What a week. After the past seven days of hoops, I’m ready for March, I’m sure you are as well. That was nuts. 15 of the top 25 teams in the country were handed a shocking L, some of them two. Naturally, we got a big shake-up in the rankings. I’m sorry if your favorite team suffered this past week, but personally, I love all this chaos. I had previously thought that college basketball this season was top heavy, but this week we finally got to see how unsteady life at the top is. There was so much going on this week, people were bound to have some questions, so I got to answering them. It’s mail time!
“Is Gonzaga worthy of the #1 ranking?” – Sean Bock
A couple weeks ago, I talked about why Gonzaga was legit, so I won’t get too in depth on this. While everyone else is losing games, Gonzaga just keeps on plugging away. Yes, they play in a weak conference, but they’ve bolstered their non-conference resume by playing as many ranked teams as West Virginia, UNC, Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona, and UCLA. You can argue that the teams listed have also played more quality teams that are just outside the top 25, which is fair, but I also think it’s fair to think that Gonzaga would be capable of teams of that caliber as well. Plus, they’re making teams in their conference look silly, winning all 10 of their conference games by an average of 24 points. If they aren’t really as good as we think they are, you’d have to assume that they wouldn’t be blowing every team out of the water. There are certainly a few times worthy of the top spot in the rankings, but Gonzaga is certainly one of them.
“Why did Baylor jump Kansas in the #2 spot?” –Ben Auten
I guess there’s a pretty simple answer here: lots of teams lost, but they didn’t, and so they were next man up. That’s a pretty easy and simple logic for the AP to use in their rankings. And I can’t really complain because it makes sense. But if it were up to me, I might have kept Kansas in the #2 slot. When you think about it, Baylor lost to the same team in the same place by a lot more than Kansas did (KU-WVU was a lot closer than the 16-point margin made it seem), and then Kansas went and beat one of the best teams in the country on their home floor with a depleted frontcourt. Baylor’s wins this week weren’t anything to write home about either, with a total victory margin of 7 over two unranked teams. I think it should also be noted that Kansas received nine first place votes to Baylor’s six. Nick Schwartz, College Pride Press’s pollster, ranked Kansas above Baylor in this week’s poll, which should just go to show that we have the top minds in the game working here at CPP. Luckily, we get to settle this argument on Wednesday, when the Bears travel to Phog Allen Fieldhouse to take on the Jayhawks.
“What does Nova’s tip in at the buzzer do for the rest of their season?” – Eric Graves
Confidence, confidence, confidence. Villanova didn’t play great on Sunday against the Hoos, and should feel very lucky to have pulled it out. Donte DiVincenzo flew into the lane to tip in a Josh Hart miss, and secure a 61-59 victory. I say confidence because I think the Wildcats now know that even when shots aren’t falling or Josh Hart isn’t at his best, they can rely on their defense and the toughness that Jay Wright has instilled in them to keep them in it. And that’s especially true against a team that has suffocating defense like Virginia. Their weak first half was thanks to Hart and Kris Jenkins’ lack of production, both missing all of their field goal attempts before halftime. They managed to claw their way back in it thanks to the steady play of Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. I’ve always thought Bridges and Brunson were a bit overlooked because of Hart’s NPOY campaign and Jenkins’s swagger (and he hit a relatively important shot last April), but Brunson will be a big-time point guard during his next couple years in Philadelphia, and Bridges may have a future in the NBA with his freakish athleticism. But of course, none of those guys tipped that game winner in as the clock hit zeroes. That was DiVincenzo, who’s been a pleasant surprise this season, but hasn’t been much more of a role player. DiVincenzo didn’t play great for the first 39 minutes and 57 seconds of the game, but he stepped up when they needed it. I think that says a lot about this Villanova team that they can count on the younger guys to do the dirty work and never give up on a play, an attitude that helped them cut down the nets a year ago.
“Worst Power 5 (plus Big East) team?” – Noah Holley
Woo boy. Pitt and Oklahoma are off the table in the ACC and Big 12, both teams aren’t a guaranteed victory, they’re just having a rough conference season. DePaul and Rutgers are both terrible, but they each have a conference win (both are a 1-point win at home against arguably the 2nd worst team in their conference, so while it’s barely a win, it shows up in the W column). That leaves two teams: Oregon State from the Pac-12 and Missouri from the SEC. I’m going to call it a tie because I think they’re both awful in their own special way. Oregon State, if you remember, was a surprise team in the NCAA tournament last year, but lost leading scorer Gary “The Mitten” Payton, Jr. (son of Gary “The Glove” Payton, Sr.) to graduation. Other than that, they brought back a lot of talent. Unfortunately, the best of that talent, sophomore forward Tres Tinkle went down for the season with an injury, after averaging 20 points through 6 games. That was a blow the Beavers just couldn’t recover from. They’re 4-18 with little hope of winning a conference game, which would be an utter shock after last season’s success. The Missouri Tigers also are looking at an 0-18 conference record, currently at an overall 5-15 on the season. I’m fortunate enough to call Mizzou my home for the past year and a half, so I’ve had a very good view of this train wreck. The Tigers have a lot of problems, but it starts at the head coaching position. Kim Anderson was hired from D2 Central Missouri where he was extremely successful, but his success didn’t translate, as the Tigers haven’t put together a winning season since he was hired. The personnel just aren’t there, as Anderson has had a tough time winning recruiting battles, and is dealing with depleted scholarships an NCAA investigation of events during the Frank Haith era of Tiger basketball. Jordan Barnett, a mid-season transfer from Texas, has been great since his eligibility kicked in right before SEC play, but the Tigers were going to rely heavily on their shooting, as they aren’t very tough down low, but are shooting a miserable 27.9% from behind the arc. They don’t have a go-to scorer when they need a bucket, and don’t play with a lot of energy or confidence, which are rather large problems when you’re trying to win games. It’s pretty much a toss-up between which team is a worse team, but it can be said with certainty that an Oregon State-Missouri matchup is one that almost nobody would want to see.
“What do you make of Georgia Tech’s wacky season, and what are their chances of making the tournament?” – Josh Neighbors
I said in my ACC preview (which has been deemed useless halfway through this crazy ACC conference season) that I think Pastner will regret his decision to sacrifice good team for good conference. I would formally like to rescind that statement and issue an apology to Coach Pastner and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. I think it’s fair to say that early in the season, they were adjusting to life with Pastner on the sideline and letting him get in-game experience with his new team, so a few bad losses in there are relatively excusable. Their four ACC losses are to teams that are flat out better than them, games I expected them to lose by a lot (although they only lost by 1 to VaTech). What’s notable, though, are their three wins against ranked teams in the past month: UNC, Florida State, and Notre Dame. After the win against UNC, Pastner said himself that this team has some of the least experience in the country and is in a rebuilding phase, but they could be building a resume for the Big Dance. They’re only ranked 70th in KenPom, but their defense has been stifling. They seem to have a good defensive game plan for each team they face, being able to force turnovers against the Tar Heels, force bad shots against a great shooting team in FSU, and simply slow the game down against Notre Dame, who likes to play fluid with great energy. Pastner is putting himself in the conversation for ACC Coach of the Year, and if they continue this success against tough ACC teams, there will be enough good wins the rest of the way to put him in contention for National COY as well. Josh Okogie has been phenomenal and he does a fantastic job of opening up the offense, and drawing defenses out to make life easier inside for the Jacket’s second leading scorer Ben Lammers, who’s been a beast down low. GT actually has a pretty manageable schedule down the stretch, with big win opportunities coming on the road against Miami and Notre Dame. They’re firmly on the bubble right now, but as long as they remain steady and win the ames they should, while stealing at least one of those two big road games, they could be looking at a ticket to the Dance.
Fun Fact of the Week: Marquette’s win over Villanova on Tuesday was the second time in the program’s history they recorded a W over the No. 1 ranked team. The first was in 2003 in the NCAA Tournament, when the Golden Eagles beat the Wildcats 83-69 en route to clinch a berth in the Final Four. They were led by some guy named Dwyane Wade, who had a triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists).
Photos via Associated Press, USA Today, and the Columbia Tribune