So, anyone who has been watching college basketball is going to be saying "Duh" just by reading the title, but bare with me, I want to highlight some of the craziness we have seen thus far this year.
For the first time ever, for 5 consecutive weeks we have had a number 1 team due to the top team losing. Depending on which poll you look at, IU is still number one after losing this past week to a very (in terms of the Big Ten) average Illini team (No offense to any Illinois alums out there). Now, Illinois went on to beat Minnesota a few days later, so I am not calling this a fluke, but it definitely is something to take note of. Kansas lost 3 consecutive games for the first time since 2005 including an unforgivable loss to a VERY bad TCU basketball team (again, no offense to any TCU alums, but even you guys didn't put any money on that one). Of the conferences likely to send more than one team to the big dance, Miami (Fl) and Gonzaga are the only team that are undefeated in conference play. Kentucky, the reigning champ, has had to battle the last couple of months to justify a place in the tournament.
So, what does that mean for the conference and NCAA tournaments.
The teams at the top are a fluid concept. Not saying I necessarily agree with this sentiment but the #1 teams, if the season ended today, could be any of about 6 teams. After that, the 2 through 5 or 6 seeds are just as clustered. An early exit from the conference tourney from any of the teams in the top 25 could be the difference between a 2 or 3 seed with a match up against a school who has never won a tournament game or a 5 or 6 seed playing a team that is likely a real threat to beat you. For the small schools that are in the top 25 or just outside of it (read Indiana State) it could make the difference between making the NCAA tournament and the N.I.T. or , as my uncle has termed it, the Not Invited Tournament. Along the same lines, no one team has made a statement to say it is a top team. It is very likely (though if the ESPN bracketology released today is true, I really hope this is not the case for my Hoosiers) that this could be one of those seasons where no #1's make the final four.
Someone will punch their ticket in the Conference Tourney Alone. That may not be the best way to title this section as every year the small conference teams that send a team to "the dance" based solely on the conference tourney, and a bubble teams every year make their case in the conference tourney. I'm not talking about them, I am talking about a team, that in all reality based on their work over the course of the season probably aren't going to make the tournament, making the tourney. I am going to talk about the big ten because I am familiar with them, and this is especially true there. My current school Purdue (yes, I acknowledge the irony of being an IU fan at Purdue), is a case and point example (as is Iowa). Purdue currently sits at 12-12 with what I would deem 2 or 3 games that the Boilers should be able to win. That means, going into the conference tourney, Purdue likely sits at 14-17 or 15-16, I'm going out on a limb and saying that doesn't get them in... ok, well maybe that is not that big of a stretch. But Purdue has shown moments where they have been a very dangerous team. They beat Illinois when they were in the top ten and took a very good Ohio State team to the wire a couple of days after that. If Purdue gets hot over the next 3 weeks, they could make a case for the NCAA tournament. If they finish 15-16 and win 3 games in the conference tourney (which in the big ten means winning at least 1 game vs a ranked opponent... porobably 2). Purdue punches its ticket or at least gives the selection committee something to think about. Iowa has a much better non-conference record as Purdue, but only has 1 quality win (Wisconsin) and because of the rankings at the time, isn't as great of a quality win as other schools. Iowa, like Purdue can punch its ticket with a couple of conference tourney wins.
Expect upsets, but not as many as you may think. Again, this is a bit of a "Duh" statement, but I have a gut feeling there won't be as many as we think. One of my friends here at Purdue is calling for the first every 1/16 upset ever. I doubt that happens, but I do expect some surprises. None of the top echelon of teams have done well in the spotlight, but, they are all battle tested. Some years we have a couple of teams that breeze through the regular season, this has not been the case. All of the best teams have not only had tight wins, but tight losses. This may be the coach in me, but you learn a lot from those close games, and you learn a hell of a lot more out of a loss than a win. I think most of the teams in the 1-6 seed range will be able to handle a norfolk state or long beach state scare early on in the tourney. For this exact same reason I expect a lot of games in the later rounds to be knock down drag out fights, with a lot of upsets... because these teams know what needs to happen for them to advance. Depending on which teams are playing, the games might not be pretty, high scoring affairs, but there will be plenty of last second shots to fill up "one shining moment" after the title game this year.
Well there are my march "predictions" of sorts, let me know if you agree or disagree.
Thanks for reading,
-T.O. signing out