Ranking the top title contenders

Arizona, Syracuse among teams playing at a Final Four level this season

Updated: January 28, 2014, 8:36 AM ET
By John Gasaway | ESPN Insider

GordonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesFor a variety of reasons, Aaron Gordon and the Wildcats are the top title contender right now.

If you've been reading along here for a while, you may know that I've been tracking every possession in conference play in the top third of Division I for a few seasons now. As the season progresses, I tend to put more and more trust in what those results are revealing.

Then again, since it's still January, I'm not yet to the point where I'm listening to what all those possessions are telling me without significant objections. Still, I've found that this information comes in handy -- even at this point in the season -- as I evaluate the nation's top teams.

So this week, I thought I'd share my admittedly early thoughts on which teams are serious contenders for the national title based on which teams are playing at a Final Four level statistically. Consider this a detailed explanation of the very top of my Power Rankings ballot for this week.


1. Arizona Wildcats

I had occasion to heap praise on Arizona's defense last week, but in case you were too busy to catch that, here's a quick synopsis: Sean Miller has what appears to be one of the best defenses the college game has seen in recent seasons, at least from what we've seen through January. The Wildcats have held Pac-12 opponents to just 0.87 points per possession. It's true that Miller's D received the statistical benefit of 40 minutes against a strikingly inept Washington State offense, but even when you make the necessary adjustment there the defense in Tucson rates out as excellent.