2014 College Basketball National Championship Contenders
by Trevor Whenham - 4/16/2013
The dust has only barely settled on the Final Four, yet it is never too early to look towards next year. Next year’s Championship Game will be played on April 7, 2014, in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. So, which teams are legitimate 2014 college basketball National Championship contenders? And which ones are going to have a rough road? Let’s take a look:
There are few things harder to do than winning a National Championship in college basketball because so much can happen over the course of the season. That being said, it’s not going too far to say that next year the title will be Kentucky’s to lose. John Calipari is coming off a disappointing season — a first-round upset in the NIT. He returns several pieces from his very young team this year, though, and he adds the best class of freshmen at least since Michigan’s Fab Five. It’s a ridiculous wealth of talent, and they could still add the top player in the country in Andrew Wiggins. There are always concerns with a young team, but you can’t worry about that too much — Michigan made the final this year with the youngest team in the tournament, and Calipari won last year with a very young team as well. The biggest challenge for the team is going to be finding a way to split the playing time up to get the most out of the lineup. If they can do that — and there is a good chance they can — then they will be tough to beat.
The Blue Devils lose three seniors that provided leadership and spark. All is not lost, though. In fact, they could very easily be a better team this year. They add Jabari Parker, one of the top freshmen in the country at small forward. Impressive Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood will also be eligible. They are going to be a small team, but if they can overcome that they could be dangerous.
North Carolina (8/1)
I was underwhelmed last year, and I expect to be again this year unless Andrew Wiggins chooses the Tar Heels. I don’t see much value here.
Can the Cardinals repeat? It will be tough, but you sure can’t rule them out. They lose Peyton Siva and probably Russ Smith, but the backcourt should still be solid thanks to a very strong incoming class including junior college point guard Chris Jones. If their returning veterans can build on their performances from last year and get fueled by the confidence from last year’s run, this team has what it takes to go deep again. Their biggest challenge will be keeping their feet on the ground — something some defending champs have found easier than others.
The Tigers have to overcome the loss of two key pieces in Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas. Josh Pastner has recruited like crazy, though, and he will have one of the most athletic teams in the country. Last year they were somewhat disappointing given their talent, but they have the pieces to take a step forward this year, and we certainly know that a team from Memphis is capable of going deep in March.
Michigan State (15/1)
The Spartans got a big break when Gary Harris made the somewhat unexpected decision to return for his sophomore year. He and Keith Appling will be a dynamic backcourt — one of the best in the count. If Adreian Payne can take a big step forward and build on his tournament momentum, this team can be a Final Four contender.
Arizona was one of my biggest disappointments last season. They had no shortage of talent but just weren’t tough enough to be competitive when it mattered. They return solid talent, though, and they add a potential superstar in Aaron Gordon and a very nice transfer — T.J. McConnell from Duquesne. There is an opportunity for this team to shine in the Pac-12, and I am confident that they will learn from last year and be ready to make the most of their opportunities.
As I write this, we can’t be sure what to expect from Michigan because three key players — Hardaway, McGary and Robinson — have not yet made their draft decision. My gut tells me that Hardaway is the only one who will go, though, and even that is less certain the longer he waits to make his decision. If only one of those three leaves, this team has the potential to make another deep run. Their very young core will return and will be a year older. They lose the incredible Trey Burke but have a very strong incoming class that can fill gaps immediately. If they don’t lose too much, they can’t be counted out. In fact, with McGary and Robinson back, this price offers real value.
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