An end to the madness?
The Steelers just renamed their hometown “Sixburgh” earlier this week.
Last night brought us another Lakers-Celtics thriller, with the two franchises accounting for exactly half of the championships in NBA history needing overtime to determine a victor in the battle of teams once again at the top of their games.
But for me, this week is also a chance to reflect on NCAA hoops for a moment.
There is an exclusive list of schools that make up the “elite eight” universities with streaks of 10 seasons or more participating in the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.
There are only 37 days until Selection Sunday on March 15th and the clock is ticking for each of these schools.
I’m not particularly excited about “bracketology” or any other similar notion. Seeding teams at this time of the season is a premature notion and negates the fact that 5 weeks is plenty of time for teams to salvage (or sabotage) their seasons.
That being said, let’s take a quick look at the current standings of the 8 schools in question.
Arizona – 24 consective seasons; currently 15-8 overall and 5-5 in the Pac-10 (6th place)
Kansas – 19 consecutive seasons; currently 18-4 overall and 7-0 in the Big 12 (2nd place)
Kentucky – 17 consecutive seasons; currently 16-7 overall and 5-3 in the SEC East (3rd place-tie)
Duke – 13 consecutive seasons; currently 19-3 overall and 6-2 in the ACC (1st place-tie)
Michigan State – 11 consecutive seasons; currently 18-4 overall and 8-2 in the Big 10 (1st place)
Gonzaga – 10 consecutive seasons; currently 17-4 overall and 8-0 in the WCC (1st place)
Texas – 10 consecutive seasons; currently 15-6 overall and 4-3 in the Big 12 (4th place)
Wisconsin – 10 consecutive seasons; currently 13-9 overall and 4-6 in the Big 10 (9th place)
Half of these schools are locks to keep the streak alive. Defending national champion Kansas hasn’t missed a beat, while Duke, Michigan State, and Gonzaga maintain the top spots in their respective conferences.
Lute Olson created the monster in Tucson that has reeled off an amazing 24 consecutive appearances in the tournament. When he finally officially stepped aside this past October, he left an unbalanced team for interim head coach Russ Pennell to guide on short notice. Currently riding a 4-game winning and anchored by future NBAers Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, Arizona appears to have a fighting chance to make it 25 in a row. Five of their last seven conference games will be against the teams ahead of them (UCLA, Washington, Arizona State, Cal, & USC) so they certainly will control their own destiny.
Billy Gillispie took over the Kentucky program a year ago from Tubby Smith and averted a near-disaster by rebounding in conference play after a horrid start in Lexington. This year’s season opener brought another bad loss (to Virginia Military Institute) before a nice stretch that brought victories in 16 of 18 games. Unfortunately, a recent three game losing streak brings new urgency to the remainder of the schedule. Another monster season from Patrick Patterson and the breakout season of Jodie Meeks will probably be enough for the squad to split its last 8 conference games and guarantee a bid with no less than 20 victories.
Rick Barnes has proved that Texas need not be a football school only. With a school-record 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in his first 10 years at the helm of the Longhorns, it appears to be more of the same in Austin this season. However, the top 25 ranking masks some slippage in recent days. Two consecutive home losses were a surprise and a couple more upsets like that will put Texas squarely on the bubble. It is more likely, though, that this experienced roster will find a way to right the ship quickly.
Which brings us to the curious case of the Wisconsin Badgers. Known for their stingy defense, Bo Ryan’s squad recently endured a painful six game losing streak that was notable for the lack of defensive stops at key times. Specifically, closing out games became a monumental challenge. Luke Winn of SI.com recently opined that departed seniors Brian Butch and Michael Flowers have not been replaced and there seems to be validity in that. With a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way, Wisconsin does have hope. However, no amount of victories over cellar-dwellers Iowa or Indiana will mean anything without a signature victory or two along the way. Short of a Big 10 tournament championship in Indianapolis, to keep the streak alive it looks like Wisconsin needs to win at either Michigan State or Minnesota. Or perhaps both.
Streaks were made to be broken. Time will tell for all of these schools. But the best news is that each of these schools can manage their fate with their play on the court. There will be a controversy or two next month when the field of 64 is announced but nothing compared to the nonsense that accompanies a different kind of Selection Sunday. You know, the one for those vaunted bowl matchups. No BCS nonsense when it comes to this postseason. Oh, and no Billy Packer either.