It’s a crapshoot.
If anything has become clear this college basketball season, it’s that nothing is clear.
With each passing week, just as it seems we finally have everything nailed down, we’re delivered yet another sobering, ice-water-to-the-face reality check.
Yeah, Gonzaga’s rise to the top of the polls Monday sent chilling bolts of disgust through the veins of every red-blooded, front-running, BCS-only proponent in America, but that wasn’t enough apparently. No, even with the Zags taking over as No. 1, everyone knew the best team out there was Indiana. Mid-major maniacs couldn’t argue.
The Hoosiers would be the headliners in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. They’d be given favorite status and favored seeding. Hey, kudos to the Bulldogs, but Indiana deserved it.
Then came Tuesday night … and the Hoosiers lost again – at home, and pretty handily to Big Ten rival Ohio State. Cody Zeller, as usual, showed up, but few others did for Tom Crean’s team, including media favorite Victor Olidapo. Granted, playing in the toughest conference in the country, the Hoosiers could be given a little slack for four losses – by a combined 13 points, all by teams that currently have at least 20 wins.
However, a fifth strike against them, not to mention their second in the last three games, well, that kinda makes it a little hard to ignore that there are some chinks in the armor. They can get pushed around, especially under the boards. They’ll turn the ball over, too. Most telling of all, they’re a great shooting team … that needs to shoot well in order to be secure in victory.
But even that might not be enough as evidenced by Indiana’s 50-percent field-goal effort in a two-point loss at Illinois last month.
Thing is, all that does is put Indiana in a big pot with several other legitimate contenders, and it’s a pot that seems to be growing all the time. With Ryan Kelly rejoining Duke after a seven-week absence, the Blue Devils look pretty dangerous – so much so that they may even match up with their rep, or at least come close to it. The 6-11 senior not only blistered Miami in a revenge game for 36 points, he followed that up with an 18-point, 9-rebound effort in a comfortable win against Virginia Tech on Tuesday.
Gonzaga certainly is in there, too – but anyone who states, and believes, this as being Mark Few’s best squad really would be wise to do a little history lesson that covers, oh, the last 10-12 years of Zags basketball.
Any number of big-name programs have a real shot this go-’round, from Kansas to Louisville to Florida or even semi-surging UCLA. Even others from the non-BCS lot aside from Gonzaga could factor in the Final Four mix. Maybe Saint Louis or New Mexico could pull a Butler.
Or Virginia Commonwealth could pull, um, a Virginia Commonwealth – again.
Gonzaga, 29-2. Zags have best record in nation and best 1-2 interior punch in country. Kelly Olynyk became program’s 13th WCC POY winner and likely will be a first-team All-American. Only 2006 national POY Adam Morrison and Dan Dickau, in 2002, previously pulled that feat for Gonzaga.
Duke, 26-4. Hard to argue with Devils’ record and revenge on Miami, thanks to Kelly’s 36 points. Maybe they’ll be good away from Cameron with him back now; only 4-4 thus far on road.
Miami, 23-5. Lack of respect/recognition shown ’Canes elsewhere is incomprehensible. People, they still lead Duke by two games in ACC, and only fell – by 3, mind you – thanks to that Herculean effort by Kelly.
Indiana, 25-5. Can we chill out on the Olidapo for All-American talk now? Dickie V and Magic Johnson’s favorite college player was a no-show in Hoosiers’ third loss in their last eight games.
Michigan, 24-5. Sold on Wolverines, who turned the tables on Michigan State Saturday behind – who else – Trey Burke (21 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds). More important, not sold on Kansas.
Trio to watch: Kansas 26-4, Georgetown, 23-4, Louisville 25-5.
Gonzaga, 29-2. Zags next play Saturday in the WCC tournament semis, when they’ll most likely face fourth-seeded Santa Clara, a team they beat by 43 just two weeks ago.
Saint Louis, 23-5. Billikens are best story no one has read this season, but don’t have A-10 wrapped up just yet with having to visit always tough Xavier tonight before hosting 20-win La Salle Saturday.
Virginia Commonwealth, 23-6. Most amazing thing about Rams’ destruction of Butler on Saturday is they didn’t do same two years ago in Final Four. They’re just better, and were then, too.
New Mexico, 25-4. Lobos already clinched MWC, and have been top-5 in RPI most of the season. They have size, they have skill. They could be a tough out in the NCAAs … or an early exit.
Memphis, 25-4. Tigers deserve to be here every bit as much as fan fave Butler doesn’t. Shame is, this might be their final ride under coach Josh Pastner, who has been targeted by USC.
Trio to watch: Middle Tennessee State 27-4, Saint Mary’s 26-5, Creighton 24-7.
Khalif Wyatt, Temple, senior G. Unsurpassed late-game brilliance, as 12-point explosion in the final 1:56 against Detroit, erasing a 5-point deficit, will attest. Numbers: 19.6 ppg, 4.1 apg, 2.6 rpg, 1.6 spg.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga, junior C. Big fella’s efficiency borders on comical, and he’s a better athlete than most would imagine. Numbers: 17.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.2 bpg in just 25.6 mpg.
Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s, senior G. Gaels needed to step up after second loss to Gonzaga and have behind his 21.3 ppg in last four games, all wins. Numbers: 16.5 ppg, 6.2 apg, 3.4 rpg.
Doug McDermott, Creighton, junior F. Really faded for a stretch, but has gone off for 32 and 41, respectively, after loss at Saint Mary’s. Numbers: 23.4 pgg, 7.6 rpg.
Trey Burke, Michigan, sophomore G. Hard to ignore the driving force behind Wolverines’ return to national prominence. Numbers: 18.9 ppg, 6.9 apg, 3.1 rpg.
Trio to watch: Nate Wolters, South Dakota State; Mike Muscala, Bucknell; Mason Plumlee, Duke.