Now is the time to determine which teams are contenders and which are pretenders. Let me tell you about a team that is a legit contender to make it to Houston to the Final Four. In fact, Ohio State has all the pieces in place to cut down the nets in April.
The Buckeyes, now 15-0 after Tuesday's win at Iowa, are off to their best start since the 1990-91 campaign, when they opened 17-0. Thad Matta has all the parts to win a national title and Tuesday marked the first time that anybody has come within 10 points of Ohio State this season. The resume includes victories over Florida, Florida State and South Carolina, though the Big Ten will provide greater challenges along the way.
People constantly ask me, who can challenge Duke? The Blue Devils are the creme de la creme, though they took a hit when Kyrie Irving was injured. Irving was one of the premier guards in America as he put on a clinic against Jacob Pullen of Kansas State and Michigan State's Kalin Lucas, two outstanding veteran backcourt stars. He made them look like freshmen with his dazzling performance.
When you lose a player of that stature, it has to hurt. Duke has that winner's mentality with Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, plus ample threats in Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. Those two are getting more playing time with Irving on the sidelines.
Ohio State has the talent to match up with Duke. There is the outside shooting ability of Jon Diebler, one of ther premier three-point weapons in America. You factor in the athleticism of David Lighty, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career; it is great to see him reaching his potential this season.
There is William Buford, a capable scorer and an experienced player. Dallas Lauderdale provides size and shot-blocking ability in the paint. There are several veteran players who have gone through the wars of the Big Ten. They understand how to play and fight hard.
Saving the best for last, the Buckeyes have the best diaper dandy in the nation in 6-9, 280-pound Jared Sullinger.
He has size, toughness and talent; go ask IUPUI about his 40-point effort, the greatest scoring effort by a diaper dandy in school history. He has been absolutely sensational and he has the ability to dominate on the interior.
Matta's team can defend too. The coach knows how to win; in his first 10 seasons, between Butler, Xavier and Ohio State, he has won at least 20 games every season. He is well on his way to his 11th straight.
He has also done an amaziong job recruiting. Next season, he has five players coming in, including center Amir Williams, guard Shannon Scott (the son of former North Carolina star Charlie Scott), LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson from out of Chicago, and Trey McDonald, a big man from Battle Creek, Michigan.
The only problem for Matta is the loss of players early to the NBA. Imagine if Evan Turner was back with this year's group?
With the combination of veterans and diaper dandies, there is a nice blend capable of standing tall in Houston. I am not talking football either! This is not about Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor, baby! Remember the names Sullinger, Diebler, Buford, Lighty, Lauderdale, Thomas and Craft. They have the potential to do something special.