MBB FEATURE: Marching toward Madness

Kyle Scudilla


Who’s No. 1? Not even the Associated Press and the coaches can come to an agreement on that. What will become an even bigger debate is which of the country’s best teams are worthy of the top spots in each of the four brackets come March. Right now, the top five teams in the rankings can all make valid cases for a No. 1 seed, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to pick among the crowd. ESPN’s “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi created a bit of a stir earlier this week when he said that Ohio State, currently No. 1 in ESPN’s coaches’ poll, should be a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. He made a good point, saying that Ohio State’s inability to win matchups against Florida, Wisconsin and North Carolina currently keeps it from being a top four team. Ohio State has a chance for redemption, hosting Wisconsin in a much-anticipated No. 1 vs. No. 2 game (with neither side really knowing who is actually the higher-ranked team). A win for the Buckeyes could get them over the hump for a top seed.But what about going beyond the top five? It’s feasible to believe that teams such as Kansas, Texas A&M and Pittsburgh could, with conference tournament victories, make a strong case for a top seed, especially if one of the current top dogs trips up in its own tourney. This year’s top seed selection is far from being cut and dry like last year’s, in which UConn, Duke, Villanova and Memphis were talked about as the favorites during the season’s final weeks. It may not look like it, with only 17 days remaining until Selection Sunday, but there is still a lot of basketball left to be played, and the outcomes of the next 2.5 weeks could create a major shakeup in the landscape of college hoops.Now it’s time for this week’s hot and not-so-hot teams, brought to you by “Old School”‘s Frank the Tanks

“We’re going streaking through the quad and then to the gymnasium!”

Memphis (23-3, 12-0 C-USA): The Tigers are quietly prowling in the weeds, going largely unnoticed despite another dominant run through Conference USA. They’ve won 13-in-a-row, including an out-of-conference win at Gonzaga. Is the depleted nature of their conference to blame for their obscurity? Absolutely, but it’s never smart to sleep on teams that are on a roll and get used to winning all the time. Teams with weak schedules but gaudy win-loss records are often able to win at least one game in “upset” fashion in the NCAA tournament because they haven’t experienced losing very often and know what it takes to go out and win basketball games. It’d be a bit of a stretch to call Memphis a “bracket-buster,” given the program’s reputation and its No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament, but if this team can run the table up until the Big Dance, don’t be surprised to see it make a deep NCAA run this year.

Brigham Young (19-6, 10-2 MWC): The Cougars have won seven straight and taken care of their necessary business, beating conference rivals Air Force and UNLV at home. BYU has established an air of superiority in its own backyard, going 15-0 at the Marriott Center this season. Its current winning streak has catapulted Brigham Young to the top of the Mountain West standings and into the Top 25 rankings. Forward Keena Young has emerged as the team’s go-to guy, racking up 20 or more points in four of his last five games. The Cougars’ game at Air Force at the end of the month could determine which team comes out on top in the surprisingly competitive MWC.

Louisville (19-8, 9-4 Big East): Many Big East fans have been surprised to see the Cardinals ahead of their favorite team in the conference standings this year and wondered if Rick Pitino’s team was for real or just beating up on weaker teams. Until last week, the ‘Ville had compiled some “nice” wins but remained squarely on the bubble due to a lack of any definitive victories to separate itself from the rest of the Big East. After winning at Pitt by 13 and showing the poise to win a nail-biter at Marquette, the Cardinals opened a lot of eyes and soared into the AP rankings. With a favorable remaining schedule, the Cards should finish with at least 11 Big East wins this season, which will be more than enough to get them tickets to the Big Dance.

“Hey, Frank. Looks like it’s a little cold out there, huh?”

Oklahoma State (18-7, 5-6 Big 12): Saying that the month of February hasn’t been kind to the Cowboys would be quite an understatement. They began their nosedive when lowly Colorado (who owns an RPI in the neighborhood of 222) crushed them. The plunge has continued, with Oklahoma State dropping three of its next four going into last night’s game against Texas A&M. Only one of the team’s losses this month was to a legitimate contender for an NCAA bid, and its only win during that stretch came by two points in double OT. If it can’t get its act together and beat any of the .500 or better teams remaining on its schedule, Oklahoma State could wrap up the regular season at 7-9 in the conference.

Arizona (17-9, 8-7 Pac-10): Everyone’s favorite compilation of NBA talent that can’t seem to put it together continues to disappoint. Arizona has a great RPI (11) thanks to early wins against some solid NCAA teams. During an 11-game winning streak early in the season, the Wildcats beat the likes of UNLV, Illinois, Louisville and Memphis before beginning conference play. But the committee often puts more weight on how a team finishes than how a team starts, and Arizona has pigeon-holed itself as a second-class citizen in the Pac-10 since then. Against the four teams ahead of them in the conference standings (UCLA, Washington St., Stanford and USC), the ‘Cats are just 1-6, including back-to-back losses at home to USC and UCLA. Winning either of those games could’ve given Arizona a huge boost. Instead, the team is out of the rankings and will need to do some damage in the Pac-10 tournament to grab a decent NCAA seed.

Indiana (17-8, 7-5 Big Ten): Let’s start this one with an analogy. (Despite the fact they got kicked off the SAT they still serve their purpose.) Indiana is to the Big Ten as Notre Dame is to the Big East: a talented team that looks headed toward the Big Dance but, for the life of them, can’t win on the road. The Hoosiers are 2-6 in conference road games this year, including four straight losses away from home. No matter how high their RPI is (currently 22), one has to wonder if the selection committee will dock them a few seeds for showing futility in games away from comfy surroundings.