Here's a look at who I think the top teams in the country are, and what their postseason forecast looks like:
1. Kentucky (32-2): There hasn't been a team in the SEC this talented since the Florida Gators and Joakim Noah's awful dancing were around. Kentucky breezed its way through the conference regular season without a loss, and honestly, has hardly been tested. This team is so deep and the starting five could all potentially be first-round picks in the NBA Draft. Anthony Davis is a monster who has 157 blocked shots this season and the most intriguing aspect is he keeps most of those blocks in play, a la Bill Russell. The Wildcats are generally young and inexperienced, so once again their maturity will play a huge role. And, of course, any John Calipari-coached team needs to be concerned about free-throw shooting.
2. Syracuse (31-2): No question Jim Boeheim has done the best coaching job of his career this year. With the scrutiny centering on former Orange assistant coach Bernie Fine and the off-court problems, Boeheim has pulled this team together and absolutely dominated the Big East. The guards for Syracuse are New York tough and have a swagger to them. The Orange face a steeper challenge now that center Fab Melo has been ruled ineligible for the NCAA Tournament.But SU is still in good hands, with slashers Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters attacking the rim. The one flaw against the Orangemen is the ability to keep opponents off the glass, which is magnified with Melo out of action. If Syracuse can rebound and get their playmakers in transition, then this is potentially a title team.
3. North Carolina (29-5): The Duke thrashing to finish the regular season was not a fluke. This squad is a frontrunner going into the tournament and shouldn't settle for anything less than a national championship. The Tar Heels' front line is long, experienced, and athletic, which absolutely suffocates opponents. Roy Williams' teams will always be known as up-tempo teams that continually push the ball regardless of a miss or made shot. The backbone of this team is if the shooting guards are knocking down shots (Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston). Hairston is an underrated player and has a chance to blow up on the scene in the next few weeks.
4. Kansas (27-6): After losing the Morris twins to the NBA, Bill Self had a rebuilding year this season. Not a bad rebuilding year I guess, since the Jayhawks won the Big 12 Conference regular-season title outright. Thomas Robinson has got to be receiving the "That dude" award with his play this season. You know when you lace up the sneakers before the tip and look across the court to only see "That dude." The first thought to come to your head is how unfair it is that he is playing and immediately after you insist that you aren't guarding him. Averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds will give you that title and potentially the National Player Of The Year award. This team is not overly talented, but plays well together and is a serious threat to be hanging out in New Orleans at the end of the month.
5. Ohio State (26-7): This is where the significant dropoff among the contenders begins. Ohio State has two bona fide studs in Jared Sullinger and William Buford, along with a nice supporting cast. Winning at Michigan State at the end of the regular season was a statement game, and garnering a No. 2 seed was big since the Buckeyes' depth is underwhelming. Aaron Craft runs the show for and sets the tone for OSU. When he is causing havoc at the defensive end, then the mentality of the squad is a different beast. Thad Matta has quietly become one of the best coaches in America and has turned Ohio State into an elite basketball program (impressive at a football school).
6. Marquette (25-7): This is about to start a run of teams with guard-oriented teams that lack a proven large inside presence. Marquette has a collection of guards that can play multiple positions which gives the Golden Eagles unlimited flexibility. The key piece is the play of Jae Crowder, a 6-foot-6 player who bangs in the post while stepping out and knocking down 3-pointers. Match that with the crafty, left-handed Darius Johnson-Odom and they might be the best guard duo going in college ball. Their style is to push the tempo offensively and defensively to put pressure on the opponent. It will be interesting to see if they can compete with teams that have size and strength. Finishing second in what some consider the best conference in the country is definitely a good indication that they are battle-tested. Plus, how can you not love the enthusiasm of Buzz Williams? Well, West Virginia fans feel different!
7. Missouri (30-4): The Tigers made quite the impressive curtain call in the Big 12. The season has been remarkable in terms of the problems this team faced all season (injuries, lack of depth, Frank Haith's Miami past). They deploy a four-guard rotation around one big guy, Ricardo Ratliffe. The guards can all handle the ball exceptionally well and stroke the 3-pointer to extend the floor. What sets this team apart is its ability to guard any team in America. Quick to the ball and great rotations on defensive has them playing wonderful basketball. Marcus Denmon is Mizzou's stud and he has Kool-Aid running through his veins. Ultra -smooth and loves to take the big shot, his game kind of reminds me of former LSU standout Marcus Thornton.
8. Duke (27-6): The Blue Devils are doing their yearly routine of winning, winning, and winning. It truly seems like Mike Krzyzewski will never take a year off of competing within the elite teams for a title. However, this team is different than most Duke teams since it relies on the 3-point shot so much. Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, and Tyler Thornton have the skills to break some backs with their unlimited range, but they are far too inconsistent. Even the big man, Ryan Kelly, has a tendency to shoot from outside a bit much. The Plumlees inside are good players, but need to show they can win battles with the big boys (UNC,UK and Syracuse). Let's not get ahead of ourselves though, Coach K will have this ready to play in every game and give them a shot to win. The one area of surprise is they have shown the talents to win on the road in hostile environments, which never hurts in the late-season tournaments.
9. Michigan State (27-7): The loss to Ohio State to end the regular season could have been a tough blow since the Spartans had a chance to clinch an outright Big 10 title and had a 17-point lead that vanished at home. But the Spartans bounced back to win the conference tourney and claimed a No. 1 seed out West. Draymond Green has had an unbelievable season and is the leader of the team. He plays an inside-out game that makes it difficult for big men to guard him. This clears the lane for their big boys (Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne) to work the glass and be productive. The Spartans are always playing their best basketball at the end of the season. so look out.Every player who has stayed four years under Tom Izzo has been to a Final Four. One helluva recruiting pitch.
10. Indiana (25-8): Only one team in the nation can say that it beat the Kentucky Wildcats and that would be the Indiana Hoosiers. The program slipped up a bit since the Bob Knight/Mike Davis era, but the times are changing. Tom Crean has built a solid winner and the talent is starting to be stockpiled. The best player is Cody Zeller, who is a 6-11 freshman with an excellent feel for the game. He plays aggressively, but understands things well beyond his years. Ten years from now, do not be stunned to see Cody Zeller playing in the NBA All-Star Game. It will be interesting to see how this collection of young guys end the season considering the future. A top-five recruiting class awaits and this could be a dangerous team for years to come. Watch out for point guard Jordan Hulls, who has a super quick release and will let it fly from anywhere on the court.
11. Murray State (30-1): Not bad to have 30 wins, a conference title, and a berth in the NCAA all wrapped up a week before Selection Sunday. The Murray State Racers have been consistent all year long and have to be in the conversation of best teams in the land. It all starts and ends with their guy, Isaiah Canaan. The most underrated player in the country can score the ball from all over and in a variety of ways. He has all the makings to pull a Dwayne Wade-type Final Four run with the talent beside him. Don't be fooled by the conference that the Racers play in, because these guys will get after it. The only issue for them will to remain focused since they will not play a game in about two weeks. Cinderella has been known to make an appearance during the Big Dance, so Murray State should start trying on slippers.
12. Michigan (24-9): The Big 10 is getting a lot of love like a white suit at prom. Michigan has been rolling of late and clinched a share of the Big 10 regular-season title. Michigan plays four around one on offensive and relying on its outside shooting touch. Most of the time, the Wolverines are drilling shots by Tim Hardaway Jr., who is ironically known more for his athletic ability and shooting than his father's nasty killer crossover. John Beilein is a defensive zone genius and that has helped his players pressure the baller and create turnovers. Their style is unique and a difficult match for teams who like to run half-court sets. Trey Burke is the dynamic guard who runs the show and although he is a freshman, he has the intelligence of a senior. A Sweet 16 run could be in store for Michigan, but it must find more of an inside game to advance.
Just missing the cut
UNLV San Diego State