It’s been a great year … and a lousy one.
Pick your poison when it comes to college basketball 2012-13. If you’re a proponent, or fan, of the dynamic squad, the one that sets the tone for an entire season and has everyone else scrambling to stack up, this has been a rough few months for you.
If you prefer more of a wide-open approach, whereby you take a gander up and down the rankings and beyond, wondering if any team is a given to beat another, this has been as close to bliss as possible for you.
Think about, even as we head down the stretch drive, can any of us look at what we’ve seen and say with conviction what team is going to win it all? Or what teams will make the Final Four? Or even what ones will do some damage in the NCAA Tournament?
At this, the nation’s preseason and newly anointed No. 1, Indiana, does appear to be the best team in the country when you step back and take a look at the season on the whole. But the Hoosiers are hardly a dominant outfit. Yeah, they just beat then-No. 1 Michigan, but they’ve also struggled against Big Ten lightweights Northwestern and Iowa, too. They also lost to a mid-major school – Butler – and to a conference middling in Wisconsin.
Florida, the SEC’s finest? The Gators just got mauled by Arkansas. Duke? Honestly, the Blue Devils aren’t even the best in the ACC. Kansas? It would be nice if the Jayhawks could beat anyone in convincing fashion. Michigan? Well, aside from falling from the top of the polls, they hardly stray far from winning by the hair of the chinny chin chins.
Thing is, when you have a team in the midst of a down season like Villanova losing 5 of 7 games during one stretch, with the victories coming over the Nos. 3 and 5 in a span of four days, it stands to reason that there really are no guarantees this campaign.
1-Indiana, 20-2. Handling Michigan in relatively solid fashion, the Hoosiers reside where most assumed they would, atop all of college basketball. They will be tested the rest of the regular season, though, having to face five ranked teams in their final nine contests … and don’t be surprised if Illinois suddenly reawakens Thursday night when hosting Indiana.
2-Michigan, 21-2. Kinda hard to drop the Wolverines too far. They played well at Indiana, despite losing, and then rebounded against Ohio State on Tuesday night – albeit just barely. The backcourt combo of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. is second to none, and Michigan gets help from other sources – Mitch McGary had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals against the Buckeyes.
3-Miami, 18-3. The Hurricanes have crept up to eighth in the AP poll, while Duke rests at fourth. How? Miami is the ACC front-runner and just smoked the Blue Devils by 27 on January 23. The ’Canes are good, balanced and deep … and, apparently, no longer blink in the face of top-notch competition.
4-Duke, 19-2. Hey, the Devils are due some respect – just not ahead of Miami. They host North Carolina State Thursday night in a Tobacco Road showdown. Mason Plumlee is the obvious headliner, although the emergence of a player such as sophomore G Quinn Cook makes them most dangerous.
5-Gonzaga, 21-2. Sorry, mid-major haters, gotta have the Bulldogs here. Gonzaga is one last-second basket and an outing in which Illinois played out of its mind from being undefeated. It has a strong frontline, depth and when G Kevin Pangos goes off, watch out.
Teams to watch: Florida 18-3, Kansas 19-2 and Arizona 19-2.
1-Gonzaga, 21-2. The Bulldogs, very realistically, could enter the WCC tournament at 29-2. Saint Mary’s (February 14) and Brigham Young (February 28) are the main obstacles standing in that path. Both games are on the road.
2-Creighton, 20-3. Kinda hard to ignore the Bluejays’ success and the individual efforts of junior F Doug McDermott. The highlight of Brackbuster Saturday on February 23 should be their trip to Saint Mary’s.
3-New Mexico, 19-3. The Lobos have wins against UConn and Cincinnati, when both were ranked, and sit atop the MWC standings. However, they have to avoid getting behind as 21- and 14-point Ls attest.
4-Butler, 18-4. The staple for old-school beliefs and style, the Bulldogs are reeling a bit. They have split their last four games. Almost seems like that one-point W against Gonzaga was their Super Bowl.
5-Saint Mary’s, 19-4. The Gaels have won seven straight since falling by 5 at Gonzaga on January 10. If they avenge that loss on Valentine’s Day, a rubber match is likely in the WCC final.
Teams to watch: Wichita State 19-5, San Diego State 16-5.
1-Doug McDermott, Creighton, junior F. He’s the frontrunner. He has to be, taking a cast of nice players and carrying them into the national spotlight with a legit chance to beat anyone. Numbers: 24.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, .510 3s, .565 FGs.
2-Trey Burke, Michigan, sophomore G. Great floor general with the ability to take over a game, any game. Numbers: 18.1 ppg, 7.2 apg.
3-Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s, senior G. Gotta love his toughness and surprising skill. Backs down from no one. Numbers: 16.3 ppg, 6.5 apg, 3.0 rpg.
4-Mason Plumlee, Duke, senior F. The big fella just continues to be a double-double machine, no matter who the Devils play. Numbers: 17.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg.
5-Mike Muscala, Bucknell, senior C. The Bison could be poised to make a little noise in the Big Dance again, thanks to this guy. Numbers: 19.0 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.8 bpg.
Player to watch: Cody Zeller, Indiana, sophomore F; Khalif Wyatt, Temple, senior G.