People have been arguing back and forth for several weeks as to whether there is an “elite” team in college basketball this year.
Following Indiana’s collapse last night at Illinois – the fifth-straight week in which the #1 team has been defeated – I don’t know how you could argue there is.
There is always some degree of wide-openness to the NCAA Tournament (it’s why I love it), but filling out a bracket this March may be the toughest challenge in recent memory. Think about the top teams and what has happened to them this year:
Kansas lost to a TCU team that had an RPI of 236, and hadn’t beaten a team from a BCS league all season. Florida was hammered by NIT-bound Arkansas. Duke lost to Miami, albeit a great Hurricanes team, by 27 points - that same Miami team inexplicably lost by a dozen to Florida Gulf Coast. Syracuse fell to a Villanova squad that was swept by Providence, and blown out by Ivy League lightweight Columbia. Indiana blew a ten-point lead in the final four minutes to Illinois, who entered last night’s game just 2-7 in conference play. That same fate befell Ohio State (lost by 19) and Gonzaga (lost on their homecourt) in their tussles with the Illini.
The Horned Frogs pulled off the biggest upset in years this week
Michigan is the only top team that is devoid of a bad loss, but the Wolverines narrowly escaped the broom from Ohio State this week (thanks to a controversial finish). They're very, very good, but are they elite? You can't say that definitively.
Last year, Kentucky was elite. Their two losses came at the buzzer to a 27-win Indiana team, who plays in perhaps the toughest environment in college basketball, and to 25-win Vanderbilt in an SEC Title Game that the Cats seemed disinterested in. They had six NBA Draft picks and the runaway winner of the Wooden, Naismith, AP, and Sporting News National Player of the Year Awards. Anyone fit that bill this year?
If you’re choosing to look at this season in a glass half-full light, there’s no reason to bury any of the top teams after a bad performance. Kansas’ National Title hopes didn’t go out the window because they no-showed in Fort Worth, nor did Indiana’s for leaving Tyler Griffey unguarded last night. As always, success in a single-elimination Tournament relies on equal parts draw, skill, and luck. However, speaking specifically about IU, losing out on the #1 seed in the coveted Midwest Regional would certainly be a downer. The chance to play virtual home games in front of a Hoosier-dominated crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium in the Regionals would make the road to Atlanta much easier.