Checking in with the Top 8

Never to early to start looking to March.

Joe Lunardi has a pretty solid mid-season bracket here with the top eight seeds looking to be pretty good bets if they can hold serve the rest of the way.

Of the eight, Texas is looking like the team most likely to get bumped off of the two line since they're about as grounded psychologically as a former child star on a Dr. Drew reality show. It sucks when your team's trendline resembles that of Todd Bridges' career. Jai Lucas says, "Whatchu talkin' 'bout Willis?" But the other seven seeds? Probably great bets at this point to stay anywhere on the top eight lines and we'll start with my number one overall team...

1. Kansas.

Strengths
Even with the struggles of Xavier Henry Kansas edges out Kentucky for the top spot because of their experience at the two most important positions on the floor. Point guard and post. Collins isn't as talented as Wall, but he's a better all around college point guard at this point. Collins knows exactly who, what, when, where and why as it relates to delivering the basketball. It's the floor general aspect of the game that gives Kansas a better chance to win close contests, especially tournament games. In the pivot, I give the Cole Aldrich the nod over Cousins again for experience reasons. Cole does such a terrific of controlling the glass and starting the break on defense. As a back to the basket threat in the halfcourt, you're not going to find a better post in the college game. He's college basketball's ultimate dual threat player.

Weaknesses
Before the emergence of Tyshawn Taylor, you might be able to point to a lack of having a second creator or ballhandler alongside Collins, but you can't say that anymore. He's KU's answer to Eric Bledsoe. As far as a Kansas weakness goes, I'm drawing a blank. Should we go with depth at center? How about negative karmatic effects of giving Lester Earl a scholarship? Naming any weakness is grasping at straws at this point.

Tournament Success hinges on...
Tyshawn Taylor continuing to emerge as that second explosive handler/creator. The Hawks can survive Xavier Henry's regression, but if Taylor goes into a funk, it might put too much pressure on Collins especially if KU runs into a team with a lockdown on-ball defender.

2. Kentucky

Strengths
Sheer talent 1-5. You won't find a more talented starting 5 anywhere in America. And when we get into the tournmanent and there's a smaller premium on depth because of more stoppages in play, this strength is enhanced. If these guys play well, no one in America can beat them.

Weakness
Inexperience. It cost the Cats against South Carolina when the Kentucky guards didn't fully exploit their huge mismatch in the paint. Had Wall and to a lesser extent Bledsoe kept pounding USC with Cousins and Patterson on every possession, there's no way the game is close.

Tournament Success hinges on...
Eric Bledsoe giving the 'Cats balance in the backcourt. If he's not involved, it really puts a lot of pressure on Wall who's prone to try to do too much at times. Eric's got to be a shooter and distributor for the 'Cats to cut down the nets.

3. Villanova

Strengths
I give 'Nova tha nod here over Syracuse because of guard play. Jay Wright's team has it in spades with Reynolds, Fisher, and Stokes. Hell, Reggie Redding the 6-5 wing can put it on the deck and create as well. I can't wait to watch these guards matchup vs. Syracuse's zone in a couple weeks. It should be epic.

Weakness
Size. Can 6-6 Taylor King and 6-8 Antonio Pena give the 'Cats enough on the glass against bigger clubs? Can they give 'Nova any kind of interior game to fall back on, on cold shooting nights?

Tournament Success hinges on...
Success in the tourney probably hinges on matchups. If they can avoid a team with elite size and decent guard play, 'Nova will present unique challenges to virtually every team in the country. Their battle against the 'Cuse will tell us a lot about whether or not that backcourt can compensate for frontcourt shortcomings.

4. Syracuse.

Strength
Unique style. You have to have the rare combination of creativity and shooting ability to really defeat Syracuse's active zone. The Orange does a good job of punishing teams that aren't patient because they take away first and second options so well with their size and activity in the 2-3. A team like Villanova is tailor-made to beat the 'Cuse, if they can compete on the backboards.

Weakness
Guard play. Andy Rautins and Scoop Jardine are more specialists than all-around guards. A good defensive backcourt, properly coached, can minimize this duo's impact on the game. For example, this pair is right in Balbay and Bradley's wheelhouse in terms of ability to guard.

Tournament Success hinges on...
Wesley Johnson playing at an elite level. If he has a rough shooting night and the opposition has a lockdown backcourt, the 'Cuse will struggle offensively.

5. Michigan State

Strength
Mentally, the Spartans may be the toughest team in college basketball. Night in and night out, they just find ways to beat you regardless of how good or bad they play as a team. Knowing how to win by making certain plays at the end of ballgames is invaluable.

Weakness
Over reliance on guard play. Delvon Roe and Draymond Green are nice frontcourt players, but they aren't going to strike fear in the hearts of the opposition as back to the basket players. And they aren't your typical Izzo glass-eaters. As Texas showed, if you can matchup in the backcourt with the Spartans, you have a fighting chance to beat them.

Tournament Success hinges on...
Their frontcourt. When they play at a high level, Sparty is a tough out. If you can beat them on the glass, that puts too much pressure on Lucas, Summers, and co.

6. Duke

Strength
My second number 2 seed is Duke and it's all predicated on versatility. The Devils, by moving Singler around, have the versatility to dictate matchups depending on who they're playing. Duke can go 5 out, 4 out, or a more traditional 3-2 offensive look simply by moving Singler between spots 3 and 4.

Weakness
Backcourt quickness. I don't like Scheyer and Smith's abilities to stay in front of the upper echelon backcourts in college basketball. Nor do I like their ability to create off the bounce against lockdown guards.

Tournament Success hinges on...
John Scheyer is their best player, but Nolan Smith is the key to the tourney. If he can continue to be a force on offense against a team's 3rd best perimeter defender, he'll be able to take some pressure off of Singler and Scheyer.

7. West Virginia

Strength
Balance. Their starting five all play more than 20 minutes per contest, and four of the five average double digits. DeSaun Butler, Kevin Jones, and Devin Eubanks are 3 of the most talented players in America, so the Mountaineer attack is as diversified as you can get.

Weakness
Guard play. I'm not sold on Darryl Bryant being able to create off the bounce against a lock down defender. Sure, he's surrounded by elite finishers, but once the pressure is ratcheted up, how will he perform?

Tournament Success hinges on...
Bryant taking care of the basketball. If he plays like he did against a good defensive team like Purdue, WVA will struggle.

8. Texas

Strength
Talent. The last number two seed has plenty of it. If Texas plays well, they're going to beat you. I wouldn't be thrilled as a 1 seed if I drew the Horns in my bracket.

Weakness
Identity, confidence, chemistry. Pick an intangible and it's likely considered a weakness.

Tournament Success hinges on...
Finding whatever spark they had in December. If they find it, they can beat any team in the country. If they don't they could lose to any team in the tournament.

Right now it looks like a two horse race to me. UK and KU and everyone else.

Thoughts?

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