Press Box: Counting down to an NCAA title

Sports Commentary: A look at the college basketball season

The 2013-14 college basketball season is a mere two days old, so it’s not too late for a little early-season prognostications.

I’ve written this column the past two years, so why not make it a third?

Five contenders

These are five teams I believe have a legitimate shot at winning the national championship.

• Kentucky — Preseason No. 1. Eight billion McDonald’s All-Americans. The Wildcats are the team to beat.

• Louisville — Never count out the defending champions, especially with Russ Smith back.

• Michigan State — Tom Izzo and a veteran team are hard to beat.

• Kansas — It pains me to write this, but No. 1 recruit Andrew Wiggins and the Jayhawks are the real deal. Will Missouri ever reach a Final Four?

• Duke — Coach K and his Blue Devils are always in this conversation, and deservedly so most years. This is one of those years.

Four Cinderellas

Much of the allure of college basketball — for the casual fan at least — comes in the form of March Madness and its unpredictability. So here are four lesser-known teams I believe have a chance to pull an upset come tournament time.

• Harvard — Yeah, these nerds can play basketball. Jokes aside, the Crimson are going to be really good this season. Don’t be surprised when they end up in the Sweet 16. Harvard won a game in the Big Dance last season, gets everybody back and returns its top two players from two years ago —Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry — who withdrew after being implicated in a cheating scandal.

• Florida Gulf Coast — Dunk City is back again. After becoming the first No. 15 seed to win two games in the NCAA Tournament, the Eagles are back as America’s darlings.

• Boise State — This football powerhouse is watching its basketball program become the school’s top team. Everybody is back from a team that lost in last season’s First Four.

• Saint Louis — I’m back on the bandwagon. The Billikens suffered a disappointing finish to an excellent year in 2012. Jordair Jett, Dwayne Evans and the Bills are flying under the radar in 2013. That makes for a scary combination.

Three pretenders

These are three teams ranked in the top 10 I think will fail to advance past the Sweet 16 in 2013.

• Michigan — I think the Wolverines are due for a sizable step back after their appearance in the national championship last season. No Trey Burke, no Tim Hardaway Jr., no chance.

• Florida — The Gators’ frontcourt, led by Patric Young, is stacked. That backcourt though? That could get ugly.

• Oklahoma State — I guess I’m not as high on the Cowboys as others. Even with potential national player of the year Marcus Smart back for his sophomore campaign, I think Oklahoma State is in for another early tournament exit.

Two sleepers

These are two teams ranked outside the top 10 I believe have the best shot of reaching the Final Four.

• Creighton — The Bluejays aren’t even ranked, yet I still think this team could be the next George Mason, VCU, Butler, etc. Sure, Creighton is now in the Big East instead of the Missouri Valley Conference, but a tougher slate will prepare the unstoppable Doug McDermott and his squad for a deep tournament run.

• Wichita State — The Shockers shocked the country last year by advancing to the Final Four. Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker and the gang are back for Round Two.

One national champion

• Kentucky — Can I make it two years in a row? I correctly — somehow — picked Louisville to win it all before last season. Well, the national title stays in the Bluegrass State as John Calipari and his talented bunch of freshmen win a second title in three years.

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