After a few weeks of preseason tournaments and heavyweight matchups, we're starting to see which teams will rise this season and which teams will fall.
Some talented teams lost to Division II programs (we're looking at you, Texas). Other supposed contenders have failed to live up to the hype (how you doing, UCLA?).
On the other hand, some teams expected to be in slight rebuilding mode have come out firing (yeah, yeah, we see you, Duke).
Of course, it's far too early to make any real judgments, but that's never stopped me before!
Here's an early look at five teams on the way up (or staying up...) and five teams on the other side of the escalator.
Until its dismantling of an inexperienced UNC team, Indiana had quietly been underperforming through its first few games.
The thrashing of the Tar Heels reminded us all of how dangerous this Hoosier team is, and why we all crowned them before the season began.
And Tom Crean has the best "is he legitimately crazy?" sideline pace of any coach in the country, bar none.
Let me start by saying I, for one, will not miss Kentucky sitting atop all AP, USA Today, Coaches, RPI, Zagat, Quinnipiac, Gallup, Rasmussen and Pew polls.
It was time to go. We had enough.
We get it, Cal—you can recruit. You bring ‘em in, coach ‘em up, pay ‘em out and ship ‘em on. Just take a break, regroup and check back in March.
In case you missed it and have no idea what I’m rambling about, Kentucky suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time since the Battle of Perryville.
Notre Dame handled the Wildcats in South Bend, and Baylor handed John Calipari his first home loss since coming to UK and the team’s first nonconference home loss in the history of the program (off the top of my head, don’t quote me on that).
Unlikable? Yes. Whiny? Yes. Possibly the best team in the country?
Ohio State had the Blue Devils dead to rights, but freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon used the second half as his coming-out party in leading Duke back for the huge win in an early potential Final Four preview.
Let’s all buckle in for a vintage "please someone other than Duke win the championship" season.
UNC was looking for a little redemption after being embarrassed by Butler in Maui. A trip to No. 1 Indiana provided the perfect opportunity.
Until the game started.
It was clear from the tip that this year’s Tar Heels are not what we’ve grown accustomed to since Roy Williams came to Chapel Hill. Their expected star, James McAdoo, is not a put-the-team-on-his-back type of horse. He’s a nice player, just not enough to bridge the substantial talent gap created by the massive loss of talent from last year’s team.
With such a young roster, Carolina cannot be counted out for sure. Coach Williams will do his thing and have his team competing in March, but anything more than a win or two in the tourney seems unrealistic at this point.
Florida looked like it was ready to usurp Kentucky from the SEC throne even before UK lost two straight to (my sleeper pick, ahem) Notre Dame and Baylor.
The Gators have that look this year; in every game they are clearly more athletic and more balanced than their opponent.
Florida fans can officially enter into "Final Four or Bust" mode.
I’m not sure who told FSU that it was good enough to just show up and roll people over.
A 4-4 record that includes losses to South Alabama and Mercer (yikes) is not quite what was expected of a team coming off an ACC title.
Clean that mess up, Seminoles. People are watching.
Just doing Gonzaga things, per usual.
Rattling off win after win. Lacking any identifiable star. Playing a more disciplined and efficient game than anyone it faces.
The Zags didn’t play the meat-grinder nonconference schedule they usually do, but their wins have been more than convincing enough to justify their current Top 10 ranking.
This is easily their best team since The ‘Stache in 2006 and possibly since their inaugural Cinderella Elite Eight run in 1999.
Let’s hope this is the year they finally take that Final Four step. It’s conceivable, since other than Indiana and possibly Duke, there are no clear front-runners.
Are these guys serious? Superstar freshmen? Looks like it.
Key players quitting because they’re fat? That’s not alarming.
Losing to a team from Hanging With Mr. Cooper? Might as well.
I could have saved everyone, including myself, a lot of time and just copied and pasted my sleeper picks into the Five Down slides.
P.S. When’s the last time Kentucky, UNC and UCLA all stunk in the same season?
Should have been you, Duke. Should have been you.
If you watch Jim Valvano's 1993 ESPY Awards speech and don’t feel some sort of movement inside your chest cavity...then you, sir, are legally dead.
I might be the least sappy person on the planet. Not even joking. But I’ve watched that speech somewhere between 25 and 400 times and not once have I been able to change the channel.
Valvano hit everything in those 15 minutes.
Hilarious anecdotal opening? Done. Moving personal thoughts about his illness and motivation? Done. Wisdom and advice on priorities and life? Done.
Ethos, Pathos, Logos like Aristotle dreamed of.
In all seriousness, when I see that speech before the Jimmy V Classic every year, my prevailing thought is simply, "Wow, what an amazing guy."
The man was essentially on his deathbed, and he’s up on stage delivering a speech for the ages—laughing, sharing and crying. His spirit was truly remarkable, and the amount of money his foundation has raised for cancer research is astounding.
When a cure is finally found, Valvano will be one of the biggest reasons.
As was previously intimated, some of my preseason sleeper picks are still asleep.
Florida State and Texas were D.O.A. FSU couldn't match up with Mercer right around the time Texas was getting its horns trimmed by a D-II squad.
The jury is still out on Kansas State and Stanford, which leaves my hat hanging squarely on the leprechaun-sized shoulders of Notre Dame.
The Irish are looking nice right now, especially after dismissing Kentucky in convincing fashion. If you're Louisville and Syracuse, you had better keep your head on a swivel because the Irish are coming for you in the Big East.
I'd actually feel good about picking Notre Dame to win the Big East this year. But its football team can still bite me.
If you root for Notre Dame football and you're not from central Indiana, that's all I need to know about you. I have no interest in pursuing any kind of friendship or even a civil understanding with you.
You're as bad as all the Heat "fans" who started popping up around oh...July 2010 or so and pervaded (and/or perverted) this great land.