Midway To March Madness

Just under two months now until Selection Sunday.

While the college hoop season officially began in early November, for a lot of fans it begins now.  Conference play.  No longer playing on islands before a handful of folks taking a break from the sun and surf.  You are playing on familiar turf – sometimes your own, sometimes your rival’s – and everyone is screaming at you.  A lot of everyones.

I’ve had a number of folks comment both on and off the site they don’t follow collegiate basketball until Selection Sunday.  I get it.  It is hard to keep up with the daily onslaught of games involving 345 teams…every announcer you hear telling you today or tonight’s game is “THE game of the week.” 

Top-ranked teams get beat and one says to oneself“self, if they’re so highly thought of why did they lose?”

The truth is now is the time teams start to coalesce and form what they will eventually present come NCAA Tournament time.  While wins are still the most prized possessions, coaches are looking for teams to make the most of each possession as they navigate their way through conference schedules when the lights are brighter and the stakes are higher.  You find out the true essence of your squad in the crucible of conference play.

And it always helps to be playing in a strong conference when you’re trying to get to a National Championship.

“That which does not kill you makes you stronger” – Nietzsche

Which brings me to some thoughts midway to March Madness…

The Pac-12 looks to be the very worst of the major conferences.  The Big Ten looks to be the very best.  The Big East looks overrated.  The Atlantic 10 looks underrated. If the Big East gets the most teams into the Dance this year it’s only because of the massive size of the conference, which is a sad reason indeed.  Rutgers did manage to defeat two Top-10 teams in the same year for the first time in thirty years…but they’re also owning 10-7.  (Those early rankings are just that…early)  That being said, within the Big East Seton Hall…can ball.  I have seen the Pirates a couple of times and at 15-2 it is nice to see the Hall in the conversation. The Atlantic 10 will beat each other senseless in conference play but do not look down on them.  The cream of their crop will accumulate “L’s” here and there.  This is an emerging conference and teams who make it through to the Madness will be dangerous.  They should get four bids.  They might get five.  As many as the ACC should.  It could be the weakest that conference has been in quite some time.

Surprise Team #1 – HC Tom Crean has Indiana way ahead of schedule in their return to basketball royalty.  He’s got a rising (still growing?) star in 6-11 Freshman Cody Zeller.  Big-boy home wins against Kentucky and Ohio State before New Year’s Day…but a home loss last night to Minnesota shows they’re still learning resiliency and toughness.  They take a 15-2 mark into their next game Sunday – the rematch at Ohio State.  The Buckeyes currently sit at 15-3 and want to get both their swagger back…and their revenge.  We’ll see whether or not Indiana really is headed for a “Hoosiers” finale.  Ohio State has many others besides Indiana to deal with in that power-laden Big Ten…but the Buckeyes should be on track for a top seed to the Dance.

Surprise Team #2 – HC Frank Haith has Missouri way ahead of expectations.  Not because he didn’t inherit a good team (all five starters were scheduled to be back)…but because as he departed Miami some sand kicked up about improprieties there.  There were whispers he would be sucked into that muck.  Then, he lost his best player Laurence Bowers two weeks before practice even began to a torn ACL.  With a record of 15-1, we’ll consider the Tigers’ transition to a new coach complete.  They will challenge for a high seed to the Tournament.

North Carolina, 15-2 with losses to Kentucky and UNLV, still appears to be the team to beat come March.  Kentucky’s Wildcats only have the one loss to Indiana to pair alongside 16 wins.  They will also be a favorite to reach the Final Four.  Syracuse, Murray State and Baylor remain the nation’s only unbeatens.  The Orange have the deepest squad in the country and their second five could easily hold their own with many starting fives.  If you’re not favoring Carolina or Kentucky to win it all, you’re down with the ‘Cuse.

Murray State and Baylor are having historic seasons for their universities with 16 and 17 wins respectively.  Speaking of coaching transitions, Racers’ HC Steve Prohm is in his first year there.  Another coaching transition we can say has been made successfully.  As with the Bears’ HC Scott Drew…who brought a program back from essentially an NCAA-death penalty state to warranting strong consideration for a top seed come Selection Sunday.

Among “little guys” who could make trouble for the expected elite…one team nobody figured would remain in the national conversation was the San Diego State Aztecs.  After losing four starters from last year’s super squad they sit at 14-2…awaiting another nationally ranked Mountain West foe this Saturday, those dangerous Runnin’ Rebs of UNLV…16-2 and owners of that win over Carolina.  One lesser-known player nobody figured would be legitimately discussed as Player of the Year, Creighton’s Doug McDermott.  25 ppg, 8 rpg, 62% from the field, 56% from 3-land, 85% from the line.  The nationally ranked Bluejays are 14-2…thanks to his play.

March 11th will be here before you know it.  In the meantime, enjoy the prelude…to the Madness.

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About sportsattitudes

I'm Bruce. Born, raised and still outside the City of Brotherly Love. Managed (so far) to visit a dozen of our United States and Canada (twice). Addicted from birth to Television/Movies/Sports. Took three years of French and got credit for two of 'em.
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29 Responses to Midway To March Madness

  1. tophatal says:

    Which none major program could provide us all with a surprise this season in the “tourney” (NCAA Tournament) ?

    tophatal ……..

    Like

    • Continue to be impressed with San Diego State coming back so strong this season. UNLV did not play well in their match-up on Saturday but a lot of that was the Aztecs’ doing. The Rebels are still solid. I believe Long Beach State has the potential to win a couple of games in March also.

      Like

      • tophatal says:

        sports’

        San Diego St is a damn good team as are Baylor but I get the feeling that come tournament time it will be down to the usual suspects with perhaps that usual perfunctory surprise team . As to who that might be is anyone’s guess at this juncture !

        tophatal …………

        Like

  2. We Gator alum finally have something to cheer about again.

    I love the superfrosh Bradley Beal and think we could actually finally do some damage again this year when it matters most.

    Like

    • I think Florida will gel as we get towards March and do agree by then they should win a couple games when it matters most. They’ve bounced back nicely from that loss to Tennessee…the last time I had a chance to see them. Need more boards!

      Like

  3. Teeblerone says:

    As a Jayhawks fan, I can tell you what hasn’t been surprising (but still wildly frustrating) has been their lack of depth and inconsistency killing them against good teams and giving me a sinking feeling they’re in for an early exit come March…again.

    Like

    • Kansas has been inconsistent (Davidson!). Haven’t scored as much as I thought they would in earlier games but coming around now. Tonight will be a challenge to see if they can hold serve against Baylor. Big test from the Bears.

      Like

    • Teeblerone says:

      You can see they have good talent, but they can’t seem to avoid the lull in every game where they can’t score, can’t defend, can’t avoid turning the ball over. It’s killed them in their losses and nearly cost them a few other games this year. Can’t go to the bench because they haven’t shown they can be trusted, but they can’t build that trust because they can’t stay on the floor. Baylor will be very tough tonight.

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      • I liked what I saw from Kansas last night vs. Baylor. Two best players rose to the occasion and the other guys didn’t just stand around. This could be a team that rises to the occasion and just needs to bear down against lesser opponents and get the killer instinct.

        Like

      • Teeblerone says:

        I was pleasantly surprised to see them play consistently, intelligently, and with some killer instinct against a Baylor team that’s been red hot. It’s just the kind of thing to fill me with false hopes for March 🙂

        Like

  4. brief22 says:

    I am proud of Tom Crean and Indiana. Historically, they are one of the best programs in the NCAA. They struggled for years. Now, they’re back. Congrats on a great year and I wish them the best of luck.

    Like

    • Hoosiers had a rough go Sunday when the Buckeyes jumped all over them…but we knew the revenge factor would be huge. They’re still going to make life miserable for opponents all year long. Crean has stuck it out there and turned things around.

      Like

  5. Once again, UNC and UK are the teams to beat. I really haven’t been following College Basketball with the NFL, NHL, and NBA going on, so thanks for this post. Come March, though, I’ll be watching every game.

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    • What happened to NC Saturday? Three-point shooting, that’s what. I know Roy Williams must have told them over and over again pre-game to ignore FSU’s record, but every time the Tar Heels go there they seem to drift to sleep…and they slept on the 3-ball all Saturday afternoon. Kentucky got a scare from Tennessee but Cuonzo Martin’s team will always be a tough out at home. Agreed, UNC and UK likely #1 seeds.

      Like

  6. Blog Surface says:

    Ahhh, the great March Madness… you’re killing me, getting me all crazy and excited already! I can’t wait. Some of the best basketball is played during this time.

    Like

  7. Bobby Charts says:

    This year the tourney is going to be insane and completely anybody’s to win!

    I just hope my Buckeyes can go deep this year unlike the past few years.

    Like

  8. tophatal says:

    sports’

    So Roy Williams does have a tail after-all ? I swore I saw it after the Tar Heels’ loss (90-57) to FSU as he dragged it between his legs ! Your thoughts ?

    tophatal ………

    Like

    • I was a bit confused at the ending to the UNC-FSU game. I didn’t really get the players-out order Williams pulled. It the final margin of victory wasn’t what it was, maybe it would have been a lesser deal. It was reported State HC Leonard Hamilton suggested Roy’s team “take cover.” As for the contest itself, the Heels were on their heels when it came to covering the 3-ball. I know Roy Williams must drive himself horse each year warning his teams not to look at the Seminoles’ record and get focused, but “Talla” has been a house of horrors for UNC awhile now.

      Like

      • tophatal says:

        Hamilton states that felt it was in the best interests of the Tar Heels left the court as he feared for the team’s safety and he advised Williams to take his players off the court . Williams if anything should have hid his head in shame along with team after that horrendous performance against the Noles .

        tophatal ……….

        Like

  9. chappy81 says:

    Thanks for the lil update. I haven’t been paying attention too closely since the NBA actually is playing. Maybe it’s been the play in the Pac-12 that has turned me off college hoops for the moment…

    Like

  10. Danielle says:

    I cannot wait for March Madness…Just something about it. So much basketball in so little time. Not sure if anyone can beat UK though….Syracuse is tough, but UK is ridiculous! Having said that….GO TEMPLE OWLS!!!

    Like

    • D – thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts. Indeed, it is impossible to try to keep up with all the great college and pro b-ball these days in Philly…Sixers, huh? What a great year so far…we usually just have collegiate basketball capture our attention. Temple gave me a big scare against GW Wednesday but I think they were looking ahead a bit to X this weekend. Go Owls!!!

      Like

  11. tophatal says:

    sports’

    Does Jim Calhoun really have a health issue or is he ducking out because he knows that the NCAA are about to rain down the pain on his basketball program because of the egregious violations ? tophatal ………

    Like

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