The calendar has flipped to March, which means the conference and NCAA tournaments are nearly here. But before March Madness can tip, teams have one last week of the regular season to earn a spot or climb to a higher seed. Here are five storylines to watch as the season winds down:
No. 1 Florida is trying to finish off a perfect run in the SEC. The Gators are 15-0 and have already wrapped up a share of the regular-season conference title by winning a school-record 20 straight games.
But with the success comes a common question asked when teams are undefeated — would a loss help? The thought is that losing a game will remove pressure. When Florida coach Billy Donovan was asked earlier this week, he said every game is an opportunity.
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“I don’t view it as we have pressure on us or anything else,” he said. “I view every game as an opportunity to go out there and compete and play. I think that any coach will tell you that the best way to learn is through winning, but losing does help you grow as well.”
Florida has a tough test Saturday against LSU, a team that has been inconsistent but could give the Gators trouble in the paint. Senior forward Johnny O’Bryant III leads the Tigers with 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds a game and has the ability to take over a game. Florida will finish with South Carolina and Kentucky.
No. 2 Wichita State is a game away from overall perfection. The Shockers (30-0, 17-0 MVC) are the nation’s lone unbeaten team — Florida has two non-conference losses. Wichita State will play Missouri State today to finish its regular season schedule.
The past week had plenty of surprises from No. 20 Iowa losing twice, to unranked Minnesota and Indiana squads, to Arkansas knocking off No. 17 Kentucky on the road in overtime. Houston also topped No. 21 Memphis, Penn State shocked No. 22 Ohio State, and Duquesne felled No. 10 St. Louis.
Who will be the next power to fall?
No. 5 Kansas, still fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, should be careful on the road at Oklahoma State Saturday. The Jayhawks have already wrapped up the Big 12 regular season title. But the Cowboys, who will have a raucous home-court advantage, are hoping to claw their way into the NCAA Tournament.
No. 15 Iowa State at Baylor on Tuesday, No. 7 Louisville at No. 23 SMU Wednesday, and Memphis at No. 11 Cincinnati Thursday are three more games that could provide upset scares.
Teams want to build momentum heading to March Madness — be the best at the end of the season. So, before you fill out any brackets, pay attention to how teams finish the regular season.
No. 19 North Carolina is a great example. Earlier this season, the Tarheels weren’t on track to make the NCAA Tournament at all. Now they will be a popular pick to make a run. North Carolina, which lost to UAB and Belmont at the start of the season, has won 10 straight games, including wins against No. 5 Duke and then-No. 25 Pittsburgh.
The Tarheels finish the season with Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Duke again.
How high can he fly?
Creighton senior Doug McDermott has become a weekly talking point. How far can he climb up the NCAA career scoring list? McDermott is No. 10 with 2,917 points. The Blue Jays have three games left in the regular season and have the ability to play deep into the NCAA Tournament.
McDermott is within striking distance of No. 9 Danny Manning (2,951), No. 8 Oscar Robertson (2, 973), No. 7 Hersey Hawkins (3,008), No. 6 Keydren Clark (3,058), and No. 5 Harry Kelly (3,066).
McDermott’s accomplishment is rare, with many top players leaving early for the NBA draft. McDermott, Clark, Tyler Hansbrough (2,872), and J.J. Redick (2,769) are the only players since 2000 to finish in the Top 20.
Along with march comes an onslaught of college basketball terms.
Sportswriters and analysts will use more Cinderella references than Disney World. Underdogs will abound. And every website imaginable will have a specialized bracket vote.
The most important word for the next week, however, will be bubble teams.
As the season ends, all the talk will shift to which teams on the bubble can make it into an NCAA Tournament slot and which teams’ bubbles will burst. Just sit back and enjoy the madness.
Louisville: Last year’s champion Cardinals have quietly put together a solid season. Louisville has won 11 of its last 12 games and jumped four spots to No. 7 in the AP poll last week. The Cardinals can gain more ground by winning their next two, at No. 21 Memphis today and at No. 23 SMU Wednesday.
San Diego State: The No. 13 Aztecs tumbled seven spots in the AP poll this week after being blown out at New Mexico on March 22. San Diego State is still 24-3 this season, but the loss to the Lobos was a red flag that the Aztecs could be vulnerable in the NCAA Tournament.
Games to watch
No. 22 Ohio State at Indiana (3 p.m. Sunday, CBS): The Hoosiers just knocked off a ranked Iowa team, and Ohio State lost at Penn State. The Buckeyes need to avoid a two-game skip, and Indiana is trying build momentum. This should be a fun Big Ten battle.
No. 7 Louisville at No. 23 SMU (6 p.m. Wednesday, CBSSN): The Mustangs have been an incredible story this year, and an upset of Louisville would be a great ending to the regular season. SMU lost at Louisville, 71-63, in the teams’ first meeting, but the Mustangs are 11-2 since.
No. 8 Villanova at Xavier (6 p.m. Thursday, Fox Sports 1): Villanova (25-3, 13-2 Big East), with the exception of two losses to Creighton, has put together a great season. The Wildcats’ other loss was against then-No. 2 Syracuse. Xavier will have the home crowd, and this game should be an energetic Big East showcase.
Projecting the top seeds
Arizona (West): The Wildcats, 26-2, have stabilized after their overtime loss to Arizona State. Now, Arizona is on track to maintain a top seed.
Syracuse (East): Two straight losses dropped Syracuse, 26-2, but not out of a No. 1 seed. Yet. Syracuse could easily fall farther with a loss at No. 12 Virginia today.
Wichita State (Midwest): Wichita State, 30-0, is getting some consideration for the nation’s No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Florida (South): Florida, 26-2, jumped to No. 1 in the nation in the AP poll this past week, and barring an epic collapse, the Gators have all but wrapped up a No. 1 seed. Unless Florida stumbles, the Gators should be in a two-team battle with Wichita State for the No 1 overall seed.
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)