So this is how it’s going to be, huh?
In a season filled with lots of compelling stories but no flawless teams, every night is fair game for mayhem. One player missing here, one player returning there, one 1-3-1 zone everywhere, and upset alerts are screaming all over the nation.
Just on Wednesday night alone, take a look at the carnage. Miami took out a lifetime’s worth of frustration on Duke, pounding the Blue Devils from tip to buzzer in Coral Gables. Minnesota was completely flummoxed at confounding Northwestern. Creighton couldn’t dig out of a massive hole at Drake and lost its second straight Missouri Valley game. Butler borrowed three seconds of magic on Saturday but couldn’t make payment in full at La Salle and went down to a late, one-point defeat. Bucknell, with the Patriot League seemingly in its pocket after the broken foot suffered by Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum, lost at home (yet again) to the shorthanded Mountain Hawks. Total craziness.
There’s really no reason for this to end, either. There are very few soft spots in the Big Ten, and even fewer in the Mountain West, where it seems *every* game is decided by seven points or less. The Big East has a lot of equality beyond the supposed top two, and even those elite teams have looked vulnerable. The ACC, SEC and Pac-12 may not be having vintage seasons, but mediocrity can also breed parity, which breeds close games and a belief in lesser teams that on any given night, what happened in a number of arenas tonight can happen to them.
Upheaval and drama have been the themes all month. Just harken back to the preseason conference polls and now look at the current standings pages. Where NC State was supposed to be, it’s Miami lording over the ACC. Louisville is in third place in the Big East, looking up at Syracuse and … Marquette? Kentucky was the nominal pick in the SEC, and that’s not going to happen as Florida looks several classes above the pack. Arizona and UCLA are currently looking up at league unbeaten Oregon. Indiana and Michigan are living up to billing, but haven’t managed to boot relative upstart Michigan State from the Big Ten penthouse. Creighton, the runaway pick to take down the Missouri Valley? Say hello to Wichita State, current league leader. What about San Diego State? Well, New Mexico is two games clear of the Mountain West pack.
This isn’t a vintage season in terms of NBA-ready talent in the college ranks. Nor is there a Kentucky 2012 or North Carolina 2009 to turn your heads and provide an alpha dog/team to root against for the campaign. But at this point, pretty much anything seems possible as we start to glance toward March. That in itself is a trend that has been developing over the last couple of seasons. Two years ago, we had an 8-seed and an 11-seed both make the Final Four. Last season, two 2-seeds went down in the opening round, within hours of each other. No one’s safe anymore. Dare it be said, is *this* the year a 16-seed pulls the ultimate shocker?
On colleague Seth Davis’ show Courtside earlier on Wednesday, one of the questions posed was which team would you choose to win the national title if your net worth was at stake. And the stark reality of it is, while we can all give a relatively worthwhile answer based on this coach or that roster or whatever quantitative metric supports your underlying belief, there is no right choice this season.
Can Michigan defend and shoot well enough to win six tournament games? Can Louisville or Kansas score enough? Can Indiana grind out the necessary wins? Will Duke be healthy, and will it matter? Will Syracuse be whole, and will that matter? Is there an outlier team that will shock us all? It would make sense if that did happen. Everyone is beatable. Everyone has been beaten. And everyone will continue to be beaten as rankings mean nothing and conference turmoil continues.
And you know what? It’s been pretty darn fun.