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Handicapping the best 2013-14 NCAA hoops contenders

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Last year Louisville took home the big prize and it was hardly a surprise. They used an experienced backcourt and a fearsome defense to blow through the field winning their first championship in a long time. A very good chunk of that team returns to defend yet the Cardinals are not considered the top contender coming into this season…

They are not far off though.

Lets take a look at the teams that would be least surprisingly cutting down the nets in April. Some pretty good value options. If you missed my 2014 NCAA Basketball Picks / Odds to win article click the link.

Here we go! The 2013-14 NCAA National Title Favorites

Kentucky – +400

If recruiting equaled championships the Kentucky Wildcats would be on a UCLA type run right now. Every year since coach John Calipari arrived in Lexington they have knocked it out of the park on the recruiting front…and its not like they don’t have anything to show for it either as their championship from a couple of season’s ago still has a little shine.

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This year they have again brought in a stellar class headlined by the Harrison twins who just might solve the Wildcats backcourt problems. If they do then this team will be really tough to stop because two of last year’s touted frosh were smart enough to stick around for at least another year of seasoning. The two I am referring to are forward Alex Poythress and center Willie Cauley-Stein. Both are great athletes who have the skill to be dominant players. Cauley-Stein especially is a matchup problem because he is a legit big man who can run with the guards. We got a sneak preview of how good he could be after Nerlens Noel went down last season.

Final thought: Apparently forward Kyle Wiltjer sees the writing on the wall and is looking to transfer. Without him they are going to need someone to step up and make some outside shots – the lone weakness on the team.

Kansas – +750

You have to admire a program like Kansas for having patience. They were the winners of the Andrew Wiggins recruiting wars but he took a lot longer to make up his mind than most top players do. While they were “waiting around” all coach Bill Self did was recruit a couple of other 5 star prospects in Wayne Seldon and Joe Embiid and Memphis power forward Tarik Black. The shooting guard and center recruits respectively are expected to start making this team super young as compared to last year’s that started 4 seniors on the way to another Big 12 leading campaign.

The Jayhawks probable starting lineup is rounded out by a couple of sophomores who got some nice exposure last season. Power forward Perry Ellis saw his playing time increase as the season wore on and you can see how the highly touted post player can be the next in a long line of Jayhawks that improve every year before making it to the pros. The other starte is speedy point guard Nadir Tharpe. Tharpe needs to play smart and not force the action though. He seems like one of those players who was so used to having the ball in his hands all the time and had a little trouble adjusting. He should be settled down this season.

Final thought: The Jayhawks are hiding from nobody this season with nonconference games against Duke, Florida, Colorado and Georgetown. A couple of early losses might actually help this super young team develop the grit needed to win a championship.

Duke – +1000

Amongst these top 5 contenders Duke is the biggest surprise for me. No that is not Duke hating because they are certainly going to be a very good team its just that they lose a lot and are not restocking like some other top programs. The Blue Devils are losing their best post player, their best shooter and maybe their “Dukiest player” – that is Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly. These are huge production losses, huge experience losses as all three were seniors and in the case of Kelly and Plumlee huge size losses (not many teams start two players 6’10 or taller). [ad-6571516]

The reason for the high level of optimism is that the Blue Devils were successful in bringing wing Jabari Parker to campus. Parker is a consensus game changer and arguably the top recruit in the nation. Adding him to the mix with guards like Tyler Thornton, Quinn Cook and Rashied Sulaimon gives Duke tremendous depth on the perimeter so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coach K go with all 4 at times as Parker and Sulaimon should be adequate rebounders. The ACC is likely to be a bit down this year so if Duke lives up to expectations they should be able to put up agreat record.

Final thought: This has to be the slightest Duke team I can remember. Only a couple of players on the roster top 6’8″ so it is posible they could get pushed around by some of the team’s that feature quality bigs. That puts a lot of pressure on their shooting.

Louisville – +1000

The defending champs have a lot to look forward to this season. Sure they lost their defensive presence in rim protector Georgui Dieng and their starting point guard in Peyton Siva but coach Pitino received a gift a when guard Russ Smith announced he was returning to campus. Smith was the team’s leading scorer last season and will provide leadership even more so this year. Also returning are Chane Behanon, the prototypical undersized college power player and Luke Hancock, shooter extraordinaire who contributed as much to the Cardinals winning last year in the Tournament as anyone…its a nice mix.

Adding to it are some very highly touted guard prospects – Terry Rozier, Chris Jones and Anton Gill – but I am more interested in seeing returning players like Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell blossom. Both showed in spurts last year how they can help the team win, both on the offensive side and as part of the intimidating Louisville defense. Losing Dieng hurts the team in terms of protecting the rim but Louisville is loaded with guys that can harass ballhandlers all over the court.

Final thought: It has been a while since a team repeated as champion. With so many key pieces returning Louisville has as good a chance as any team in recent memory of doing so. They just have to be hungry enough to do it.

Michigan State – +1200

Last year the Big Ten was super top heavy and Michigan State was right there with the likes of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State. Compared to those teams their losses heading into this season are not nearly as great which is why MSU is considered a strong contender this season. Key among returnees is player of the year candidate Adrien Payne. Payne has improved greatly over his first two seasons on campus and is ready to take another step. There are not many players who are 6’10, run the floor on offense and defense and can make the occasional three pointer.

Payne is joined by senior point guard Luke Appling as the Spartans employ a “traditional” linep most of the time. Appling is a confident player but last year was a disappointment. Looking at the track record of Tom Izzo I think you can expect a stronger senior season. Even if the production does not increase I expect far fewer mistakes. With Appling, shooter Travis Trice and multi-talented wing Gary Harris the Spartans have one of the best backcourts anywhere in the nation. They are very good but also do the dirty work.

Final thought: Michigan State has become one of the steadiest programs in America. It kind of feels like they are do for a Championship game appearance doesn’t it?


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About The Wiesguy

The Wiesguy is a newcomer to the handicapping scene. Hailing from Toronto, Canada he is always sweet on the underdogs and you can often find his thoughts, musings and picks at moneydogs.blogspot.com.