Fast Break: Is Gonzaga worthy of rise to No. 2?

Teams such as Gonzaga and Miami — in this context, two teams that rose quickly, and in the ‘Canes’ case from seemingly nowhere — inspire two primary sentiments, which can be felt simultaneously: (1) “Oh, good for them!” and (2) “This won’t last.”

In a way, Gonzaga and Miami are each very much like a couple that elopes.

In evaluating Gonzaga’s case, this took 10 seconds of research: The Bulldogs are 1-2 against ranked teams this year.

On Jan. 19, Gonzaga lost to then-No. 13 Butler and dropped from No. 8 to 10. Since then, Gonzaga is 10-0 with wins over BYU, San Francisco (twice), Loyola Marymount (twice), San Diego (twice), Pepperdine, St. Mary’s and Santa Clara. You’ll notice there was no Duke or Ohio State in there.

And yet the Bulldogs have soared in the polls, all the way to No. 2 for the first time in school history, and your neighborhood bracketologist can’t stop talking about them.

Gonzaga’s last two games are against BYU and Portland, so it’s going to close this baby out and walk into Selection Sunday acting like it’s better than Michigan or Duke.

I just ain’t buyin’.

Meanwhile, the temptation is to overreact to Miami’s loss at Wake Forest over the weekend. Because Wake Forest is pretty bad, which means a great team wouldn’t lose to it, which means Miami must not be great. You following the trail of reasoning?

Well, stop. Because it’s leading you to the wrong place.

Miami is great. Miami suffered a bad loss. Wake Forest was 11-14 going into that game, and Miami’s players admitted they just didn’t have the energy to get up for the Demon Deacons.

“You could just see it tonight,” point guard Shane Larkin said. “I had a bad feeling coming into warm-ups with everybody going slow. I was trying to get people to go fast, and I wasn’t even going full speed like I should have.”

Something like this happens to every team almost every year. The Hurricanes didn’t get hammered in the polls, slipping from second to fifth in the AP, but are strangely ranked below a Duke team they beat by 27. That rematch is Saturday in Durham, NC, where Miami likely will lose. That would mean Miami lost two of its last five regular-season games, and the Hurricanes probably will pay for it on Selection Sunday, even if they don’t deserve to.

So, Rick Barnes got jobbed

Nobody has ever accused me of being a Rick Barnes apologist, and I’m not trying to excuse the coach’s considerable culpability for this dreadful Texas season, but you have to admit the guy did catch a pretty rough break with this whole Myck Kabongo mess.

Kabongo is UT’s best player, an athletic point guard who creates a lot of offense, and the NCAA suspended him 23 games for some stuff that didn’t have much of anything to do with the University of Texas. Workouts and air travel he didn’t pay for, technically, although it seemed the NCAA was actually just mad that Kabongo initially lied about it.

So Texas was going to be young anyway, but without Kabongo the Longhorns were on the extreme. You can put that on Barnes, since he is the one who puts these teams together and the Longhorns didn’t even have one of those “reliable senior point guard who can’t dunk but gets good grades” guys. Barnes has had to play freshman Jevan Felix at the point all year and he’s just not ready for that yet. It has a domino effect. You can see UT’s players just aching for an on-floor leader.

Kabongo has played four games since returning and he’s averaging 15.5 points, 4.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds. He had 24 points in a loss to Kansas State.

And it has become obvious the Longhorns, while not conference title contenders with Kabongo, probably would have been an NCAA Tournament team with him on board from the beginning.

Player of the Year watch

The more time passes, the less it feels like somebody other than Trey Burke is going to win this award. He has all the team-based credibility you need, he has played against a highly challenging schedule and none of the other elite teams leans on a single player as hard as Michigan leans on Burke.

Mason Plumlee is probably the next-best candidate, followed by Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller.

They said it

“It’s a Bell curve, folks. They’re going to take 68 teams. They’re not going to say ‘this year we’re taking 46.’ So that means some teams that have F’s are passing. It’s a Bell curve. All we have to do is take care of our business. If we do that, OK. If everybody loses, they lose; everybody loses, they’re taking a couple of us. You can have an F and get in. It’s a Bell curve.” — Kentucky coach John Calipari, evaluating his team’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
 
“Doc Sadler can’t drive worth a crap in the snow, so I had to go help push him out. And fortunately there was some strong back that jumped out to help me push him.” — Kansas coach Bill Self, to the Kansas City Star, on “rescuing” KU director of basketball operations Doc Sadler (who, by the way, used to coach in Lincoln, Neb.).

Telling stats

4 – Number of Kansas State losses that have been to teams currently ranked in the top 10. Kansas State has just one other loss, 73-67 at Iowa State.

0 – Official statistical categories kept by the ACC in which Miami leads the conference. (Not including the conference standings, in which Miami is No. 1).
 
Ups and Downs

Up: Kansas State  
If you take out the two games against Kansas and the one at Iowa State, Kansas State is on a 15-game winning streak. You don’t get to do that, of course, but you get the point.

Down: Colorado State
The Rams were hot! No. 22! Soaring! Top-five seed! Just have to get past UNLV (trip) and New Mexico (crash).

Up: New Mexico
Is it circular reasoning to say Colorado State is down and New Mexico is up when I’m making both statements based on the outcome of the same game? It kind of is, isn’t it? And isn’t this the fundamental difficulty in evaluating the Mountain West this season — that these MWC games and rankings and such are happening in a vacuum? Nod your head yes.

Down: Missouri
Whoa, whoa, whoa. The going has gotten a little tough, but when the Fast Break said Missouri was overrated like two months ago, it wasn’t talking about dropping the Tigers out of the poll altogether. Come on, now. Trust your eyes, people. That’s the lesson here. Trust your eyes.

Crystal ball

Gonzaga loses in the WCC Tournament, accomplishing two things: (1) getting a rest before the NCAA Tournament starts and (2) freeing the automatic bid to another WCC team, boosting conference morale.

TCU finishes the season with four more losses, completing the strangest season in Big 12 history: 1-17 in conference play, with that win coming over then-No. 5 Kansas.