Posted: Wednesday January 10, 2007 11:20AM; Updated: Wednesday January 10, 2007 12:24PM
Mustafa Shakur's improvement at the point has Arizona poised for a deep tournament run.
John W. McDonough/SI
Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
We've crunched the numbers, pulled out our slide rule and worked the phones ....
Wait, let's be honest. When it came time to name the Eighth Annual Magic Eight -- our list of the eight teams from which we guarantee the national champion will emerge -- the 'Bag just sat down in a cramped Economy class airplane seat next to a wailing baby and pulled the gilded octet out of the ether.
All the same, we like our picks. And we're pretty good at this too: In only one of the Magic Eight's previous seven editions (Syracuse in 2003) have we failed to name the eventual champ in January.
Before we dive in, the usual caveat: this is not our list of the nation's eight best teams. (Otherwise Ohio State would be in here.) But that would be boring, and since when did the country's eight best teams all reach the Elite Eight? (Answer: never.)
So welcome to the Magic Eight, Washington State. Take a bow, Tennessee. Without further ado, here's the 2007 edition (in alphabetical order):
Don't be scared off by the OT loss at Washington State. The Wildcats' combination of talent and chemistry reminds us a lot of Florida's title run last year. It starts with the huge improvement of point guard Mustafa Shakur, whose pass-first mentality extends to superfrosh Chase Budinger, whipsmart wing Jawann McClellan and the underrated Ivan Radenovic. Against Washington last week they found Marcus Williams open for reverse-layups almost at will in the second half, leaving the 'Bag speechless. The only concerns are defense and depth -- can Arizona survive when five guys are logging almost all the minutes?
The Gators' title defense hasn't been the tour de force some had expected, but their beat down of Ohio State showed Florida at its best is still better than anyone else. Taurean Green is another underrated point guard who has saved his team's bacon more than once, and now that Al Horford and Corey Brewer are back at full strength, we expect the Gators to hit their stride in the SEC. (They're certainly not lacking in motivation after last year's 10-6 conference mark, including sweeps by Tennessee and South Carolina.) Plus, Florida gets bonus points for the tournament experience it gained last year.
One of the nation's most maddening teams, the Jayhawks have the kind of talent that swamped Florida in Vegas but also the inconsistency that fed losses to Oral Roberts and DePaul. For some reason Kansas just doesn't defend the three-point shot very well, which will have to change if SI's preseason No. 1 wants to win it all. But, we're sticking with Bill Self's crew, which forged an identity during last year's Big 12 season and should do so again in '07. Julian Wright has shown flashes of the superstardom we think he's capable of -- now it's time to do so on a regular basis.