Forecasting the Elite Eight
by Trevor Whenham - 12/06/2007
It's probably a little too soon to be worrying about the Elite Eight. We are, after all, only a month into the college basketball season, and conference play hasn't even started. We don't truly know which teams are any good, and which ones are just pretenders. Just thinking about the three weeks of perfection that is the NCAA Tournament just gets my heart beating, though. Its very cold and snowy right now where I live, so anything that gets the heart beating and warms you up a bit is a very good thing. Here, then, is my first stab at the eight teams that have emerged so far as potential Elite Eight teams. I've gone pretty much true to the form of most Elite Eights - several of the top teams and a couple exciting outsiders.
UNC - The Tar Heels started the season at No. 1, and there is no reason to think that they won't stay in the upper echelon all year. They haven't played the toughest schedule in the world, but they have handled it well, covering six in a row since a tight win against Davidson. They have ridiculous amounts of talent, and the experience and the coaching that they need. I'd go so far as to say that I will be shocked if UNC is not among the last eight.
UCLA - The Bruins lost to Texas, but they have mostly looked very good, and they will only get better. Darren Collison is showing rust that he will shed throughout the year. Kevin Love will continue to get more comfortable. Like UNC, the team has the experience and the coaching that they need, and they are in very good shape to go deep. Even more so than in recent seasons, the Bruins will go into the tournament well seasoned by very tough conference play.
Kansas - What I liked most about this team was how they handled adversity. They got much more than they bargained for against Arizona, struggled in the second half, but found a way to come back and get it done in overtime. They've played well since then, including a shutdown of O.J. Mayo in L.A. They aren't as flashy as some teams, but they have the depth and determination to go a long way.
On Their Way
Duke - Man, do I ever hate Duke. That hasn't mattered in past years because they always seem to get to the Elite Eight. I am fairly confident that they will again here. They have started out with a reasonably challenging schedule, and at 8-0 they have exceeded expectations. It's the rapid emergence of freshmen Kyle Singler and Taylor King that have fueled the success, and that should continue.
Texas - It was pretty easy at the beginning of the year to ignore Texas. They had, after all, lost the best player in college basketball. After they went to L.A. and handed UCLA a loss, though, you can't ignore them anymore. It's no surprise to anyone who watched last year that D.J. Augustin is good, but it has to be a bit shocking just how good he is. He's been perhaps the best all-round player so far this season. Though he seems to be an all-round good guy, he has to be fueled in part by a desire to show that Texas was not just all about Durant last year.
Memphis - I came into this season very high on Memphis, and they have done nothing to change that. At this point I not only expect them to get to the Elite Eight, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are undefeated when they get there. They do, after all, play in a league that can't compete with them, they have incredible depth and speed, and they also have top coaching. Games against Georgetown and Arizona this month represent their last major challenges of the year. The concern, as always, is that their schedule won't have them primed for top competition.
Outsiders on the Rise
George Mason - It's dangerous to assume that a recent Cinderella can do it again so soon. Unlike the last time they made it deep, though, this team is a seasoned group that is playing like an elite team. They beat Kansas State easily, and absolutely crushed Drexel in one of the most one-sided games of the year. They have a couple of rough losses, too, and need to work to be more consistent but they have the talent and the experience to perhaps capture lightning in a bottle again.
Xavier - Anyone who reads a lot of what I write knows that I have a bit of a thing for Xavier. This year may finally be the year that my devotion pays off. I knew this team was good, but I really felt that something special could happen after they met Indiana on a neutral court and beat them handily. The A-10 is a tough conference, and this team will be ready for the challenge of the tournament.
Just Missed The Cut
Washington State - As good as UCLA is, the possibility exists that they aren't even the best team in their conference. The Cougars already have road wins at Baylor and Gonzaga. Gonzaga doesn't lose at home, so this team must be good.
Butler - This team has been sniffing around the fringes of excellence for a long time now. Freshman Matt Howard is perhaps the most under-appreciated frosh in the country.
Kansas State - This is not a good team right now, but I almost took a flyer on them. Michael Beasley is an incredible talent, and he is given the freedom to do what he does best. If some of the solid talent around him can elevate their games a bit then this is the kind of team that could have a run in them.