With conference play in full force and the end of January approaching, we're roughly halfway through what has been an incredible season of college basketball. Great teams. Great players. Great games. Pretty much everyone is in agreement that any one of 10 programs, maybe more, have a legitimate shot at winning a national title.
With that in mind, it's a good time to revise our preseason predictions and, for those who have not been paying close attention, catch you up with a Cliffs notes of what has gone down across the country.
Below are our revised Final Four picks, national champion, and player and freshman of the year, followed by major storylines, including current projected No. 1 seeds, surprises, disappointments and teams shaping up as potential tourney sleepers.
I took Kansas in the preseason, and have no reason to move off that pick. The Jayhawks are one or two plays away, in a 103-99 OT loss to Indiana in the opener, from being undefeated. They will strut to a 13th straight Big 12 regular-season title. Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham comprise the most consistent backcourt in America, and Josh Jackson's all-around play has made him an incredible asset and a top-seven freshman.
Landen Lucas' improvement down low has been vital, and there's no one credible left on this planet who can successfully attack Bill Self's coaching acumen. The race for the national title feels open to about 10 teams and Kansas is as well-positioned as any. The one missing piece is the breakout season from Carlton Bragg. It hasn't happened. If Bragg arrives in February, look out. -- Matt Norlander
Duke was the preseason No. 1 team for a good reason -- they have the best talent and the best coach. Their problem has been fighting through a rash of injuries effecting almost everyone in the rotation, and even coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The only player out now is Amile Jefferson, who is expected to return from a foot injury before long. If he does, and nothing else happens, the Blue Devils will have a chance to finally field their team, sort out roles, build chemistry, and get ready for the March run we expected in October. -- Jerry Palm
To check out our preseason Final Four predictions, click here.
Current projected No. 1 seeds
Best wins: at Creighton, at Purdue, vs. Notre Dame, Xavier
Loss: at Butler
The defending champions have made it abundantly clear they will not give up their title without a fight. The Wildcats have four top-25 wins, three of those away from home. Villanova's loss came in a pretty competitive game (66-58) at Butler, another tough venue.
But the Wildcats aren't only winning, they are dominating. Only three of their wins have come by fewer than 10 points. Those were against Notre Dame, at Purdue and, oddly, at home against DePaul.
The Big East will continue to provide good strength-of-schedule games for Villanova, and they have an intriguing nonconference game with Virginia coming up. Don't be surprised if the Wildcats finish the regular season in this spot in the bracket.
Best wins: vs. Louisville, Xavier, Oregon
Loss: at West Virginia
This is the line of demarcation on this list. Baylor and Villanova are a step ahead of everyone regarding tournament-resume strength.
The Bears have 10 RPI top-100 wins, six over teams in the current bracket. The only complaint, and this is nitpicking, is they haven't beaten a tournament-quality team in a true road game. Baylor does have three neutral court wins, and those are good too, but road wins are better. In their one road game against a tournament-quality team, the Bears got their doors blown off (89-68) at West Virginia.
Best win: vs. Duke
Loss: vs. Indiana
Kansas lost to Indiana in overtime on a neutral floor to start the season and hasn't lost since. That is why the Jayhawks are No. 1 in the coaches poll, which primarily measures the length of a team's winning streak. Kansas really would be helped if Indiana would get out of its funk. The Jayhawks have a whopping 10 wins over teams in the RPI top 100, but besides the one over Duke, only two of those are against teams in the current bracket.
Best win: at Kentucky
Loss: at Oregon
The Bruins are largely living off the win at Kentucky, rguably the best win by any team on this list. Although they have eight RPI top-100 wins, they only have one other win over a team in the current bracket projection. UCLA has the weakest schedule of any of the one-loss teams, but it hasn't hit the meat of its relatively thin conference schedule. The Bruins can add to their quality win list, and maybe hold on to this spot, when they host Arizona on Saturday.
Baylor (17-1) is ranked sixth in the AP poll after receiving exactly zero Top 25 votes in the preseason. The Bears have beaten Louisville, Oregon, Xavier, Iowa State, Michigan State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State; that's seven top-50 KenPom victories. And Baylor is doing this even though Scott Drew has zero consensus top-50 national prospects on his roster -- and zero sure-bet future NBA players.
The Bulldogs (16-3) were unranked in the preseason and picked sixth in the Big East. Now they're ranked 13th in the AP poll and own the only win over top-ranked Villanova. And, keep in mind, this program was in the Horizon League only five years ago. So Chris Holtmann has them completely adjusted to a higher level. A trip to a third Final Four in an eight-year span is definitely possibile.
The Horned Frogs (14-4) were picked last in the preseason Big 12 poll. Regardless, they have wins over MVC leader Illinois State and an Iowa State team that just played Kansas to the buzzer. Jamie Dixon's turnaround has been impressive. And there's every reason to think the improvement will continue going forward.
Not only was USC picked seventh in the Pac-12, the Trojans lost a key rotation player (Bennie Boatwright) five games into the season. And yet they 're still 16-3 with win over SMU. Could it all fall apart in the next few weeks? Yeah, maybe. But so far, Andy Enfield is overachieving with a roster that shouldn't have 16 wins.
Most basketball people assumed UCLA would be good. But this good? I don't think anybody saw this coming, because here's the truth: Lonzo Ball has been better than expected. Bryce Alford has been better than expected. TJ Leaf has been better than expected. And the byproduct of those things, and some other things, is that UCLA is way better than expected. The Bruins were picked third in the preseason Pac-12 poll. Now they're on their way to earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they'd be undefeated still if not for Dillon Brooks' buzzer-beater last month.
-- Gary Parrish
It's only fair to put the Huskies and coach Lorenzo Romar under this banner, especially after how LSU and Johnny Jones were raked over the coals for wasting Ben Simmons' only season in college. Now you've got another all-world freshman talent in Markelle Fultz, who like Simmons last season is having the best statistical impact of any first-year player, is not going to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Like Simmons, this is not Fultz's fault. Like Simmons, he could be a No. 1 pick. Washington's lack of team defense and Romar's inability to coach this team to competence has been somewhat overlooked because UW is tucked in the Pacific Northwest and doesn't get much national television exposure. The Huskies are an inexplicable 8-9, and it's not as if it's just Fultz on the roster. Matisse Thybulle and Noah Dickerson are good college players. UW is 1-4 in the Pac-12 and Romar is going to miss out the NCAAs for the sixth season in a row. But guess what? He's bringing in Michael Porter Jr. -- another potential No. 1 NBA pick -- next season. -- Matt Norlander
OK, sure, the Blue Devils have had all kinds of adversity. Injuries galore. Coach K's back surgery, which will have him out at least another few weeks. All the Grayson Allen drama, though that's self-inflicted. And through it all Duke (14-4) is in pretty good shape.
Still, relative to what everyone expected, this is a disappointment. The Blue Devils are 2-3 in ACC play, and even though some stuff this season is outside their control, they haven't been 2-3 in conference play this century. Duke hasn't beaten a truly great team. Florida is good. Michigan State is coming around but was a mess on Nov. 29, when Duke won 78-69. Other than that, the Devils have failed every big-time test -- losses vs. Kansas, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Louisville.
All told, Duke is ranked 18th in the latest AP poll and trending down. Jerry Palm does not have them anywhere near his current top 10 NCAA Tournament resumes. In fact, KenPom projects Duke to finish only 10-8 in the ACC. For a team with first-rounders everywhere, most of whom have been back on the court for a while, that's disappointing. -- Brad Botkin
Teams building as tourney sleepers
Current Jerry Palm projection: No. 6 seed
A 16-point loss at Gonzaga on Jan. 14 showed an apparent separation between the two West Coast Conference rivals that could keep the Gaels from piling up enough quality wins to earn a high seed. Beating Gonzaga on Feb. 11 or in the conference tournament could change that, but right now Randy Bennett's team is set to be a thorn in the side of a 2-seed or 3-seed in the second round. They play slow (No. 350 in adjusted tempo), are ridiculously efficient on offense (No. 6 in effective FG percentage) and have one of the top big men in the country in 6-foot-11 junior Jock Landale.
Current Jerry Palm projection: No. 8 seed
Riding a streak of four straight NCAA appearances, the ingredients for a memorable mid-major run are in place. The senior core of Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith, Kyle Davis and Kendall Pollard will be making their final run after last season's Atlantic 10 title. Archie Miller has done it already, orchestrating an Elite Eight run for the Flyers in 2014, and can be counted on to do it again with one of the winningest senior classes in program history.
Current Jerry Palm projection: No. 9 seed
Indiana could very well have a Syracuse-like run in the NCAA Tournament. A trio of early Big Ten losses have put this Hoosiers team in a spot where the committee will likely seed them below their talent ceiling. Even though they could be staring down a spot on the 7, 8 or 9 line, this is a team that has the ability to out-shoot a 1-seed or 2-seed in the second round.
Current Jerry Palm projection: No. 11 seed
Dennis Smith Jr. is too damn good to ignore the potential of him getting hot and becoming the next March Madness superstar. The fact that Mark Gottfried went on a sleeper tear the last time the Pack were in the tournament (2015 with Trevor Lacy and Cat Barber, knocking off Villanova) makes it even easier to imagine a similar run if they can make the field of 68. Terry Henderson or Abdul-Malik Abu might be the X-factors, but Smith is the star you want to bet on.