Selection Sunday is four weeks from yesterday, so we’re down to crunch time. Many smaller leagues have only two weeks of play left, so the mid-majors should be solidifying their at-large credentials. The heavyweights are playing for top seeds. Will Kansas and Oklahoma State be playing not only for the Big 12 crown, but also a #1 seed? Or, with no giant in the West, is there a second #1 seed available for someone from the Big 12, ACC, or Big East this season?
An interesting discussion I was privy to this week concerned that national image of Duke players. Sure, we all hate them, but in general Dukies have squeaky clean images nationally. JJ Reddick had a little trouble with an illegal substance a year ago. The national media rarely talks about that now, and if they do, they talk about how he’s overcome a speed bump in his life. If someone from almost any other school does that, not only is it a constant source of discussion, but they get labeled as “troubled” even if they’ve never done anything else wrong in their career. Something tells me various media outlets have been told if they ever talk about the inevitable problems Duke players will have (they are college kids first, and pampered athletes second; things do happen), a certain coach will be unavailable to them for interviews. Sadly, I suppose that means I’ll never have a sit down with anyone from the Duke program now.
12) Pacific. OK, realistically they have no shot to win the national championship. But they came back from eight down with less than 40 seconds to play to win at difficult Utah State Saturday. They also didn’t get pounded like Louisville and Washington. Finally, I don’t think Michigan State, UConn, Alabama, or Pittsburgh will be playing that much longer than Pacific in March. Remember, they were tied with KU with about 9:00 to play last March, and if the game wasn’t in Kansas City, who knows if they hang around longer or not. A very dangerous team to keep in mind for your brackets this year.
11) Duke. Win over UNC as much a function as Carolina’s inability to run a decent play at the end of the game as anything Duke did. Made loss at Maryland closer than I thought it would be, and even getting sympathy in the media for a change because of a couple calls.
10) Utah. I still haven’t seen them play, but they keep on winning.
9) Syracuse. Beaten down pretty well by UConn, then beat the crap out at ‘Nova.
8) Arizona. From #8 down (or is it up?), a bunch of teams that have yet to prove either consistent, or that can avoid ugly losses. UA had the best week of those teams.
7) Boston College. As usual, I was wrong in saying they wouldn’t lose to Notre Dame. Syracuse this week to keep things difficult.
6) Oklahoma State. Solid wins over slumping OU and dangerous A&M. The schedule is kind as they only play two games in the next 13 days before going to Lawrence.
5) Kentucky. I still think they win out in the SEC regular season.
4) Wake Forest. At Duke next Sunday, which is a huge game for determining how good each team is.
3) Kansas. Rather large game tonight, going to Lubbock. With three difficult road games and one huge home game remaining on the schedule, despite being two games up with six to play, the ‘Hawks must tread carefully.
2) North Carolina. Loss at Duke balanced by a win at UConn, albeit an injury affected Husky team. Also, don’t think I’m not trying to put the hex on the Tar Heels.
1) Illinois. Interestingly enough, the pressure on the Illini has changed now that they’ve put the most difficult opponents behind them. If they had lost to Wisconsin, Michigan State, or some other legit team, people would say, “Well, that was a tough game.” If they end up losing to Indiana, Ohio State, etc. people will say, “I guess they really weren’t that good.” Funny how sports punditry works.