By Joseph Giordano II Contributing Writer
Before the start of this year’s college basketball season, when asked, any basketball analyst would have predicted the same teams for the National Championship: Kentucky and Duke.
It was a forgone conclusion that these two college heavyweights would clash on April 6 inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the title and that the rest of the season should just skip ahead to this highly anticipated matchup. However, after three months of play, this perfect matchup may not be as much a foregone conclusion as it was considered to be before the season began. Troubles with these two teams combined with many other wildcard contenders making their way into mix provided college basketball an exciting race towards March.
The Kentucky team came into the season with an incredible amount of hype. Their platoon system, in which they rotate sets of five players in and out the game, would go on to create problems for any team in the country and the Wildcats would surely be on their way towards a national title. This strong combination of talented freshmen and upperclassmen were branded as the one of the greatest college basketball teams ever without even playing a game. While Kentucky, currently (19-0), is still unblemished, many problems arose from this young and talented squad. First, there was a devastating injury to star forward Alex Poythress, who Kentucky lost for the season, which really hurt Kentucky’s outstanding depth and weakened their frontcourt. Next, there were two very close calls to lesser teams such as Ole Miss, whom they beat in overtime, and Texas A&M, whom they beat in double overtime. Some suggest that while Kentucky is still winning Southeastern conference games the lack of depth in the SEC presents many problems for the undefeated Wildcats. Many believe the lack of a true test in the regular season will prove detrimental to the team come March and puts their national title hopes in a more precarious situation than many previously anticipated.
The Duke Blue Devils came into this season with equally as much hype and looked to be the only team capable of challenging Kentucky. Boasting the number one recruiting class in the country, including number one recruit Jahlil Okafor, Coach K ,who was pushing towards his thousandth career win (which he achieved a week ago Sunday), and the Blue Devils seemed primed for a title run. The Blue Devils came out swinging this season, winning impressively in many tough games in including Michigan State, Connecticut, and a very impressive road win against then number two ranked Wisconsin. The Blue Devils rolled into conference play undefeated and looked like the team everyone expected them to be. However, they suffered two hiccups in a row including two double-digit losses to unranked foes North Carolina State and Miami. They then rebounded with a big win on the road against Louisville, but their invincible reputation had already been severely harmed. People now wonder which is the real Duke team: the one who went on the road to beat Wisconsin or the team who lost to two unranked opponents in a row. It will be an interesting thing to watch as we head towards the tournament.
The emergence of other contenders has made this season even more interesting. The Virginia Cavaliers (19-0) have come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders and have won 19 straight games to start the season. Their defense is regarded as the best in the country and has really separated the team from the pack. This tough defense has made the Cavaliers a dark horse to win the national championship game and many believe they are on their way to doing so. However, with tough tests coming up with the likes of Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville, it will be interesting to see whether Virginia is a contender or pretender come March.
With Kentucky, Duke, and Virginia leading the pack as far as national title favorites go, many others could enter the picture. Teams such as Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Notre Dame all are alive and well and seem very capable of making a run themselves. With all these contenders and so much basketball yet to be played, there is only one question left: Can March Madness get here soon enough?
First-year Joseph Giordano is a contributing writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.