College Pride Press Top 25 – Week 18

After eighteen grueling weeks, the regular season has concluded! There does not seem to be a clear cut team that’s a step ahead of everybody else entering the postseason. Arguments can easily be made both for and against teams like Kansas, UNC, Gonzaga, UCLA, and any other squad you think has a good shot at cutting down the nets. Hopefully, this means we get an NCAA Tournament as rife with madness as the regular season! But before that begins, conference tournament week here, and the action will only ramp up in intensity. Bubble teams will search for that one last quality win to put them over the edge, and ranked teams will attempt to jump a seed line or two with a strong run through their conference bracket. Here’s how our writers view the best teams in the country as we leave the regular season for the throngs of the postseason:

 

 

  1. Kansas (28-3, LW: 1) Def. Oklahoma 73-63, Def. Oklahoma State 90-85. Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! It’s hilarious that about six weeks ago, we questioned if this was the year KU finally went down and lost their Big 12 streak. Now, at the end of the regular season, they’ve won that crown by a whopping four game margin. They did it at first with a pedestrian performance at home against Oklahoma, but then went to Stillwater and took out an Oklahoma State team that is going to make the tournament and be a threat to win multiple games. Frank Mason was deservedly named Big 12 Player of the Year. He’ll look to add the Naismith Player of the Year award and the National Championship to his résumé, as well, though KU will first look to win the Big 12 tournament taking place in Kansas City.

 

  1. North Carolina (26-6, LW: 6) Lost to Virginia 43-53, Def. Duke 90-83. The last week of the regular season was an eventful one for the Tar Heels. First up, they were smothered on the road in Charlottesville, and were held to the lowest total points the team had ever put up under Roy Williams. However, in the most important game of the year, they outclassed the Blue Devils behind ACC POY Justin Jackson, in front of a crowd that included super recruit Kevin Knox and legend Michael Jordan. The Heels won the ACC by two games, and will be the one seed when the conference takes to the streets of Brooklyn for their tournament.

 

  1. UCLA (28-3, LW: 3) Def. Washington 98-66, Def. Washington State 77-68. Any time the Bruins take the court, it’ll be an entertaining spectacle. With Lonzo Ball spearheading the best scoring offense in the country, UCLA has to be confident no matter who the opponent. UCLA’s got a road win over Kentucky, and also defeated both Oregon and Arizona in conference play. The Bruins will be the number three seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, which could mean a potential semifinal showdown with Arizona. From there, expect UCLA to be a flashy pick to win the national title, although they’ll have to beware of teams with the interior depth and scoring punch to match them.

 

  1. Villanova (28-3, LW: 4) Def. Creighton 79-63, Def. Georgetown 81-55. The defending champs are primed to make a run at a repeat. They finished up the regular season with a pair of blowouts, and won the conference title by three games. From the do-it-all senior Josh Hart, to stud sophomore Jalen Brunson, there is zero reason for the expectation to be anything less than another championship. Villanova also won the Big East regular season a year ago, only to fall in the tourney. This year, they are once again the one seed, and will look to avoid a similar fate when the tournament opens from historic Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (though ‘Nova will not play until Thursday).

 

  1. Gonzaga (30-1, LW: 5) Def. Pacific 82-50. In the first round of the WCC Tournament, Gonzaga slept through the first half, before coming out in the second period and dominating the game like they should’ve from the start. The race for the one seed out west will be very good; should the Zags win the WCC tourney, they should do no worse than number two in that region. That quest continues with a semifinal clash against Santa Clara tonight at nine. A win there means they play for the championship against one of two worthy opponents: BYU or St. Mary’s.

 

  1. Oregon (27-4, LW: 2) Def. Oregon State 80-59. Last year was no fluke; this Oregon program has got some star players, and maybe even some legit staying power. Their easy win over Pac-12 minnows Oregon State ensured them a share of the regular season crown, though they claim the tiebreaker over Arizona, and the number one seed in the conference tourney. Dillon Brooks, the conference player of the year, will look to lead his team to glory when the Ducks head to Sin City in their quest for a potential one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

 

  1. Arizona (27-4, LW: 10) Def. Arizona State 73-60. In their only game last week, the Wildcats went on the road and dispatched their rival. It’s been an incredible year for the Wildcats, who have not lost to a team this year outside of the top fifteen. Allonzo Trier, who had 19 against Arizona State, appears to have fit in well since his return, and it makes the Wildcats a legitimate threat for the Final Four. They also likely won’t be lower than a two seed come Selection Sunday, barring abnormal events. The thought of seeing smooth seven-footer Lauri Markkanen and his teammates battle for a title in their home state is salivating. Arizona will play their first game in the conference tourney on Thursday, as the Pac-12 takes on Las Vegas.

 

  1. Louisville (24-7, LW: 7) Lost to Wake Forest 81-88, Def. Notre Dame 71-64. Wake Forest had been close about a hundred times to picking up a signature win, and the Cards were unfortunately the opponent when it finally happened. However, they picked up a win over Notre Dame to end their season on a positive note. Louisville finished in a three-way tie for second in the ACC, and will be the fourth seed in the conference tournament, which begins on Tuesday, though the Cards won’t play until Thursday. A potential quarterfinal against Duke looms large, although Donovan Mitchell and co. have proven all season that they can beat elite teams.

 

  1. Baylor (25-6, LW: 9) Def. West Virginia 71-62, Def. Texas 75-64. The Bears got their revenge, decisively beating West Virginia at home last Monday behind Johnathan Motley. They wrapped up the regular season with a win over the Longhorns, and clinched a three-way tie for second in the Big 12. The Bears will now look to capitalize on their stellar regular season by making a mark in the postseason. They’re the three seed in the Big 12 Tournament, and will play their first game on Thursday. That will be a clash with Kansas State, a team desperately looking to win games and get off the bubble.

 

  1. Kentucky (26-5, LW: 8) Def. Vanderbilt 73-67, Def. Texas A&M 71-63. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Kentucky won the SEC regular season crown outright. In doing so, they also denied bubble team Vanderbilt a huge win. With Malik Monk leading the way on the offensive end, and Bam Adebayo anchoring the paint on defense, the Wildcats will be a matchup nightmare for virtually any team in the nation. Before the Big Dance kicks off, however, the Wildcats will have to navigate Nashville, where they will be the heavy favorites to claim the SEC Tournament.

 

  1. SMU (27-4, LW: 15) Def. Tulsa 93-70, Def. Memphis 103-62. Meet one of the most underrated teams on the national landscape. The Mustangs finished up an incredible regular season with a pair of blowouts. Behind Semi Ojeleye, there’s little doubt this team is capable of not only making the second weekend, but winning at that stage, too. SMU heads to Hartford for the American Tournament this week, where they will be one of two favorites to take home the hardware. As the top seed, they received a first round bye, and do not yet know who they will meet in the quarterfinals.

 

  1. West Virginia (24-7, LW: 12) Lost to Baylor 62-71, Def. Iowa State 87-76. West Virginia presents an intriguing case for the selection committee. They’ve got some impressive wins and stellar metrics (no. 5 in ESPN’s BPI), but don’t necessarily have the intangibles such as a star player or flair that other teams have. Still, winning the Big 12 Tournament could very well put them on the two line. Even without a well-known star, they’ve got a deep group and a veteran backcourt, both important keys to winning in March. They got the tiebreaker over Baylor and Iowa State, and will be the number two seed in the upcoming Big 12 Tournament.

 

  1. Duke (23-8, LW: 11) Def. Florida State 75-70, Lost to North Carolina 83-90. The quality of the ACC this year rivaled that of the old Big East during its later years. That’s how a team as talented as Duke can lose seven conference games, yet still be a trendy pick to win the national championship. While the Blue Devils avenged their earlier loss to Florida State, they were unable to complete the season sweep of rivals UNC, though no team would be expected to best this year’s Tar Heels in Chapel Hill (they did in fact go undefeated at home). Luke Kennard has emerged as Grayson Allen without the drama, and is incredibly efficient for a volume shooter. Duke will begin the ACC Tournament on Wednesday as the fifth seed. A win there means a quarterfinal clash with Louisville.

 

  1. Purdue (25-6, LW: 16) Def. Indiana 86-75, Def. Northwestern 69-65. With their two wins last week, Purdue locked up a two game margin in their Big Ten regular season win. In a league which displayed quality teams up and down the standings, winning with any kind of margin is a nice accomplishment. Even sweeter, their win over rival Indiana pulled the plug on the life support for their tournament hopes. The Boilermakers will not play until Friday in the Big Ten tournament, meaning when they take the court as the number one seed, they will be well rested and prepared for anyone. Their opponent will be either Illinois or Michigan.

 

  1. Butler (23-7, LW: 14) Def. Xavier 88-79, Lost to Seton Hall 64-70. There aren’t teams that have the quality wins that Butler does. They’ve beaten Villanova twice, including in Philly, knocked off Arizona, beaten Xavier twice, and also have non-conference wins over Cincy, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and Vermont. But, they’ve also lost to Indiana State, St. John’s, and Georgetown. Still, there’s no question for Butler the good outweighs the bad. They’re likely to be given a top four seed regardless of their performance in the conference tournament, and they’ve proven they can take out anyone, anywhere. However, they’ve also exhibited a tendency to drop games they simply shouldn’t. But, expect the focused and talented Butler team to appear in March.

 

  1. Cincinnati (27-4, LW: 20) Def. Houston 65-47, Def. Connecticut 67-47. The Bearcats rebounded nicely after their shocking loss to UCF last week. They blew out a Houston team that was desperate for the win, then spoiled the Huskies’ Senior Day festivities with a pure beat down. Freshman Jarron Cumberland continues to be a catalyst off the bench; he had 15 against UConn. Cincy, due to their adequate offense and trademark defense, could be a popular dark horse pick to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. First up, however, will be the conference tourney, where they are one of two overwhelming favorites.

 

  1. Wichita State (30-4, LW: 22) Def. Bradley, 82-56, Def. Missouri State 78-63, Def. Illinois State 71-51. The ticket’s been punched! Wichita State won “Arch Madness” with a three-day clinic on how to play basketball, and silenced any doubters with their convincing beat down of Illinois State. They present a conundrum for the Selection Committee, however; they’ve beaten the teams ranked far lower than themselves, but don’t have a signature win. Frankly, the Shockers could be anywhere fro fifth-six seed territory to ten-eleven seed range. They will be one of the most interesting teams to follow when March 12th arrives.

 

  1. Florida State (24-7, LW: 18) Lost to Duke 70-75, Def. Miami (FL) 66-57. Even though FSU only lost by five against Duke, they spent long stretches of the game trailing by double digits. But, they picked up a massive win over Miami to salvage the week. The regular season was wildly successful for the Seminoles, and they own the most RPI Top 25 wins of any team in the country. However, now it is time to put that extraordinary résumé to the test in the postseason. Their efforts have been rewarded with the number two seed in the ACC Tournament, in which a win could push their seed as high as number two.

 

  1. Virginia (21-9, LW: 24) Def. North Carolina 53-43, Def. Pittsburgh 67-42. Just when it looked like Virginia might fade at the end of the season, they win their last two games, including a major triumph over UNC. In that game, as well as the win over Pitt, the defensive prowess of the Cavs was on full display. Will they score enough to go deep in March? The ACC Tournament begins for Virginia on Wednesday, where as the six seed they meet the winner of Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. A victory Wednesday would mean a bout with third seeded Notre Dame for a berth in the semifinals.

 

  1. St. Mary’s (27-3, LW: 21) Def. Portland 81-58. Behind a Jock Landale double-double, the Gaels easily took care of business in the WCC quarterfinals. Landale has been a consistent beast all season, and could’ve been a suitable pick for player of the year had Nigel Williams-Goss not won the trophy. He and the rest of this loaded team will look to win the WCC tournament and solidify themselves a good seed over the next two days. First, however, before a potential rematch with Gonzaga in the final, they must overcome the streaking BYU Cougars, who, off of their win over the Zags, are playing good enough to make the big dance.

 

  1. Minnesota (23-8, LW: 25) Def. Nebraska 88-73, Lost to Wisconsin 49-66. Richard Pitino rightly won the Big Ten Coach of the Year award, as Minnesota’s sudden turnaround from cellar dweller a year ago is nothing short of remarkable. They’ve gone from a team that couldn’t even win ten games to a squad with sights on the Sweet 16. While their season ended on a sour note in their loss to Wisconsin, there’s too much positive energy in the program to dwell on losing the basketball equivalent of Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Junior guard Nate Mason was named First Team All-Big Ten. The Golden Gophers are a team no three or four seed will want to see in their pod when the brackets are released. Perhaps there’s even a chance for Minnesota to ascend to those seed lines themselves with a strong showing in Washington at the conference tourney. The sky’s the limit for this year’s feel good story.

 

  1. Florida (24-7, LW: 13) Def. Arkansas 78-65, Lost to Vanderbilt 71-73. The road loss to Vanderbilt was a disappointing way to wrap up a stellar season, but it was clear the Commodores needed the game more than Florida. Still, they finished second in the conference standings, and have outperformed national projections from November. This is a team who will contend for the second weekend, and be a true threat to go beyond that. Their first game in the SEC Tournament will not be until Friday, and the second-seeded Gators will meet either Texas A&M or Vandy.

 

  1. Oklahoma State (20-11, LW: NR) Lost to Iowa State 83-86, Lost to Kansas 85-90. Despite coming off a pair of losses, Oklahoma State found themselves creeping into our poll this week. It’s really more of a reward for a strong regular season that included at one point a streak of 10 wins in 11 games. They also have one of the most underrated guards in the country in Jawun Evans. He’s a pure alpha male that can score and defend on the highest level, and is single-handedly capable of leading the Cowboys to an upset or two in the Big Dance. Wing Jeffrey Carroll is a stud, and shooters like Phil Forte provide the necessary support for Evans and Carroll. Before we get there, Oklahoma State will have to open the Big 12 Tournament with a game against Iowa State, another team constructed in a similar way (alpha guard, talented wing, a couple of deadeye shooters) to their own team.

 

  1. Miami (FL) (20-10, LW: 23) Lost to Virginia Tech 61-66, Lost to Florida State 57-66. The Hurricanes may have lost their last two games, but it shouldn’t discourage them in the slightest. Both defeats were on the road, and at the hands of tournament teams in close games. The emergence of Bruce Brown gives Miami a three-headed monster, as the shooting guard complements stars Davon Reed and Ja’Quan Newton well. The ‘Canes are the number eight seed in the ACC tournament, and will play Wednesday against a Syracuse team desperate for a win. Should Miami deny Syracuse and themselves reach the quarterfinals, it places the Orange in a world of danger.

 

  1. Wisconsin (23-8, LW: 17) Lost to Iowa 57-59, Def. Minnesota 66-49. Has a team had a worse four week stretch than Wisconsin? Just a few weeks ago, I was claiming that they were the clear-cut top team in the Big Ten, and had the chance to coast to a conference title, and even enter the one seed conversation. That was wrong. Despite being 2-5 over their last seven games, however, there is a bright side. Their blowout win over Minnesota could show that they’ve gotten out of their funk at the right time, and for the record, on paper, this is one of the top fifteen or so teams in the country. They’ll be the two seed when the Big Ten Tournament begins on Wednesday from Washington, D.C. and the Verizon Center.

 

Just Missed the Cut: Notre Dame, Michigan, Iowa State, Middle Tennessee, UNC-Wilmington

 

This week will separate the men from the boys, and give a clearer image of what teams are primed to make a run, and what teams have lost their luster. A strong conference tournament run can make all the difference in improving seeding or building momentum for the Big Dance. There are countless recent examples; UNC won the ACC tournament last year before making the national final, Florida solidified themselves as the top team in the country in 2014 before making the Final Four, and the best example of them all: Kemba Walker and the 2011 UConn Huskies winning five games in five days to not only drastically improve their seed, but build the momentum to grab six more victories and a national title. In large part, seeds from the committee will be based on regular season performance, as they should be. But, the conference tournaments, and the boost they can provide for teams on the bubble or with title aspirations, cannot be denied. Enjoy this week, college basketball fans, and remember what happens next: Christmas. The NCAA Tournament! Be sure to check back in with CPP throughout March Madness for our extensive coverage, and our excellent bracketologists will give you all the insight you need over the days leading up to Selection Sunday!

Nick Schwartz

Senior History major at UConn, and planning to attend graduate school in the future. One of the best moments of my life was winning a national title my freshman year. Husky basketball is a lifestyle! Avid New York sports fan, as well: Yankees, Giants, Knicks, Rangers! Also root for Manchester City and NYCFC.

Leave a Reply