Have you been so consumed by football for the last five months that you’re woefully behind on what’s been happening in the world of college basketball? Would you like to change that so you sound like you know what you’re talking about once March Madness rolls around in a month?
Once again, I’m here to help you, the diehard football fan who is finally ready to start paying attention to college hoops now that the Super Bowl is over.
Let’s hear your questions.
Ok, we do this every year with the first question: I ask you a simple “who’s good,” you ramble on for like 2,000 words, and then we’re finally able to move on to more fun stuff. So let’s just get this over with.
Gonzaga and Baylor.
Nobody else is good?
Nobody else is close to being as good as Gonzaga and Baylor are.
So nobody else can win the tournament other than Gonzaga or Baylor?
Well of course other teams can win the tournament. Wild stuff happens every March. It’s the tournament. But through three months (off and on) of play, it’s painfully apparent that two teams in college basketball have clearly separated themselves from the other 355.
Gonzaga played the toughest non-conference schedule in America and tore through it. The Zags beat Kansas, Iowa, West Virginia, Auburn and Virginia by an average of 14.8 points per game. They’re currently 19-0 and No. 1 on Ken Pom.
Baylor is 17-0, has six Quadrant 1 wins, is No. 1 in the NET, and has won all nine of its Big 12 games by eight points or more. Unfortunately, the Bears are currently on a pause because of Covid-19 issues within the program. That pause has forced the postponement of their next three games.
Gonzaga and Baylor were supposed to play back in early December, but that game was canceled at the last second because of Covid issues with Gonzaga. Now, the entire college basketball world is dreaming of a national title showdown between two unbeaten juggernauts. If that happens, it’ll guarantee the sport’s eighth undefeated national champion and its first since Indiana ran the table back in 1976.
The Bulldogs and the Bears are the only two undefeated teams left in the country, and their parallel dominance has become the defining storyline of this season.
Outside of, you know, the ever-present mountains of inherent weirdness.
Doesn’t Gonzaga always choke in the tournament though?
Gonzaga has won at least one NCAA tournament game in each of the last 11 years (2020 excluded, of course). They’re the only program in America that can claim that. They’ve also been to five consecutive Sweet 16s, the longest streak of any team since Duke made the second weekend every year from 1998-2006.
In all, Gonzaga has performed to its seed or better in five of the last six NCAA tournaments. No other program in the country can say the same.
So what teams are in the tier right below Gonzaga and Baylor?
Michigan is 13-1 and has been fantastic in the Big Ten, which is widely agreed upon to be the best conference in the sport this season. Sadly, just like Baylor, the Wolverines are currently on an extended Covid pause. Juwan Howard’s team hasn’t played a game since Jan. 22, but is hoping to return to the court on Feb. 14 at Wisconsin.
No team in the country has more Quadrant 1 wins than Ohio State’s nine. Despite having four Big Ten losses, the Buckeyes would likely be the fourth No. 1 seed if the NCAA tournament started today.
Illinois, Iowa and Alabama all have high-powered offenses and play at a breakneck pace that makes them appointment viewing. Villanova and Virginia, the teams that own three of the sport’s last four national championships, are also once again turning in strong seasons.
Ok, but what about, like, Kansas? Even when they’re down, they’re always in the top 15 or so.
Kansas is ok, but well below the quality we’re used to seeing from them on an annual basis. In fact, they’re outside of the AP top 25 poll this week for the first time in 12 years.
What about North Carolina?
They’re a little bit worse than Kansas.
A little bit worse.
A little bit worse.
Probably couldn’t win six games in the SWAC.
Is that bad?
It’s very bad.
If there’s a third defining storyline for this season — outside of Gonzaga-Baylor and all the inherent weirdness — it’s the perils of the sport’s blue-bloods.
Duke, Kanas, Kentucky and North Carolina are all unranked in this week’s AP poll for the first time in 60 years. Of the quartet, only the Jayhawks seem like a relatively sure thing to make the NCAA tournament. Michigan State is 3-7 in the Big Ten. Arizona self-imposed a postseason ban. Syracuse and Indiana are both back to their usual February spots on the NCAA tournament bubble. UCLA and Louisville are both fine, but likely not Final Four contenders.
Each of the 10 schools with the most total AP Poll appearances all-time are not ranked in this week's AP Poll:— Corey Price (@coreyp08) February 8, 2021
928 North Carolina
476 Michigan State
All this to say that it seems very possible that in early April, college basketball will be crowning a debut champion for a second straight time.
Second straight time?
Yeah, Virginia hadn’t won a title before 2019.
That was the last tournament?
I thought that was like five years ago.
It was two years ago.
Wild. Show me some cool dunks from this season.
Texas’ Greg Brown may have gotten a ridiculous technical after this cram, but it was so vicious that he would have been well within his rights to do more than just stare.
Greg Brown put him in the rim pic.twitter.com/LphwUIlYhu— Courtside Films (@CourtsideFilms) February 3, 2021
Clemson’s Aamir Simms is one of the more unique big men in the country, and he can definitely throw down.
Western Kentucky has one of the best athletes in the country in Josh Anderson and one of the most physical big men in the sport in potential lottery pick Charles Bassey. They both enjoy dunking.
' Charles Bassey Josh Anderson Bassey (nation-best 30 dunks) and Anderson (16) have the Hilltoppers leading the country with 51 total dunks! #GoTopsPosted by WKU Hilltopper Basketball on Thursday, January 7, 2021
Other cool dunks have happened and will continue to keep happening pretty much every night between now and the NCAA tournament.
So are all these games that are getting postponed going to be made up at some point?
We don’t know.
You don’t know?
We don’t know.
Isn’t there only like a month of the regular season left?
And you don’t know?
We don’t know.
At least conference tournaments are still set to go, right?
As of right now, all 31 conferences — the Ivy League isn’t playing basketball this season so there will be one extra at-large bid for this year’s NCAA tournament — are set to hold their postseason tournaments.
That said, there has been some talk in recent weeks that some conferences could choose to cancel their league tournaments and award their automatic bid to the NCAA tournament to their regular season champion. There has also been talk that some of the teams that are locks to play in the Big Dance could opt out of playing in their conference tournaments. The concern is that, with the NCAA tournament still scheduled to kick off less than a week after Selection Sunday, if a player contracts Covid or comes in contact with another player who tests positive for Covid during a conference tournament, there wouldn’t be enough time for that player to be able to play in the bigger, more important tournament.
Couldn’t the NCAA just start the NCAA tournament two weeks after all the conference tournaments are over to avoid all of these issues?
But that’s not going to happen?
That’s not going to happen.
Is the tournament going to be different at all?
The basic, 68-team setup will remain the same, but this year, the entire tournament is going to be played in or around the city of Indianapolis. In all, 55 of the 67 tournament games will be played in Indianapolis, including the Final Four, which is still going to take place on its scheduled dates of April 3, 5.
The schedule for this year’s tournament is going to be a bit different, though.
Here are the key dates you need to know:
Selection Sunday: March 14
First Four: Thursday, March 18 (all four games)
First Round: Friday, Saturday March 19-20
Second Round: Sunday, Monday March 21-22
Sweet 16: Saturday, Sunday March 27-28
Elite Eight: Monday, Tuesday March 29-30
Final Four: Saturday, Monday April 3 and 5
So if all these teams are bubbling up in Indianapolis, why is there a need for the usual break between the second round and the Sweet 16?
Oh. Show me some cool game-winners.
How about Matt Coleman to win the Maui Invitational for Texas?
Matt Coleman just called game for Texas to win the Maui Invitational over North Carolina in a game played in Asheville. Sports! pic.twitter.com/8MsXMZip3w— Billy Heyen (@BillyHeyen) December 2, 2020
Devontae Shuler lifts Ole Miss past Auburn here:
Devontae Shuler with the OT buzzer-beater for the Ole Miss WIN! pic.twitter.com/hUZTiCglmP— Stadium (@Stadium) February 6, 2021
Gotta show the SoCon some love.
And then here’s Stanford’s Oscar da Silva getting loose for a layup to knock off UCLA at the horn.
Oscar Da Silva gets the layup AT THE BUZZER to win it for Stanford and beat #24 UCLA in overtime. pic.twitter.com/IqoZwWpJVQ— NCAA Buzzer Beaters & Game Winners (@NCAABuzzerBters) January 24, 2021
Who are some mid-major teams to watch?
Loyola-Chicago and Drake out of the Missouri Valley are both very go—
How’s Sister Jean?
Loyola-Chicago and Drake out of the Missouri Valley are both very good. Loyola is all the way up at No. 15 on Ken Pom, and Drake just lost for the first time this season earlier this week. They’re now 18-1. The two teams are scheduled to play this Saturday and Sunday.
Belmont is also once again a beast. The Bruins are 20-1 and will be favored to win all six of their remaining regular season games.
Wright State out of the Horizon League and Toledo out of the Mid-American are two other teams that appear fully capable of springing a major upset or two next month.
Does DePaul suck? I bet DePaul sucks.
Hasn’t it been like a billion years since a West Coast team or a team from the Big Ten won it all?
Yep. No team west of the Rocky Mountains has cut down the nets since Arizona did it all the way back in 1997. The last team from the Big Ten to win it all was Michigan State in 2000. With Gonzaga looking like the best team in the country and the Big Ten looking like the best conference in the country, there’s a solid chance that one of those streaks of futility is going to be snapped in 2021.
So how much is Zion dominating this year?
Uhh, well actually he —
I’m just messing with you, man. I know he’s in the NBA.
Ha, ha. OK, good. For a second there I thought I was gonn—
Played his one year at Duke, got that national title, and then bounced.
You know what? Sure.
Who is the Zion of this season?
If you’re talking about a breakout freshman star who is about to become very rich in a few short months, you’ve got some options.
Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State is No. 1 in most mock drafts you can find floating around on the internet. His play has the Cowboys at No. 23 in the current AP poll, but as it stands, the team will be banned from postseason play because of an NCAA punishment resulting from the FBI’s probe into college basketball back in 2017. OSU is, however, appealing the punishment, so there’s still a chance we could see Cunningham be a part of March Madness.
Two other freshman stars — USC’s Evan Mobley and Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs — are dominating on the West Coast. Mobley is nearly averaging a double-double for a Trojan squad that currently sits atop the Pac-12 standings and seems like a tournament lock. Meanwhile, Suggs is the most naturally talented player on the nation’s most naturally talented team.
Because of these guys as well as other freshmen stars like Auburn’s Sharife Cooper and Florida State’s Scottie Barnes, expect this year’s NBA draft class to be much, much better than last year’s.
Give me your Final Four.
I don’t really like to do that before we get the actual bracket.
It’s a totally pointless exercise to pick a Final Four when so much of who makes up the Final Four is based on tournament draw. If you pick four teams right now, two or three of them might end up being in the same region on Selection Sunday.
Well I’d stay away from Gonzaga. I always forget what happens a few months after March, but the one thing I ALWAYS remember is that Gonzaga chokes.
We legitimately just talked about this.
Gonzaga out before the first weekend ends. Book it. They’ll never win the big one just like Virginia will never win the big one.
This has been a monumental waste of time.