2013 College Basketball Power Rankings: Top 5 National Title Contenders: Any avid college basketball fan knows that the season doesn’t really begin into conference plays kick into high gear. Well, that moment has officially arrived, and nothing separates the top teams in the country better than the intensity and pressure hat come with playing on the road on a regular basis and facing heated rivals almost every time out. Not surprisingly, the No. 1 ranking has been a revolving door in recent weeks as the few undefeated teams that remained when conference play began have all gone down. As a result, the top spot is up for grabs and up for debate, but here is how I see the top teams stacking up following a wild weekend of college basketball.
2013 College Basketball Power Rankings: Top 5 National Title Contenders
1. Duke Blue Devils (16-1, 3-1 ACC)
The Blue Devils only loss came on the road against a loaded North CarolinaState team, and they were without smooth-shooting big man Ryan Kelly in that game. More importantly, Duke still has the best resume of any team in the country, owning victories over Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota, VCU and Ohio State. The roster includes an elite perimeter shooter in Seth Curry, a double-double machine in Mason Plumlee, and a gifted athlete in Rasheed Sulaimon. Overall, Duke has a ton of perimeter firepower and ranks in the top 15 in scoring. Sure, the Blue Devils are a little thin inside, but there are very few teams that have the athletic big men that can take advantage of the matchup on the offensive end of the court without being a liability defensively against Duke’s speed. This might just be the best Blue Devils’ bunch since the championship-winning team of 2010.
2. Kansas Jayhawks (16-1, 4-0 Big 12)
The players change, but as long as Bill Self remains the coach, the Jayhawks appear destined to remain a college basketball power. Thanks in part to the emergence of Ben McLemore as one of the country’s most productive perimeter players, Kansas has reeled of 15 straight wins since an early loss to Michigan State. Along the way, the Jayhawks have picked up a big win on the road against Ohio State and have taken control of the Big 12. In addition to McClemore’s scoring ability, Kansas has center Jeff Withey to anchor an athletic, physical defense. Withey is averaging 4.6 blocks per game, and his size alone makes him a matchup nightmare for most opponents. Just like last year when the Jayhawks rode the inside-outside combo of Thomas Robinson and TyShawn Taylor all the way to the national championship game, they again have the balance on the perimeter and in the post to do some damage.
3. Syracuse Orange (17-1, 5-0 Big East)
Fresh off an upset of top-ranked Louisville on the road, the Orange vault into the No. 3 spot in the rankings. Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone is once again making life tough for opposing offenses, but this year’s group has plenty of size, athleticism and offensive firepower, as well. The Orange currently rank in the top 20 nationally in points per game, and they rank fourth in the country in rebounding. Syracuse is also averaging more than 10 steals and seven blocks per game. Brandon Triche leads the team in the scoring, but the X-factor is point guard Michael Carter-Williams. He is leading the country in assists per game, and he is the type of dynamic player that can make a good team into a championship-caliber group.
4. Michigan Wolverines (17-1, 4-1 Big Ten)
Although they fell from the ranks of the unbeaten with a loss to Ohio State, the Wolverines bounced back with a road win over eighth-ranked Minnesota. Michigan remains one of the better scoring teams in the country, ranking 11th in points per game and fourth in field goal percentage. The backcourt of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. may be the best on the country, and the Wolverines have a ton of perimeter firepower. Meanwhile, Michigan’s young frontcourt should only get better as Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary gain experience throughout the year. The Wolverines are already one of the best teams in the country, and given the age of their starters, they stand to improve between now and tournament time as much as any team in the country.
5. Louisville Cardinals (16-2, 4-1 Big East)
Yes, the Cardinals have two losses, but they have come by a combined seven points against Duke and Syracuse. On the plus side, Louisville took down Kentucky earlier this year and absolutely smashed a ranked Missouri team. As long as Rick Pitino is their coach, the Cardinals are going to play nasty defense and take care of business on the board. However, this year’s group has some offensive punch, as well. The backcourt of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith is as good as any in the Big East, and Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng form the base of a solid frontcourt. It remains to be seen if the 2013 Cardinals have the same magic as the team that won the conference tournament and went to the Final Four last year, but the talent on this year’s roster is even better.
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