March Madness Is Approaching – NCAA BasketballWednesday, January 29, 2014 22:02
2013-2014 has already been a crazy college basketball season; will March Madness be even madder?
February is almost here, and that means the Super Bowl, the Winter Olympics and, soon after, the beginning of March Madness.
It’s been an odd year in college basketball; of course, that’s one of those phrases that could be stated in regards to almost every season. Perennial favorites the Duke Blue Devils, the Kansas Jayhawks and that Kentucky Wildcats started high but have at times fallen surprisingly flat–not just losing the occasional game here and there as even great college basketball teams do, but at times outright struggling. Kansas started out a shocking 6-3 but has seemingly righted its ship, going 9-1 since. While two of Duke’s four defeats have come against high-ranking opponents, the other two have been against lesser competition, with the Blue Devils at periods looking truly terrible in those games, underachieving for the vast talent at their disposal.
As for Kentucky, the Wildcats have now racked up five losses, some of them, like Duke, against what should have been far inferior opponents. Underachieving, maybe, but the Wildcats’ struggles can somewhat be explained by the high turnover in the program with the number of one-and-done players that have passed through the program in recent years. Having the most talented freshman class year in and year out is great, but more often than not a team does not win on talent alone, and Kentucky simply lacks upperclass leadership.
Struggles by top teams have not been limited to those big three, however, with a pair of Big 10 teams falling on hard times after starting the season undefeated. The Ohio State Buckeyes started 15-0 before losing four in a row and five of six. The Wisconsin Badgers fared only slightly better, kicking off at 16-0 before losing three straight and four of five.
But with the bad must come the good.
It’s hard to think of any undefeated team this late in the season flying under the radar, but the Wichita St. Shockers may be doing just that. What with major conference schools Arizona and Syracuse also perfect in the 20+ game club, the Shockers have received far less press than the deserve (seemingly less than when Murray State had its streak a couple years ago). Smaller conference schools are frequently written off–sometimes rightly so and sometimes wrongly–but the Shockers were a Final Four team in 2013 and are now 28-2 in their last 30 games dating back to last season. Considering that this year’s success builds on last year’s, Wichita St. should not be so easily overlooked.
2013-2014 has also witnessed the first year of radical conference realignment, with the restructured Big East and the introduction of the American Athletic Conference. While the new “Catholic school” Big East has a natural feel to it, it will not be the multi-bid juggernaut that it’s predecessor was. Creighton and Villanova are (as of this juncture) March Madness locks, after which the field grows murky. The Big East’s offshoot, the American Athletic Conference, is a total hodgepodge, a thrown together collection of schools cobbled together from the remnants of the original conference and it’s rapid and ultimately failed attempt to salvage itself by raiding other conferences of any halfway decent programs. Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut all appear to be headed to the tourney.
The bigger question for the American Athletic is how long even it can stand together in its current form, considering that those same four schools are prime targets for absorption by power basketball conferences with a total of eight national championships between them–and two in the last three years (Connecticut in 2011 and Louisville last year). Indeed, the clock would seem to be ticking on Louisville’s tenure in the American Athletic, considering the fine showing of the Cardinals’ football program last season and football being the largest driver of politics in the NCAA. Conversely, the lack of strength of the football program is probably the only reason that Connecticut–the most successful basketball school in the nation over the last 15 years with three men’s championships, not to mention the utter domination of the women’s game–has not already been grabbed by the likes of the ACC.
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