Ranking top national title contenders 

December, 17, 2013
In his College Basketball Opus, the seminal work of this hoops season, The Bilastrator gave you his top eight national title favorites: Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas, Arizona, Florida and Syracuse. After watching and processing over a month of college basketball games, one thing is clear: There is not a truly great or dominant team this season.

At least, it should be noted, not yet.

There is not automatically a "great" team or teams every season. There is a champion crowned every year, but that doesn't make a team historically great. "Great" is a term that is overused in sports, and when I say great, I mean the dictionary definition of the word. Great means to be "remarkable or truly outstanding in magnitude, degree or extent; superior in quality or character; to be of outstanding significance or importance; to be eminent, distinguished."

Because there are no dominant teams like there were in 2007-08 or 2008-09, it would not be at all shocking to see a team like Colorado, Iowa State or Oregon get hot and reach the Final Four in Dallas. It could be that kind of season, and those seasons can be all kinds of fun.

That said, while there is no great team yet, there are still prohibitive favorites to win it all. Here are the eight teams that The Bilastrator believes are the best so far, and the best-suited to reach Dallas and cut the nets down.

1. Arizona Wildcats

The Wildcats are the most complete team The Bilastrator has seen, and have the size, athleticism, depth, lineup versatility, guard play, and mental and physical toughness to win the whole thing. And, this team can and will get better and better.

Where Arizona sets itself apart is on the glass

La SalleJohn Sleezer/Kansas City Stat/MCT via Getty ImagesLa Salle has knocked off two "power six" conference teams en route to the Sweet 16.
This has been a wild and fun NCAA tournament, but let me ask you this: When was the last time the NCAA tournament didn't deliver?

Yet every year we lead up to the tournament by proclaiming that it will be "wide open" and that "anybody can win."

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Mateen Cleaves Jed Jacobsohn/ALLSPORTMateen Cleaves, a three-time Michigan State captain, led the Spartans to the 2000 NCAA title.
When I think of the toughest players in basketball, I think of the players who are relentless, compete with high-level consistency on every play in games and in practice and are difficult to play against and easy to play with. They aren't always the biggest or the strongest, nor are they the loudest. They let their games do the talking, and win or lose -- it's usually win -- you walk off the floor with nothing but respect for those players because of their toughness.

I knew the toughest players when I was playing, and there's no substitute for playing against someone to truly understand how tough they really are. But I can't remember back that far, so I am going to give you a list of 10 of the toughest players I have seen in college basketball in the 20 years I have been broadcasting. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Of course, I may leave out players who have shown great toughness on the floor and off, who were great teammates and amazing competitors. These are just a few who have stood out to me in my years behind the microphone.

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Key fixes for UNC, UK, others 

January, 16, 2013

North CarolinaPeyton Williams/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina's largely young, inexperienced roster has been inconsistent this season.
It is flu season, and the doctor is in. These are the dog days of the college basketball season -- conference play -- and the time when a malady can befall a promising team, leading to a malaise in its fan base. Once conference play begins, the difficult part of the season can hit hard, and not every team was properly inoculated by facing the right nonconference bugs.

The following five teams are all winning programs with good players that had promising outlooks to begin the season. Yet they have suffered aches and pains, and their temperatures have spiked at different times of the season, leaving some of their records looking a bit sluggish. It is not just struggling teams that may need a checkup and a prescription for better health -- elite teams are in need of assistance, too. The smartest teams evaluate themselves while winning, not just when they've been kicked to the curb.

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With conference play getting underway, it's an exciting, eventful time for college basketball. I sat down to give my thoughts on several things going on in the sport, including my take on the nation's best freshman, shooter and shot-blocker, Jim Boeheim's place among the all-time greats and my midseason top-5 ballot for the Wooden Award.

But I'll start with a look at a new proposal on transfer rules.

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VCU tops list of underrated teams 

January, 2, 2013

Treveon GrahamAP Photo/John BazemoreTreveon Graham and VCU have what it takes to make another deep NCAA tournament run.
Several teams have signaled early on that they are legitimate contenders to reach the Final Four. Whether it is Duke, Indiana, Louisville, Kansas, Syracuse, Arizona or Gonzaga, there are teams that are properly valued as contenders and perhaps some that are overvalued as the same.

There are teams that are underrated, too. An underrated team isn't necessarily a Final Four team or a top-10 team, but it isn't valued by "the machine" as highly as perhaps it should be. Here are five teams that are underrated, under-the-radar, undervalued, overlooked, need some love, and have been getting "dissed," relatively speaking, along with Associated Press poll and ESPN Basketball Power Index (BPI) rankings for each.

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The early-season All-Toughness team 

December, 20, 2012

Roosevelt JonesAP Photo/Michael ConroyButler's Roosevelt Jones turned in a gutty performance against Indiana, scoring 16 points.
Toughness is one quality, above all, that a coach values in a player. I hear it all the time. Coaches admire and respect tough players, whether it is one of their players or an opposing player. Toughness is talked about and emphasized, and toughness wins. I have written about the definition of true toughness in the past, and its importance in the game.

Yet, despite the constant emphasis on toughness, there is no measure of it, and no award to recognize it in players. We have awards for valuable players, improved players, point guards, rookies, newcomers and players who happen only to begin games on the bench. We have awards based upon the calendar and league affiliation, and we even have mythical awards for players who remind us of an adhesive used for sticking materials together. No coach goes on the recruiting trail to find a good epoxy, paste or other sticky, gelatinous substance. Coaches want tough players, guys who can endure great strain without breaking, and are strong and resilient.

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How the NCAA is like the Kardashians 

December, 16, 2012

"That's not what college sports are about."

As the Big East continues its metamorphosis and conference realignment continues in pursuit of maximum revenue, we all hear the phrase. While backroom decisions are made by well-paid conference commissioners and executives of NCAA members -- and players have no say and no influence whatsoever -- the phrase is uttered. It has been uttered so cavalierly so many times over the years, it has become almost required language. Whenever money issues in college sports are discussed, especially the NCAA's policy of limiting athletes to "expenses only" and allowing the athletes no voice and no rights in the process, this well-worn phrase is reflexively trotted out. The mere use of the phrase is expected to end the discussion in favor of the NCAA's position.

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The nation's top five big men 

December, 5, 2012

Mason PlumleeDaniel Shirey/US PresswireDuke's Mason Plumlee is averaging a double-double while shooting 76 percent from the foul line.

We are not yet done with the first quarter of the 2012-2013 college basketball season, yet several big men have set themselves apart as the most productive, efficient and effective players.

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Kentucky leads nation's top frontcourts 

November, 5, 2012

Nerlens Noel Mark L. Baer/US PresswireNerlens Noel's defensive abilities help make the UK frontcourt the nation's best.
We always hear that college basketball is a guards' game. Of course that is until you need a rebound or someone to protect the rim. The truth is that both guards and big men are important for title-contending teams, and there has not been a Final Four team that lacked quality frontcourt play or couldn't defend and score in the post. We can quibble about which is more important, guards or big men, but there is no question that guards cannot win by themselves.

So, which squads measure up the best down low in 2012-13? Here is my ranking of the top five frontcourts, along with two more on the cusp.

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Picking the 'Conference of Champions' 

October, 29, 2012

Gottfried/BrownEthan Hyman/Getty ImagesThe Wolfpack will push aside the Tar Heels and Blue Devils, according to Jay Bilas.
As we begin the 2012-13 campaign it's clear to me that the gigantic, super-cranial neuroplasticity of The Bilastrator's mind could be of great assistance in gauging how the season's conference title races will play out. Rather than simply providing a road map for the selection committee regarding the nation's true 68 top teams, as the Bilas Index will do later this fall, we're starting with the teams I believe will claim the regular-season championship. Consider it an amuse-bouche prior to the intellectual feast provided for you in the season ahead.

I realize this exercise in clairvoyance could rob some of the joy from the season, making games anticlimactic given that these teams are now preordained for glory. However, it is The Bilastrator's solemn duty.

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SEC's big questions start with Kentucky 

October, 26, 2012

John CalipariZumapress/Icon SMIJohn Calipari and the Wildcats are again in the spotlight.
With the start of the 2012-13 college basketball season fast approaching, ESPN Insider is looking at the five burning questions facing each of the major conferences. In this edition, Jay Bilas looks at the SEC.

Can there be a conversation in the SEC that doesn't start with Kentucky?

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Peyton SevaJamie Rhodes/US PresswirePeyton Siva and Louisville are poised for big things in 2012-13.
With the start of the 2012-13 college basketball season fast approaching, ESPN Insider is looking at the five burning questions facing each of the major conferences. In this edition, Jay Bilas looks at the Big East.

1. Is this the last great season for the Big East?

The Big East hasn't faced many big questions over the past decade. In my judgment, the Big East has been the best basketball conference in the country for several seasons now, and has been the toughest regular-season and postseason gauntlet in basketball. But even with the great success, one cannot help wonder whether this is the last season of Big East greatness, where the Big East is unquestionably the best basketball conference in the nation.

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Respect for a coaching original 

September, 13, 2012

Mark me down as one of those who has always liked Jim Calhoun. Because of his brisk demeanor, some people are in the opposite camp, finding Calhoun distasteful and hard to like. Not I.

[+] EnlargeJim Calhoun
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesCalhoun was demanding of his players but got a lot out of them.
Calhoun, who has opted to retire, leaves the game as an original, and he has been the same since his first day at UConn in 1986. A New England bare-knuckle brawler who asked no quarter and gave none, Calhoun fought for respect in a league of traditional powers. Then, he built his program into such a power and kept the Connecticut Huskies among the nation's elite with his uncompromising standards and less-than-polite directness with his players, staff and anyone within earshot.

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Missing pieces for top freshmen 

September, 6, 2012

Alex PoythressAndrew ShurtleffIn freshman Alex Poythress, Kentucky fans may see similarities to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
In the past 20 years, the college game has seen a sea change. In the old days, when the best players stuck around to be seniors, you got excited about a recruiting class because you would get to watch that group grow together for a period of years. Now, you get excited because you may get to see a great young talent for a year before he goes to the NBA.

The length of time a star stays has changed, but so has the quality of player. The truth is, the best high school players, generally, are better and more talented now than ever. They are more athletic, more skilled and superior players. Yet college basketball is not as good as it was 20 years ago, because these ubertalented players don't stick around for very long.

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