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Titus’s Top 12 NCAA Power Rankings: Mailbag Edition

An early March Madness celebration to answer all the important questions leading up to the NCAA tournament.

Before we get to this week’s power rankings, I need to address the most important thing in the world.

IT’S MARCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m so excited, I can barely function. We’re four days into the best month of the year and I’ve already:

  • Found truTV on my channel lineup. (Worth mentioning: I found it by accident and I don’t remember which number it is.)
  • Complained about how Charles Barkley knows nothing about college basketball.
  • Saved a few #Haith jokes in my Twitter drafts folder for when Tulsa loses in the first round.
  • Watched each of these five times to get in the mood.

  • Asked my mailman if he misses Sonya Curry as much as I do. (He does not.)
  • Joked to the cashier at the grocery that “my bracket is already busted!” and then laughed way too hard for way too long.
  • Hit myself in the balls so I don’t have to bother watching Ohio State lose yet another close NCAA tournament game.

We made it, you guys. March is finally here. Everything that has happened over the past four months is irrelevant. All the complaining about the officiating, the pace of today’s game, court-storming, and how college basketball is unwatchable is now moot. There’s a mountain of snow in my yard, my back hurts from shoveling it, my lips are so chapped that it’ll take superglue to put them back together, and there’s no telling if or when warm weather is coming — but none of that is important any longer. It’s March, damn it, and that’s all that matters!

Since March is basically my Christmas and Christmas is the season of giving, I’ve decided to bust open my mailbag and let the most powerful readers in college basketball speak their minds.

Let’s get to it.

Does Joe Lunardi’s toupee have a mind of its own?

Noooooooo! Leave Joey Brackets out of this! The man finally stopped wearing a turtleneck under his blazer. At least he’s trying. Besides, he proved it’s not a toupee in this totally convincing video that’s definitely not just Miles Simon lightly pulling on a toupee that Lunardi made sure was adequately secured before the video was shot.


Joe Lunardi’s hair piece. Discuss.

Leave him alone! You’re lucky he even performs for you bastards! LEAVE LUNARDI ALONE!!!

What’s more real: Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances or Joe Lunardi’s hair?

Damn you all. This is why we can’t have nice things. You’ve left me no choice but to turn this into a power rankings mailbag. I’m only answering questions about the most powerful teams in college basketball from here on out.

Let’s try this again.

12. Wichita State

wamukota-bush-wichita-stateTravis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS via Getty Images

Did you watch Northern Iowa vs. Wichita State? Did you notice how the announcers made it sound like Fred Van Vleet is God? I think I heard “Van Vleet is the best point guard in the country” at least 10 times. I’m convinced he’s the next Michael Jordan.

I sense a tinge of sarcasm here!

This fascinates me, by the way — the cycle that fans of power conference schools go through with every successful mid-major program.

Step 1: Power conference fans cheer for mid-majors to upset the giants early in the NCAA tournament.

This is partly because Cinderella runs make March Madness unlike any other postseason in sports. It’s natural for all types of fans to cheer for upsets because they remind us that the NCAA tournament is great. But power conference fans also want their teams to have an easier path to a title, so they cheer for the little guys in hopes of mutilating them somewhere down the road.

Step 2: Once a mid-major makes the Sweet 16, the excitement wanes.

Forty-eight out of 64 teams get bounced in the first weekend, so if a mid-major makes it this far, power conference fans are now pissed that a small school is still in the hunt while their favorite teams are out (“and it’s only because our teams got handed a more difficult draw!”). Now that they’re neutral observers, they decide they would rather see the best teams in the Final Four. Butler and VCU making simultaneous Cinderella runs in 2011 was awesome, right until everyone realized that one of the Final Four games was going to be Butler vs. VCU.

Step 3: The next season rolls around, the mid-major gets 10 times as much attention as it got the year before, and its fans get an inflated sense of how good the program is. The rest of the college basketball world sees this, and doesn’t like it one bit.

That’s what has happened with Gonzaga and Wichita State. Fans cheer for mid-majors to climb the college basketball ladder, but only if they don’t climb too high. As soon as they start getting 1-seeds and we hear broadcasters calling Fred VanVleet the best point guard in America, mid-majors go from being nice stories to teams that need a reality check.

Two years ago, most fans wanted Wichita State to upset Gonzaga because people believed that the Zags were the most overrated anything in the history of the world. The Shockers did just that and made a run to the Final Four. But then Wichita State went undefeated last regular season and the tide turned. Familiar complaints like “They don’t play anybody” and “How many games would they win in the Big Ten?” were voiced. Now, Wichita State fans tell Kansas fans that the Jayhawks are scared to play them. The Shockers are ranked eighth in the AP poll. Ron Baker is on the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 and VanVleet is considered by some to be the best point guard in the country. The same fans who cheered for the Shockers against Gonzaga two years ago are now hoping Wichita State gets destroyed in the first round, just so the Shockers get put back in their place.

Aaron is right. It’s a little crazy that anyone thinks VanVleet is the best point guard in the nation. He’s not even the best point guard in his own state. But getting swept up in Shocker Mania isn’t any more irrational than pretending Wichita State is overrated just because it plays in the Missouri Valley Conference.

11. Whoever Is the Second-Best Big 12 Team

(Your “second-best Big 12 team” report: West Virginia choked away a big lead at Kansas after being swept by Baylor. Baylor lost in overtime at Texas. Texas’s most recent win before Tuesday was on Valentine’s Day against Texas Tech. Texas Tech … um … no. Oklahoma State has lost four in a row. Oklahoma gave up 59 second-half points to Iowa State and blew a million-point lead. Iowa State lost at Kansas State. Kansas State has won two straight over Kansas and Iowa State, but also lost at TCU by 14 two weeks ago. TCU is still TCU. At this point, I love the Big 12 only a tiny bit more than I hate it.)

Everyone seems to be saying the Big 12 has no legitimate Final Four teams. But then they say the Big 12 is the toughest conference in America. Shouldn’t teams like Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Baylor be more battle-tested than most teams and therefore more likely to make a deep run?

I don’t think being “battle-tested” matters as much as some think it does, in that teams that don’t come from strong conferences aren’t necessarily at a disadvantage in tournament play. But I agree that Big 12 teams should be ready for anything in the postseason after the gantlet they’ve gone through the last two months.

To play devil’s advocate, though: A team needs to win four straight games to make the Final Four, which is something that’s apparently impossible for Big 12 teams this year.

10. Maryland

wells-dez-marylandRich Schultz/Getty Images

A few weeks ago you listed several teams who could have a deep run in the tournament (or even win it all) because of a clutch player. Why wasn’t Maryland included? It seems like Dez Wells and/or Melo Trimble could lead the Terps to the second weekend or beyond, especially in light of what Wells did to Wisconsin.

Oh, they definitely could. I just don’t think Maryland is built that way. With Trimble, Wells, and Jake Layman, the Terps have three players who could score 30 on any given night. Because there are three of them, though, none of those players have the superhero aura that surrounds guys like D’Angelo Russell and Jerian Grant. When one of Maryland’s scorers goes off, it just feels like that player is having a good game. But those games when Grant and Russell get hot, defenses throw everything at them, and they still carry their teams to wins? Those are where the transcendent “holy shit” moments come from, and that’s how a player finds himself in Shabazz territory.

Wells and Trimble occasionally venture into Shabazz territory, but Russell, Grant, and a handful of other players live there. That’s the difference. That doesn’t mean Maryland can’t make a deep tournament run. If the Terps make it to the Elite Eight or beyond, though, it will probably be because they played well as a team and the Big Three took turns playing hero, not because one star carried the team for three to six straight games.

9. Notre Dame

What about Notre Dame this year will get them out of the first round? This feels like every year with exciting home wins and horrible road losses, but they’re in the ACC now so they’re doing it against more future NBA players and people notice.

There were at least 15 more emails like this. America doesn’t love Notre Dame’s NCAA tournament chances. That’s what happens when a team loses to a 10-seed in each of its last three trips to the Big Dance.

Ever since I almost started a fight while defending the Irish at last month’s mock selection exercise, I’ve become the driver of the Notre Dame bandwagon. Here’s the problem: Even I don’t really believe in Notre Dame’s tourney chances. Although I stick up for the Irish, I’ve consistently warned that they shoot too many 3s, don’t play good enough defense, and possess zero size. And that’s pretty much the perfect recipe for an early upset. I keep power ranking Notre Dame so high because the Irish at their best are as good as any team in the country, and their résumé speaks for itself.

The one reason I’m halfway optimistic that this year’s tournament could be different for the Irish is Jerian Grant. Everything about Grant’s story (fifth-year senior out for redemption after being ineligible, little brother already in the NBA) and his game (do-it-all guard with massive stones) says we’re about to witness something special in the next month or so. Would I bet on Notre Dame to make it out of the first weekend? Probably not. But it also wouldn’t surprise me if the Irish made the Final Four.

8. Gonzaga

gonzaga-fansWilliam Mancebo/Getty Images

It’s so cute how you think Notre Dame and Gonzaga are real enough to be ranked in the most powerful power rankings. I can’t wait to see them get bounced in the second round.

Hey, we’re on the Gonzaga section now! Leave Notre Dame alone!

Let me defend the Zags real quick. As much as people rip on Mark Few for crapping the bed in the NCAA tournament, Gonzaga has actually been upset only five times in 15 years. One of those was a two-point loss to a Bob Knight–coached Texas Tech team, one came against the same Steph Curry who almost single-handedly carried Davidson to the Final Four, and one came against a national semifinalist Wichita State team. Gonzaga’s 2002 first-round upset to Wyoming and its 2004 loss to Nevada in the second round were pretty bad, but still — it’s not like the Zags have been repeatedly blown out by lesser teams in the tournament. Most years, Gonzaga is expected to win only a game or two in the tournament, and more often than not, that’s what the Zags do. Gonzaga’s perception issue comes from it being the most well-known mid-major in college basketball and never making a Final Four, even though a handful of other mid-majors have gotten there in the last 15 years. But that doesn’t mean the Zags are chokers. It just means they’ve been an average tournament team, while other small programs have been better and/or luckier.

I’m so sick and tired of hearing Dickie V. say that Gonzaga would be a tough matchup for Kentucky. Gonzaga’s game-to-game advantage of being taller than every other team in the WCC is obviously negated by Kentucky, and Kentucky’s athleticism would overwhelm Karnowski, Sabonis and Wiltjer. Am I crazy to think that Kentucky would win by at least 10?

You’re not crazy. I’d set the line at 10.5. Gonzaga’s frontcourt players are bigger and better than you think, but Kentucky is on another level. Also, even though the interior matchups would get the attention, the real matchup to watch would be Kevin Pangos vs. Whoever Guards Kevin Pangos. Kentucky fans will roll their eyes at this, but I really do think Pangos is the one Gonzaga player who would start at Kentucky. The Harrisons’ length could bother him, but Pangos has the skill, athleticism, and experience to be a problem.

Gonzaga seems like the best place to redshirt if you’re a big man (Robert Sacre, Kelly Olynyk, and now Kyle Wiltjer), doesn’t it?

Good point. I never realized this pattern (even though Sacre and Olynyk didn’t redshirt after transferring). Let’s freak out fan bases around the country by speculating about which big men should transfer to Gonzaga because they need a change of scenery and/or want more playing time. Here’s my top 10:

  1. Isaac Haas (Purdue)
  2. Jalen Reynolds (Xavier)
  3. Chris Walker (Florida)
  4. Isaiah Hicks (North Carolina)
  5. Michal Cekovsky (Maryland)
  6. Landen Lucas (Kansas)
  7. Thomas Welsh (UCLA)
  8. Derek Willis (Kentucky)
  9. Elbert Robinson (LSU)
  10. Sam Spears (Virginia)1

7. Kansas


Spears is not a real person. Remember?

Where are the “Bill Self guys” on this team? In other words, the tough, gritty, vocal leader types? It seems like somewhere over the last several years Self started recruiting quiet “sweet kid” types that lack a killer tenacity mindset.

Is it a coincidence that the culture of Kansas basketball has been changing as Bill Self has grown more willing to play the one-and-done game with recruits? Probably not. The Jayhawks are perennial national powerhouses, but compared with his counterparts at Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky, Self doesn’t have the same track record of landing the nation’s best high school players. Here are the top-10 recruits, according to Rivals, who have come to Kansas since Self took over.

2003: David Padgett
2005: Julian Wright
2009: Xavier Henry
2010: Josh Selby
2013: Andrew Wiggins
2014: Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre

Not exactly the first names that come to mind when you think Kansas basketball, right? Sherron Collins and Mario Chalmers were both McDonald’s All Americans who became great Jayhawks. But even they weren’t guys every coach in America was dying to have. Most of the players who helped lay Self’s foundation at Kansas were underappreciated recruits like Brandon Rush (left off the 2005 McDonald’s All American roster), the Morris twins (neither was in the 2008 ESPN 100), Tyshawn Taylor (ranked 86th in ESPN’s class of 2008), Jeff Withey (transferred to Kansas after being ranked 43rd in ESPN’s class of 2008), Travis Releford (62nd in ESPN’s class of 2008), Thomas Robinson (40th in ESPN’s class of 2009), and Elijah Johnson (28th in ESPN’s class of 2009).

What’s the lesson here? Did these guys play like they had something to prove because they weren’t the most heralded recruits in the country, or were they always wired to be tough competitors and it’s just coincidence they weren’t all-world high school prospects? There’s no definitive answer, but it sure seems like Self’s recent teams have lacked the tenacity that college basketball fans associate with Kansas. There’s also this to consider: Among the three biggest recruits Self has landed in the last two years, one was nicknamed “Maple Jordan” because he is Canadian and had drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan for years (Wiggins), one is being investigated by the NCAA for an undisclosed eligibility issue (Alexander), and one has been quoted as saying his hair is part of his “brand” (Oubre). You decide how much this stuff matters.


vitale-dickJoe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s halftime, which can mean only one thing: It’s time for Dick’s Degrees of Separation, the most mildly amusing Internet game involving college basketball! You know the drill: I give you the endpoint of a Dick Vitale tangent and you pick the path he took to get there. Let’s get down to business.

During Saturday’s Duke-Syracuse game in Durham, how did Dick Vitale and Sean McDonough end up talking about the Phoenix Suns?

A. After discussing Syracuse’s self-imposed postseason ban, Vitale mentions that things are looking up for the Orange, as Jim Boeheim has put together a solid recruiting class for next season. He adds that Syracuse would’ve been even better had Tyler Ennis stayed in school. After a Vitale spiel about how too many players leave for the NBA when they’re not completely ready, McDonough mentions that Ennis now plays for the Milwaukee Bucks after getting traded from the Phoenix Suns.

B. Rakeem Christmas unsuccessfully tries to take a charge on Justise Winslow. Vitale jokes that Christmas was so late getting into position that “even I could’ve made that call, and I have one eye!” McDonough doesn’t laugh as hard as Vitale would like, so Vitale doubles down by saying, “My vision is so bad, I saw Syracuse’s orange jerseys and thought the Suns were playing tonight!”

C. The ACC standings are shown onscreen, prompting McDonough to mention that a Duke loss would clinch the conference title for Virginia. Vitale then waxes poetic about how amazing it is that the Cavaliers have only one loss in the ACC, and how it’s equally amazing that they’re about to win back-to-back ACC crowns. McDonough asks what Vitale thinks of Virginia’s style of play, and Vitale notes that a decade ago, many teams tried to emulate the “seven seconds or less” offense that Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash ran with the Phoenix Suns, but Tony Bennett went the opposite direction and slowed things down.

6. Wisconsin

Does Wisconsin have 5 future NBA players? Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker will obviously play in the league, but could Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Jordan Smith also make it?

I’m down on Hayes’s NBA potential right now. He’s not big enough to play power forward, and he recently got torched trying to guard the perimeter against Maryland. But he’s young, he’ll get better, and he’ll almost certainly get drafted. And as crazy as it would’ve sounded a year ago, Koenig has a shot. He’s got the physical tools, he’s got a great handle, and he can shoot. But his decision-making and consistency need to improve. With four seniors graduating and Dekker possibly leaving, too, Koenig should have a great opportunity to make his case next year.

Meanwhile, if you search “Jordan Smith Wisconsin” on YouTube, the first result is a boy who filmed his family at an indoor water park with a GoPro. Do what you want with that information.2


For all the non-Wisconsin fans: Zach included Smith, a walk-on with four trillions this season, as a joke.

Is sticking with man-to-man defense no matter what Wisconsin’s fatal flaw? You hit on this with the Nigel Hayes-Dez Wells discussion last week. That, as well as a short bench and an affinity for 3s instead of attacking the hoop, seem to be their biggest weaknesses.

I think the short bench is the biggest problem (especially as long as Traevon Jackson is out), because it limits the Buzzcuts’ flexibility. As one reader pointed out, Jackson would’ve helped the Hayes-Wells dilemma because he could’ve guarded Trimble, which would’ve freed Josh Gasser to cover Wells. Teams that play four-around-one could cause trouble defensively for a Wisconsin team that has only two and a half healthy guards right now.

The Buzzcuts nickname is yet to really stick, plus Josh Gasser is the only one who really rocks the short buzz anymore. Can you come up with another nickname for the Wisconsin basketball team?

How dare you! The Buzzcuts nickname will stick! Just give it a few more years. In the meantime, let me introduce you to 2015 Wisconsin commits Brevin Pritzl and Alex Illikainen, as well as current Buzzcuts T.J. Schlundt, Aaron Moesch, and Matt Ferris. Plus, there’s always hope that Zak Showalter will return to the fold. The nickname isn’t going anywhere.

5. Arizona

tarczewski-kaleb-arizonaLida DeGroote/J and L Photography/Getty Images

I’m an Arizona grad who is paranoid we might be in Kentucky’s region. After last weekend, it seems less likely that we’ll be shipped out of the West, but what would have to happen for Arizona not to end up as a top-2 seed in the West Region?

With Gonzaga losing to BYU, if Arizona beats Cal and Stanford and then reaches the Pac-12 tournament title game, it’ll lock up a spot out West. The problem Arizona faced two weeks ago was that Gonzaga was contending with Wisconsin for the final 1-seed. If Gonzaga didn’t win that battle, Wisconsin would’ve been the likely 1-seed out West, Gonzaga would’ve gotten the 2-seed, and Arizona would’ve been in trouble. As it stands today, Villanova would probably receive the 1-seed in the West region and Gonzaga and Arizona would compete for the 2-seed. And Arizona would be favored there because of its tougher schedule and its head-to-head win over the Zags in December.

By the way, if the tournament picture remained the same (and it won’t, because it never does), Gonzaga, Kansas, and Wisconsin would all be in jeopardy of landing in Kentucky’s region. Aside from Arizona, they are the obvious 2-seeds, and they would be assigned to Houston, Cleveland, and Syracuse. The committee could send Kansas to Houston and Wisconsin to Cleveland (where Kentucky will be) because those sites are closest to those schools, and then just send Gonzaga all the way to Syracuse. Or maybe Kansas stays in Houston and the committee sends Wisconsin to Syracuse and Gonzaga to Cleveland because it wants to make Gonzaga’s flight shorter. Or if Gonzaga ends up higher on the 1-68 list than Kansas, the Zags could get first dibs on Houston, and then Kansas goes to Cleveland while Wisconsin gets Syracuse. All three outcomes are plausible.

After Kentucky, who has the most talented team? Arizona is the only other team in the country that has a realistic shot at having all 5 starters drafted. And the least likely draftee of that bunch (T.J. McConnell) is the favorite for Pac-12 Player of the Year.

I still say Duke is more talented, because not all future NBA players are equal. If Zeus “Zeus” Zeuszeuski counts as one future pro, Jahlil Okafor should count as 500.

4. Duke

Early in the season, you just wanted to see Duke and Kentucky play for the title. Duke had one bad 72-hour period, but really, they are the second best team in the country. That national title game is still the most wanted. Do you agree? And, Isn’t Duke really the only team with a chance to beat UK?

I disagree. Virginia is the second-best team, which is why I’d rather see a Kentucky-Virginia title game. Those two have just been so dominant for so long this season. But Duke has the second-highest ceiling in the country. So if you’re guaranteeing me that a Kentucky-Duke matchup will have both teams operating at full potential, then yeah — that’s the dream national title.

The “who can beat UK?” question is complicated. Plenty of teams could beat the Wildcats if Kentucky doesn’t bring enough effort, or if the ghosts of the 2010 Elite Eight game against West Virginia (when UK went 4-for-32 from 3) haunt them. The question I think you’re asking is “Who can beat Kentucky even if Kentucky brings its A-game?” Here’s what my list looks like right now:

Duke: The only team with multiple guys who could start for Kentucky. Also, its offense is unstoppable (even for a defense as good as UK’s) when Okafor is on and the Blue Devil guards are raining 3s.

Virginia: It takes setting good screens and moving the ball from side to side to beat Kentucky’s defense, and Virginia usually does that. Also, UK could struggle to score if the pack-line negates its inside presence and Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson lock up the Wildcat 3-point shooters.

Wisconsin: Basically a combination of Duke and Virginia, for better or worse.

Villanova: Villanova plays great defense, regularly gets hot from 3, and has amazing depth, balance, and chemistry.

Arizona: The team’s pack-line defense could work the same way it would for Virginia, and Arizona has the size to match Kentucky’s frontcourt. It would probably be an ugly, physical game that came down to the last few minutes, which is just the way Arizona likes it.

If Kentucky plays Duke in the tournament, how do you think Jahlil Okafor will handle the combo of Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, and Trey Lyles?

For starters, those big men aren’t all going to play at the same time, and Okafor won’t have to guard all of them anyway. And even though Okafor is awful defensively, I think he’d be fine against Kentucky. Wildcats fans will disagree, but Towns is the only Kentucky player who can consistently score with post moves other than “be really tall, jump high, and shoot over the defense.” Towns could give Okafor trouble, but Amile Jefferson would probably guard Towns. Okafor would match up with Cauley-Stein, who does his damage on the offensive glass and pick-and-rolls. Okafor would still have his hands full, but it’s not like Kentucky would be able to dump the ball to whomever Okafor is guarding on the block and score over and over.

My friends and I have watched every single Duke game this year. Over the entire season, Duke has won exactly one tip-off. Jahlil Okafor is unbelievably bad at them. Is it just too embarrassing to not have your center tip? By the way, the only tip-off Duke has won was the Clemson game … when Okafor was hurt and they let Amile Jefferson jump.

This might be my favorite email ever. I can’t figure out if Okafor’s jump-ball Kryptonite is the most or least important flaw in the world. I’ve gone back and forth 4,193 times. There is no in between. On one hand, it’s a single play that takes half a second and results in zero points, so losing the tip shouldn’t be a big deal. On the other hand, how can a big man who is a lock to be the top pick in the NBA draft get outjumped by guys who will be accountants in five years? If Okafor goes oh-fer the rest of the season, this will go down as my favorite basketball stat of all time.

(By the way, Clint sent this before Duke’s game against Syracuse on Saturday. Okafor lost that tip-off, too.)

3. Villanova

Why should I pick Villanova to go to the Final Four? They’ve beaten down a good conference, but it’s full of teams that probably won’t get past the second round. They’ve got no obvious future pros, and who gets the ball in the final minute down 1? Darrun Hilliard? What if he’s not hot that night? Then who? If Villanova played Michigan State in the 2nd round, I’d think twice.

I’ll address your concerns one by one.

  1. “Why should I pick Villanova to go to the Final Four?”

Villanova is great on defense. It’s great on offense. If basketball had special teams, Villanova would be great at that, too. The Wildcats have breezed through one of the better conferences in the country, and they’ve consistently beaten NCAA tournament teams on the road. They’re 10 points better than they were last year, when they were a 2-seed. I could keep going, but I think that gives you a good idea.

  1. The Big East is full of teams that probably won’t get past the second round.

By this logic, you should pick only ACC teams to make the Final Four. After all, none of the best teams outside of the ACC have had to play conference opponents that could be considered locks to make the Sweet 16. If this is a real concern for you, then put Duke, Virginia, Notre Dame, and North Carolina in your Final Four.

  1. “They’ve got no obvious future pros.”

Instead of worrying about how bad the Wildcats’ best player is, think about how good their worst player is. They roll eight deep and, in the last 11 days alone, each of those eight has finished a game with 10 or more points. That’s stupid.

Besides, college basketball is a different game from the NBA. Frank Kaminsky is the best player in the country and he might not even go in the lottery of the draft. Similarly, Darrun Hilliard is one of the 30 best players in college basketball. Not being one of the 30 best NBA prospects is irrelevant for our purposes.

  1. “Who gets the ball in the final minute down 1? Hilliard?”


  1. “And if he’s not hot that night? Then who?”

Whoever is hot. That’s the beauty of Villanova. I’ve watched the Wildcats in person twice in the past three weeks. The first game was at Butler, when Hilliard went nuts, hit eight 3s (including the game winner), and finished with 31 points. Ryan Arcidiacono went oh-fer, and Daniel Ochefu shot only twice. JayVaughn Pinkston finished with 12, Dylan Ennis had seven, and Villanova’s bench was just OK. Two weeks later at Xavier, Ochefu was aggressive from the start, Arcidiacono and Ennis couldn’t miss, and Nova’s bench provided a lift. Meanwhile, Hilliard went 0-for-5 from 3 and Pinkston scored just four points. Even when defenses contain the one or two guys they choose to key on, there are six other Villanova players to worry about.

  1. If Villanova played Michigan State in the second round, I’d have to think twice.

I would too. You’d have to be a fool to pick Tom Izzo to lose in the second round without giving it some serious thought.

2. Virginia

gill-anthony-virginiaRich Barnes/Getty Images

Whose offense is good enough to shock Virginia’s defense in the tourney?

The best way to beat the pack-line is to rain 3s over it, which is why teams like Duke (who broke Virginia’s defense already this season), Notre Dame, Indiana, Villanova, Utah, and Davidson could make Virginia look average if they got hot. Also, as Miami proved in its double-overtime loss to Virginia, pick-and-pop big men have caused problems for the Hoos, which is why teams like Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Iowa State, and Iowa could also crack Virginia’s D.

Is Malcolm Brogdon a starter in the NBA one day?

Probably not. He’s a little undersize to play small forward in the league, and I don’t think he shoots well enough to play shooting guard. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he had a decent NBA career because of his defense. Brogdon is often called Virginia’s best defender, but somehow he remains underrated. You know how some quarterbacks get tagged with the “system quarterback” label? I feel like that has happened with Brogdon. People think he’s a good defender only because Virginia’s system plays to his strengths. That’s not true. He’s hard-nosed, with great hands and footwork, and his instincts are as good as his physical abilities. Brogdon would be the best perimeter defender in America no matter where he played.

1. Kentucky

cauley-stein-willie-kentuckyAndy Lyons/Getty Images

What do you think would be a more crushing loss: the Patriots being 18-0 and losing in the Super Bowl or Kentucky being 39-0 and losing in the national championship?

The answer is definitely Kentucky, and not just because I’m a basketball guy. Nobody talked about the Patriots going 19-0 until they signed Randy Moss the summer right before that 2007 season. And even then, the talk was more of a fantasy “what if?” than a realistic goal. It wasn’t until the Pats went to Baltimore in early December and beat the Ravens on Monday Night Football to move to 12-0 that the “what if?” became “Wait — they could really do this!”

Contrast that with Kentucky, where 40-0 has been discussed as a realistic goal for years. When the Harrison twins announced they were coming back to UK after the Cats lost the national title game last season, the talk wasn’t that Kentucky could go 40-0 — it was that it should go 40-0. And then the Cats blew out Kansas in the third game of the year and it was settled: Kentucky HAD to go undefeated this season or it would be considered a disappointment.

New England’s run at perfection was something we thought was possible, but it was still a surprise when the Patriots got so close to pulling it off. I’m not sure anyone is surprised by Kentucky this season. The pressure to go 40-0 has been building for so much longer than the pressure built on the Patriots, which is why letting it all slip away in the final game would be more soul-crushing for Big Blue Nation. And that’s before we even consider that Kentucky football sucks and the state has no pro teams, so Wildcats basketball is the only sport that matters to UK fans. Not to mention that the last program to go undefeated and win a national title was Indiana in 1976, and there are plenty of Kentucky fans who would love to wipe their rivals out of the history books.

Kentucky just beat the second-best SEC team by 17, yet it appears that the front runner for the SEC player of the year is Arkansas’s Bobby Portis. Is it possible that an undefeated UK team will not have the SEC POY? And if they did, who would it be? Willie Cauley-Stein? Karl-Anthony Towns? Sam Malone?

Not only is it possible — I actually think Portis will be named SEC POY. That said, if I had to pick one player in the SEC, I’d probably go with Cauley-Stein. I still say Devin Booker is Kentucky’s best player and Towns is the most talented, but Kentucky’s defense is what makes the team so great and Cauley-Stein is its fulcrum. Although, part of me thinks the SEC should just name the entire Kentucky team POY like the Maui Invitational did with Iowa in 1987 (or like the NBA did by naming the Hawks’ starting five players of the month for January).

I cannot stand the Harrison twins. Do you think Kentucky fans like watching them play? All Andrew does is drive, force shots in the paint, or pass to his brother. All Aaron does is stop ball movement, shoot, or pass to Andrew.

I’m not a UK fan, so I’m not qualified to answer this. But lucky for us, plenty of Kentucky fans sent emails, so let’s see if we can find an answer from one of them.




I’m not sure why I expected anything else.

The Great Idea of the Week

This email comes from a reader named Timothy:

The NCAA should just announce the 68 teams that get into the tournament on Sunday and rank them 1-68, but they shouldn’t put them anywhere on the bracket. After the teams are announced, they should let all the coaches of tournament teams choose their spots. Let them decide where and when they want to play. The top-4 coaches will take the 1 seeds. The next 3 coaches take the 2 seeds. Then No. 8 overall has to decide if they want to be a 2-seed in Kentucky’s region or take a 3-seed somewhere else. How long do you think teams would avoid Kentucky? How great would it be for coaches from smaller conferences have a chance to pick better matchups for their teams?

This is brilliant. But more important, it’s fair, and it wouldn’t be that hard to implement. Give the coaches three minutes to make their decisions and it’d take only an extra few hours on Selection Sunday, and that includes Tony Bennett and Bo Ryan inevitably using every second of their allotted time. Speaking of Bennett, can you imagine how hard Virginia fans would swoon if he cut off John Calipari with “Give us the 2 in Kentucky’s region. We ain’t scared!” and then ripped the mic off his shirt, spiked it, and walked away?

When it comes to hypothetical trash talk between coaches in a hypothetical NCAA tournament selection process, nobody does it better than Tony Bennett.

The Dick’s Degrees of Separation answer is A. See you next week.