Whew. We’re three days into March and we’ve already seen some amazing basketball action. Just think about this for a second though, in two weeks, we will be filling out our first brackets and turning them into our office pools. Of course I’ll be switching that bracket out with my “other” bracket in an attempt to steal the $50 pot.
Anyways, on to this weekends action.
Kentucky is in trouble. And when I say trouble, I mean big trouble. The Wildcats dropped a big game Saturday to Arkansas, a loss which now forces them to win out against Georgia and Florida this week. The SEC Tournament could also be another opportunity for John Calipari’s squad, but Big Blue needs to be able to play their first game in the SEC Tournament knowing it isn’t win or NIT. A victory over Florida at home on Saturday, would go a long way towards getting off the bubble and into the field of 68.
Ryan Kelly is back and boy did he make a splash. This past week I was talking hoops with some guys and the idea of Kelly coming back came up. The question really focused on whether or not Kelly returning would help or hurt the Blue Devils. I figured it’d hurt them, in the way Kyrie Irving returning two years ago hurt Duke. After missing most of the year, the eventual #1 in the draft came back only to exit in the Sweet Sixteen as top seeded Duke was blown out by Arizona. But seeing Kelly return last night was huge. He tossed in 30 points in his first game since January 8th, and with him back, Duke is suddenly just as good as any team in America.
Indiana fans can add a little feather to their cap on this Sunday night. With Wisconsin’s loss to Purdue today at home, and Michigan State’s loss just a couple hours later at Michigan, Indiana clinched at least a share of the the Big Ten regular season title for the first time since 2002. Indiana hosts Ohio State on Tuesday on Senior Night and if they win that one, Indiana will be the top seed the following week in Chicago. Tom Crean also picked up his first regular season conference title since 2003, when his Dwyane Wade squad went on to the Final Four.
Gonzaga will be the top ranked team in America this week for the first time in school history. The Zags have never been on the mountain top of the college basketball world, but Mark Few has finally guided his squad there this season, with a 29-2 record. The Bulldogs season is over and they get a week off before they start preparations for the WCC tournament, but don’t be surprised if a team like Indiana is bumped up from #2 to #1 next week, should they beat Ohio State and Michigan this week. The Zags are in contention for the #1 seed out West, and are a team to watch in March.
The conference tournaments this year are going to be simply amazing, and the last week of the regular season is usually just as good. Indiana gets Ohio State and Michigan, Duke goes to UNC, and Kentucky hosts Florida. This week is going to be fun as we crown the champions in the major leagues. Don’t sleep on Louisville or Georgetown, two teams that will challenge for the #1 seed out East should Duke get beat in the ACC Tournament.
No team picked up a bigger win than UCLA this weekend. Ben Howland in my opinion should have been fired this past summer following the Sports Illustrated report that came out regarding his program. Then he kept his job, due to the stunning recruiting class he brought in. Yet, the season hasn’t lived up to its expectations, but UCLA is finally putting it together and appear to be peaking just in time. Following a big win over Arizona this weekend, Coach Howland said that Shabazz Muhammad is gone after this season. Expect him to have a lot to say about how far his Bruins go in March.
I was pretty shocked that Miami played Duke as close as they did in Cameron this Saturday. One could very easily argue that without Ryan Kelly, Duke loses that game. I hope they get to play one more time on a neutral court in March, because I still think that if these teams play ten times, they would likely split.
The SEC has been so disappointing that you’re probably wondering if everyone is just packing it up and getting ready for spring practice. Kentucky lost a big one this weekend, Tennessee dropped one at Georgia and Ole Miss lost perhaps the worst game of the season, getting dropped at rival Mississippi State. That one was bad. The SEC needs Florida to carry it this March, and even the Gators aren’t a team being mentioned in the top tier contenders anymore.
Finally, the team of the week is a tie between Minnesota and Virginia. No teams solidified their spots in the bracket more than these two did. Minnesota upset Indiana 77-73 on Tuesday night and Virginia downed Duke, 73-68. Virginia is now tied with N.C. State for 4th place in the ACC standings and could very easily win out this week to grab a bye in the tournament. Minnesota has two winnable games left, against Purdue and Nebraska, though both on the road. These two teams will be dark horses and tough outs when the conference tournaments begin.