By Andy Katz
FOX Sports college basketball analyst
The tiers are coming into shape now.
We’re getting a top tier of Final Four contenders, a second tier of teams that are Elite Eight-worthy, a third tier of teams that are playing like they could get to the Sweet 16 and a final tier of teams trending in the right direction to crack the top 25 and at-large pool.
These tiers will be fluid throughout the season. But we can start to see who the contenders and pretenders will be as we get closer to 2021.
TIER 1: Final Four
Gonzaga: The Zags are the favorite to win the national title. That’s the statement. That’s it. Gonzaga vs. the field.
Baylor: The Bears need to find a way to schedule a rematch with the Zags to prep for a possible Final Four showdown.
Villanova: The Wildcats continue to prove they are the class of the Big East.
TIER 2: Elite Eight
Wisconsin: The Badgers have been playing the most consistent of any team in the Big Ten. But they will be put to the test at Michigan State on Christmas.
Texas: Greg Brown is in rhythm for the Longhorns now, which spells trouble for the rest of the Big 12.
Tennessee: The Vols were the pick to possibly win the SEC. They have shown no reason they can’t deliver on that expectation.
TIER 3: Sweet 16
Illinois: The Illini need to be a bit more consistent. They will be soon and are still a threat to win the Big Ten.
Creighton: The Bluejays continue to play late-possession games and are a few possessions away from being clearly in tier 2.
TIER 4: Trending up
Northwestern: The Wildcats are 2-0 in the Big Ten. That’s right, 2-0 after beating Michigan State and winning at Indiana.
UCF: Winning at Florida State was no fluke. This team is legit.
BYU: The Cougars’ win over the Aztecs puts BYU on the at-large line and maybe the only team standing in the way of a perfect Gonzaga season.
No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 12 Michigan State
Friday, 12:30 p.m. ET, FOX
The Spartans can’t afford to get in a 0-2 hole in the Big Ten. This should have a late February, early March feel on Christmas Day. I’m going with Michigan State to hold serve.
Pick: Michigan State
Kentucky at Louisville
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Wildcats seem to be in team turmoil. The Cardinals aren’t healthy. Somehow, someway John Calipari will get this crew straightened out.
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Virginia (in Fort Worth, Texas)
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS
The Zags get another style thrown at them in a game created two weeks ago. Virginia has to make 3s to win. Iowa didn’t against the Zags. I don’t see the Cavs being any different.
No. 6 Houston at UCF
Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ABC
Suddenly, this is the biggest game of the American season and it’s not even January 1 yet. The Knights can send a strong message to the league that they are contenders. I say they get it done. Upset special!
No. 23 Ohio State at Northwestern
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
Who had this as a Big Ten showdown? No one. The Wildcats can go to 3-0 in the Big Ten. Book it.
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