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NCAA: No Favorites This Year
Posted By Yannis Koutroupis On January 22, 2012 @ 12:00 pm In All,NCAA | No Comments
During the offseason it’s easy to get caught up in hype, which in reality can be created for just about each and every team. When everyone is 0-0, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic and think that this season could be a big one. Nobody’s flaws are being exposed regularly in practice and players get comfortable going up against each other day in and day out.
Then the season starts and contenders are separated from pretenders in quick fashion. After a few weeks it’s easy to tell which teams have the highest ceilings and which squads are set to have a long, difficult year.
Typically a favorite – or two or three – will emerge and start to look like the team to beat in the national title picture. However, this year we appear to be headed for one of the most wide open NCAA tournaments in recent memory.
What makes the tournament arguably the most exciting sports event of the year is that everyone’s previous records are meaningless. One bad game and that’s it; regardless of your seeding you’re out with a single loss. Upsets are plentiful and it’s truly unpredictable and full of excitement.
This weekend really strengthened the notion that there is no favorite this year in college basketball. Three teams in the top five lost, including the top-ranked Syracuse Orange saw their undefeated season derailed as they were knocked off 67-58 by Notre Dame. They were playing shorthanded without sophomore center Fab Melo and definitely missed his presence defensively. They shot 35% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc, though, two things that Melo would not have been able to change. Their streak coming to an end was predictable, since they didn’t have the makings of a team built to go undefeated the entire season. The Big East is too strong for that to happen – just ask the UConn Huskies.
Their loss will likely open things up for the Kentucky Wildcats to retake the number one spot on the national polls. They last sat atop the rankings during Week Five, prior to losing to the Indiana Hoosiers on the road. They haven’t slipped up since, but they’ve yet to play the teams in conference play that are really going to push them. They still have matchups against #14 Florida, #15 Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. All three of those teams are capable of beating them; Florida and Vanderbilt they’ll take on twice.
Speaking of the aforementioned Hoosiers, this past week was not kind to them as they dropped three straight and fell down all the way to 7th place in the Big Ten. Their losses to Minnesota and Nebraska came by a combined four points. Between those two losses, though, was a 17-point defeat at the hands of Ohio State.
The Buckeyes victory against the Hoosiers came after a loss to Illinois, who was unranked at the time. It avenged their New Year’s Eve loss to Indiana, which was the first game they dropped with potential Player of the Year candidate Jared Sullinger in the lineup.
Kansas, the first team to beat Ohio State this year while Sullinger was out with a back injury, found themselves on upset alert after letting Texas score 39 second-half points against them. The Longhorns, who are 12-7 on the year and 2-4 in Big 12 play, were a J’Covan Brown three with four seconds remaining away from sending the game to overtime. Kansas is now 6-0 in the Big 12 and poised to move up the rankings this week. Their next three opponents are unranked Texas A&M, Iowa State and Oklahoma. Their stiffest challenge of the season will likely be afterwards when they travel to Missouri to take on the Tigers.
The Tigers should be number two in next week’s poll, an astounding achievement when you consider the fact that they are without Laurence Bowers, their top post player who tore his ACL late in the offseason. They have Marcus Denmon playing some of the best basketball of his career and a surprisingly well-balanced and explosive offensive attack that pairs up nicely with the high level of defense they’ve become known for over recent years. They knocked off Baylor this weekend and it now appears that the race for a Big 12 title will come down to them and Kansas.
Duke’s loss at the buzzer to Florida State, which put an end to their 45-game winning streak at home, is the reason why the Tigers are headed towards the number two spot. Duke now has three blemishes on their record with the North Carolina game looming. The Tar Heels now have three losses as well after also falling to Florida State this week. Their biggest loss came later in the week in a win over Virginia Tech when junior guard Dexter Strickland tore his ACL, ending his season. Now only Syracuse, Kentucky, Missouri and Murray State have one loss or less.
That’s right, Murray State. The Riders happen to be the lone undefeated team in the country now that Syracuse slipped up. This feat has finally got them the national recognition that they have been building towards getting for the past several years. Barring overconfidence and looking past one of their Ohio Valley Conference foes, the Racers should go into the tournament undefeated. That’s when they’ll prove just how legit they are. To date Memphis is the toughest team they’ve faced. After a win or two in the tournament, they’ll be going up against much tougher. With everyone eager to crown this year’s Butler, Murray State has established themselves as one of the most-fitting replacement in the mid-major ranks. UNLV, San Diego State, Gonzaga and Creighton are all mid majors that could make a run for that billing as well.
With just over a month left the parody in college basketball is only more likely to continue. Ranking teams come March is going to be a nightmare, but that’s why the selection committee makes the big bucks. Once they figure it out, we’ll be in for a real treat because this year’s tournament is going to be as wide open as any we’ve seen as of late.
Five Games To Watch This Week: 1/23: Syracuse at Cincinnati (7 PM EST), 1/24: Tennessee at Vanderbilt (7 PM EST), 1/27: Harvard at Yale (7 PM EST), 1/28: Mississippi State at Florida (1:30 PM EST) and Michigan at Ohio State (1 PM EST).
Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat this Friday January 27th at 11 am EST! You can get your questions into him here.
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