Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
This is the first of five articles covering the best teams in college basketball. While there will be 64 teams entered into the NCAA Tournament, half of them won’t make it through to the second round. Here are the upper-echelon teams, all of which have the potential to make a deep run into the tournament this year.READ MORE: US Supreme Court To Consider Controversial Texas Abortion Law
(Note: All rankings are based on AP Poll as of March 2)
If you’re anything like me, this is usually the time of year when you begin to cram for the final exam known as March Madness. The problem is that too often it feels like you missed this year’s prerequisite course and are stuck listening to advanced conjecture from talking heads that you don’t understand. Simply put: you’re out of your league – and I feel your pain.
There’s so much information, so many teams, so many new faces in old jerseys that it’s nearly impossible to remember every key detail. But thankfully there’s hope. Just like any other situation where you have to digest an obscene amount of information, taking it one small step at a time is the key. So without further ado, here are the first five teams and a few key facts to help you get to know this year’s iteration of them.
1. Kentucky – 29-0
Usually I’d begin this session with some sort of sly, sardonic remark like ‘you’ve been living under a rock if you don’t know about Kentucky,’ but that’s not fair. We’re all beginners here and we’re all in this hunt for information together. So, let’s talk about Kentucky. The Wildcats are unbeaten, which is sort of all you need to know about them. Let’s dig in a little further though.
Coach/Conference – John Calipari (6th season) – SEC
Recent Tournament History – 2012 National Champions – Lost in NCAA championship, 2014
Best Player(s) – Willie Cauley-Stein and Carl-Anthony Towns – The hyphenated front court of Kentucky has been dominant as expected. Cauley-Stein will be a lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft should he enter it and alongside Towns they have made Kentucky unstoppable.
Important Victories – Def. Louisville 58-50 – This was the closest Kentucky has come all year to a defeat from a ranked opponent and it came against their long-time rivals.
Important Losses – None
Biggest Question – Will the one-and-done nature of March Madness get the best of the nation’s undisputed best team?
Kentucky now 27-0 after a 110-75 blowout of Auburn. 13 more to go.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) February 22, 2015
2. Virginia – 28-1
Virginia’s success this season hasn’t been very surprising for most. Virginia began the season in the top 10 of most analysts top 25 predictions and have stayed the course and have a 24-1 record to show for it. The Cavaliers aren’t known as the most exciting team in college ball due to their slow, deliberate style of play, but it sure is effective.
Coach/Conference – Tony Bennett (Not the one that left his heart in San Francisco) – (6th season) – ACC
Recent Tournament History – Sweet 16 – 2014 – Eliminated 2nd round – 2007, 2012
Best Player(s) – Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson – Unlike Kentucky, the Cavaliers are lead by their back court of Brogdon and Anderson.
Important Victories – Def. (9) Louisville, (12) North Carolina – The more important of these two wins was over UNC, that victory came just days after a loss to Duke and could have been a troubling back-to-back defeat for UVA.
Important Losses – Duke – They managed to minimize the damage, but a victory over Duke would have been one of the program’s biggest in a very long time.
Biggest Question – Can they beat Kentucky? (This could get repetitive)
3. Duke – 26-3
Duke has weathered a storm of tough opponents and come out on top more times than not proving to everyone that they’ll be a force in the tournament this March as usual.READ MORE: Texas Mother And Son Arrested In Wyoming For Murder In Oklahoma
Coach/Conference – Mike Krzyzewski (35th season) – ACC
Recent Tournament History – 2010 National Champions – Elite 8 – 2013
Best Player – Jahlil Okafor – As a 19-year-old freshman Okafor leads Duke in scoring, rebounding and shooting percentage.
Important Victories – (10) Notre Dame, (2) Virginia, (15) North Carolina – The comeback thriller against arch-rival North Carolina takes the cake. This game was one for the ages.
Important Losses – (8) Notre Dame
Big Question – Can they beat Kentucky? – Repetitive or not, it’s really the only question that remains surrounding the Blue Devils. They’re one of the top scoring teams in the league, they rebound well, they play solid defense, the only question is if they can take down Kentucky in a winner-take-all matchup when it counts.
4. Villanova – 27-2
Villanova have proven themselves time and again against top 25 opponents, going 6-0 against them this year. They seem to be on a roll and have locked up the Big East heading into the conference tournament schedule.
Coach/Conference – Jay Wright (14th season) – Big East
Recent Tournament History – 2009 Final Four – Eliminated in first or second round past five years
Best Player – Darrun Hilliard – The senior guard is considered a front-runner for Big East Player of the Year this year thanks to his 14.4 point-per-game average.
Important Victories – (18) Butler – While the Wildcats locked up the Big East against Xavier on Saturday but it was really their critical win over 18th-ranked Butler that did the trick. By Beating Butler Villanova gave themselves an almost insurmountable cushion in the Big East en route to the title.
Important Losses – Georgetown – Georgetown beat Villanova by 20, the loss was almost so bad you can throw it out as an anomaly. Especially considering the Wildcats had their revenge a few weeks later.
Big Question – Can they hold on to a No. 1 seed? – The Wildcats have one final big test before their regular season comes to a close and that’s against St. John’s on Saturday. If they can beat them, they should be in good shape heading into the NCAA Tournament.
5. Arizona – 26-3
No shortage of Wildcats in the top five as the season comes to a close. These Wildcats belong with the others too as they have been sufficiently dominant since a stunning loss to arch-rival Arizona State.
Coach/Conference – Sean Miller (6th season) – Pac-12
Recent Tournament History – 2012, 2014 – Elite Eight – 2011, 2013 – Sweet 16
Best Player – Stanley Johnson – Johnson leads a very well-rounded Wildcat offense with 14.1 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game to boot.
Important Victories – (13) Utah – After pulverizing Utah at home it seemed as though they would get their revenge when Arizona visited the Utes last week but that wasn’t the case. The Wildcats beat the Utes on the road and made a statement that the Pac-12 tournament is theirs for the taking.
Important Losses – UNLV, Oregon St. Arizona State – Arizona lost to all three of these unranked Pac-12 foes and that has to be a concern entering the Pac-12 tournament. Any of these teams can come out and shock the Wildcats if they aren’t careful.
Big Question – Can this be their breakthrough year? – The Wildcats always seem to be on the cusp of greatness but never reach it. They’re extremely well-rounded this year and could be as good a bet as any to take down the Wildcats at the top of this list.
That concludes the first part of our five-part segment, tomorrow we’ll tackle teams ranked No. 6-10.MORE NEWS: Southlake Ranks 20th 'Best Small City In America'; Keller & Flower Mound Most Affordable