Congratulations on making it through a difficult winter. Goodbye February. Hello March. It’s a month in which college basketball teams try to keep playing for as long as they can and millions follow their efforts. Even the casual NCAA basketball fan is aware that this year’s regular season has been filled with more parity, leading to more unpredictability, than any in recent memory. Sure, the top 10 in the national polls is still filled with traditionally powerful basketball schools: Duke; Indiana; Michigan State; Georgetown; Kansas. It is the losses by those in the top ten, in the top five really, that garner attention. A loss itself is not surprising. In fact, the last team to go through the season undefeated was Indiana in 1976, almost 40 years ago. What is remarkable is the manner in which these top teams are losing and to whom.
For instance, #1 Indiana, who has spent the most weeks at the top this season and may indeed be the best good team in the country, lost to an unranked Butler back in December. Forgivable, certainly, as Butler is pretty good and there is an in-state rivalry to consider. But what about #1 Duke losing by 27 (!) at Miami and later, again ranked #1, at an unranked Maryland. New #1 Louisville then registered three consecutive losses in January. Kansas took a turn at #1 and the Jayhawks promptly gave a bad TCU team (1-14 Big 12!) its first conference victory in nine attempts. There seems to be a pattern of unreliability here. The best team in the country losing three straight? Losing to another team by almost four touchdowns? Losing to a team yet to win a conference game? The best teams in the country routinely losing to the mediocre, even to some of the worst? Teams ranked in the top five have lost a remarkable total of 15 games in February alone. Just last week, #2 Miami was run out of the gym at unranked Wake Forest (5-10 ACC), and #4 Florida bowed at unranked Tennessee. The pattern emphatically reiterated itself this week. #1 Indiana fell at unranked Minnesota, #3 Duke was vanquished at unranked Virginia, and #4 Michigan sported Penn St. their first Big Ten victory (1-14!). No one is invinciable. Everyone is vulnerable. Gonzaga will likely be ranked #1 for the first time in school history next week. Welcome to March. The basketball alone will provide plenty of heat.