As we enter this weekend’s action, college basketball looks as wide open as I can recall it being. The top ten-10, and even the top-five, is populated mainly by teams with at least four losses. No team looks ready to dominate.
Earlier this week, number 3 Oklahoma lost at Texas Tech; number 4 Iowa lost at Penn State; and number 5 North Carolina lost at home to Duke. That was just in one night.
Number 10 West Virginia also lost at Texas and, in the most absurd result of the week, number 6 Maryland lost on the road to Minnesota, previously winless in Big Ten play.
Maryland looked excellent earlier this season but seems lost now that its star guard Melo Trimble (6 for 38 from the field in his last three Big Ten games) can’t buy a hoop. The rumor for a good while has that Trimble is playing with an injury, though he looks okay physically.
Those who follow college basketball closely have said all year that no team stands out from the pack. With “one-and-done” specialists Kentucky and Duke less than fully reloaded, many expected a wide open season. (Question: what’s the difference between Kentucky’s one-and-done players and Duke’s; Answer: Kentucky’s one-and-doners don’t brawl in public).
Early in the season, I thought that North Carolina would be a dominant team (which is not necessarily the same thing as winning the NCAA tournament, as Kentucky fans can attest). However, they have lost three of their last five games. Rumor has it that coach Roy Williams called a meeting to reintroduce his players to Brice Johnson, who had 29 points on 13 for 17 shooting against undersized Duke, but barely touched the ball in the game’s final five minutes.
Villanova currently is ranked number 1. They have only three losses, all to ranked teams and one of them in overtime to a Providence team they later beat. Villanova a well-balanced team with two starters from the Washington D.C. area. One of them is their star, Josh Hart, who started his high school career at my academically middling alma mater (Wheaton High) and finished it at Sidwell Friends with the Obama girls. Talk about moving up in the world.
Kansas is number 2. They impressed me mightily last weekend when they beat Oklahoma on the road. To be fair, Oklahoma looked just about as good.
Virginia, following a rocky start (losses to George Washington and Virginia Tech), has been coming on strong. The Cavaliers have won eight of their last nine. The loss was by one point at Duke. Coach Tony Bennett seems to have them once again playing the stifling defense that is their trademark.
Speaking of Duke, they are back in the top-25 and climbing, following those big wins against Virginia and North Carolina. But they remain thin (playing only seven against Carolina), all the more so if Matt Jones’ injury is serious (but the latest word seems to be that it isn’t).
Kentucky too is reemerging. Last month, they took Kansas to overtime at Kansas before losing. They are deep (though nothing like last year) and have plenty of star power with Tyler Ullis and freshman Jamaal Murray.
Will the next few weeks provide a modicum of clarity ahead of the NCAA tournament? Possibly. But I wouldn’t be surprised if things become even more confused.