Did anyone see that coming? Gonzaga, who looked like the most dominant team in the country for virtually the entire year, lost their final regular season game to a WCC team that wasn’t even St. Mary’s. While the defeat ends the Bulldogs’ quest for an undefeated season, it should not end their quest for a Final Four appearance. Besides, they weren’t the only top team to take a loss last week, as chaos has continued to reign supreme even as we enter the final days of the regular season. Villanova lost, as did Arizona, Louisville, Cincinnati, and many others. Both Wisconsin and Duke lost twice this past week. No team is safe in the hectic atmosphere that defines college basketball. And this tumultuous landscape is behind why so many people love college basketball. Without further ado, let’s see how our writers ranked the best teams in the country after another action-packed stretch:
- Kansas (26-3, LW: 2) Def. TCU 87-68, Def. Texas 77-67. There’s a new top team in the poll! The Jayhawks locked up their thirteenth consecutive regular season title this past weekend. It truly is incredible the poise that Bill Self coaches with to get his teams to play that well no matter who’s on the roster. Moving forward, the star backcourt of Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason gives Kansas the ability to easily make the third weekend come March Madness. First, however, the Jayhawks will look to finish up the regular season in style. Their last two games will be against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, with the latter coming on the road.
- Oregon (26-4, LW: 6) Def. California 68-65, Def. Stanford 75-73. No team was more thrilled with Arizona’s loss than Oregon. It tied the two schools at 15-2 in conference, but the Ducks own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Wildcats. However, it sure was hectic getting there. First, the Ducks trailed by fourteen at the half against Cal before mounting a furious rally. Then, they needed a stunning put back by Jordan Bell with fourteen seconds to play in order to vanquish Stanford. But, they did survive and win both games. Oregon has just one game left to play on their schedule, and it is a rivalry clash against the lowly Oregon State Beavers. The game will take place Saturday. A win there and a strong showing in the conference tourney could position Oregon to grab the one seed in the West which was previously held by Gonzaga.
- UCLA (26-3, LW: 8) Def. Arizona State 87-75, Def. Arizona 77-72. This just in: when they need to, the Bruins are capable of playing intense defense. They held the Wildcats, a team that nearly put up 100 at Pauley Pavilion, to just 72 points, and 29 in the second half. It’s a shame Lavar Ball is so vociferous; this is an elite team that can do without the distractions an ostentatious parent presents. Still, it doesn’t appear the chatter has affected Lonzo Ball or any of the Bruins in a negative way. They are a game and a half back of Arizona and Oregon for the Pac-12 title. However, UCLA has a pair of winnable home games against Washington and Washington State to finish their schedule, and following through in both games will keep the pressure on the Wildcats and the Ducks, who both play road rivalry games.
- Villanova (27-3, LW: 4) Lost to Butler 66-74, Def. Creighton 79-63. Well, that was unexpected. Butler is a very, very good team, but squads of Villanova’s caliber are expected to win home games no matter who the other team is. The furious rally from the Bulldogs completely stunned ‘Nova. However, their rebound win over a quality side in Creighton was a strong reaffirmation that the Wildcats are not to be taken lightly, and will be a factor come March as they look to defend their title. They play a road game against struggling Georgetown to finish up the regular season. Villanova has already clinched the Big East and will enter the conference tournament as the top seed.
- Gonzaga (29-1, LW: 1) Def. San Diego 96-38, Lost to BYU, 71-79. Well, that was also unexpected. Like, way unexpected. Think ‘Nova’s loss against Butler times a hundred. Credit has to go to BYU, however; they’ve got a young but talented core led by Eric Mika that probably won’t go dancing this year, but will be a force in the WCC come next season. However, the tough defeat should not change postseason expectation for Nigel Williams-Goss and the Bulldogs. The Zags are still a stellar team capable of breaking through to the Final Four. Before they can set their sights on Phoenix, however, they will have to make their way through the WCC Tournament that begins this week. Winning that event should keep the Bulldogs in line for a top-two seed.
- North Carolina (25-5, LW: 5) Def. Louisville 74-63, Def. Pittsburgh 85-67. With a two game lead and only two games left in the regular season, the Tar Heels have all but clinched the regular season title in the ACC. This should come as no surprise; they’ve been the most consistent unit in the league, and proved as such with easy wins over Louisville at home and on the road against the Panthers. To conclude the regular season, they will play at Virginia in a game which the Cavs will be hunting for revenge, before meeting the Blue Devils of Duke at the Dean Dome. For this contest, stud senior forward Isaiah Hicks will be healthy.
- Louisville (23-6, LW: 3) Lost to North Carolina 63-74, Def. Syracuse 88-68. Not many teams will go into Chapel Hill and even compete against the Tar Heels. Donovan Mitchell did what he could for the Cards, including a monstrous dunk, but they couldn’t compete with the Tar Heels late despite keeping the game close for almost thirty minutes. In their other game last week, however, Louisville showed their prowess by blowing out a Syracuse team coming off a major win against Duke. Rick Pitino has his team in good position for the tournament. They will end the season with a road game against Wake and a home battle with Notre Dame.
- Kentucky (24-5, LW: 10) Def. Missouri 72-62, Def. Florida 76-66. The most impressive thing about UK’s resounding victory over the Gators may have been that they did it without starting guard De’Aaron Fox, a lightning-quick dynamo that averages 15 points and 5 assists. Malik Monk, however, was more than enough to carry the Wildcats to victory, scoring an insane thirty points in the second half. The win puts Coach Calipari’s team in sole possession of first place in the SEC with only two games to go. The Wildcats will first have a home contest against Vanderbilt, before playing the last game on their schedule in College Station against Texas A&M.
- Baylor (23-6, LW: 11) Def. Oklahoma 60-54, Lost to Iowa State 69-72. Manu Lecomte needs to play better. He is the lead guard for this talented unit, and if he’s only playing fifteen minutes and not scoring like he did in their loss to the Cyclones, the Bears will struggle, even when player of the year candidate Johnathan Motley is putting up absurd numbers like 27 and 11. Still, thanks to other teams losing around them, the Bears were able to jump a couple spots in our rankings. To end the season, Baylor first hosts fellow Big 12 titan West Virginia, before playing a road game at Texas on Saturday.
- Arizona (26-4, LW: 7) Def. USC 90-77, Lost to UCLA 72-77. Allonzo Trier showed out this past week. First, he netted 25 against the Trojans. Then, he scored 28 in a losing effort against UCLA. Having him back and at full strength is a boon for Coach Sean Miller. The loss unfortunately cost the Wildcats their perch atop the Pac-12, but it shows just how good these teams at the top of the conference are; Arizona and UCLA split the conference series, but each team won on the road. Before these loaded teams can clash one more time in the Pac-12 tournament, Arizona has one more regular season game to worry about. They will take to the road for a battle with in-state rival Arizona State, where a win puts Arizona, at worst, in a tie for the conference regular season title.
- Duke (22-7, LW: 9) Lost to Syracuse 75-78, Lost to Miami (FL) 50-55. The Blue Devils had a rough week, losing a pair of road games to drop out of the conference regular season championship race. The team shot a pathetic 32 percent against Miami, although it was without Grayson Allen. They’ll hope to have him back from the ankle injury this week, and he will be needed. Duke will finish their regular season first with a home game against a hungry Florida State team, before going to Chapel Hill for a rivalry contest with a UNC team that will be eager to taste Blue Devil blood after Duke’s win over them earlier this season.
- West Virginia (23-6, LW: 13) Def. Texas 77-62, Def. TCU 61-60. It was a squeaker, but the Mountaineers were able to escape Fort Worth with another quality conference win thanks to a late trip to the foul line for guard Daxter Miles. Press Virginia will take on a tough road test in their first game this week, as they travel to Baylor for a contest on Big Monday. After that, they will return home to host the surging Iowa State Cyclones. Winning both of those games, combined with a strong performance in the conference tournament, should solidify the Mountaineers as a 2 or 3 seed.
- Florida (23-6, LW: 12) Def. South Carolina 81-66, Lost to Kentucky 66-76. Florida picked up a quality win over a South Carolina team that should be in the NCAA tournament, but then fell short against the Wildcats. Still, no team would be expected to get a win over Kentucky in Rupp Arena, so the Gators can’t really be faulted for dropping that one. A pair of teams on the bubble, one on the right side and one on the wrong side, await the Gators in what should be a pair of high-intensity games. First up will be a home game against an Arkansas unit that has a good shot of dancing. Their final game will be on the road against the desperate Vanderbilt Commodores.
- Butler (23-6, LW: 18) Def. Villanova 74-66, Def. Xavier 88-79. What a week for the Bulldogs! They picked up one of the best wins by anyone this season with their road triumph against ‘Nova. They also won at Xavier to complete the undefeated week. The season sweeps of the mighty Wildcats and Xavier give Butler a bevy of quality wins to add to their already loaded résumé. They play just one game to end the season this coming week. The home contest against Seton Hall will be a major contest for a Pirates team fighting to lock down a spot in the tourney. However, expect Butler to bring the intensity. They are in good position to be the two seed in the Big East tourney, and an NCAA seed as high as three is within their grasp with a strong showing at MSG
- SMU (25-4, LW: 17) Def. Houston 76-66, Def. Connecticut 69-61. A pair of road games against teams in the upper half of the conference proved to be a passable test for the Mustangs, as Semi Ojeleye, the frontrunner for conference player of the year, scored 38 points over the two games. The Mustangs only play about seven guys, but they are all athletic, talented, and have high basketball-IQs. SMU gets to end the regular season at home, and they are in pole position to win the conference title. They will first host Tulsa on Thursday before welcoming Memphis for the regular season finale on Saturday. This year’s team may not have Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, but they’re just as good as previous iterations of the Mustangs.
- Purdue (23-6, LW: 14) Def. Penn State 74-70, Lost to Michigan 70-82. Purdue has quietly climbed to the summit of the Big Ten standings, despite the road loss to the Wolverines. It helps to have a player like Caleb Swanigan; the likely conference player of the year still scored 18 points in defeat. Purdue will look to lock up a Big Ten title with a game against rival Indiana this Tuesday and a road game against the feel-good Northwestern Wildcats coming on Sunday. Winning both games clinches the title for the Boilermakers, while a loss opens the door to the possibility of a tie with Wisconsin.
- Wisconsin (22-7, LW: 16) Lost to Ohio State 73-83, Lost to Michigan State 74-85. For a while there, it looked like the Badgers were going to run away with the Big Ten title and position themselves for a high seed in the NCAA’s. But then, they lost a pair of road games to teams they were expected to beat in the Buckeyes and underwhelming Spartans, and have now lost four of their last five contests. This is not the time for a team to go flat and start dropping games. Barring the Badgers not losing another contest between now and Selection Sunday, they likely won’t get a top four seed. However, this possibility still exists. Their last two games are at home and against Iowa and Minnesota, and the Badgers could definitely win those two games and follow up with a run through the Big Ten tournament. But, given their recent play, this looks quite unlikely.
- Florida State (23-6, LW: 20) Def. Boston College 104-72, Def. Clemson 76-74. Stop now if you’ve heard this before: Clemson lost a close game. This time, it was for the benefit of the Seminoles, who were challenged by the Tigers after earlier blowing out BC behind a balanced scoring attack. Despite fading just a tad, the Seminoles are still very much in the national picture and have a strong résumé for the NCAA tournament. They’ll have a chance to bolster it even further this week. First up is a return game against Duke, who they handily beat earlier this season, before concluding their season with a home contest against a surging Miami team.
- Notre Dame (22-7, LW: 22) Def. North Carolina State 81-72, Def. Georgia Tech 64-60. After appearing to drop off the map for a second, the Irish have now won five straight ACC games to get back into a three-way tie for second in the conference. Their victory against the Yellow Jackets, who are fighting for their tournament lives, was particularly challenging, but being able to get 20 and 11 from a junkyard dog-type forward like Bonzie Colson goes a long way. Notre Dame will look to make it six straight victories when they host Boston College on Wednesday. Their last game before the conference tournament will be a major test, as they’ll go to the Yum! Center to challenge Louisville.
- Cincinnati (25-4, LW: 15) Def. Memphis 87-74, Lost to UCF 49-53. The Bearcats and SMU had been going game for game with each other in the American, as each team’s only conference loss had been on the other’s home court. However, that changed with the Bearcats’ loss at Central Florida this past weekend, where they resembled the offensively-challenged teams of the past instead of the better scoring unit they’ve been this year. They’ve also got to play a pair of the better teams in the American to end their season, as they will host Houston on Thursday before traveling to the Nutmeg State for a game with UConn that will conclude their regular season.
- St. Mary’s (26-3, LW: 21) Def. Pepperdine 78-49, Def. Santa Clara 70-56. St. Mary’s finished up their regular season in stellar fashion, winning a pair of blowouts over lesser teams. The Gaels are a lock for the NCAA tournament, as their only conference losses came to Gonzaga. They may very well have a third chance at the Zags this coming week in the WCC tournament, which begins on Thursday and will be contested from Las Vegas. With a player like Jock Landale and the Zags suddenly being reminded they’re human, anything can happen in Sin City.
- Wichita State (27-4, LW: 23) Def. Evansville 109-83, Def. Missouri State 86-67. The Shockers finished up their regular season in style, and won a share of the MVC regular season title with fellow stalwart Illinois State. These may not be the Shockers of Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet, but they’ve got a deep and talented team led by Markis McDuffie, who averages 12 points and 6 boards a contest. Up next for the Shockers is the Missouri Valley tournament, aptly named “Arch Madness” which takes place at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
- Miami (FL) (20-8, LW: NR) Def. Virginia 54-48, Def. Duke 55-50. Did a team have a more impressive week than Miami? First, they went into a hostile environment and knocked off UVA before playing incredible defense to beat Duke. In the home win over the Blue Devils, the Hurricanes got 25 points from freshman Bruce Brown. The New England native continues to be one of the most underrated freshmen in the country. The surging Hurricanes may have trouble in their next two games, however. Their last week of the regular season will be spent on the road. First up will be likely tournament team Virginia Tech. That will be followed by a trip to Tallahassee to play Dwayne Bacon and the Seminoles.
- Virginia (19-9, LW: 19) Lost to Miami (FL) 48-54, Def. North Carolina State 70-55. The Cavaliers took a tough home loss early last week, in a game which they forgot how to play on the offensive end. However, they rebounded to defeat the Wolfpack on the road. Tony Bennett’s team was predicted to take some lumps over the back portion of their schedule, so this drop is not unexpected. However, the Hoos will still be dangerous when the tournament comes. They will close the regular season with home games against the mighty Tar Heels and then the Pitt Panthers.
- Minnesota (22-7, LW: NR) Def. Maryland 89-75, Def. Penn State 81-71. The Golden Gophers have spent much of the season hovering around the rankings, often receiving votes but rarely actually making the cut. However, their recent surge of seven straight wins, punctuated by their convincing road victory at Maryland last week, has Coach Pitino’s team primed to be a contender not only in the Big Ten tournament, but the NCAA tourney. The turnaround for this team has been truly amazing, when you realize they won only eight games a season ago. This week, they host Nebraska before traveling to Wisconsin for a big finale to end the season.
Just Missed the Cut: Michigan, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Dayton
This week marks the end of the regular season. In the major conferences, teams have only one or two games left to finish up their scheduled slate of contests. For many schools, these will be rivalry games that come with extra intensity. Combine this with the fact that many teams still have seeding to fight for in their conference tournaments, and there’s little doubt this last week of the regular season will be as epic as all the others.
In addition to concluding the regular season, this week also marks the beginning stages of March Madness itself, as several conference tournaments get under way. For these schools on lower rungs of the ladder, claiming victory there means absolutely everything. Getting us underway will be the Atlantic Sun, whose tourney begins on Monday from their campus sites. Several other leagues will begin their tournaments this week, most notably the West Coast Conference and Missouri Valley Conference. Will Gonzaga regroup and run through their tourney like the juggernaut they appear to be? Will someone besides Wichita State or Illinois State win the MVC and steal a bid? The time for playing around is over; this week, March will officially begin on the calendar, and with the arrival of this fabled month comes the arrival of a slew of emotions reserved only for the best and worst of times.