The NCAA’s preliminary bracket reveal might have brought bad luck to some of those teams ranked in the top 16.
Since the bracket was announced last Sunday, those teams have combined to go 12-6, with three in the first eight – No. 1 seeds Villanova and Purdue, and No. 2 seed Cincinnati – having suffered losses, along with overall No. 9 Clemson.
Or maybe the members of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee have nothing to do with it. If you go back to Feb. 7, the 16 teams in the bracket own a 25-16 record. Villanova is 1-2 in that stretch and Purdue has lost three straight, including a 57-53 shocker Thursday night at Wisconsin.
The week has prompted our friend, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, to do some shuffling. Purdue drops from a 1 seed to a 2 and Cincinnati goes from a 2 to a 3. Moving up are Auburn from a 2 seed to a 1, and Texas Tech from a 3 to a 2. He has Oklahoma, the 16th and final team in the bracket reveal, out, replaced by Gonzaga.
All of this means that March Madness could be madder than many Marches we’ve seen in the past. No team has separated itself from the pack. In fact, if Xavier can defeat Villanova on Saturday, the Musketeers would have just as much a claim to No. 1 as Virginia, the current top-ranked team.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas wrote last month on the network’s website: “There are several really good teams but we don’t have a year like 2015 or even last year, when you truly felt like it took a great performance to beat them. This year, there have been more upsets of ranked teams by unranked teams than ever.”
He’s right on that last point. After Thursday night’s upsets involving Purdue and Cincinnati, ESPN Stats & Info reported that Top 10 teams in the Associated Press poll have lost 62 times this season, the most through Feb. 15 in the poll’s history, topping the previous high of 59 in 2000-01.
Countdown to Selection Sunday is 22 days. The next three weeks will be wild.
Encouragement from the Big O
Oklahoma freshman phenom Trae Young continues to lead the nation in scoring (29.1 points per game) and assists (9.3) and rank high in three-point baskets (3.88 per game, third) but he’s taking perhaps an unfair share of criticism for his team’s recent slide – losses in four straight games and seven of its last nine.
But Young’s spirits were lifted by a call he received this week from basketball legend Oscar Robertson, something he called “a crazy, crazy phone call for sure.”
Young told the OU Daily that Robertson talked about “just how much he loves my game and watching me play. He gave me a lot of encouragement and stuff like that, and also gave me some good advice.”
Asked about the advice, Young said that will remain “between me and him.”
These are times that Kentucky fans aren’t accustomed to experiencing.
Ranked No. 5 in the preseason, the Wildcats, with a roster that includes six McDonald’s All-Americans and three other players who were rated five stars by at least one recruiting site, have lost four straight games and are 16-9 overall entering the weekend.
After his team’s most recent loss at Auburn, coach John Calipari said he told his players that he had failed them because he hadn’t built the relationship needed for them to trust him. He also said they don’t play for each other.
“There are some ways that I failed these guys, and there’s some ways they’ve failed each other,” Calipari said. “All of that comes back to trust and being together and knowing this is about them. It’s not about me.”
It will be a great moment Saturday at South Carolina, where Sindarius Thornwell and two other stars from last year’s team will return to campus to be presented with their Final Four rings.
Sadly for the Gamecocks’ fans in attendance, it will be a reminder of how far their team has fallen. South Carolina has lost six straight games to drop to 13-13 overall and needs a hot finish and luck to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Frank Martin said in an Associated Press interview that the team has suffered from a lack of leadership and that “we’re not as connected as we need to be.” He wants his players to “practice with a greater sense of urgency.”
Expatriate of the week
Fatts Russell, a 5-foot-10 freshman guard who completed his high school career as the leading scorer in Imhotep Charter history, has been a valuable asset off the bench for No. 16 Rhode Island. Russell averages 6.9 points, but he has scored in double figures in seven games as a reserve, including 14 Tuesday night in a win over Richmond. He also had back-to-back 20-point games earlier this season against Brown and Providence. The Rams carry a 16-game winning streak – longest in the nation – into Friday night’s game at St. Bonaventure.
Games of the week
North Carolina at Louisville, Saturday at 8:15 p.m., ESPN: This game between two of the four teams fighting for second place in the ACC matches the Tar Heels’ hot offense against the Cardinals’ stout defense. Roy Williams has 418 wins at Carolina, the same total he had at Kansas.
Ohio State at Michigan, Sunday at 1 p.m., CBS3: The Buckeyes are reeling from the 79-56 pounding they took Thursday night at Penn State, and the Wolverines remember the first meeting with their rivals in December when Ohio State recovered from a 20-point deficit to defeat them.
Wichita State at Cincinnati, Sunday at 4 p.m., ESPN: The Bearcats saw their 16-game win streak snapped Thursday night at Houston. With their win over Temple, the Shockers trail UC by two games in the AAC, and will be playing the Bearcats twice in the final five games of the regular season.
Oklahoma at Kansas, Monday at 9 p.m., ESPN: The venerable Phog Allen Fieldhouse serves as the stage for super Sooners freshman Trae Young, who took just nine shots but scored 26 points in the teams’ first meeting last month. Kansas is trying to keep pace with Texas Tech in the Big 12.
Xavier at Georgetown, Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1: Depending how their game goes Saturday against Villanova, the Musketeers could clinch a tie for the Big East regular-season title with a win. The Hoyas have won back-to-back conference games for the first time this season.
Player to watch
Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s, G, 6-1, 175, So., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ponds has been on fire during the Red Storm’s four-game winning streak, a run that began with victories over No. 4 Duke and No. 1 Villanova. He averaged 32.3 points in the four victories with a high of 44 points against Marquette. He had his first double-double of the season, 26 points and 10 assists, in Wednesday’s win over DePaul, his fourth straight 40-minute game. For the season, he is averaging 21.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists and shooting 84.2 percent from the free-throw line.