The first four are obvious: North Carolina with an All-American caliber frontcourt (Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller), Kentucky and the Wildcats young talent (yet again), Jared Sullinger and William Buford and the Ohio State Buckeyes and the most recent addition, the defending national champions UConn Huskies. But who's first in line in the second-tier of contenders?
There are a couple of realistic options here in Duke, Vanderbilt, Syracuse and Louisville. But I'm going Duke. Sure Vanderbilt has a big three of John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli, while Syracuse has a less-talented big three, but greater overall depth in Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine. Louisville is a team that can just dig in defensively and handle almost any opponent. But Duke gets the pick.
Sure, Duke lost two first-rounders out of their backcourt plus former ACC Player of the Year Kyle Singler, but they have players on their roster oozing with potential and ready to step-up in a larger role. Take Seth Curry for example who stepped up and dropped 22 on North Carolina when Kyrie Irving was out and Kyle Singler was struggling with a 3-for-17 performance. Or Andre Dawkins who has the range and touch to knock down 3-point shots on his side of halfcourt. Just ask Bradley who Dawkins lit up for eight 3s. Or the defensive-intimidator and offensive ball of energy, Mason Plumlee. Now add in the nation's top backcourt recruit in Austin Rivers, one of the top point guards in the class, Quinn Cook, another Plumlee to give depth in the frontcourt and a pair of athletic forwards.
While losing Irving, Smith and Singler means Duke won't be amongst that elite top-tier, but the Blue Devils are not far behind the Final Four favorites.