Ranked fifth in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Hoyas are considered one of the favorites to reach the Final Four in San Antonio, but they’ll have plenty of stiff competition to get through first. From two teams looking to make the jump from the Elite Eight last season, to one team that will be looking for revenge on the Hoyas, to another that is attempting to restore its dominance from a generation past, here are four teams that enter the season considered national title contenders. Kansas After two years of being upset in the first round, the Jayhawks finally broke through and made it to the Elite Eight last year. With all the talent he has on this season’s team, a first round exit would have everyone in Kansas calling for Bill Self’s head. The Jayhawks are an experienced squad with six seniors and four juniors, but the spark may come from a sophomore: 5-foot-11 point guard Sherron Collins, who averaged 9.3 points per game and dished out just under three assists per contest coming off of the bench in his freshman season. The sophomore is quick with the ball and should see more playing time in his second year. A home date with Arizona in the Big 12-Pac 10 Challenge and a trip to USC in early December will reveal whether or not Kansas is the real deal. emphis The Tigers may play in a weak conference, but come tournament time they have silenced critics, advancing to two straight Elite Eights. This year may prove the best yet for Head Coach John Calipari, who has last year’s starting five back and adds Derrick Rose to the mix. Rose, a top-five recruit out of Chicago, led his prep team to back-to-back state titles and could be the best point guard in the nation come March. Although the Conference USA should be a cakewalk once again for Memphis, the team will have a chance to prove itself before March with non-conference bouts against USC, Georgetown, Arizona and Gonzaga. That means if the Tigers end the regular season with three losses again, like they did last season, they will likely earn a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance and be on the path to their first Final Four since 1985. North Carolina The Tar Heels are atop most of the analysts’ preseason polls – and with good reason. Although they lost two starters, North Carolina will still be a deep team. With speedster Ty Lawson running the point and an army of reserves on the bench, the Tar Heels will play an up-tempo game that puts points on the board and runs most opponents out of the gym. Most importantly for the reigning ACC champs is the return of Tyler Hansbrough, the heart and soul of the team. “Psycho T,” as he is affectionately known, spurned the NBA draft to collect more double doubles and the occasional Duke elbow this year on Tobacco Road. Barring any injuries, Hansbrough and the Heels will remain near the top of the polls all year and be a force to be reckoned with come March. After being taken apart by the Hoyas late in the second half and in overtime in the Elite Eight, UNC will certainly be looking for revenge if they have the opportunity. UCLA Freshman Kevin Love appreciates history. The top incoming center in the nation has been regularly calling legendary Bruin Head Coach John Wooden, the man who hung 10 national title banners in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, for advice. With four of the team’s five starters returning for the Bruins, and with Florida no longer a force to be reckoned with – the Gators beat the Bruins in the title game two years ago and in the Final Four last year – Love has a chance to make his mark on UCLA history. The big man from Lake Oswego, Ore., averaged just under 27 points and hauled in 14.5 rebounds per contest in his four prep years, earning Oregon player of the year honors three years in a row. As Love teams up with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in the paint, the Bruins should have one of the top frontcourts in the tough Pac-10. If UCLA can navigate through Arizona, USC, Oregon, Stanford and Washington State., they should be in prime position for a top seed in the West.

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