We are only a short month away from the NCAA Tournament, and things are starting to pop. This past week saw four (4!!!) of the top five teams go down and a five overtime thriller between Notre Dame and Louisville. Here are my takeaways from recent games and predictions for the coming stretch.
-Kentucky is coming together. The defending champs have won five straight and are (in my mind at least) under rated–they occupy the no.25 spot in the AP poll. Kentucky is 17-6 and 8-2 in SEC play. Of their six losses, three came in their first seven games and three came against teams currently ranked. The Wildcats have won their last two home games comfortably. Tonight’s matchup at #7 Florida may indicate that the Wildcats are gearing up for a long run in the NCAAs.
–The Bryant Bulldogs are 16-6! This recent D1 upstart leads the NEC and holds wins over BC, Brown, and Lehigh a year after going 2-28.
–As good as Duke, Indiana, and Michigan are, Miami is playing the best hoop in the nation right now. Their blend of size, athleticism, and experience has shown during their current 11 game winning streak. Whether or not they can sustain their current level of play remains a question. Either way, coach Jim Larranaga deserves serious props for Miami’s emergence.
–Its hard to say who the best team is in the Big East. The glory days of the conference will be at an end soon, but this year the conference is as good as ever. Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown, and Pitt all could make a solid claim to be the conference’s best team. Villanova meanwhile has wins over both Louisville and ‘Cuse. There are a lot of teams with elite eight potential in the Big East.
–Speaking of conferences, is the Big Ten the best? Everyone in the media is raving about the Big Ten, and I have to say there is plenty of reason to, after all, the two best teams in the country might reside in the Big Ten. Then again, you might say the same thing of the ACC, which tied the Big Ten in the two conferences’ head-to-head matchup. I think the Big Ten has more very good teams than the ACC, but the weaker ACC teams are better than the Big Ten’s weakest. The Big East probably has the most good teams, but it has the most teams overall.
–When it comes to the mid-major conferences I’m a little surprised about the Ivy League. Last season was probably the conference’s best ever, as Harvard lingered for much of the season in the top 25 en route to a 26-5 season while several other teams, such as Yale and Princeton, fielded excellent teams that would have won them the league most years. Despite heavy personnel losses on some of the league’s best programs, the Ivy has still maintained much of the momentum from last year. Brown has emerged as a threat after a very poor season, and has notched wins over Providence and Yale. Yale, which lost superstar big Greg Mangano to graduation, has come alive after struggling at times in the non-conference, winning their last two Ivy League outings (both came on the road and one came against Princeton). Meanwhile, Princeton and Harvard still sit atop the conference. Princeton sits at 4-1 in the league and beat an excellent Bucknell team in the non-conference. Harvard, who lost players both to graduation and an academic scandal, has fought on to a 5-1 Ivy record after non-conference wins over such teams as BC and Cal. Their one league loss came against league darkhorse Columbia. The inconsistent Lions may be the conference’s most talented team, and boast a blowout win over Villanova, but they have stumbled in Ivy play, losing four of six including one loss to league doormat Dartmouth.
–Illinois should not be on the bubble. Joe Lunardi of ESPN has them as an 11 seed right now. I don’t understand it. Illinois has wins over Gonzaga, Butler, Ohio State, Indiana, and Minnesota and an overall record of 16-8. Their RPI is 25 for Peet’s sake. The only bubble they should be on is whether or not they’re ranked!