Basketball fans getting early taste of March Madness

Posted Friday, Feb. 07, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Many sports fans wait until the calendar flips over to March before tuning in to college basketball.

This season, those fans are missing out.

The madness has already begun.

The past week of games featured 11 upsets of ranked teams and seven overtimes in games involving ranked teams.

Duke and Syracuse helped kick off the wild week with an overtime thriller Feb. 1, the first conference meeting for the new ACC rivals. The Orange held off the Blue Devils 91-89. Duke hit 15 3-pointers and threatened to hand Syracuse its first loss, but the Orange pulled out a late win that coach Jim Boeheim called one of the best in memory.

“I don’t think I’ve been involved in a better game in here that I can remember, where both teams played at such a high level,” Boeheim said of his team’s win in its home Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.

Last Saturday also featured Texas upsetting Kansas, Georgetown knocking off Michigan State, Ohio State upsetting Wisconsin, St. Joseph’s pulling off an upset against Massachusetts and SMU doing the same against Memphis. Unranked Baylor topped ranked Oklahoma State, and then-No. 1 ranked Arizona lost its first game of the season against Cal, a loss that allowed Syracuse to climb to No. 1 this week.

The madness continued Sunday with unranked Indiana topping No. 10 Michigan and Virginia taking down No. 18 Pittsburgh.

On Monday, No. 16 Iowa State needed three overtimes to beat No. 19 Oklahoma State, the Cyclones’ first win in Stillwater, Okla., since 1988.

Tuesday, Ohio State pulled out another upset, this one on the road against No. 17 Iowa. West Virgina kept the upset streak going with an overtime win against No. 21 Oklahoma on Wednesday. No. 2 Arizona barely missed another loss Thursday night but pulled away in the last two minutes to defeat Oregon 67-65.

For five straight weeks, just five or fewer teams have held steady at the same spot from the previous week’s Associated Press poll ranking.

Expect more tumult ahead.

Saturday’s lineup includes multiple upset possibilities, including No. 10 Michigan on the road against No. 17 Iowa, No. 15 Texas at Kansas State and No. 23 Gonzaga at No. 24 Memphis. Expect more overtimes and buzzer-beaters next week, which will feature multiple rivalry games.

Rising

Syracuse: Sure, the Orange only hopped one spot in the rankings, but that spot put them at No. 1. And Syracuse, 22-0 and 9-0 in the ACC, is building steam. After defeating Duke in epic fashion Feb. 1, Syracuse beat Notre Dame 61-55 on Monday after only a day of rest. Trevor Cooney tied a school record with nine 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 33 points for the Orange, which will be fully rested for Sunday’s game against Clemson followed by a road test against No. 25 Pittsburgh Wednesday.

Falling

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are reeling and need a win Saturday on the road against Texas Tech to halt a three-game losing streak. Oklahoma State fell 88-76 at Oklahoma and then lost two at home against Baylor and Iowa State. Sophomore Marcus Smart, who leads the Cowboys with 17.3 points a game, has the ability to spark Oklahoma State on the offensive side, but he and his teammates will have to pick up their defensive intensity to get back in the win column. The Cowboys have fallen to 141st in the nation in points allowed a game (68.9) and are giving up 87.3 points a game during their losing streak.

Games to watch

No. 9 Michigan State at Wisconsin (Noon Sunday, ESPN): The Badgers have dropped five of their last seven in Big Ten play after starting the season 16-0, but four of those losses were by fewer than 10 points, including 59-58 against Ohio State and 75-72 against Indiana. Wisconsin is still a tough team, especially at home, and Michigan State (20-3, 9-1) has lost two of four and had to pull out an overtime win against Iowa in its last road game.

No. 10 Michigan at Ohio State (8 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN): Another potential Big Ten upset, this one with a surging Ohio State hosting Michigan. Ohio State started conference play 2-0 before losing four straight. Since then, the Buckeyes (18-5, 5-5) have won three of four and two straight against ranked teams, Wisconsin and Iowa. The added rivalry should give this game a tournament feel.

No. 11 Duke at North Carolina (8 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN): While North Carolina has struggled all season, it’s must-watch TV any time the Tar Heels and Blue Devils meet. While North Carolina (15-7, 5-4) could miss out on the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels will be hyped and ready for rival Duke (18-5, 7-3). The Blue Devils will be trying to escape with a win to keep pace in the ACC.

Projecting the top seeds

Arizona (West): The Wildcats lost for the first time and struggled against Oregon, but they are still the class of the Pac-12 and on track for a top seed.

Syracuse (East): With Arizona slipping up, the Orange is now in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 overall seed.

Wichita State (Midwest): The Shockers are still unbeaten, 24-0 overall and 11-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference. And they are still on their way to a top seed.

Florida (South): The Gators haven’t lost an SEC game and haven’t been beaten since Dec. 2 against UConn. Florida still has a long way to go, however, including two games against Kentucky.

Key dates

March 16 Selection Sunday

March 16-18 First round (Dayton)

March 20, 22 Second-third rounds (Buffalo, Orlando Milwaukee, Spokane)

March 21, 23 Second-third rounds (Raleigh, San Antonio, San Diego, St. Louis)

March 27, 29 South Regional (Memphis) and West Regional (Anaheim)

March 28, 30 Midwest Regional (Indianapolis) and East Regional (New York)

April 5 National semifinals (Arlington)

April 7 Championship (Arlington)

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