Junior forward Kelly Olynyk’s 17.7 ppg led the Zags to No. 1 for the first time ever.
If history is a guide, the final week of the NCAA men’s basketball regular season will be an unpredictable, wild ride. It will likely produce a new No. 1 team and could be the difference between a top seed for some, while being the bubble that bursts for others.
New No. 1…for Now
In fairness to Gonzaga, they’ve taken care of business. Undefeated in the the WCC and only two losses on the season, the Zags will claim their first No. 1 ranking in school history. But it won’t last. With their season done, Gonzaga will watch as every other team plays out their regular seasons.
There’s no place like home; especially for the Top Ten. At home, the Top Ten went 8-0 last week. On the road? 5-6. Who suffered the most embarrassing road loss? No. 4 Michigan. Losing at Penn State was embarrassing. But beating No. 9 Michigan State at home atoned for it.
The Four Tops
* Gonzaga — West Region
* Indiana — Midwest Region
* Duke — East Region
* ??? — South Region
The Zags are a lock for the West Region. Kansas, Michigan, Miami, Georgetown and even Louisville will make their cases for that fourth No. 1 seed in The Big Dance™. Stay tuned.
Shaka to the System
Right on cue, here comes Shaka Smart and his VCU Rams. By virtue of pistol-whipping Butler last week, VCU should move into the Top 25 and be poised to make another run at the Final Four.
Worst Week Ever
After winless weeks, Arizona and Syracuse will fall to the middle of the pack and, likely, losing a grip on No. 2 seeds.
Duke senior forward Ryan Kelly picked a fine time to get back into the mix. His 36 points lifted the Blue Devils over No. 5 Miami; just in time for the postseason. For Coach K, Kelly’s return gives Duke another double-digit scoring threat. The real test for Duke will be its season-ending game at North Carolina.
Minnesota’s upset victory over No. 1 Indiana may have been the signature win to punch their ticket to the Big Dance™. Even though Illinois has an identical 8-8 conference record and also beat Indiana, they’re still on the bubble with two difficult road games to close out the season. They may need a good showing in the conference tournament to punch their ticket.
UConn is in the same boat as the Illini. They’re 3-3 against ranked teams and lack any sense of consistency. They are truly middle-of-the-pack. Out in the Mountain West, here come the Runnin’ Rebels, making their case. After a 2-0 week and in a tie for second place in the MWC, UNLV is one step closer to a potential No. 5 seed.
So Who’s No. 1?
This is a difficult week to predict. I have about 45 percent confidence in my selections.
1. Gonzaga (29-2/16-0)— All that’s left is their conference tourney, which won’t hurt their shot at the No. 1 seed in the West Region.
2. Indiana (24-4/13-3)—Losing has consequences. But if the Hoosiers win out, they’ll be the consensus No. 1 again.
3. Kansas (25-4/13-3)—Just as losing has consequences, so does winning. The Jayhawks had a good week.
4. Duke (25-4/12-4)—The Miami win atones for the Virginia loss. But they have to close out their season at Carolina. Good luck.
5. Georgetown (23-4/13-3)—The Hoyas are gaining momentum.
6. Michigan (24-5/11-5)—A win over Indiana would all but give the Wolverines a line on a No. 1 seed.
7. Miami (Fl) (23-5/14-2)—A No. 1 seed isn’t out of reach, but a No. 2 is all but locked.
8. Louisville (24-5/12-4)—A strong finish at home earns a No. 2 seed or better (depending on circumstances).
9. Kansas State (24-5/13-3)—The March 9 game at Okie St. is the battle for Big 12 second place.
10. Florida (23-5/13-3)—The Gators have one job this week: knock Kentucky’s ass to the NIT. Don’t let us down, Florida.
The Rest of the Field
I’m taking a shot at the entire Top 25 this week. Here goes:
11. Michigan State (22-7/11-5)—Road loss to Michigan hurt; down to a No. 3 or 4 seed.
12. New Mexico (25-4/12-2)—Could be a troublemaker in the tournament.
13. Oklahoma State (22-6/12-4)—Regardless of the K-State game, Okie St. is for real.
14. Ohio State (21-7/11-5)—A win over Indiana salvages an otherwise disappointing season.
15. St. Louis (23-5/12-2)—The Billikens could be the mid major who crashes the Final Four this year.
16. Arizona (23-6/11-6)—No one fell harder, faster than the Wildcats…
17. Syracuse (22-7/10-6)—…except for Syracuse. Hello, No. 4 seed.
18. Wisconsin (20-9/11-5)—Losing to Purdue hurt, but they’re still in the Dance.
19. Marquette (21-7/12-4)—Big wins over Syracuse and Notre Dame raised their stock.
20. Memphis (25-4/14-1)—Just when I started believing in the Tigers. They could still hold a No. 4 seed.
21. Louisiana Tech (26-3/16-0)—Difficult to determine how good they are, playing in a weak WAC.
22. PIttsburgh (23-7/11-6)—The Big East has too damn many teams.
23. Oregon (23-6/12-4)—They’re leading a rather mediocre Pac-12.
24. VCU (23-6/11-3)—They did something even Indiana couldn’t do, beat the hell out of Butler.
25. North Carolina (21-8/11-5)—In my mind, the Tar Heels didn’t earn this ranking. More like: it fell off the back of a turnip truck.
Gone Baby Gone
Butler and Notre Dame. Despite getting blown out by VCU, Butler will still be a tough out in the tournament. Notre Dame? They’re schizophrenic anymore. Could be a Sweet Sixteen team or be one-and-done.
UNLV. I thought about slotting the Runnin’ Rebels at No. 25 instead of North Carolina. The only difference is Carolina plays in a stronger conference. The Rebs could end up ranked next week, though. Not sure what sort of tournament team they’ll be, yet.