The previous two nationwide champions — Virginia in 2019 and Villanova in 2018 — ranked within the prime 5 all through February, cementing their standing as title contenders in the course of the common season and morphing into considerably predictable champions. However the previous decade has seen some groups ranked outdoors the highest 10 in February emerge — considerably unexpectedly — to win all of it.
UConn was ranked No. 24 at this level in 2014 earlier than occurring to win the nationwide title, whereas the 2011 UConn group fell all the way in which to No. 21 late within the season earlier than rising because the champion. The 2013 Louisville group was additionally ranked No. 11 at this level in February earlier than hoisting the trophy.
Although Baylor and Gonzaga are the clear favorites to chop down the nets on the finish of this March Insanity, the dearth of delineation between the pack of groups under them creates an surroundings ripe for a relative lengthy shot to make a title run. So for this week’s version of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are figuring out the group’s ranked outdoors the highest 10 that we imagine might win the nationwide title.
I, like most others, imagine both Gonzaga or Baylor would be the champion of the 2021 NCAA Event. But when I am making an attempt to determine a potential champ ranked outdoors the highest 10 of the most recent AP Prime 25 ballot, the plain finest candidate, in my eyes, is Alabama. I really like the Crimson Tide. They play super-fast. They actually guard. They’re seemingly going to win the SEC by a number of video games, get a excessive seed on Choice Sunday after which be a matchup downside for principally anyone given how dedicated they’re to a really particular type of play.
Once more, they play super-fast and actually guard — proof being that they are ranked ninth in adjusted tempo and second in adjusted defensive effectivity. That is a uncommon mixture that’s troublesome to cope with. On prime of that, the Crimson Tide launches about 30 3-pointers a sport. After they’re scorching, you are useless. And even after they’re not, they’re adequate defensively to hold round and win anyway. Merely put, Alabama might be a group I’ll choose to make the Remaining 4 offered Alabama is just not positioned in a area with Gonzaga or Baylor. That is how extremely I consider the Crimson Tide. And, at this level, them profitable the nationwide title would not be all that shocking. — Gary Parrish
So, this is the thin: Cobb tosses out this query in our Slack chat on Tuesday afternoon. I have a look at the record, see Texas as an apparent choose, go away it for another person. However sitting there at 14th within the AP Prime 25 are the Mountaineers of West Virginia. Then, afterward Tuesday evening, Bob Huggins’ group goes into Lubbock and beats Texas Tech by 11 factors. (That : an all-TIMER.) Level is, I favored WVU to be the strongest non-Alabama candidate even earlier than it beat TTU.
The coach is one clear cause; Bob Huggins has made a number of Remaining Fours, and whenever you’ve bought a top-20 group, I feel that may solely assist. However it’s the offense, man. West Virginia ranks eleventh in factors per possession, because of having three sharpshooting 3-point marksmen (Deuce McBride, Sean McNeil, Taz Sherman). Derek Culver’s junior-season leap has additionally been magnificent. If I am taking a relative lengthy shot that is not the Tide, that is the group. And for those who have a look at the group’s 5 losses, they’ve come in opposition to good groups for essentially the most half: Gonzaga, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida. (OK, the house loss to Florida’s an oddity.) I am going to add that West Virginia performed higher in opposition to Gonzaga this season than every other power-conference opponent. — Matt Norlander
For those who’re down on Tennessee’s title possibilities — and I get the sense that even some Tennessee followers fall on this class — then it seemingly stems from a sluggish and typically ineffective offense. In video games it has misplaced this season, it scored 63, 49 (!), 64 and 50 factors. There’s just a few nights the place producing offense for this group has been an actual problem. However the Vols are rather more succesful offensively than they’ve confirmed thus far. They might simply be scratching the floor, actually, because of current breakout performances from five-star freshman Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, who mixed for 50 factors Saturday in a win over Kentucky.
Johnson and Springer’s shot-making and athleticism have been hit and miss this season, however Rick Barnes might lastly be releasing his frosh studs for good as his group nears the house stretch, understanding UT’s finest likelihood to win all of it facilities round each peaking within the postseason. Their abilities utterly unlock a brand new degree for this group offensively. If the Kentucky sport proves to be an inflection level on that finish of the ground, Tennessee must be taken significantly as a sub-top-10 menace this postseason. It boasts the No. 1 protection (per KenPom) within the nation, a confirmed tactical savant in Barnes and simply the correct mixture of younger NBA expertise and skilled faculty gamers to make a run. Sure, it has at instances appeared fallible in SEC play partially due to struggles on offense, however the dynamic of this group is slowly shifting. I might be completely happy to guess on this membership’s expertise understanding the potential if issues actually begin clicking down the stretch is enormously excessive. — Kyle Boone
Texas was on a three-game shedding streak and had solely received as soon as in a month-long span till a slim win over Kansas State on Tuesday. Given these struggles and this system’s uninspiring observe document in recent times, it is simple to dismiss the Longhorns from nationwide title consideration. However for those who actually unpack what’s occurred throughout Texas’ current slide, it is principally attributable to points with COVID-19 that sidelined key gamers and coach Shaka Sensible. Even with out problems from the virus, there is no such thing as a disgrace in a two-point loss to Texas Tech, a one-point loss to Oklahoma after a 10-day pause, a 14-point loss to undefeated Baylor and a two-overtime loss at Oklahoma State.
Earlier than all that, this group was 10-1 and spent 4 straight weeks within the prime 5. A couple of closes losses to good groups amid a severe bout with COVID-19 shouldn’t disqualify the Longhorns from the nationwide title dialog. Texas nonetheless has loads of time to get again on observe earlier than the postseason, and this roster — led by the all-important ingredient of veteran guards — has nonconference wins over Indiana, North Carolina and Villanova on its resume to go together with a 6-4 league mark. Throw in the important thing contributions of star freshman ahead Greg Brown together with some stable depth, and it is a Texas group that completely has the makings of a nationwide title contender. — David Cobb