Quick disclaimer, this top 10 cares not for head-to-head results. Random, inexplicable losses will happen in college basketball and are the rule, not the exception so spare me that argument.
10. Michigan - Fraud. Yes, Michigan was undefeated and had won 32 of 33 heading into Madison yesterday but I felt like it was a house of cards. They’re a defensive juggernaut but that offense will be prone to bad stretches. Coupled with a slow tempo, you have a recipe for games like yesterday. They may only lose another game or two but the chances of a stinker in March and early exit looms.
9. Kansas - Fraud. What is their identity? The Big XII is stacked with good but not great teams. This is not a great Kansas team.
8. Virginia Tech - Fraud. They haven’t beaten anyone and that’s probably why they’re a quiet 15-2. They have a win over Purdue on a neutral court. Computers love Purdue but, eh. They played Virginia and got humiliated. Solid offensive team with so-so defense.
7. North Carolina - Not a fraud. Weird home loss to Louisville skews the computer numbers. My hunch is, by March, this is one of the better teams and a popular pick to cut down the nets.
6. Gonzaga - Not a fraud. Defensive numbers are a real concern. They don’t project as a Final 4 team at the moment but let’s see how things flesh out with a fully operational roster. They’ll also be better tested over the next 6 weeks as the WCC is arguably the best league out west. It’s certainly better than it’s been at any time in the last 20 years.
5. Kentucky - Fraud. I’m calling them a fraud because I have them higher than most others will/would. This initial ranking from me is about buying futures. I think their best basketball lies ahead of them. I was impressed with the composure and execution down the stretch on the road against a very good Auburn team yesterday. This Kentucky team feels more well-balanced than the last few years. They still have some lottery material but also some dudes to complement those guys. I could be terribly wrong but I’m going in early on them.
4. Michigan State - Fraud. Until Tom Izzo proves himself in March again, I believe this team is a fraud. The computers love them and they have the type of lineup that Izzo took deep in past March’s. I can’t shake his stubbornness from last year, though. If I’m buying in early on Kentucky, I’m selling early on the Spartans. Bookmark this disaster in the making on my part. They are favored in every game through the end of the regular season except a road tilt in Ann Arbor.
3. Tennessee - Not a Fraud. They’re one of the best offensive teams in the nation and don’t use slow tempo to inflate those numbers. They can be mediocre on defense but the numbers are good enough to feel comfortable calling them a legit title contender. A veteran squad, Rick Barnes has rejuvenated his career in Knoxville.
2. Virginia - Not a Fraud. Call this the Arizona Corollary. A younger Eric mocked Arizona and their fans, well, the one Arizona fan he knew after earl exits in 1992 and 1993. They were certainly good teams that had dumb losses in March. That’s the current situation at Virginia. As much as all of America would love to see them fail (probably), if this team doesn’t get Tony Bennett to a Final 4, he’s screwed. The roster is experienced and talented, very much like Arizona in ‘94. Don’t let recency bias define this team, even if like me, you want to. Tempo will always be a concern to me. Teams like Virginia are prone to the upset because of it but I think this one breaks through.
1. Duke - Lol, not a Fraud. They have flaws. The lack of consistent 3-pt shooting and poor FT shooting is a concern. The Tre Jones injury changes things as well. If he’s out for the year, the good news is, they have a month plus to adjust. That said, it could be argued he’s been their best, most consistent PG anyway since his brother helped them beat one of the most evil teams ever for a national title. Obviously, it would be better if he can come back at close to 100%. But the way they played yesterday without him against a team that thrives on defense should be encouraging to Blue Devils nation