Gonzaga holds No. 1 spot in power rankings, but now the real fun begins.
By FOXSPORTS.COMFS Arizona
By Ken Davis
It turns out Gonzaga was immune to the No. 1 jinx that so many teams couldn’t avoid this season. Of course, the Bulldogs play in the West Coast Conference, so the threat of an upset wasn’t high. But Mark Few has a talented group of players who understand the concept of team basketball. With the regular season in the rearview and Selection Sunday straight ahead, Gonzaga remains at the top – but the battle for the national championship appears wide open.
The Bulldogs, led by Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos, have done everything expected of them during a magnificent regular season. Now they march into the NCAA tournament with a 14-game winning streak – and a huge target on their backs. Is Gonzaga tournament tough?
The Blue Devils have had three seasons within one. The 15-0 start before Ryan Kelly was injured, the 3-0 finish with Kelly back, and the time in between without him. The trio of Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Kelly will be tough to handle in the postseason.
Indiana’s first outright Big Ten regular-season title is pretty special considering the degree of difficulty presented by the Big Ten this season. Too bad coach Tom Crean had to distract from that with his behavior after the game.
Here’s our preseason No. 1, slowly but steadily climbing the ladder toward the top again. Coach Rick Pitino always has his team primed for the postseason. Don’t forget about the Cardinals. They’ve won 10 of their last 11.
Do the Hoyas play defense? Just ask Syracuse. Georgetown celebrated the end of that rivalry by holding the Orange to 39 points – an all-time Syracuse low in Big East play. Otto Porter Jr. heads into the postseason as Big East player of the year.
Nine is the magic number for the Jayhawks. They wrapped up a share of their ninth Big 12 regular-season title, but then played a clunker against Baylor. Was it an off night or something to worry about? Bill Self will find out in conference tournament play.
Those final 52 seconds against Indiana weren’t pretty. The Wolverines let a four-point lead slip away and missed the chance for a Big Ten statement. That’s in the past. Trey Burke can still carry this team deep into the NCAA tournament.
The Hurricanes have lost some of their momentum but still came away with the ACC regular-season crown and tied the school record for victories at 24. Miami is experienced and athletic, and that’s usually a good postseason formula.
Tom Izzo’s team shook off that three-game losing streak to Top 25 teams by defeating Wisconsin and Northwestern to close out the regular season. The Spartans fell short of sharing the Big Ten title, however.
Billy Donovan can’t be happy about losing three of the final six games or about closing poorly against Kentucky. The Gators should win the SEC tournament, but that’s certainly not a lock with so many teams motivated to get off the bubble.
The Wildcats managed a share of the Big 12 title. Bruce Weber was named Big 12 coach of the year. But you know Weber, Rodney McGruder, and the rest of the Wildcats want one more shot at Kansas in the conference tournament.
We often hear about one person “changing the culture” of a program. That’s what Marcus Smart has done for the Cowboys. Smart will be one of the most dangerous players in the postseason, giving Oklahoma State a shot at a deep run.
If not for an overtime loss at Xavier, the Billikens would be riding a 13-game winning streak. Even so, Saint Louis has scripted one of the best stories of the season and is the top seed in the Atlantic-10 tournament.
15 Marquette Golden Eagles 23-7 +1
If you’ve got tickets to the Big East “wake” in New York City, the high-energy show from coach Buzz Williams will be worth the price of admission. The Golden Eagles shared the Big East title for the first time.
16 New Mexico Lobos 26-5 -3
Every time the Lobos get close to the top 10, something happens to make you scratch your head. This time New Mexico let a four-point lead slip away in the final 19 seconds of a loss at Air Force.
17 Pittsburgh Panthers 24-7 +3
The Panthers defeated St. John’s, USF, Villanova and DePaul to close out the regular season. J.J. Moore is providing additional offense and Pitt shot a school-record 72 percent in the win over DePaul.
Some will say Oregon gave away the Pac-12 championship, but history will show the Bruins managed to hold sole possession of first place when the regular season ended. Ben Howland’s team has come a long way since that loss to Cal Poly.
The Wildcats took care of business against Arizona State and got back in the victory column after consecutive losses to USC and UCLA. Now is the time for senior guard Mark Lyons lead the way and give Arizona some postseason swagger.
20 Memphis Tigers 27-4 (unranked last week)
Honestly, there’s no way to predict how the Tigers will fare in the NCAA tournament. Going undefeated in any conference is special, and Memphis finished 16-0 in Conference-USA. Chris Crawford and Joe Jackson are dangerous.
Next year at this time, Syracuse will be headed off to the ACC tournament. And that makes even less sense than last Saturday’s loss to Georgetown, when the Orange scored 39 points. “A blip,” coach Jim Boeheim said. Hmmm.
The Fighting Irish closed out the regular season with a 73-57 loss to Louisville. “We kind of ran into a buzz saw today,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. Notre Dame begins Big East tournament play Wednesday against Rutgers.
Perhaps the Bluejays have found the path back to success. Creighton, which lost three straight in early February, beat Wichita State for a second straight Missouri Valley tournament title.
25 Virginia Commonwealth Rams 24-7 -7
The Rams must still be smarting from Sunday’s 84-76 loss at Temple. Coach Shaka Smart said the Rams lost “their fire” after halftime. That can’t happen to VCU again – not in the postseason, where one loss sends you packing for home.