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Sully's Court: The national championship contenders

Posted by Joe Sullivan, Globe Staff  January 18, 2011 10:56 AM

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Championship thoughts: Watching Pittsburgh and Syracuse play a strange game last night; then seeing Kansas overwhelm Baylor, it occurred to me that we've narrowed the field of teams that can win the NCAA Tournament considerably. I saw three of them last night. Here's which teams can win the national championship.

Pitt: The Panthers are the best team in the nation as they showed in smoking Syracuse early, then withstanding the inevitable rally from the Orange to win decisively. This team is deep, committed to defense, and leads the nation in assists. Has the look of a team on a mission.

Syracuse: The next time the Orange play Pitt it won't be in Pittsburgh which will improve their chances. They've got that tricky zone which bothers most teams and all sorts of offense, both inside and out.

Kansas: The Morris twins overpowered Baylor's bunch of skinny, athletic big man; plus multiple defenders limited the effectiveness of Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn. This is another team that plays together and is committed to defense.

Ohio State: Jared Sullinger, the Buckeyes' hulking center, is a freshman disguised in a senior's body and mentality. He's so good that he transferred this team from a non-contender into a national championship hopeful.

Duke: The usual components, relentless effort, defense, and good shooting, make the Blue Devils a threat but without injured point guard Kyrie Irving they're on the outer edge of contenders.

Right now, that's it. It's an obvious list, sorry about that. My anti-BCS bias would love to force me to put San Diego State on the list. The Aztecs are tremendous and could make the Final Four but I think they're a notch below the top five as are Missouri, Villanova, Missouri, Michigan State, which are also Final Four contenders. I'm really high on Missouri and reserve the right to change my mind.

Surprising scores, amazing margins:
UMBC 71, BU 67:
A horrible loss for the puzzling Terriers. It was UMBC's second win of the season.
Brown 87, Quinnipiac 78: The Q, which leads the nation in rebounds per game, got outrebounded in Providence.
Colgate 67, Dartmouth 64: Colgate won only its second game of the season.
Manhattan 51, Niagara 49: The two worst teams in the MAAC went down to the wire and the Jaspers were able to end a 15-game losing streak.
Chattanooga 91, College of Charleston 88: A tough loss on the road for the PalmettoTrees as Nooga got hot from behind the arc.
UNC Greensboro 77, Davidson 69: Only the second win after opening the season with 16 losses for Greensboro.
Albany 52, Stony Brook 50: The Brook, favored to win the AmEast, is now 2-3 in the league.

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