2023 NCAA Tournament Preview: 8 teams not named Kansas that can win it all this season
Regular season polls might not mean much in the big picture of who cuts down the nets in April, but this season, more than ever, they were a great indicator of just how wide open the race for the national title really is.
Forget about the No. 1 spot changing hands as often as it did. There were many weeks this season when the entire top 10 had to be reworked, with a wild number of teams crawling into the top 10 and eventually falling out almost as soon as they got there.
By all of the metrics, the Big 12 was the No. 1 conference in college basketball this season. So it won’t surprise you to see a couple of KU’s conference brothers on this list. But the rest of the group has just as good of a shot as anyone, including Kansas.
Here are this year’s eight teams not named Kansas that can win it all.
Alabama – You have to be concerned about the off-the-court issues and how they’ve handled it, but when it comes to just playing basketball, Bama certainly has enough to make a serious run. Brandon Miller’s an elite talent and the rest of the roster is full of versatile athletes who can score in bunches and lock teams up defensively.
Creighton – The Bluejays opened the season ranked in the top 10 and then had a heck of a time finding their footing. Injuries contributed to that, but the expectations were massive, too. They got healthy late in the regular season and reminded people of what they can do. They also played in a conference that was as tough as any not named the Big 12. That late surge, combined with excellent coaching and plenty of confidence and chemistry should make Greg McDermott’s squad a tough out this year just like they were last year.
Duke – I never really bought the late-season surges by Kentucky or North Carolina, but Duke’s actually looks legit. First-year coach Jon Scheyer’s team is healthy and playing with great confidence, with all of the pieces actually fitting together. It can take time for such a young team to mesh, but it appears they have, and the ACC tourney title and nine wins in a row have the Blue Devils in that “team no one wants to play” territory.
Gonzaga – There are plenty of reasons to believe this won’t be Gonzaga’s year, but that just might be enough of a reason to believe it is. How many times has it looked like their year only to watch them fall short? Could this be the opposite of that? A lot of it will depend on whether the Zags can shore up their defense. But if they get it to the point where it can be reliably consistent, they’ve got more than enough on offense and they still have Drew Timme, as well.
Houston – Forget the schedule or the conference they play in. The Cougars are one of the most talented teams in the country and they have one of the top coaches in the country leading them in Kelvin Sampson. They can play up-tempo or in the half-court on offense. And their defense can make life miserable for opponents, with length, speed and tenacity all factoring in. Starting in Round 2, the Cougars will see tougher competition than they’ve seen most of the season. But they won’t be intimidated and Sampson’s team will likely enter the tournament with the swagger of a team that believes it’s the favorite to win it all.
Marquette — Shaka Smart never had much postseason success at Texas, but he’s got a team that can make a run this season. Led by the top-ranked and most exciting offense in the country, Smart’s team has lost just twice since Christmas. Their overall defense is merely average, but they still force turnovers with the best of them, ranking in the top 20 in the country in turnover percentage. If Smart can keep his guys playing loose and free and coach up the defense to deliver on the biggest stage, this could be a memorable postseason.
Texas – Kansas coach Bill Self said earlier this season that Texas has top-five talent, and the Longhorns have shown that in the past couple of weeks. After dropping back-to-back games at Baylor and TCU (two teams who also could be on this list), Texas responded with two dominant wins over Kansas and a Big 12 tournament title. If Marcus Carr is back to form and Dylan Disu and Christian Bishop stay aggressive, UT could be the scariest team in the entire tournament.
UCLA – The Bruins largely have been flying under the radar for much of the season, but won’t be any longer. They were as hot as any team in the country down the stretch and they may wind up in the Final Four on a lot of brackets this month. Mick Cronin’s team has plenty of talent on offense and veterans who have won big before. They’re also incredibly well coached. Despite what you might think of a West Coast team, though, this group hangs its hat on defense. They rank 2nd nationally in defensive efficiency and they do it by eliminating 3-point shooting, forcing turnovers and flat-out competing.
Eight more that just missed the cut: Baylor, Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue, TCU, Tennessee, UConn, Virginia.