College Hoops Knowledge

Final Four favorites emerge as New Orleans party shapes up to be a power conference show

Final Four favorites emerge as New Orleans party shapes up to be a power conference show

This past week has been one of the most exciting of the college basketball season to date, as a slew of major matchups coincided with the end of the NFL season, providing a bright spotlight on some of the nation’s top teams. The action won’t really let up from this point forward until the Final Four culminates in New Orleans in April.

Here are some of the teams that everybody is talking about, for good or bad, as March Madness speeds ever closer.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: KENTUCKY

I’m sure John Calipari would like the tournament to be played right now, because the Wildcats look like the best team in the nation without a doubt. By completely dominating their closest SEC rival Florida, Kentucky has all but sewn up the regular season title in that conference and can concentrate on securing the No. 1 overall seed.

Led by freshmen Anthony Davis, who is making a strong case to be named national Player of the Year, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Wildcats (25-1) have won 17 straight games.

SURGING: OHIO STATE

This is another team that is peaking at the right time of the season. After a few bumps in the road, the Buckeyes won six in a row, dusting some of their closest Big Ten competition in the process, before falling to Michigan State on Sunday. The Buckeyes can beat you in a lot of ways.

In a recent thriller over Purdue, it was senior sharpshooter William Buford who carried the load. If you take him way, Jared Sullinger will kill you inside or Aaron Craft will dominate with penetration. It’s pick your poison against Thad Matta’s squad, which appears to have a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament on its horizon.

STUMBLING: PURDUE

A 3-1 start in the Big 10 had the Boilermakers thinking about challenging for the league title in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Then the schedule hardened, and Purdue felt the effects

Purdue's lost five of its last eight, with all five of those losses coming against teams that are now ranked in the nation’s Top 25. The Boilermakers fought valiantly against Ohio State, but moral victories won’t be enough at this point in the season. Senior Robbie Hummel will try to put Purdue on his back as it comes down the stretch looking for a signature win.

UNDER THE RADAR: LONG BEACH STATE

In an unusual quirk, there are still five teams with unbeaten conference records this late in the season. One of them is Long Beach State, which is dominating its competition in the Big West. This is the kind of veteran-laden team that can do damage in March.

Its three best players are seniors: Casper Ware and Larry Anderson are the big scorers, while T.J. Robinson is averaging a double-double in points and rebounds for the third straight season. A non-conference win against Pitt and good showings in losses to Kansas and North Carolina also bode well for the 49ers' postseason prospects.

GAME OF THE WEEK: SYRACUSE at LOUISVILLE, 6 p.m. Monday night

The Orange are catching the Cardinals at the wrong time. Louisville has won six games in a row to rebound after a dismal Big East start. Rick Pitino's team is also as healthy as it's been in quite some time, and Louisville has owned Syracuse in the past few seasons. Of course, Syracuse has been in charge of the conference since the start of the season in what could be its last go-round before heading to the ACC.

One of the fun matchups in this one should be in the middle, where two of the nation’s finest shot blockers, Syracuse’s Fab Melo and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng, will battle it out.

Talk to you next week, and enjoy the hoops.

News_basketball_Anthony Davis_Kentucky
Anthony Davis of Kentucky Photo by Ian McCormick
News_Jared Sullinger_Ohio State_basketball
Ohio State's Jared Sullinger Photo via HoopSpeakU.com