1. Iowa State (20-5) #17 Ranked Team In AP Poll
This team is the real deal. Melvin Ejim and Deandre Kane might be the best guard-forward tandem in the country. These two seniors are on an absolute tear this year as they’ve inflicted heavy damage on their Big 12 opponents. Ejim can score from anywhere on the floor and rebound with the best—just ask TCU; Ejim tallied 48 points and 18 rebounds against them when the two teams met in early February. The problem for Iowa State’s opponents is that there’s more than just Ejim and Kane to worry about. There’s three players on this team that average over 16 points per game (Ejim, Kane, and Georges Niang), which is almost unheard of. Junior forward Dustin Hougue is also a game-planning nightmare for opposing coaches;he averages close to a double-double with 10.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. This teams offensive efficiency is incredibly strong; they’re 5th in the nation in points per game, 1st in assists per game, 40th in field goal percentage, and 27th in offensive rebounding. They also rebound on the defensive end as they rank 4th in the country. The most impressive thing that stands out about Iowa State is that they don’t have any bad losses. Their worst two are against West Virginia and Oklahoma, teams that are capable of beating anyone in the country when they get hot. Expect Iowa State to make a final four run this year. It's now or never for this team as both Ejim and Kane will graduate at the end of the year.
2. Connecticut (20-5) #21 Ranked Team In AP Poll
Senior guard Shabazz Napier is the unquestioned leader of this overlooked American Conference team. He averages a well-rounded 18 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game, and there’s no player I’d rather have to take a last second shot than him. His backcourt running mate, Ryan Boatright, is no slouch ether. Boatright is primed to take over the leading role for the Huskies upon Napier’s graduation as he averages similar numbers at 12.4 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game. A major blemish on the Connecticut Huskie’s tournament resume is their bad losses. There’s no way that a team of this caliber should loose to the likes of Houston and Stanford. However, only one of their losses has been by a double-digit deficit. That double-digit loss came against a strong Louisville squad in January. However, the referees had a big impact on that game, so much so that Connecticut Head Coach Kevin Ollie was ejected in the second half when he grew irate with the officiating. The Huskies have good wins that can counteract those bad losses as they beat Florida earlier in the year and took down Memphis both at home and on the road. UConn will have the opportunity to add a few more great wins as they play both Cincinnati and Louisville once more before they finish conference play.
3. Memphis (20-6) #22 Ranked Team In AP Poll
The Memphis Tigers probably have the best guards in the nation. Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford, and Michael Dixon Jr. are all capable of being starters at big name programs. If the Tigers just had that sort of depth in the frontcourt they would probably be considered one of the top teams in the nation. Sophomore forward Shaq Goodwin is a force in the paint, he averages 12.3 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. He and Joe Jackson are the driving force behind this teams success. Jackson is a veteran point guard who matches shooting with court vision; he’s athletic enough to block 7-footers at the rim. His block on 7’1’’ Gonzaga Center Przemek Karnowski last week showcased his freakish athleticism. Memphis’s best attribute is their unselfish style of play, ranking 3rd in the nation in assists per game. The tigers also rank in the top 50 in the country in rebounds and points per game, as well as field goal percentage while coming in at 6th in the nation in steals per game. This team is dangerous just for their guard play alone, but they can run into trouble when they face teams who outsize them in the front court.
4. Missouri Tigers (19-7) Unranked
Missouri is looking like a bubble team for the upcoming NCAA tournament and how they finish the season is really going to impact their tournament chances. The Tigers biggest area of strength is their rebounding; they are 57th in the nation in offensive rebounding and 29th in defensive rebounding. The Tigers also have good scoring depth as guards Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarckson, and Earnest Ross all average over 14 points per game. All of these guards are 6’5’’, but bring different things to the table. However, they all have one thing in common besides their size: scoring ability. The Tigers have been on a tear recently as they’ve tallied three consecutive wins. If they can find a way to win four out of their last five SEC regular season games, they’ll be a lock for the tournament.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels (18-7) Unranked
This North Carolina team has been up and down this year. After starting 0-3 in ACC, North Carolina has won seven of their last eight games. Junior forward James Michael McAdoo and sophomore point guard Marcus Paige shoulder the load for this young team. The supporting cast features scorers like Brice Johnson and Leslie McDonald and a freak athlete in J.P. Tokoto. Kennedy Meeks is also a strong post presence, as rounds out the Tar Heel’s solid front court. Even though this young North Carolina team has had some growing pains they’ve notched wins against solid squads like Michigan State, Kentucky, and Louisville. Those wins and their top-notch play as of late will get them into the NCAA tournament. This is a dangerous team come March.