Alumni Battle: Which College Would Put Together the Best NBA Team?

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While attending a Clippers/Wizards game this past weekend, a buddy of mine posed the following question: Can you imagine how good Kentucky would be if they still had John Wall and Eric Bledsoe? Roughly 45 seconds into our four-man four-hour discussion, it was obvious that this needed to be researched and compiled into an article.

 

I’m not usually a fan of impractical debates – I would much rather argue about NCAA Bubble teams, fantasy football sleepers, or who is the greatest player/team of all time – but given the time of year, I found myself getting hopelessly sucked into this one.

 

The concept is pretty simple: if current NBA players teamed up based on the college that they “graduated” from, which school would make the best all-around team? Obviously, this debate excludes the Kobes and LeBrons of the world who went straight from high school to the pros.

 

Also, in order to qualify for the debate, you have to at least be able to put together a five man roster. Unfortunately, that excludes guys like Stephen Curry and Steve Nash, because they would single-handedly be representing Davidson and Santa Clara.

 

After combing through NBA rosters for over an hour, I was left with 19 colleges that met the specifications. Stick with me through the first few half-hearted slides. I saved my more long-winded breakdowns for the top twelve schools. Going from worst to best, what follows is how I would rank those teams.

 

#19. USC

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

SG: DeMar DeRozan

SG: Nick Young

SG: OJ Mayo

F: Taj Gibson

PF: Brian Scalabrine

 

Bench: None

 

Ignoring the fact that their inability to field a bench player would require Big Red to be their center for the entirety of the game, you get the feeling that within one quarter of playing together, DeRozan, Young, and Mayo would get in a three way fist fight over who gets to be the primary ball handler. I’m sure they would be fun to watch, but their complete lack of height and depth makes them the lowest ranked team.

 

 

#18. Stanford

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

G: Landry Fields

SG: Josh Childress

C: Brook Lopez

C: Robin Lopez

C: Jason Collins

 

Bench: Jarron Collins – C.

 

In terms of size and scoring threats, Stanford would be USC’s polar opposite, but I can’t in good faith rank the Lopez twins behind Brian Scalabrine. The Trojans would probably shoot threes 80% of the time and maybe hit 40% of them, but the Cardinal would just lob it inside again and again, taking 90% of their shots from inside the paint, and making 90% of them. Nothing fancy about their game, but you can never have too many seven-footers.

 

 

#17. Marquette

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

SG: Dwyane Wade

G: Wesley Matthews

G: Jerel McNeal

SF: Steve Novak

F: Lazar Hayward

 

Bench: None.

 

If Wade and Matthews had anything on the bench, or so much as a supporting cast better than the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion, the Golden Eagles would be seeded much higher than this. As it is, I find it hard to imagine that two shooting guards could carry a team to many victories, even if one of those shooting guards is arguably the greatest player in this entire discussion.

 

 

#16. Ohio State

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Mike Conley

SG: Michael Redd

SG: Daequan Cook

SG: Evan Turner

C: Kosta Koufos

 

Bench: Byron Mullens – C.

 

Permanent Injured Reserve: Greg Oden – C.

 

Even if you wanted to pretend that Greg Oden is healthy for this hypothetical tournament, the Buckeyes would still be completely void of forwards. A good center and four oversized guards might work at the collegiate level, but in most NBA games, a 6’9” forward would be hitting ten foot jumpers over Turner and Redd all night.

 

 

#15. Washington

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Nate Robinson

SG: Brandon Roy

SF: Quincy Pondexter

F: Jon Brockman

C: Spencer Hawes

 

Bench: None.

 

Finally, we have a traditional starting line-up! We know Brandon Roy is incredibly talented, and we know Nate Robinson is incredibly spunky. Say what you will about the three big guys, but I think they’re all talented guys who still have developing to do at the professional level. They may have less recognizable names than most of the bigger schools, but thus far, the Huskies would have the most complete team that we’ve seen.

 

 

#14. Georgia Tech

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Jarrett Jack

PG: Will Bynum

SG: Anthony Morrow

F: Thaddeus Young

PF: Chris Bosh

 

Bench: Gani Lawal – F. Derrick Favors – PF.

 

Favors has an incredibly bright future in the NBA, but the argument is who would put the best looking team on the floor tonight. Therefore I have to ask: Aside from Chris Bosh – who just spent the last seven years proving to us that he can’t single-handedly carry a team to relevance – is there anything you really like about this team? At best, the rest of the starting line-up is slightly above average at their respective positions.

 

Personally, I think Jarrett Jack could be a special talent if he wasn’t behind Chris Paul on the Hornets’ depth chart, but for the time being, it’s tough to argue that the Yellow Jackets would actually be able to accomplish more on the court than the rest of the teams ahead of them.

 

 

#13. Memphis

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Derrick Rose

G: Tyreke Evans

SF: Chris Douglas-Roberts

SF: Shawne Williams

PF: Earl Barron

 

Bench: Joey Dorsey – PF. Elliot Williams – G.

 

It pains me to seed the MVP-in-the-making this low, but as was the case for Dwyane Wade and Marquette, after the superstar’s above average sidekick at the guard position, there isn’t a whole lot to be desired. CDR showed an occasional flash of brilliance during his days with the Nets, but that’s about it.

 

In other news, Rose, Evans, and Williams would have carried Memphis to an undefeated season this year if it weren’t for the one and done phenomenon. And people have the audacity to wonder why college basketball isn’t what it used to be.

 

 

#12. Kansas

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

G: Kirk Hinrich

SG: Brandon Rush

SF: Paul Pierce

PF: Drew Gooden

PF: Nick Collison

 

Bench: Mario Chalmers – PG. Xavier Henry – SG. Julian Wright – SF. Darrell Arthur – PF. Darnell Jackson – PF. Cole Aldrich – C.

 

There’s an awful lot of depth on this Jayhawk squad, but, in my opinion, not all that much quality. Without a doubt, Paul Pierce is one of the best and most underappreciated guys in the NBA in the past decade, and he would certainly add that “it” factor that every good team needs in order to be great.

However, PP’s starting to get up there in years, and on the other end of the spectrum it feels like their entire bench has been in the NBA for all of thirty seconds.

 

Gooden is still a quality forward, but it feels like Collison never gained nearly the relevance in the NBA that he had in college, Rush hasn’t really emerged in the league yet, and I’ve always thought that Kirk Hinrich was in a constant state of flux between the 1- and 2-guard positions.

 

Seriously, I’m willing to bet that if I asked a hundred NBA fans, thirty would say Hinrich is a shooting guard, thirty would say he’s a point guard, and the rest would decide he’s a hybrid guard or something of the sort. I also bet that out of those hundred people, none of them would say he’s in the top 25 in the league at whichever position that decide he plays.

 

 

#11. Syracuse

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Jonny Flynn

SF: Carmelo Anthony

SF: Wesley Johnson

SF: Donte Greene

PF: Hakim Warrick

 

Bench: Andy Rautins – G. Etan Thomas – C.

 

Without doing another hour’s worth of research, I’m assuming that the Orange has the youngest team and that they would fly up and down the court faster than any other team on this list. Melo doesn’t quite have an all-star supporting cast, but it’s a slightly better-rounded group than Wade or Rose would receive.

 

Despite being relatively turnover prone thus far in his career, I see Jonny Flynn directing this cast better than “Inception” mastermind Christopher Nolan. And I think Hakim Warrick would play a good supporting role if he were finally placed on a roster with a lead actor.

 

Aside from the complete lack of quality depth, the main problem with this Syracuse squad is that Johnson and Greene didn’t spend enough time in college and are still in the development process in the NBA. I understand that staying in school isn’t cool anymore, but Donte Greene should be finishing up his senior year under Jim Boeheim rather than spending his third straight year obscurely wasting away in Sacramento.

 

This team is dripping with potential and Carmelo sauce, and would probably be near the top of this list after another year or two in the oven, but there are too many question marks to warrant putting this team in the top ten.

 

#10. Wake Forest

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Chris Paul

G: Jeff Teague

SF: Josh Howard

SF: Al-Farouq Aminu

C: Tim Duncan

 

Bench: Ishmael Smith – PG. James Johnson – SF. Darius Songaila – PF.

 

I don’t care how much it seems like Duncan has dropped off since last season, there’s no chance in hell the Chris Paul / Tim Duncan duo was missing the top ten. If there was a way to quantitatively measure Basketball IQ, you would be hard pressed to find higher scores than the ones that these two guys would record. Teague and Aminu haven’t amounted to much of anything yet, but if you put me on the floor with Paul and Duncan, I could probably score 10 ppg, and I never even played high school varsity hoops.

 

 

#9. LSU

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

G: Marcus Thornton

PF: Brandon Bass

PF: Tyrus Thomas

PF: Glen Davis

C: Shaquille O’Neal

 

Bench: Garrett Temple – G. Anthony Randolph – PF.

 

If only this debate was about guys at the height of their game. Unfortunately, LSU would be playing with 2011 Shaquille O’Neal, which is only good for a dozen minutes of slightly above average play from a big man on a good night.

 

Marcus Thornton is a good guard who is already rapidly evolving into a legitimate all-star, but I’m not fully convinced he would thrive as the only perimeter player on the roster.

 

Reservations about the guard and center aside, you have to love the three-headed monster of Bass/Thomas/Davis. One more threat at the guard position or five less years on Shaq’s odometer and the Tigers would be a top five team, even without much in terms of depth.

 

 

#8. Florida

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

SG: Corey Brewer

SG: Mike Miller

PF: David Lee

PF: Al Horford

C: Joakim Noah

 

Bench: Jason Williams – PG. Matt Bonner – PF. Udonis Haslem – PF. Marreese Speights – C.

 

Talk about quality height! I can’t remember any other time when Udonis Haslem would have been considered the fourth or fifth best big man on the team. In theory, Florida would outrebound most of the other teams on this list by at least a three to one margin.

 

Unfortunately, their own rebound to assist ratio would end up being roughly twenty to one. It’s a shame Jason Williams hasn’t been worth mentioning since 2008, because this Gator team is one quality ball distributor away from greatness.

 

 

#7. Duke

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

SG: JJ Redick

SF: Grant Hill

SF: Luol Deng

PF: Carlos Boozer

PF: Elton Brand

 

Bench: Chris Duhon – PG. Dahntay Jones – SG. Gerald Henderson – G. Mike Dunleavy – SF. Shane Battier – SF. Corey Maggette – SF. Josh McRoberts – PF. Shelden Williams – PF.

 

It would definitely increase Duke’s seed if we were including the coaches in seeding these teams, but unfortunately the carousels at some of these colleges makes that downright impossible. Krzyzewski’s leadership aside, the Dukies come in as the seventh best team despite having no one to fill the traditional one or five on the floor.

 

As a diehard Blue Devils fan, I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find a complete lack of serviceable point guards on this list, considering our best point guards of the past twenty years are either coaching or still recovering from career shattering motorcycle accidents.

 

The lack of a pure center was not too shocking either, as I still wake up at night in cold sweats following visions of Nick Horvath, Eric Meek, Taymon Domzalski, and Greg Newton walking to the scorer’s table in crunch time.

 

But if you think highly of power forwards who have the ability to hit short jumpers or perimeter threats who would walk through fire to take a charge, then this is definitely the squad for you!

 

 

#6. Texas

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: DJ Augustin

SG: Daniel Gibson

SF: Maurice Evans

SF: Kevin Durant

PF: LaMarcus Aldridge

 

Bench: TJ Ford – PG. Royal Ivey – PG. Avery Bradley – SG. Damion James – SF. Dexter Pittman – C.

 

If only that fifth man was better than Maurice Evans / Damion James! DJ Augustin is certainly no Russell Westbrook, but Kendrick Perkins is no LaMarcus Aldridge. If the Thunder have the sixth best team in the NBA, the Longhorns would certainly have the sixth best team in this argument, even without a fifth quality player.

 

 

#5. North Carolina

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Raymond Felton

SG: Vince Carter

SF: Marvin Williams

PF: Antawn Jamison

C: Brendan Haywood

 

Bench: Ty Lawson – PG. Wayne Ellington – G. Brandon Wright – PF. Ed Davis – PF. Tyler Hansbrough – PF.

 

The 2010-11 per 48 minute statistics for the starting five on this Tar Heels team adds up to 99.2 points, 42.5 rebounds, and 19.8 assists per game. The 2010-11 Miami Heat average 101.7 points, 42.4 rebounds, and 19.6 assists per game.

 

So why am I not more blown away by UNC? Because Carter and Haywood don’t play anywhere near 48 minutes per game. They could play with absolutely anyone for the first 15-20 minutes, but eventually Wayne Ellington and Tyler Hansbrough are going to end up in the game, and that’s where the teams ranked ahead of them would be able to capitalize.

 

Not to mention, Brendan Haywood has never been an ideal big man, and he’s now serving his tenth year in the association. So long as he’s seven feet tall and can jog up and down the court, he’ll have a job somewhere, but as was the case with Kirk Hinrich, there are at least 25 guys at his position that you would rather have on your team.

 

Much like Syracuse, North Carolina fields a team that would almost certainly be better a few years from now when the three forwards on the bench and the Lawson/Felton duo have reached their full potential. I have a feeling I’m undervaluing them because I can already see they’d be better in the future, but the Tar Heels would easily be the best “long-odds” team to put your pennies on if these schools were playing in a tournament.

 

 

#4. Arizona

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Gilbert Arenas

SG: Jason Terry

SG: Andre Iguodala

SF: Richard Jefferson

C: Channing Frye

 

Bench: Mike Bibby – PG. Jerryd Bayless – PG. Mustafa Shakur – PG. Chase Budinger – SF. Luke Walton – SF. Jordan Hill – F.

 

To be perfectly honest, this is the one team in the top twelve that I hadn’t thought of before doing the research – probably because every member of its theoretical starting five was already in the league before I graduated from high school – but it turns out they would field a pretty solid team.

 

Most likely, no one blows you away in a good way, but more importantly, no one blows you away in a bad way. As we enter the Final Four, we’re finally blessed with breaking down teams without any real weakness. Sure, they’re the definition of slightly above average across the board, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Even as guys like Jefferson, Terry, and Arenas enter into into the denouement of their career, this starting five is easily the strongest chain we’ve encountered yet, and it’s hard to argue with Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger coming off the bench.

 

 

#3. UCLA

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Baron Davis

PG: Darren Collison

SG: Russell Westbrook

SF: Trevor Ariza

PF: Kevin Love

 

Bench: Jordan Farmar – PG. Earl Watson – PG. Jrue Holliday – PG. Aaron Afflalo – SG. Jason Kapono – SF. Matt Barnes – SF. Luc Richard Mbah a Boute – SF, Ryan Hollins – C. Dan Gadzuric – C.

 

For the purposes of this argument, I’m assuming Baron Davis would be happy and competitive on this team, as opposed to being the Baron Davis who plays like he’s been chain-swallow twinkies during TV timeouts when he’s unhappy.

 

Considering they played in three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08, it’s not surprising to see how deep this team runs with guys who have been in the league for less than half a decade. (Speaking of which, I still can’t believe Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love lost to Memphis in 2008.)

 

Despite how impeccable their guard play would be, and despite how well Kevin Love fills the lane and crashes the boards, I fear this team would just be a little too small to hang with the big boys.

 

 

#2. Kentucky

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

PG: Rajon Rondo

PG: John Wall

SF: Tayshaun Prince

PF: DeMarcus Cousins

C: Chuck Hayes

 

Bench: Eric Bledsoe – PG. Keith Bogans – SG. Jodie Meeks – G. Daniel Orton – PF. Patrick Patterson – PF. Jamaal Magloire – C. Nazr Mohammed – C.

 

I debated putting the Wildcats anywhere between #1 and #6 before finally settling on this spot. Maybe I was a little too excited about the prospect of seeing two of the three best point guards in the Eastern Conference on the same team, but I think my gaiety is justified. Andray Blatche wouldn’t even start on most teams, but with John Wall he’s averaging 16 points per game. Imagine what he could do for guys like Prince and Cousins!

 

Even better, with Rondo at the helm, Wall would be able to fully embrace the scorer within. The double R may have one of the worst jump shots in the league, but he still routinely scores in double figures while creating countless opportunities for those around him.

 

How do you game plan against this team? We haven’t even yet mentioned that Rondo and Prince are members of all-NBA defensive teams and that Chuck Hayes arguably should be on one as well, and it was already difficult to imagine putting together a more solid team than this.

 

You can’t score against them and you can’t stop them from scoring. So why aren’t they ranked #1?

 

I would argue that the quality of Kentucky’s bench doesn’t even remotely compare to the bench of the #1 team, which would frankly put together a top ten team from its reserves. Aside from that, trying to separate the top half dozen teams has been like splitting hairs.

 

 

#1. Connecticut

 

Starting Line-Up:

 

SG: Ray Allen

SG: Richard Hamilton

SF: Caron Butler

SF: Rudy Gay

C: Emeka Okafor

 

Bench: Ben Gordon – SG. AJ Price – G. Jeff Adrien – F. Charlie Villanueva – PF. Hilton Armstrong – C. Hasheem Thabeet – C.

 

The Huskies are easily the most well-rounded, battle-tested team in this debate. Like Arizona, there’s no one that particularly blows you away, but in this case, the entire starting line-up and the first two guys off the bench (Gordon and Villanueva) are all considerably above average at their position.

 

Using the same theory that I used for North Carolina, the starting five on this team would average 111.6 points per game, but unlike the Tar Heels, there’s more than enough quality depth on UConn’s bench to keep from necessitating anywhere near that much play from any individual player.

 

I’m sure fans of the other 18 schools will argue that the lack of a true point guard should eliminate them from consideration for the #1 overall seed, but I guarantee Ray Allen could make do. Aside from a handful of guys like Rondo, Nash, and Calderon, the sport is gravitating away from the pass-first point guard anyway. Just look at the player of the year candidates in the college game this year: Walker, Smith, and Fredette are the primary ball-handler as well as primary scorer for each of their respective schools.

 

As I previously argued, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan would bring a lot of basketball IQ to Wake Forest’s team, but I strongly doubt you could find a starting five with a higher average BB IQ than this Connecticut group.

 

Maybe they would get knocked out of a March Madness type of tournament, but in a best-of-7 series, I’m taking Connecticut over every other college.

 

Ten Teams You’ll Want to Get to Know Before Selection Sunday

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Anyone could tell you that either Duke, Kansas, or Ohio State is probably going to win the national title. However, the key to winning your office pool is pinpointing sleepers. These ten teams are going to break a lot of brackets. Stick with me and they won’t break yours.

Four Potential First Round Upsets

It’s been a decade since a 2-seed lost in the first round, and any one of these teams could be lacing up their glass slippers to break that streak if they end up receiving a 15-seed.

Belmont

The Bruins went on the road this past weekend and beat ETSU by double digits in what should be their biggest test in 2011; unless they receive a tough draw on Bracket Busters Weekend. There’s an outside chance that they finish the regular season with a 29-3 record with those two losses coming @ Vanderbilt and @ Tennessee (twice), each of which was a single digit loss. It’s unlikely that they would fail to win their conference tournament, but if they did, with the new 68 team bracket, it’ll be tough to argue that a 30+ win team shouldn’t make it to the big dance, regardless of their strength of schedule.

Anyway, what I love about this Belmont team is that they don’t rely too heavily on any individual player: no one on the team averages 25 minutes per game, and yet they’re the 10th highest scoring team in the nation. Eleven guys on the team are averaging at least ten minutes per game, which means a lot of guys are getting experience and a lot of guys are staying rested for the long haul. They recently made it to the tourney thrice (2006-2008), and while only two current players were even on the roster for any of those games, it’s safe to say head coach Rick Byrd gained from the experience, as each game ended up being more competitive than the last, culminating in the Duke/Belmont 71-70 nail biter in 2008. Next on Byrd’s agenda is a post-season victory.

Bucknell

Northern Colorado

Of the 346 teams in Division I basketball, only two shoot better than 76% from the free throw line and better than 40% from the three point line: Bucknell and Northern Colorado. Neither of them has anything else particularly intriguing on their resume, and with seven losses apiece and a lack of competitiveness in their games against tournament-caliber teams, there’s no chance either of them receives an at-large invitation if they fail to win their respective conference tournaments; but if either of these teams can make it to the tournament, what’s more crucial to pulling off an upset in March than clutch free throw and three point shooting?

Coastal Carolina

Maybe that free throw / three point percentage stat didn’t impress you enough to pick Bucknell or Northern Colorado, but this next one should blow your mind. There are four teams in the nation currently ranked in the top 30 in assists per game, rebounds per game, points per game, and field goal percentage: Kansas, Pittsburgh, Washington…and Coastal Carolina. I’m apparently the only person outside of Myrtle Beach who has noticed what the Chanticleers are up to, because despite a current 16 game winning streak which has given them a record of 18-2, they only received 2 points in the latest AP poll. Lunardi currently has Coastal as a 15-seed, pitted against Villanova in the first round in Washington DC. If that actually happens, I’ll make sure I’m in attendance for that potential upset.

Three Underperforming Teams No One Wants To Face

Every year in every sport there are a handful of teams that were too highly touted in the pre-season, and by mid-season it’s beyond evident that they didn’t deserve the respect they were given. In some cases, such as with Butler, Gonzaga, and Memphis this year, teams are basically ranked based upon rosters they used to have. In the other cases, we’re dealing with teams who haven’t quite put it together even though they have all the necessary pieces. Any one of these three teams could easily still get a 4-seed if they’re able to start doing what everyone expected them to do from the beginning. At the same time, any or all of these teams could very well play themselves out of the tournament altogether, despite opening the season ranked in the top ten. Trust me, there are at least 68 other teams who would strongly prefer that these teams never begin to gel, because with the head coaches that they have, anything is possible.

Kansas State

When you consider Frank Martin is the most terrifying coach since Bobby Knight’s heyday, what’s so dumbfounding about this team is how incredibly undisciplined they are. They turn the ball over more than 291 other teams in the nation. There are only nine teams who have a lower team free throw percentage than Kansas State. They literally miss an average of ten free throws per game.

If Mike Singletary’s failure in San Francisco didn’t teach you that ruling with an iron fist no longer works in sports, learn it from Frank Martin. I thought he was going to remove Jacob Pullen’s head from his body during last night’s game against Baylor…and they were winning by eight at the time. Dear Frank, next time one of your guys pisses you off, instead of making him run wind sprints, make him shoot 500 free throws. You’re never going to make it to the tournament by giving away ten points per game at the charity stripe.

Michigan State

I’ll never understand how to calculate SOS, but I guarantee the Spartans have had one of the five toughest schedules thus far, and they still have to play games in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio State. Nevertheless, you would think the pre-season #2 team would be able to win at least a couple of the seven games they’ve lost thus far. Unless they completely shit the bed down the stretch, they’ll probably get into the tournament as a severely battle tested 7-seed with 11 or 12 losses.

They’re a much better team than they’ve demonstrated thus far. I think it’s only a matter of time before they hit their stride. Once they do, we’ll be reminded that Tom Izzo is 35-12 in the NCAA Tournament since 1998. When it’s time to fill out your bracket, just remember the Michigan State Corollary: unless they lose in the first round, they always win at least one more game than anyone expects them to win.

North Carolina

As an unabashed Duke supporter, this one concerns me the most: All they need is for one perimeter threat to emerge and, along with the Barnes/Henson/Zeller three-headed monster, they will become a force to be reckoned with.

As is the case with most teams with an already shaky backcourt, their weakness is playing on the road. At home, the Tar Heels are 9-0, including a big win over Kentucky. Away from home, they are 4-5, including a jaw-dropping twenty point loss at Georgia Tech.

Similarly to Michigan State, at the rate they’re going, they’d probably get into the tournament as a 6-seed, and with Roy Williams at the helm, there’s no telling what they could do from there.

Two Non-BCS Schools Who Could Do Some Damage

Utah State

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a Utah State team with little more than a close loss to BYU just cracked the Top 25 and is gaining popularity around the nation as a potential Cinderella. Sounds a lot like the 2008-09 season in which they lost a first round heartbreaker to Marquette, doesn’t it? The only difference is that this year they have seven guys averaging more than ten minutes per game, and all of them are juniors and seniors who won’t merely be satisfied with another great regular season after two straight disappointing postseason showings.

Beware the Aggies with the chip on their shoulder. For either winning the WAC or getting in as an at-large, there’s no way they’ll be seeded lower than a 13; but no matter where they end up, you can already take a first round win to the bank, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them make a Davidson-type run to the Elite Eight.

BYU

Speaking of Davidson, if your 2008 bracket didn’t love Stephen Curry, you can make up for it in 2011 by riding Jimmer Fredette to the top of your office pool. If you haven’t had a chance to see him in action, set your DVRs for Wednesday night at 10PM ET when BYU hosts San Diego State in what’s quietly shaping up to be one of the ten greatest games of the regular season. It should be an interesting battle since SDSU is holding opponents to 59 points per game, but then again, UNLV is holding opponents to 61 points per game, and Jimmer dropped 39 on them three weeks ago.

What makes the Cougars so deadly is that they’re more than just Jimmer and a quartet of mediocre mid-major cheerleaders. Jackson Emery is one hell of a second fiddle, and Hartsock and Davies are more than capable enough to make an opponent pay for doubling Fredette.

Kemba Walker and UConn are getting more publicity and favoritism in the polls since they’re a Big East team, but if UConn and BYU faced off in the tournament, I would take the Cougars in a heartbeat. If there’s a team out there this year that’s going to pull off a deep run in the tournament a la Gonzaga, Davidson, or Butler, it’s BYU.

Dark Horse To Win It All

Washington

I’ve been on the Washington bandwagon since the Maui Invitational; frequently betting the over in their games because Vegas is apparently unaware that they average 95.7 points per game at home. The problem with picking them very far in the tourney is that they only average 75.1 points per game away from home. They aren’t particularly reliable from the free throw line either, currently tied for 261st in the country (with Pittsburgh for what that’s worth). I also liked them a lot more before Abdul Gaddy tore his ACL, but even without him, they definitely have the pieces to put together a six game winning streak in March.

Aside from possibly Will Buford and Jared Sullinger, Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning are arguably the best inside-outside duo in the nation. Wilcox, Suggs, and Holiday are each shooting better than 41% from beyond the arc, and they’ve each taken their fair share of shots in the process. If they’re able to start getting some 2009-10 numbers out of Venoy Overton, I don’t know how anyone other than Washington can stop Washington. They’re already the third highest scoring team in the nation, and they haven’t allowed an opponent to score 80 points in a game yet this season.

Every March, I end up doing at least a dozen different brackets based on new statistical ideas that I come up with, and of course, I always have one bracket based entirely on gut feeling. For the past seven years, the same stat-based bracket has done better than any of the others: Average Margin of Victory times Conference RPI. Not only does that bracket always win, but in four of the past seven seasons, it had the correct Final Four and National Champion.

Relevance? If things remain relatively the same as they are now, with the exception of the Big East beating itself up as always, Washington would have the 4th highest rating in that bracket behind Ohio State, Kansas, and Duke. Sounds like a pretty realistic Final Four to me.

Will I actually pick them to win it all? Highly doubt it. Would I be surprised if they’re still playing in April? Not at all.