Oklahoma State, Virginia Rise; Villanova stumbles
The high point in March is the target of the men’s college basketball teams. In a season of bizarre planning and difficult rhythmic dynamics due to COVID-19, the best scenario in a week from Selection Sunday is to be a late team.
Enter the state of Oklahoma.
The Cowboys (18-7, 11-7 Big 12) sent West Virginia 85-80 out on the streets Saturday to continue their late fall for strong NCAA tournament seeding. The most compelling part? They did it without their best player. Scheduled number 1 in the NBA draft, Cade Cunningham rolled his left ankle in Thursday’s loss to Baylor but is expected to be back for the Big 12 tournament next week.
In the past few weeks – largely behind Cunningham’s exploits – the OSU has moved from a planned # 7 seed to a # 4 seed in the latest USA TODAY Sports Bracketology. After another win in Quadrant 1 (Top 25 Home, Top 75 Street), the Cowboys could be # 3 in the mix for a seed.
Many teams like Oklahoma State have been late in the season due to COVID-19 challenges after discovering team identities late in the season. This group includes the Duke and Michigan State bubble teams. But how the OSU has thrived and has won 6-1 since mid-February.
Although the NCAA received a year-long postseason ban on penalties for former assistant Lamont Evans in June, the delay in the OSU’s response to the OSU’s appeal means the Cowboys will play in the March madness – where they will be one of the most dangerous teams be in the country.
Oklahoma State. With the decisive win over West Virginia without Cunningham and his colleague Isaac Likekele, the state of Oklahoma has now won six out of seven, with its only loss to the Big 12 regular season champions, Baylor, during that time. The cowboys portfolio is getting more and more impressive. You now have eight Quad-1 wins, a top 30 NET score, and a top 10 strength of the schedule.
Illinois. The Fighting Illinois (20-6, 16-4) are on the inside track to secure number 1 on Selection Sunday thanks to a 73-68 win over the state of Ohio. The win was a revenge for the January 16 loss to the Buckeyes and showed that Illinois was able to keep OSU goalless for the final 3 1/2 minutes of the game.
Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers (23-4, 16-2 Missouri Valley) are well positioned to receive a general bid in the event they lose the Missouri Valley automatic bid. After beating Indiana State 65:49 in the Missouri Valley Conference semifinals, Loyola is now in the No. 8 or No. 9 seed area. Coach Porter Moser has another dangerous team this March. While this group of walkers may not be as offensively gifted as their 2018 Final Four roster, they are exceptional on defense – they lead the nation with 55.4 points allowed.
Alabama. The Crimson Tide (21-6, 16-2 SEC) finished the regular season strong as the SEC champion and set a school record with 16 conference wins by posting Georgia 89-79. Jaden Shackelford normally carries this team, but Jahvon Quinerly went up and down the bench with 18 points. Coach Nate Oats’ team still has an outside chance to land a # 1 seed, but is currently sitting in a comfortable 2nd place.
Southern California. The Trojans (21-6, 15-5 Pac-12) defeated rivals UCLA in the last few seconds thanks to a game-winning three-pointer from Tahj Eaddy. The win likely pushes USC from a planned number 5 to a number 4. Trainer Andy Enfield has a group that could be dangerous in March.
Creighton. The Bluejays (18-7, 14-6 Big East) took two straight wins in a bad week with coach Greg McDermott being banned after apologizing to his team for using racially insensitive comments. A 93-73 win over a mediocre Butler team is a step in the right direction. Creighton is positioned to receive a # 6 seed and could build that up into a # 5 or # 4 seed by going all the way in a Big East tournament that will be wide open.
Virginia. The Cavaliers (17-6, 13-4 ACC) started the day as a projected No. 5 seed and are close enough to be a No. 1 with a 68-58 win over Louisville in the ACC final that gave them the award 4. To achieve the regular season title. While the conference was canceled that year, Virginia was at the forefront. After three straight defeats, coach Tony Bennett’s group has beaten Miami and now Louisville. A deep ACC tournament run could mean the difference between a surprise or a first-round promotion.
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Villanova. The Wildcats (16-4, 11-3 Big East) fell to Providence 54-52 with an MCL tear just days after losing their best player, Collin Gillespie, for the season with an MCL rift. While Villanova will continue to claim the Big East regular season title, that defeat hurts Coach Jay Wright’s team in the seeding of the NCAA tournament, as does the loss of Gillespie. If you enter the day as seed # 3, there is a chance that this group will slide down to seed # 4.
Ohio State. The Buckeyes (18-8, 12-8) are staggering this March. They lost four times in a row when they lost to Illinois as the teams battled for the final number one. OSU didn’t shoot the ball well and that is largely a reason for the slipping hazard. Usually the Buckeyes were a strong three-point shooting team. In the previous loss to Iowa, they were 9:29 against Illinois and 5:17.
Florida State. The Seminoles (15-5, 11-4 ACC) were well on their way to winning the ACC title in the regular season but then lost to the mediocre ACC team Notre Dame 83-73, giving Virginia his win could finally win over Louisville. Coach Leonard Hamilton’s team started the day as a planned number 3 in bracketology but will likely drop to number 4 now.
West Virginia. The climbers lost to an exhausted team from the state of Oklahoma without the best player. So that’s not a good sign for coach Bob Huggins’ group. The WVU couldn’t stay ahead of the Cowboys ‘Avery Anderson III (31 points) and while this is one of the Huggins’ most talented offensive teams, defensive discipline is not as high as it has been in the past at Morgantown.
Missouri. The Tigers (15-8, 8-8 Big 12) had a big win against Florida earlier this week, but failed to capitalize on that momentum in an 86-80 loss to LSU. After a strong start to the season, coach Cuonzo Martin’s group has been relatively inconsistent as they have lost five of the last seven. That will likely show up in the Seeding Lines on Selection Sunday. Missouri is a No. 6 projected seed based on a rough February and early March. It seems like so long ago that Mizzou was one of the top 16 teams in the NCAA’s top 4 seeds a month ago.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson