On the latest men's March Madness 365 podcast (#MM365), March Madness correspondent Andy Katz is joined by a trio of guests including Providence coach Ed Cooley, HBCU All-Stars' Travis Williams and Gonzaga freshman Chet Holmgren. During the podcast's weekly Katz Ranks segment, Katz ranked his top 10 national championship contenders with roughly one month left in the regular season.
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Here are Andy Katz's top 10 men's basketball national title contenders, ranked, with one left in the regular season.
As of Tuesday, Feb. 8, Gonzaga is ranked No. 1 in the NET rankings and on kenpom.com, and No. 2 in the AP poll, and the Bulldogs are currently riding a 12-game winning streak after throttling BYU on the road, 90-57, on Saturday. The Zags' only losses this season amid their 19-2 start were to Duke by three points on a neutral court and to Alabama by nine in Seattle.
"All the pieces to win the national championship," Katz said, "Chet Holmgren, Drew Timme inside. The perimeter is experienced and they got a chip on their shoulder after what happened last year in the title game."
Ahead of a massive Tuesday night matchup in West Lafayette, Ind., Illinois holds sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with a 10-2 conference record, which is one game ahead of Purdue and Wisconsin. On Saturday, Illinois went to Indiana and won by 17 points for the team's fourth win in a row, which also included a double-digit win over Wisconsin.
"Kofi Cockburn, almost unstoppable inside," Katz said, "and I also love that perimeter — when healthy."
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After a 9-16 campaign in the 2021 season, Kentucky theoretically is in contention for the biggest year-to-year turnaround in the history of DI men's basketball, which is something we wrote about back in October. The Wildcats are 19-4 ahead of a home game against South Carolina on Tuesday night when they'll try to extend their winning streak to five games.
Their four losses have all come away from home by a single-digit margin — to Duke on a neutral court, and on the road against Notre Dame, LSU and Auburn. Junior forward Oscar Tshiebwe leads the country in rebounding at 15.2 boards per game and he's tied for second with 17 double-doubles.
"They got all the pieces to win the title," Katz said.
With a potential win at home on Tuesday night over Illinois, Purdue could claim a share of the lead in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers have won five in a row, which is their second-longest winning streak of the season. Sophomore guard Jaden Ivey leads the team in scoring at 17.3 points per game, but it's classmate Zach Edey, 7-4, who ranks No. 8 in kenpom.com's national player of the year standings. He's No. 1 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (20.1 percent) and second in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (7.6).
"They have all the ingredients to win the title," Katz said.
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For the third week in a row, Auburn is ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll after the Tigers won their 19th game in a row over the weekend, a 74-72 nail-biter at Georgia. Freshman forward Jabari Smith (15.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game) is the team's leading scorer, but center Walker Kessler, who's second nationally in blocks per game at 4.22 per game, and guard K.D. Johnson (13.5 points per game) also have the potential to be the team's best player on a given night.
"So Auburn's No. 1 for me in the (Power 36) rankings but what gives me some pause to put them No. 1 in these rankings of winning the title is a lack of experience," Katz said. "They just haven't been in this position before and while they may have one of the best players in the country, if not the best, in Jabari Smith, this group hasn't been in that position."
Virginia ended Duke's five-game winning streak on Monday night, one game after beating rival North Carolina by 20 points on the road on a day when freshman AJ Griffin scored a season-high 27 points. Fellow freshman Paolo Banchero, who leads the team in both scoring (17.2 points per game) and rebounding (8.4 rebounds), ranks No. 9 in kenpom.com's national player of the year standings.
Through Monday, Kansas is in first place in the Big 12, even after a loss to Texas, with an 8-2 conference record. One week after losing at home to Kentucky by 18 points, the Jayhawks knocked off the Baylor Bears by 24 on Saturday.
"Tons of experience," Katz said. "What causes me a little pause is they've had some crazy scores, up and down. Can they be consistent?"
UCLA came oh so close to playing for the national championship last year and with roughly a month left in the regular season, the Bruins are in a position to potentially make it back to the Final Four.
"I'm still buying the Bruins to win the title," Katz said.
They were 16-2 prior to losing back-to-back games to the Pac-12's Arizona schools, with the loss to Arizona State coming in triple overtime. UCLA is tied for second in the Pac-12 and it already beat first-place Arizona by 10 points at home.
Arizona leads the Pac-12 with a 10-1 conference record, with its only conference loss coming on the road to UCLA. The Wildcats have lost just twice all season, with the other defeat coming on the road to Tennessee by four points.
"Playing better basketball than UCLA in mid-February, but they don't have the experience of that group," Katz said.
Providence has one of the best records in the country at 20-2 and the Friars have a two-game advantage in the loss column in the Big East standings over second-place Villanova. They've won seven in a row since losing at Marquette in early January. Providence is one of the oldest teams in the country — the Friars rank eighth nationally in experience, per kenpom.com — as six of its top seven scorers are seniors, led by center Nate Watson at 13.5 points per game.