Like a perennial flower, every year there is an article or two or three that is written about how unpredictably wild and crazy the upcoming NCAA Tournament will be. This year will undoubtedly be no different except for the fact that this year those pieces may come out earlier than usual, like now. Conference tournaments are six weeks away and I write this with the big caveat that a lot can happen in six weeks. A couple of days ago Andy Glockner formerly of Sportsillustrated.com tweeted out, March Madness could be straight nuts this year. It is only mid-January but he’s right, let’s look at a few things and you’ll see why pundits are having trouble making heads or tails of teams and conferences at this point.
Outside of the three remaining undefeated teams, Arizona, Syracuse and Wichita State and the likes of Wisconsin who lost for the first time this week and a veteran team like Michigan State, which teams would you feel confident putting straight into the Sweet 16 at this point? A closer look at the races in the power conferences will further illustrate this point.
In the American, Cincinnati sits atop at 5-0 with Louisville (who recently dismissed forward Chane Behanan from the team) is second at 4-1. After that there are a handful teams you could throw in a hat like SMU (3-2), Houston (2-2), Memphis (3-2) and Connecticut (2-2).
In the ACC Syracuse is clearly the top team at 4-0 but they have yet to be tested on the road in conference by the likes of Duke and Virginia. After the Orange fellow conference newcomer Pittsburgh is also 4-0 and they travel to the Carrier Dome today to face Syracuse. North Carolina is 0-3 in conference and Duke is 2-2 with freshman phenom Jabari Parker hitting a bit of a wall as of late. Clemson has beaten Duke but lost to Florida State only scoring 41 points. Virginia continues to be an enigma ranking 306th in the country in scoring, losing to just the Blue Devils and beating Florida State and N.C. State on the road by a combined 43 points.
In the Big 12 a young Kansas (3-0) team is on top with the veteran Oklahoma State Cowboys (3-1) right behind (the two teams face off in Lawrence today). A surprise Kansas State team is 3-1 and a team that got a lot of pub as a contender for the title, Iowa State has started off league play at 2-2. Oklahoma and Texas, both 2-2 have surprised some people and Baylor at 1-2 still continue to show the same issues over and over they don’t have a killer instinct to put teams away.
The Big East has Creighton (5-0) and Villanova (4-0) but the Bluejays still struggle defensively. Villanova may be the best team in the conference only having lost to Syracuse, a game which they led by as many as 18 in the first half. What do we make of teams like Marquette (2-2), who spent a couple early weeks in the top 25 and is now 10-7 overall, Georgetown who is also 2-2 but are trying to shake the moniker of being the team double-digit seeds want to play in March and Xavier (4-1) who is led by guard Semaj Christon.
As you can see, aside from a few conferences with dominant teams (ACC, Big Ten and Pac 12) there are teams with good records so far but looking at the overall landscape is Villanova better than Virginia? What about 5-0 Cincinnati, are they better than a 2-3 Arizona State? Things could shake themselves out and a more established hierarchy could become clearer, but if not, remember what Glockner said.
Looking at some of the early bracket projections shows the muddled outlook of the NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has potential 3rd round matchups of Vlillanova/Virginia and Louisville/ Iowa State. Jerry Palm of CBS SPORTS likewise has a potential Syracuse/Ohio State game and Baylor/Creighton. NBC SPORTS’ Dave Ommen has 3rd round games between Pittsburgh and Iowa as well as Saint Louis and Florida.
Basketball fans are well aware of LeBron James’ pre-game ritual with powder tossing it into the air. The plume that follows is what the tournament looks like at this juncture and perhaps even into March, madness indeed.