On the Road To Indy, Only a Few Teams Look Like Real Contenders

Dan KelleyCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2010

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 22:  Sherron Collins #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after sinking a three-pointer as head coach Bill Self looks on during the game against the California Golden Bears on December 22, 2009 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As I sit here, watching two fringe top 25 teams in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati going at it, I’ve also had my eyes spastically moving over to the screen of my computer to keep tabs on the other contests taking place on this cold, January night.

In the only other game of much interest to me, North Carolina is struggling to pull away from a 7-6 Charleston team, and I can’t help but think about how the defending champion’s struggles tonight are a perfect representation of college basketball as a whole this year.

Like the Tar Heels—who last year were absolutely loaded with talent and the experience to match it—college basketball is down this season.

This is a hard topic to express with numbers. Like any other year, when teams play, one wins and one loses. Scoring numbers and defensive statistics may not vary much from the typical averages either.

So how do you judge the validity of such an assessment? There really is no perfect way to do this, but I’m sticking with my preferred method of judging the quality of a basketball team—using my eyes.

At this point, I’ve witnessed each of the top 10 teams play at least once, and only a few of the teams sitting near the peak of the polls strike me as legitimate contenders.

Going back to North Carolina, who now finds themselves heading to overtime after allowing a late surge from Charleston, the Heels are a young team that lost a ton of talent from a year ago.

However, they find themselves ranked No. 9 with a very tentative 11-3 record. I find it somewhat strange that a team with three losses this early in the year is ranked in the top 10, but the general idea for keeping them there is the quality of their losses that came from No. 7 Syracuse, No. 3 Kentucky and No. 2 Texas.

That’s all well and good. Perhaps they really are the ninth best team in the country, that’s not the point I’m trying to make. However, it certainly doesn’t bode well for their repeat hopes that they couldn’t beat even one of those probable contenders.

You can almost write the Tar Heels off from winning another title this year already, which is bad news for them, and perhaps the rest of college basketball as well. As they are now 2.2 seconds away from falling once again, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Roy’s boys are not among the nation’s elite this season, and the quality of collegiate hoops doesn’t look so hot when you can write off top ten teams this early in the year.

The options below North Carolina are mostly underwhelming as well. No 10 Michigan State also has three losses, including one to the Heels. No. 11 Kansas State is off to a nice 13-1 start but doesn’t have any wins that are particularly impressive. Go on down the line, No. 12 Georgetown is 11-1 with a loss to Old Dominion and just doesn’t strike me as a good enough team to challenge the likes of Kansas, Texas or Kentucky. UConn is another three loss team, who lost a ton of talent from last year, and has an almost non-existent 3-point shooting game.

Then what? Mississippi, New Mexico? Not too likely. You can probably write Tennessee off too, given their recent controversies.

There just don’t seem to be many elite teams out there. West Virginia was a trendy pick to contend coming into the year, but their championship light looks much dimmer now after going to Purdue and getting absolutely annihilated.

Just based on the look-test, I believe that there are really only six teams who still have the appearance of a contender. Kansas, Texas and Kentucky look like they’re in a league of their own, and on a lower tier sit Purdue, Duke and Syracuse.   

When March rolls around, hoops geeks looking for a serious bracket-buster could find out that the search is nothing but a wild goose chase. In fact, if you’re a fan of one of the poll’s top three teams, you may want to put the brackets aside entirely and start thinking about booking tickets to Indianapolis. 

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