|Poorly fitting polos and too-short ties are what the Big 12 is all about until March. (Danny Medly/USA Today Sports)|
This week's question:The college basketball season kicks off today. Who will make it to the Final Four in March?
Andrew Wiggins already set his goals of winning a national championship and going No. 1 in the NBA draft directly afterward. The truly imposing thing is, although the freshman forward is getting the lion's share of Kansas' attention, he has the supporting cast to accomplish the former. Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid are getting some secondary shine after offseason and exhibition workouts, but this Jayhawks team is still stacked with players the like of Perry Ellis and freshman Conner Frankamp, a combo guard with deep range and a reliable shooting form who is lost in the media hype surrounding a KU team that should make the Final Four.
Kentucky? As stacked as ever. The Wildcats are young, of course, and after a year off, head coach John Calipari has what is arguably his best recruiting class in recent years. Expect a deep NCAA Tournament run capped with - if nothing else - a Final Four appearance.
This next name isn't as much of a shoo-in as Kansas or Kentucky, and isn't exactly an underdog, but it still feels like a bit of an out-on-a-limb guess: Louisville. The defending national champions lost Peyton Siva (whom I championed during the draft) and interior presence Gorgui Dieng to the NBA, but head coach Rick Pitino's squad still sports lightning bolt Russ Smith as a lead guard with backcourt mates Chris Jones and Kevin Ware balancing his occasionally out-of-control play, which shouldn't be completely erased even with an expected step forward in maturity. At 6'10", freshman Mangok Mathiang is the tallest body on the Cardinals' roster, which will allow Pitino to utilize the same sets in which the 6'11" Dieng stood out last season. There's some ground to make up without Siva's ability to pick pockets, but Louisville's pressure defense will still create turnovers and quick points for the Cardinals in the newly branded American Athletic Conference and on the way to a follow-up trip to the Final Four.
The last spot is a toss-up, for me, and even though strong cases can be made for multiple teams, I'll call it for Oklahoma State. I don't believe the Cowboys can win it all in the Big 12, much less the nation, with Travis Ford coaching. The return of Marcus Smart, one of the nation's premier point guards, for a sophomore season in which he'll be surrounded by supreme athleticism from the likes of Le'Bryan Nash and Markel Brown is just enticing enough for me to be sold on the Pokes willing their way into a rather unexpected run through the NCAA Tournament and topping out just short of the title game.
I actually don't think it would be out of the question for the four participants in Tuesday's Champions' Classic to all be in the Final Four. That would be Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Kansas, who are all in the top five in the preseason poll. We would be lucky if that was the case because there are countless great matchups there from four prestigious programs. Seeing as it is called March Madness and all four of these teams could be No. 1 seeds, rarely does it work out like this. However, this year feels top-heavy and I don't know how many Cinderellas, or even 3-4 seeds, will be able to crack the Final Four. A team like VCU or Marquette has a chance, but it's too early to make a pick on them now.
That's why my Final Four, which at this point we are basically basing on potential, is going to be Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona. A Tom Izzo player always gets to a Final Four and this is the year that happens again. Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are experienced and lead an extremely talented team. For the other three teams, it's so hard to tell how freshmen will react (see Kentucky last year) but there is so much talent that can't be overlooked. Kentucky is overflowing with McDonalds All-Americans, led by No. 2 recruit Julius Randle. Arizona has the freakishly athletic Aaron Gordon and junior guard Nick Johnson could be huge for the Wildcats this season. Finally, my Kansas pick is more than just Andrew Wiggins. Wayne Selden is a probable one-and-done, the 7-footer Joel Embiid could have the highest ceiling of them all, and quiet forward Perry Ellis could still lead this team in scoring.
It's so hard to predict this early in the year, as so much could change, but just by looking at potential, these four seem to have as good a shot as anyone.
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