Another week has passed, meaning we are even closer to Selection Sunday and the start of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. With that each game seems more and more important as teams jockey for position. It was an odd week in college basketball with not a ton of movement in the AP Poll as a lot of teams countered a big win with an equally as big of a loss (Maryland, Indiana, Tennessee). But fear not, our team of experts (me) sifted tirelessly through box scores and came out with a definite list of the week’s biggest winners and losers. So without further ado, here they are:
Kentucky: The Wildcats were firmly on the bubble at the start of the week and had two season-defining games in front of them. With a game at Mississippi St (another bubble team) and a home date with Tennessee both being Quad 1 win opportunities, the Cats needed to take advantage. And take advantage they did, squeaking out a win in Starkville on Wednesday and then leading from tip to finish against the Volunteers. With those wins, they have played themselves off the bubble and into the tournament for the time being. With the reigning NPOY, talented freshmen and an experienced coach, this is not a team you want to see in March. Remember that uber-talented 2014 Kentucky team that underachieved until March and then ended up one win away from being national champions? This team could win you some bracket pools.
Kansas: The Jayhawks find themselves in the winners portion of this column yet again, and for good reason. Bill Self’s squad had two very tough games this past week with a trip to Stillwater, a place that has always given Kansas fits, and then a big-time showdown with Baylor on Saturday. They took care of business against the Cowboys, winning 87-76 and welcomed College Gameday to town for the top-10 clash with the Bears. In the first half it was all about the trio of guards for Baylor as Keyonte George, LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler combined for 42 of the team’s 45 points and took a 13 point lead into the locker room. But the Jayhawks came out in the second stanza with something to prove, quickly erasing the Bears’ lead and winning the half 55-26 to give them a 16 point victory, 87-71. The win gives them a nation-leading 13th Quad 1 win and a path to the number 1 overall seed.
Northwestern: Another team making a return trip to the winners section is the Wildcats. Until they lose, I must keep giving them their flowers. The Cats completed the season sweep of Indiana on Wednesday in dramatic fashion on a buzzer beater from Boo Buie. Then on Sunday they welcomed Iowa to town where they absolutely embarrassed them, winning 80-60 in a game that saw Fran McCafferey get ejected (things we love to see). Unfortunately Chris Collins and crew have no time to catch their breath as 3 of their final 4 games come on the road, all against tournament teams in Illinois, Maryland and Rutgers. This team is good, no doubt about it. But now the question becomes, how good?
North Carolina: Alright let’s just get right to it, it was a bad week for my Tar Heels. In two “gotta have em” games, they just simply did not have them. They lost to Miami on Monday, a game where they shot 5-31 from 3, and then to NC State on Sunday in one of the most disappointing games of basketball you will ever see a team play with its season on the line. They’re one of the most disappointing teams of all-time and it’s just sad to watch. The Heels host Virginia on Saturday, which is a must-win if they have any hope of making the tournament. But even then, it might be too-little, too-late.
Alabama: The formula to beat the Crimson Tide is now out there to the public thanks to Tennessee. That formula is to pressure the ball and make someone else besides Brandon Miller beat you. In their loss to the Vols on Wednesday, they had 19 turnovers and no one outside of Miller registered double-digit field goal attempts. The Tide simply need more from Jahvon Quinerly, a guy who hasn’t been the same since returning from his torn ACL he suffered last March. They’ll need him down the stretch if they want to reach their full potential, which is cutting down the nets in Houston.
Illinois: If the Illini didn’t know it before, they do now: winning on the road in the Big 10 is HARD. After losing to Penn State in Happy Valley, they lost to Indiana on Saturday in a game where they had every chance to win. How they finish out the season could determine whether they’re wearing white or orange in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Terrence Shannon Jr., Coleman Hawkins, Dain Dainja and Matthew Mayer make up the core of this team. But with the departure of Skyy Clark, their most important player might be Jayden Epps. The Illini have dudes, just need to put it all together to make a run.