Contender or Pretender?

We are about a month and a half away from Selection Sunday and this is the time when we’ll start getting full and complete pictures of which teams are peaking at the right moment and may be able to turn that into a run at the National Championship. There are probably a number of teams that could be considered “contenders” for the national title, but three stand out: Kentucky, Syracuse and Ohio State. All three have schedules over the next few weeks that will be rough tests and will tell us exactly whose tournament-ready now and who may be falling off the title chase.

1. Kentucky
   The Wildcats, once again, have a very talented core of freshman that have been lighting up the scoreboard and will likely be fleeing campus this summer. Anthony Davis has got to be the leader for player of the year, being productive on both ends and coming up big when needed recently against Alabama and Tennessee. While they haven’t fallen since their loss in Bloomington on December 10, now they get to the teeth of their schedule. They’ve faced three ranked squads all year and will now play three games against ranked teams in the next month, home and away with Florida, away at Mississippi State, and home and away to an always-dangerous Vanderbilt squad. These games will show exactly how that young group deals with the high pressure situations and if they survive that run unscathed, then expect them to march to New Orleans.

2. Syracuse
Fab Melo is back and that changes the way  way the Orange look for the stretch drive. They’ve been pushed around inside in the three games he was sidelined by academic issues and it will also be good to get his 3 blocks a game back as well. This is a more experienced team than Kentucky, but how they come together over this stretch could solidify them on their road to the Final Four. They get Georgetown at home and two games with Louisville, but you know the Big East is more than just the ranked teams. Two games with a reeling UConn could sneak up on them, along with a trip to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have a knack of playing hot and cold, but pulling off the occasional upset (Florida, UConn, Pitt). Could the visit to the RAC be a trap? South Florida’s also been a huge surprise in the conference and visit the Carrier Dome on February 22. Another trap game? By the time Syracuse gets ready to go down to MSG for the Big East tournament, they’ll have run the gauntlet and we’ll have a very good idea how far we can expect them to go in March.
3. Ohio State
Of the three leading title contenders, the Buckeyes have the toughest road through the last month of the season. It starts tomorrow with a road test at #20 Wisconsin, and continues with Purdue, Michigan State twice, Michigan again, a revenge game against Illinois, with Minnesota and Northwestern thrown in there as well. It’s a testament to how good the Big Ten is this season that none of those games are really guarantees. The strength of schedule is the biggest hurdle for OSU to overcome this month and if they can make it though this landmine, they will be ready to make huge noise in March.

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