Selection Sunday is exactly two weeks away and March Madness is coming fast.
In case you missed the flurry of games on Saturday, here are some of the main headlines boiled down: No. 1 Gonzaga is still undefeated heading into March, No. 2 Baylor lost for the first time and No. 3 Michigan is now the projected overall No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
Traditional blue bloods Duke and Indiana are living on the bubble, while Kentucky would have to win the SEC Tournament to make the Big Dance.
And Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham solidified his case to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft with a phenomenal 40-point, 11-rebound outing against rival Oklahoma.
Here’s a quick overview on some of the main storylines:
NO. 1 GONZAGA IS STILL UNDEFEATED, WHO’S GOING TO BEAT THEM?
The top-ranked Bulldogs completed an unbeaten regular season with an 86-69 win over Loyola Marymount on Saturday.
It says here there’s a solid chance — I’ll put it at 60 percent — that the Zags go unbeaten all the way through March and April and win the program’s first NCAA championship. They lost in the 2017 NCAA title game to North Carolina.
The Bulldogs (24-0, 15-0 WCC) won their 51st straight home game to set a school record, and finished off the first perfect regular season in program history. Gonzaga has won 28 straight games dating to last season and is the first team to finish the regular season unbeaten since Kentucky in 2014-15. The Zags have 21 straight wins by 10+ points.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find something that’s never been done in this program. There’s very few things left,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “For this group to be able to notch that is amazing, and when you factor in they didn’t have ‘The Kennel’ to rely on at all to me is just remarkable.”
The Zags are the only team in the nation with three players — Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme — named to the 2021 Naismith Trophy Midseason Team. They have size, length, depth, great coaching and a projected top-5 NBA pick in Suggs.
Maybe they will lose in March to one of the handful of other NCAA title contenders — Baylor, Michigan, Villanova, Iowa, Illinois
BAYLOR LOSES FOR THE FIRST TIME
Because they play in the Big 12 and not the WCC, Baylor’s chances of going undefeated through the regular-season were always going to be more difficult than Gonzaga’s in the WCC.
The Bears lost at Kansas, 71-58, Saturday night but to fall to 18-1, 11-1 Big 12, while Kansas improved to 18-8, 12-6. But keep in mind that Baylor recently emerged from a three-week Covid pause in which it had five games postponed or canceled.
“We had three weeks where they got worse and they had three weeks where they got better,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team led Kansas wire-to-wire in a 77-69 victory last month in Waco, Texas. “Even Superman has kryptonite and I guess COVID protocols are ours.”
Kansas, meantime, improved to 17-5 against top-10 teams in Allen Fieldhouse under coach Bill Self.
No one is really calling Kansas a national championship contender but the win over Baylor was just their latest over a ranked team this season.
MICHIGAN IS NOW THE NO. 2 OVERALL SEED
Like Baylor, Michigan had an extended Covid pause triggered by their athletic department shutting down all sports for three weeks.
Yet despite going 23 days between games, Juwan Howard’s team is now 18-1 overall, 13-1 in the Big Ten and 5-0 since coming off the layoff on Feb. 14. During that span alone, they have beaten No. 21 Wisconsin, Rutgers (which is poised to make its first NCAA Tournament since 1991), No. 4 Ohio State, No. 9 Iowa and Indiana. Their only loss this season was at No. 23 Minnesota on Jan. 16.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi now has the Wolverines as the No. 2 overall seed.
Howard, the former “Fab Five” member, is the first Michigan coach to win 37 of his first 50 games and he has the Wolverines in position to be a No. 1 seed for the first time since the 1992-93 season when he played there.
Michigan has everything needed to win the title and are absolutely loaded.
Sophomore guard Franz Wagner is a long, wiry player who can score in a variety of ways and is a projected first-round NBA pick, while senior forward Isaiah Livers is a projected second-rounder. Freshman big man Hunter Dickinson is the team’s leading scorer and defended Naismith Player of the Year favorite Luka Garza extremely well this week, while Columbia grad transfer Mike Smith is second in the Big Ten in assists after spending last year as the nation’s sixth-leading scorer with the Lions.
Michigan has another titanic game Tuesday against No. 5 Illinois.
DUKE AND KENTUCKY COULD MISS THE TOURNAMENT
Duke hasn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 1995, when Bill Clinton was in his first term as President, and Kentucky has missed the tournament just twice since exiting out of NCAA penalties in the 1992 season, most recently in 2013.
After Duke’s 70-63 home loss Saturday to Louisville, they fell to 11-9, 9-7 in the ACC and are among Lunardi’s “First Four Out.”
Louisville’s Carlik Jones took the game over in overtime while Duke’s Matthew Hurt hardly touched the ball at the end of regulation in the OT while finishing with 37 points before fouling out.
“[With] very good teams, you have to do more than just put yourself in a position to win,” sophomore forward Wendell Moore Jr. said. “You have to come out with a win.”
The Blue Devils have two regular-season games left with Georgia Tech and North Carolina, and then likely will have to make a run in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
Kentucky lost at home to Florida, 71-67, to fall to 8-14, 7-8 in the SEC. John Calipari’s team will have to win the SEC Tournament to avoid missing the Dance for the first time in eight years.
Meantime, the NBA Draft stock of freshmen B.J. Boston and Terrence Clarke, who is done for the season with injury, has plummeted. Freshman forward Isaiah Jackson looks like the team’s best NBA prospect.
“Boston and Clarke have played themselves out of the Top 20,” one Western Conference executive said. “Jackson seems to be the best prospect of the 3 and if could shoot, could be a Top 20 guy.”
PROJECTED NO. 1 PICK CADE CUNNINGHAM DROPS 40
The Oklahoma State freshman went for 40 points and 11 rebounds in the Cowboys’ 94-90 win over rival Oklahoma in the first of two Bedlam games.
Minnesota and Detroit own the NBA’s two worst records and are likely licking their lips at the prospect of landing the 6-7 point guard with the No. 1 overall pick.
“Teams like Minny and Detroit should not win another game and put themselves in a strong position to be No. 1,” one Western Conference executive told ZAGSBLOG.