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Sully's Court: Arizona is the best team in the country

Posted by Joe Sullivan, Globe Staff  January 27, 2014 09:50 AM

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Iíve come to a new conclusion. Iíve had Michigan State as the likely national champion all season, but injuries have taken their toll and it was evident in a loss to Michigan Saturday night in East Lansing. Injuries to center Adreian Payne and swingman Branden Dawson leaves them short. What could have been? Itís clear that the new likely champion is Arizona, which has combined quality returnees (like Nick Johnson) with outstanding newcomers (like freshman Aaron Gordon) to a formidable team.

Five rising:

Florida: To me, the Gators have been flying under the radar. Theyíve had some injury problems (only three players have played every game) and their best freshman, Chris Walker, never got approved for eligibility by the NCAA. Theyíve survived with balanced scoring and a variety of offensive options, plus the usual defensive intensity that coach Billy Donovan instills in his teams. The Gators have won 11 straight and are the only undefeated team in the SEC.

Green Bay: The Phoenix have won 12 in a row and are 7-0 in the Horizon League (17-3) overall. They have a firm grip on a league title that gives them critical home-court advantage in the conference tournament. Michigan: The Wolverines lost what most people thought was their best player, Mitch McGary, for the season with an injury, but theyíve been relatively unaffected. To start with, Nik Stauskus is their best player and he might have been anyway if McGary was healthy. Formerly known as a shooter, heís becoming a lethal, well-rounded player and heís still a great shooter. The Wolverines have won nine straight and lead the Big 10.

Providence: The Friars are looking like an NCAA team. They beat Butler and Xavier at home this week and are 11-1 at the Dunk, and theyíre on a five-game winning streak. Big road trip this week with games at Marquette and DePaul.

Stony Brook: The Seawolves held on to beat Vermont Friday to establish themselves as the best team in the American East. They followed up with a win over Maine Sunday and are now 7-0 in the league.

Five falling: Colorado: This should have been a great season in Boulder and it was until leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a knee injury (heís out for the season). The Buffs have lost four of their last five and are heading south quickly.

Fairfield: Sidney Johnson left his alma mater, Princeton, in a surprise move. Things have not gone well. Luckily for him heís a got a contract that goes through 2019 because his team is 4-17 overall and 1-9 in the MAAC.

George Mason: The jump from the CAA to the Atlantic 10 has proven to be too much for the Patriots as they lost their first six league games. Itís been torturous with losses of four, one, two, and six points twice.

Georgetown: The Hoyas took a chance on enigmatic big man Josh Smith, who was basically booted off the UCLA team, and it didnít work as he flunked out this week. On the court things are just as bad; they got clocked at Creighton Saturday and now have lost five of their six.

Illinois: At one time the Illini were 13-2 and nationally ranked, but that was before a six-game losing streak that has them sinking to the bottom of the Big 10. It doesnít get any easier with Iowa and Wisconsin coming to Champaign this week.

The weekís George Mason (best mid-major): Wichita State. The Shockers have now won 21 without a loss after winning twice on the road last week. An undefeated regular season is attainable; the big one left is Wed., Feb. 5, when they travel to Terre Haute to face Indiana State.

This weekís Final Four: Arizona, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, Wichita State. Iíve dropped Michigan State as I stated above, but Iíve also knocked out San Diego State after the great Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated informed me in an astute story that the Aztecs donít shoot very well. Heís right, plus I didnít like what I saw when I watched them Saturday night winning in overtime at Utah State.

This weekís national champion: Arizona

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