Pick a champ now? Take the team with the highest ceiling — Duke

SHARE Pick a champ now? Take the team with the highest ceiling — Duke

Duke freshman Jayson Tatum could be the most important player in the country in March. (AP/Gerry Broome)

This week’s Bucket List — 10 observations on the college basketball season:

1. Did you catch the 16-team, so-called “bracket preview” put out last weekend by the NCAA Tournament selection committee? Here’s how it looked:

East: Villanova (1 seed), Louisville (2), Kentucky (3), UCLA (4).

West: Gonzaga (1), Oregon (2), Virginia (3), West Virginia (4).

Midwest: Kansas (1), Florida State (2), Arizona (3), Duke (4).

South: Baylor (1), North Carolina (2), Florida (3), Butler (4).

Being a big fan of pointless exercises — it’s only mid-February, right? — I decided to play this scenario out based on which teams I’d pick to win as of right this very moment. These Sweet 16 matchups would, of course, pit 1s vs. 4s and 2s vs. 3s.

I’ve got Villanova beating UCLA and then Louisville; Oregon beating Virginia and then Gonzaga; Duke beating Kansas and then Arizona; and North Carolina beating Florida and then Baylor. In the semis, it’s Oregon over Villanova and Duke over UNC. My champ: Duke. So there.

Yes, I reserve the right to go back on any of these picks in four weeks.

2. I do think Duke has the biggest upside of any team and that it has been in ascent mode for the last couple of weeks. Veteran Grayson Allen still has another gear to work his way into, and freshman Jayson Tatum could end up being a dominant player in March. Nobody’s beating the Blue Devils if they peak at the right time.

3. Not saying both the Illinois and Indiana coaching jobs will soon be open, but they sure might be. And there’s no way the Illini can compete for candidates with the Hoosiers. Illini fans had better hope Tom Crean stays put.

4. Northwestern’s one-sided loss to Maryland was a bit concerning. For the Wildcats, nailing down this NCAA tourney bid could become something like getting the last three outs in Game 7 of the World Series.

5. Speaking of the Big Dance, did you see that Donald Trump declined ESPN’s invitation to fill out a bracket next month a la Barack Obama? No truth to the rumor the President bristled at the caveat that he couldn’t pick Trump University to cut down the nets in Glendale, Ariz.

6. Gave an audible “ugh” this week when I saw the crummy news that Florida center John Egbunu had torn an ACL. It’s a devastating injury to the Gators, who had a real chance at making major noise in March. Without one of the best interior defenders in the country, they won’t be nearly the same team.

7. You think your team’s coach is stinking it up? Washington’s Lorenzo Romar had two players — Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray — selected in the first round of the 2016 draft. Terrence Ross was a lottery pick in 2012, and C.J. Wilcox a first-rounder in 2014. And current Huskies freshman Markelle Fultz is widely considered a potential No. 1 overall pick this June. All that, and Washington is going to miss the Big Dance for the sixth year in a row.

8. My favorite stat of the week: Virginia’s bench has outscored opponents’ benches by over 300 points this season. If that doesn’t speak to the excellence of coach Tony Bennett and his staff, nothing does.

9. A sports-radio host asked me this week if Central Michigan guard Marcus Keene — averaging 30 points per game — is going to make it in the NBA. My answer: I hope so … but he’s only 5-9, so don’t bet on it.

10. Then again, if Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson can take on the world as a 6-5 post player, isn’t anything possible?

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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