurricanes have a really good combination of size, athleticism, and experience. Massive center Reggie Johnson is as good a rebounder as you will find in the ACC. The equally tall Kenny Kadji is a potent offensive player with range well beyond the three point line. The ‘Canes have a third player capable of playing the 5 in Julian Gamble. Gamble is an enforcer defensively and a surprisingly good ball handler. Miami also has really good players on the wings and at guard. Durand Scott is an experienced marksmen capable of hitting big shots. Shane Larkin, the son of Barry Larkin, is a crazy athlete and another terrific shooter. He runs the point for the ‘Canes. Trey McKinney Jones is another big, experienced, offensively skilled player. The common threads among all these players are size and experience. Additionally, all are excellent defenders. Miami is an exceedingly good offensive team, but they really make their mark defensively. Because of this, it will be hard for anybody to beat them in the NCAAs, even if they have an off night offensively.
#1 Indiana Hoosiers
The 24-3 Hoosiers shoot 50% from the field as a team. 50%! The Hoosiers, who are coming off an impressive 4 point win over #4 Michigan State, not only have a bevy of NBA talent, but also have a group of extremely efficient offensive players. Let’s start with Cody Zeller. Zeller is a 7-foot stud with tremendous speed and athleticism. He scores just a touch under 17 points a game while shooting at close to 60%. Additionally, he gets to the free throw line seven times a game where he shoots over 75%. Zeller is also a monster defensively and on the boards. You won’t find a scarier matchup in college basketball than Mr. Zeller. Then there is Victor Oladipo. Oladipo, who Magic Johnson recently called “a combination of [Michael] Jordan and Dwayne Wade,” is the nation’s best defender on the wing. The incredibly athletic junior also excels on the offensive end, where he shoots over 63% from the field and over 51% on threes. One of my personal favorite Hoosiers is Christian Watford (the guy that hit the three to beat Kentucky). Watford is 6’9 and can play inside or outside. He is also an insane shooter and shoots 49% on treys. Throw in a sniping guard (Jordan Hulls shoots 49% on threes and is a crazy consistent freethrower), one of the best pure point guards in the country in super-frosh Yogi Ferrell, and another talented wing in Will Sheehey, and you’ve got yourself an absurdly good basketball team.
#3 Gonzaga Bulldogs
The Zags are one of the only teams in the nation with offensive firepower than can match Indiana. In fact, they too make half the field goals they attempt. The Bulldogs, who have not lost since a heartbreaker at Butler on January 19th, are led by Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk stands at 7’0 and has a really complete offensive game. He gives the Zags the size they will need to compete in March. The Zags really seem to be playing their best ball of the season right now. They ran over a very, very good Santa Clara team last night by a final score of 85-42. The Zags also boast wins over some other good teams including Kansas State, Oklahoma State, St. Mary’s, and BYU. They might be the mid-major to watch in the March.
#4 Michigan State
As is typical with the Spartans, their guards and their rebounders are their strength. Freshmen guard Gary Harris has been a godsend for Sparty. The strokity diaper dandy is averaging 13 points per game. State’s leader is talented junior point guard Keith Appling. Down low, the Spartans rely on a trio of talented bigs: Brenden Dawson, Adreian Payne, and hefty senior Derrick Nix. Any team who wants to beat them needs to be ready for a physical battle. To beat them you need to match them down low blow-for-blow. Head coach Tom Izzo wouldn’t have it any other way.
C’mon, it’s Duke! Of course they’re good. There is not a more consistent team in the nation year-in and year-out than the Dukies, and they have an excellent team, even by their standards, this year. For starters, they boast the insanely athletic big man Mason Plumlee, who averages a double-double. Then there is point guard Seth Curry, who is one of the country’s best shooters. Then there is freshmen guard Rasheed Sulaimon who is an equally capable offensive and defensive player. Another one of Duke’s best players, forward Ryan Kelly, may be out for the rest of the season due to injury. Without Kelly, Duke loses some rebounding and a solid defender. The good news for Duke is that they have been playing for a while without Kelly. Since his injury they have notched wins over Maryland, NC State, and UNC.
Other Title Contenders to watch: Michigan, Kansas, Florida, Louisville, Syracuse, Butler, Georgetown, and Memphis