Enough with the NBA... What is there left to say? LeBron and his "sidekick posse" will do what they do: party their way to a great regukar season and a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Yawn. Its time to talk college hoops!
Some of you who could not break out of your college football cocoon were shocked at my revelation last October: "Ohio State will play for the National Championship." The reaction was swift and furious. "You are crazy." "The voters hate the Buckeyes!" "No way a one-loss team plays in the BCS Championship game!" On and on it went until a flicker of light went off in the darkest recess in the mind of one of my compadres: "You are talking about football, right? Ummm... NO.
My prediction at that juncture was Ohio St., Michigan St., Kansas, and Duke rocking to the Final Four with MSU defeating OSU in an all-Big Ten championship game. So, how do I feel four months (and the bulk of the regular season) later? It would be easy to stick with 3 of those four teams, and I still think MSU could be dangerous come tourney time. However, Tom Izzo's boys may not even make the field.
So who will replace them in Houston come early April? Contenders and Pretenders (in terms of the Final Four potential):
OHIO STATE & DUKE - They have done nothing to disappoint or change my mind. But who are the other two teams to round out the field? That is a little more murky.
KANSAS - Keep in mind they lost in the 2nd round as a 1-seed last year and then lost Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry in the lottery. A loss at home to Texas made me re-think.
TEXAS - Speaking of them 'Horns, this team intrigues me. They lost in the 1st round last year and then lost 3 guys to the NBA draft. They have re-loaded with a talented group of freshmen and they are the only BCS conference team without a loss in conference play. Hard to pick againt 'em at this point.
PITTSBURGH - Lost in the 2nd round to Xavier as a 3-seed last year. This team always finds a away to disappoint in March. How many times has Pitt been a top 3 seed and never made it past the Sweet 16? Despite that, you can't argue with the results this year as they have cruised through the Big East so far.
VILLANOVA - This team has been hit or miss over the past several seasons. In 2009, they made the Final 4 as a 3-seed. In 2010, they lost as 2-seed in the 2nd round to St. Mary's. They haven't played great this year, but I have a feeling they will be a force come tournament time.
SYRACUSE - Made the Sweet 16 last year and then lost their best player (Wes Johnson). But they have a deep, experienced team that runs an efficient system that is tough to deal with when you don't see it on a regular basis.
BAYLOR - Made a run all the way to the Elite 8 last year and replaced 1st rounder Ekpe Udoh with potential #1 pick Perry Jones. Despite that, they have had an up-and-down season but are still talented enough to make a run depending on the bracket.
KENTUCKY - How does Calipari do it? He loses FIVE players in the first round of the NBA draft, and then re-loads with another amazing recruiting class. Unfortunately, this team lacks the leadership of a Patrick Patterson. I am predicting Sweet 16 and done but there is enough talent to win it all if they stay focused.
MICHIGAN STATE - This team is too talented and deep not to make the Big Dance. Their problem is strictly psychological. If they can make a run in the Big Ten tournament, I would not be surprised if they get to the Final 4 as a 9 or 10 seed.
FLORIDA, UCONN, NORTH CAROLINA, ARIZONA - I will never pick a team that didn't make the tournament one year to make the Final 4 the next.
PURDUE - They made the Sweet 16 without Robbie Hummel last year and could do he same but that's it.
WISCONSIN - Lost to Cornell last year, but always a tough out in the tourney. Problem is, they run that slow-it-down style that keeps every game close, including the ones they lose.
NOTRE DAME - Big surprise they have done so well, considering they lost in the 1st round last year and then graduated Luke Harangody. Two-and-done.
GEORGETOWN - Perennial tournament underachievers lost to Davidson in '08 and Ohio U. as a 2-seed last year and then lost Greg Monroe.
LOUISVILLE - Rick Pitino seems more motivated this year but another early exit from the Big East.
WEST VIRGINIA - They made a run to Final 4 last year but I can't see a repeat after they lost their two best players and leaders to the NBA in D'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks.
UTEP, SAN DIEGO STATE, UTAH STATE - Same story, different year with these teams. Always win 25 games, never make it past the first weekend.
So, where does that leave us:
Ohio State, Duke, Kansas, Texas
Championship: Ohio State over Duke
YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST (in October!)