Hoop Nation #4: Valentine’s Day B-Ball

It’s time to check in for all the latest hardwood happenings in the world of college basketball with our main man Logan Crosland.

All team rankings based on the Feb. 6, 2017 AP Top 25.

First, to all of the readers of this column, I deeply apologize for its lengthy disappearance. I will be here for the rest of the season and throughout March Madness.

Gonzaga Still Unbeaten: Coming into the year, No. 1 Gonzaga was a team many believed would be a fringe national championship contender. Now they not only look like a contender, but they are considered by some to be one of the favorites. The naysayers will say that they don’t play in a conference that provides them much competition, but they were able to defeat a very good Florida (11/25) and Arizona (12/3) team as well as an improving Iowa State (11/27) team in the non-conference. The Zags sitting there undefeated might just make it into the tournament exactly the same. Saint Mary’s is probably the only team in conference play that provides them any competition, but as we have learned this basketball season, anything can happen on any given night.

Gonzaga fans have had plenty to cheer about this season.

Ducks Flying High: Oregon fans came into this season with lots of excitement, as they were ranked fifth in the preseason polling. The No. 5 Ducks opened the season 2-2, losing to a unpredictable Baylor team (11/15)  and a Georgetown team (11/21) that has been up and down ever since. After the Georgetown loss, the Ducks would reel off 17 straight victories. Among those 17 wins, the Ducks were able to hand both No. 10 UCLA (12/28) and USC (12/30) their first losses of the season. Their winning streak was ended by Colorado (1/28), but have since put a beatdown on streaking No. 9 Arizona (2/4) to cement their spot atop the Pac 12 standings.

Kentucky Trending Downwards: The No. 15 Wildcats have always had a knack for bringing in freshman all-stars and dominating most of the teams that get in their way, especially when it comes to conference play. The Wildcats have not been so lucky this season, though. Last month, they went to Tennessee (1/24) to play the very scrappy Volunteers team. Tennessee was able to outlast the Cats, 82-80. KU then hosted Kansas (1/28) in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, which College Gameday was in town for. Kentucky actually dominated No. 3 Kansas for the first half and the beginning parts of the second, but the Jayhawks played out-of-their-minds for the rest of the game and were able to come away with a 79-73 victory. Kentucky would end its losing streak with a 91-80 win over Georgia (1/31). Then came their trip to Gainesville (2/4), where No. 17 Florida destroyed the Wildcats in the second half for an 88-66 win. For the Wildcats to turn things around, they have to get the defense going; this team cannot win solely on its offense.

Cincinnati Rolling Through the AAC: Cincinnati entered the season as one of the favorites in the American Athletic Conference, along with UConn. The No. 11 Bearcats are not only on top of the conference standings, but they are the only team other than Gonzaga that is still currently undefeated in conference play. Along with winning all of their conference games so far, they were also able to beat No. 24 Xavier (1/26) in a non-conference rivalry game. They look capable of running away with the conference, as No. 25 SMU is only team even close. The Bearcats already hold a victory over the Mustangs (1/12) this year.

Gary Clark (11) and the Cincinnati Bearcats are on fire.

Big East Madness: The Big East is consistently one of the best basketball conferences to watch, due to the amount of good-to-great teams that there are year-in-and-year-out. Every game is worth watching on a weekly basis, because it seems that any team can beat pretty much any other team whenever they step on the court. No. 2 Villanova sits atop the conference currently at 9-2, but are closely followed by Xavier, No. 22 Butler, and No. 23 Creighton, all at 7-4. Xavier and Creighton have both lost key players, so they may be due for a dropoff. Butler is the only one of these top four teams that has a victory over Villanova (1/4), but Creighton has defeated the Bulldogs twice (1/11, 1/31) and split with Georgetown (a win on 1/7, a loss on 1/28). Marquette is the only other team to have beaten Villanova (1/24), but they followed up that huge victory by losing to Providence (1/28) and St. John’s (2/1), proving that every game is Must-See TV in the Big East.

North Carolina Hot in Conference Play: No. 8 North Carolina is never from the top of the standings. The Tar Heels came into ACC play looking to be one of the favorites, having only lost to Indiana (11/30) and Kentucky (12/17) in non-conference play. Conference play got off to an incredibly rough start though, as they opened conference play with a loss at Georgia Tech (12/31). Ever since this setback, the Tar Heels have won 9-of-10, only faltering at Miami (1/28) in that stretch. They have a big next couple of games in front of them, though, as they have to go to rivals No. 18 Duke (2/9) and NC State (2/15) this week.

Three-Way Dance in the Big 12: Kansas has been the dominant program in Big 12 basketball, as they have won or shared 12 consecutive regular season titles. This year they are atop the conference once again, but No. 6 Baylor is nipping at their heels. Kansas currently leads the Bears by one game, since the Jayhawks topped Baylor (2/1) recently. They will play again later in February (2/18), and if Kansas wins the second matchup, they will be well on their way to title number 13. Kansas also plays No. 13 West Virginia again, having lost to WVA earlier this year. The Mountaineers also have defeated Baylor (1/10), and will play again in the next-to-last game of the season for both teams. West Virginia could end up being the true catalyst in this three-team conference race, despite currently sitting in third place. They could beat both teams and take home the crown themselves.

Elijah Macon and the Mountaineers have a conference title within reach.

Arizona Surging After Early Difficulties: Arizona began this season plagued with injuries to key players. They suffered a couple of early season losses to both Butler (11/25) and Gonzaga (12/3), which are nothing to be ashamed of, but with a full roster, the Wildcats definitely could have won both of those games. Despite these early losses, AZ has reeled off 15 consecutive victories, getting the team up to 10-0 in the Pac-12 to start the conference slate off hot. They were beaten pretty handily by Oregon (2/4) in their last game. Due to Oregon’s loss to Colorado though, the Ducks and Arizona have the same conference record. They do not play again, but the Pac 12 has plenty of good teams that can help the Wildcats out, as long as they help themselves.

ACC Dominance: The ACC is the best conference in college basketball. That is a statement which is easy to fully stand by. It might not always be fun to watch like the Big East, but the ACC has many of the best teams in the country. Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi currently has 10 ACC teams making the tournament if it started today. That is without Georgia Tech and Syracuse in, which are both surging and are among First Four Out and Next Four Out respectively. That means if those teams continue playing well the rest of this season, and no one else in the conference really drops off, the ACC could possibly get 12 teams in. This will be incredibly hard to pull off as some of the teams currently in are trending downwards and will find themselves on the outside looking in. The fact that it is even a possibility is a statement of how good this conference is. And oh yeah … Grayson Allen should be suspended forever for being a spoiled little prick (ALL THE TIME).

Big Ten Lackluster: In recent memory, the Big Ten has been a conference where at least one or two teams that would be considered national title contenders. This year, while there are good teams, there isn’t one team that would be considered on another level. Wisconsin is the team that has seemed to be the most likely to be capable of making a run, when it comes to the Big Ten at least. They are currently leading the conference at 10-1, with the only loss coming against Purdue (1/8). They are major force on the defensive end, as they are only allowing 59.8 points per game. This is something that could take them deep in the tournament as long as their offense doesn’t struggle mightily.

Upcoming Important Games:

Duke vs North Carolina (2/9)

Oregon vs. UCLA (2/9)

Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s (2/11)

Kansas St vs West Virginia (2/11)

Xavier vs Villanova (2/11)

Florida St. vs Notre Dame (2/11)

SMU vs Cincinnati (2/12)

Kansas vs West Virginia (2/13)

Syracuse vs Louisville (2/13)