March 1st has arrived. Finally. However, someone forgot to let the top three teams know before this weekend. Kansas falls to a now tournament bound Okie St. Purdue losses to Michigan St. at home, but worse, lose Robbie Hummel for the year with a torn ACL earlier in the week. Kentucky falls to giant killer Tennessee.
What does all of this mean as the regular season wraps up this week and the conference tournaments start at the end of the week? Hmm…. Let’s go with the winners and losers from recent play.
Syracuse. They smashed Villanova over the weekend and are now in position for the number one seed overall in the tournament. In my opinion they should have been that top team anyways given that they are going to win the toughest conference in the country and have the most impressive wins of any of the top teams vying for that spot. The worst part of the whole thing for the ‘Cuse is that they wont be able to be the top seed in the East due to the regional final being in Syracuse. The Orange are scary good.
Kansas. Sure they lost on the road to a desperate team. But how often have we seen this happen? A top team, seemingly cruising through the season, losing one of their final games of the season and thus propels them into the tournament to be successful and wake them up in a sense. Well let’s see:
2009 North Carolina lost to Florida St. in the semifinals of the ACC tournament and went on to win the National Championship.
2008 Kansas also lost at Oklahoma St. on February 23 of their national championship year, as they would then go on to win 13 straight.
2007 Florida lost 3 of 4 in late February, all on the road, before heading to their second straight title.
2006 Florida out did everyone on the list by losing three in a row in the span of eight days in the shortest month before rolling to title numero uno.
2005 North Carolina also lost in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, this time to Georgia Tech before giving ‘Ol Roy his first ring.
I could keep going but I don’t think I have to. This loss could make every other team in the country a loser as it may just have waken the sleeping giant that is Rock Chalk.
Kentucky. See above.
Tennessee. Is there another team in the country that has played a schedule like the Vols. They played last week’s top three teams in the country and went 2-1 against them. A big win over the weekend may not propel them to a lot of tournament success, but will certainly help Bruce Pearl continue to build the program he has already taken to new heights.
Ohio St. The Buck’s are on track for a number two seed. They will walk with, at the very least, a share of the regular season title and should be the favorites heading into the Big Ten Tournament. I said Evan Turner should walk with the Big Ten POY a few weeks ago and now I’m saying he should walk with National POY too.
Minnesota. Being from this winter wonderland, it’s hard to believe that the Gophs are still alive. It seems like they have played themselves out of contention so many times it still amazes me that they have bounced back. There is no reason that should have lost the game earlier this week against Purdue and without that win I didn’t think they had a prayer. Then they go into Illinois and hold on for a two-point victory against a team that usually owned them. Now they head to Michigan (another team that has somehow owned them of late) before hosting Iowa to close it out. Win those two and they are all of a sudden two games over .500 in the Big Ten and on their way to 20 wins. That would be enough. Shocking
New Mexico. The Lobos did something they haven’t done since 2000 this weekend when they won in Provo and take the regular season title away from BYU. I think the fighting Alfords should easily grab a number 3 seed out West come tourney time. While the non-conference wins over Cal and Texas Tech have last their luster as the season has played out, they still have that neutral court (Houston) win over a Texas A&M pre-Derrick Rolland most horrific injury since Joe Thiesmann team. If you missed the end of the game against BYU, Darrington Hobson’s block as the game closed out was possibly the best defensive play of the year.
Maryland. Won a big one in Virginia Tech to keep their hopes of tying Duke for the ACC title. The Terps have won 5 straight since they were dismantled by the Blue Devils in Durham and will host them Wednesday night. Even though Greivis Vasquez went for 41 over the weekend, he went just 13 for 33, maybe it’s time to pass the ball a little bit more.
Notre Dame. Heading into last week there were four teams from the Big East going for one or two at-large spots. The Irish, without Luke Harangody, seemed the least likely to move into one of those spots. But the Catholics got a huge boost by getting two signature wins last week, both in dominating fashion. They destroyed Pitt at home by 15 then took they’re show on the road to knock of Georgetown by 14. They still have two tough games remaining when they host UConn Wednesday and then travel to Marquette. If they can, at the very least, get a split they can probably put on their dancing shoes.
The Pac 10. Don’t look now but the worst “Power Conference” maybe ever has all of a sudden got 3 teams that are ten games or more over .500 in Cal, Arizona St., and Washington. It’s hard to fathom three teams from this league getting in, but we know that the NCAA will give it more respect than it deserves. Washington could be the team that has the best shot at getting an at-large bid if they don’t win the tournament with a win over Texas A&M on their resume. If they sweep in Oregon this week they could easily finish with 22 or more wins and they were a top-25 team early in the year. More intriguing is whether or not the selection committee would keep Cal out if they make the finals of the Pac 10 tournament and lost. The Bears, assuming they take out arch rival Stanford later this week, would finish with the outright regular season title and be 23-10 heading into Selection Sunday. Scary thought, but multiple bids could be likely.
Purdue. Forget the fact that they just lost to Michigan St. at home, Robbie Hummel going down completely changes how this team plays. They will struggle against teams that play an extended zone against them and focus on not giving E’Twaun Moore open looks. Teams that played zone against them with Hummel in the line-up couldn’t focus on taking one of them out and now they can. The Minnesota game, even though they won, exposed the Boilers lack of depth. Purdue will likely win it’s final two games over poor teams (Indiana and Penn St.), but they could face the likelihood of losing in the quarterfinals (if they drop to the three seed) or semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament and maybe slipping all the way down to a four seed come the big dance.
UConn. This team has far too much talent to be sitting so precariously on the bubble, but they are definitely going to be sweating it out if they don’t win out in NYC. They couldn’t hold the momentum they had developed when Louisville came to town yesterday and now will probably have to win their last two games on the road to seriously have a shot at getting in. At Notre Dame, as mentioned earlier, doesn’t look as easy as a trek it did a week ago and more than one team has struggle against South Florida down in Tampa.
Texas. The Horns just can’t seem to right the ship and the severe injuries to the backcourt aren’t helping either. The former number one may drop out of the top-25 after their embarrassing performance at in-state rival A&M on Saturday. The seed for the conference tournament is very much up in the air as well, as they could be anywhere from 3 to 7. While they have been struggling, they will make the tournament and will a scary matchup for whomever they get in the first round considering the talent that is there.
Florida. The Gators were seemingly off the bubble after they finally beat Tennessee last week, but jumped right back on with the two-point loss at Georgia on Saturday. Billy Donavan, what the hell has happened in Gainesville? You won back-to-back national titles just a couple years ago and now every year it seems as though the Gators are teetering on the edge. It doesn’t help (or then again, maybe it does in that they could get another signature win) that they finish with Vandy and Kentucky this week and will likely need to win one of those to guarantee themselves a place.
Ahh…March. It’s all happening.