Being that we just had another wild week of college hoops and none of you (I hope) care for Daytona news, I thought I would give you my inside scoop on what I expect to happen in the polls and how I foresee the brackets shaping up as we approach the end of February and enter in the madness.
The unexpected came last night when #2Miami fell to Wake Forest 80-65 last night to give them their first conference loss of the season. It also ended their 14-game winning streak. With the Canes being my surprise of the season as I declared them last week as a top five team heading into the tournament, this result came even more shocking. I still think they can pick up where they left off and ride a small wave into the ACC tournament and make noise in the big dance, but a loss like this to a team like Wake who is below .500 cannot sit well with anyone bleeding orange and green. Late February is the time of year the great teams separate themselves from the rest of the pack through consistency and the Canes are in danger of losing that.
Another Day at the Office
The Duke Blue Devils are still my favorite as we close out conference play to win it all. I am not overly confident about this pick, but I am more at ease with their ability to perform at a high level more so than anyone else. To put it simply, Duke has lost the number of games (3) that I would have otherwise expected them to lose leading up to this point with the team that they have. While it would be a long shot to say that they still have chance to win the ACC regular season title being two games back with four games left to go, I do think that they will win at least three of their four remaining games of the regular season. They will be tested again by Miami on March 2 at home after dropping their last contest with the Canes by 27 points. I expect them to cruise in the ACC tournament and be a number one seed in the NCAA tournament.
If you still call the Gonzaga Bulldogs a mid-major then here they are. At 14-0 in the WCC and 27-2 overall, the Zags are having as good a season as ever. Not only do they have one of the deepest benches in the country, but it has been their inside-outside game that has proven to be highly effective. The Mark Few led Bulldogs will always be a run-and-gun team first, but they have gotten it done in the half court this season against quality opponents, as well. With two games remaining in the regular season, Gonzaga is well on their way to a fantastic finish. They have BYU left on Thursday in Provo before finishing with Portland at home. If they win out both the regular season and conference tournament, which I imagine would be the case, expect the Zags to achieve a number one seed going in the NCAA tournament for the first time in their history.
The game of the week had to easily of been the Kentucky Wildcats winning in overtime last night at home against Missouri. It’s crazy to think that the Cats last year had just as young of a roster as they do this season, but with more explosiveness. This season, they have struggled with their identity and a lack of consistency, more or less, has led to a number of blowouts. However, as of today, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as one of the last four in.
Missouri Valley Mishaps
What happened to the Missouri Valley Conference over the last couple of months? Many projected the MVC to be not only the strongest mid-major conference in the country, but one of the strongest conferences as a whole in the country. Creighton, Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State were projected to have nothing short of decent seasons and while everything started off generally smooth has turned around to be a nightmare. Creighton has lost four of their last six and are on the verge of putting major pressure on themselves entering conference tournament play. Wichita State had lost three in a row before winning their last five, but a strong finish will still be required for them to feel comfortable heading into selection Sunday. Northern Iowa and Indiana State are both led by a strong core of juniors and seniors, but neither of them have lived up to expectations. They would virtually have to win the MVC conference tournament to go to the big dance at this point. At this point, the MVC would be lucky to get two teams in the tournament.
The Best of the Rest
While Duke is still my favorite at this point in the season, I put Michigan State as “The Best of the Rest” because they have what it takes to make another Final Four run. Despite dropping a 68-60 conference game at #18Ohio State earlier today, they not only have the depth, but they have the experience to peak when they need to. The Sparty’s have veteran guys who have been there before and they also have, in my book, one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all-time in Tom Izzo. The Big 10 is without question the best conference in the country and the Spartans have been freakishly consistent through it all. Look for the MSU to be there in Atlanta.
1. Indiana 2. Gonzaga 3. Duke 4. Florida 5. Michigan