If you're a college basketball team that wants to gain serious respect from casual fans before making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, you basically have to be at least one of three things:
1. A preseason top-10 team that entered with hype
2. A traditional and/or recently accomplished power
3. A team with obvious and overwhelming future NBA talent
The following tweet sent to me Thursday morning, after I ranked Baylor No. 1 in the CBS Sports Top 25 (and one), is a perfect example of the point I'm making:
See what I mean?
This person has no issue with Villanova being No. 1 even after the Wildcats just lost to a Butler team that's lost to Indiana State and St. John's because, well, it's Villanova. Everybody saw Villanova win a national title last year. Everybody knows Villanova is legit. So folks don't flinch when Villanova is at the top of anything. Meantime, this person also has no issue with UCLA being No. 1 because UCLA is a traditional power with obvious NBA talent in the form of Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu. So folks are cool with UCLA, too.
Baylor didn't receive a single Top 25 vote in the preseason. Baylor is not a traditional or recently accomplished power. And Baylor does not have obvious NBA talent. So when you rank Baylor No. 1, like I did Thursday, the pushback comes quickly, and never mind that Baylor is one of only two remaining undefeated teams and in possession of more top-55 KenPom victories than any other school in the country -- including victories over the teams ranked ninth (Louisville), 15th (Oregon) and 16th (Xavier) in the Associated Press poll.
The season is nearly two months old.
Nobody has more good wins or fewer losses than Baylor.
That's a fact.
But if you asked a casual basketball fan right now to pick four Final Four teams, most would not mention Baylor despite everything I've already told you. Change Baylor's name to Michigan State, and Scott Drew's name to Tom Izzo, and everybody would be on board. But hardly anybody will be completely on board with Baylor until Baylor beats and dethrones Kansas in the Big 12.
Such is silly, though.
It shouldn't take that.
Baylor has already beaten multiple good teams on neutral courts, which suggests the Bears have what it takes to make a serious run at the Final Four. That's the truth. And here are four other Final Four-caliber teams that, for one or more of the reasons previously stated, probably aren't getting the type of consideration they deserve:
Might as well continue this list with the nation's only other undefeated team -- which will forever have doubters, if only because Gonzaga has been eliminated before the Final Four in each of the past 18 NCAA Tournaments. I understand, I guess. But know this: Gonzaga is 15-0 with wins over Arizona, Florida and the Iowa State team that just pushed Baylor to the buzzer. The Zags are top-15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And that sentence can only be written about four other teams -- specifically Baylor, Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia.
As mentioned, the Mountaineers are one of only five schools that rank top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, meaning they're one of the only teams that can be called statistically great on both ends. And they're overwhelming on the defensive end. West Virginia's pressing style takes opponents completely out of their offense and makes players uncomfortable. So, with the right draw, absolutely, Bob Huggins could end up in the Final Four for the third time in his career even if he doesn't have a single top-100 NBA Draft prospect, according to DraftExpress.
Leonard Hamilton became a Division I coach 30 years ago and has never advanced past the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. And Florida State hasn't been in the NCAA Tournament since 2012. So the Seminoles will always have people assuming they'll fall apart or, at least, fail to make a memorable run in March. But you'd be unwise to ignore that they're 14-1 with a win over the Minnesota team that beat Purdue, a win over the Virginia team that beat Louisville, and a win over the Florida team that's 13th at KenPom and projected to finish second in the SEC. Beyond that, FSU has established college standouts in Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon, and a possible lottery pick in Jonathan Isaac. So this is a talented roster that's performing well. Florida State has the necessary stuff to play in April.
Doug McDermott couldn't get the Bluejays past the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and he's one of the best college basketball players of all-time. And Creighton, as a program, has never made the Final Four. So be skeptical, if you want. But Creighton is absolutely a Final Four threat because they're just so good offensively. The Bluejays rank third in the nation in 2-point field goal percentage and fourth in 3-point field percentage. They have a wonderful senior point guard (Maurice Watson), a big-scoring veteran off-guard (Marcus Foster) and a future pro in the frontcourt (Justin Patton). In other words, the Bluejays have guys who could start for almost anybody at three different positions. That's strong. So I don't care if they finish first or fourth in the Big East, Greg McDermott's Bluejays are capable of playing on the first Saturday in April.