With the calendar shifting from February to March this weekend, college basketball is about to enter its most important part of the season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five things to watch out for in college basketball:
No. 1 How long will Wichita State stay undefeated for?
The Shockers are currently 30-0 and have one more game before the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. While they have not played a difficult non-conference schedule and they’re in an extremely weak conference, you can’t take away from the accomplishment that is winning 30 straight games. I think they will win their final game of the season on Saturday against Missouri State. The Shockers are clearly a capable team after their impressive run to the Final Four last season. Currently, ESPN’s Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has them as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. As it currently stands, I think the Shockers’ first loss will come against the winner of the four/five game between Cincinnati and Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which is currently projected.
No. 2 Doug McDermott’s finish to his historic career
The casual college basketball fan probably has no idea who McDermott is. They probably are only aware of the projected top picks in the 2014 NBA draft Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. McDermott is dominating the competition averaging 26 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. While it’s a weaker Big East conference than in years past, it’s still impressive that the Creighton Bluejays won the league title in their first season. McDermott is now 83 points away from scoring his 3,000th career point, which only seven people have done in college basketball history. Besides Syracuse, there’s no team I’d rather see make a run to the Final Four. In a time where people criticize players who stay in school for four years, let’s appreciate the spectacular career McDermott is finishing up and how good he has been for college basketball.
No. 3 Can Michigan State get healthy in time for the tournament?
All season the Spartans have had to deal with injuries to starters Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris and Keith Appling. Despite these injuries, they are currently 11-4 in the Big 10, which puts them in second place and have a 22-6 overall record. This is a testament to how great a coach Tom Izzo is. I know they have alternated wins and losses in their last ten games, but Izzo is a coach who always prepares his teams to be playing their best basketball when March rolls around. If everyone can get healthy then they’ll be one of the toughest teams to beat in March.
No. 4 Do any mid-majors have a chance of making a deep tournament run?
With conference realignment moving a lot of the more dominant mid-major teams into major conferences, the tournament will be filled with fewer teams from the so-called mid-major conferences. This will result in more teams from the major conferences being in the tournament and making deep runs. Of course, there will obviously be the Cinderella teams that make a run to the Sweet 16, which is what makes the tournament incredible.
No. 5 Who are the Final Four contenders?
Right now Florida is ranked No. 1 in the country with a 26-2 overall record and a 15-0 record in the SEC. Head Coach Billy Donovan is the most underrated coach in the country in my opinion because he’s had trouble recently getting past the Elite Eight, which is still a lot farther than many teams get.
Arizona hasn’t been the same team since Brandon Ashley was lost for the season with a torn ligament in his foot. The Wildcats definitely have a chance to make a deep tournament run, but I have trouble seeing it happen without Ashley.
After starting the season 25-0, Syracuse lost two games in a row before getting back on the winning side of things with a win at Maryland. Jerami Grant’s injured back is something to keep an eye on going forward, but the Orange certainly have the capability of cutting down the nets on April 7.
Kansas won the Big 12 regular season title for the 10th year in a row on Monday night and Wiggins is finally playing up to pre-season potential. I have a lot of trouble believing that the Jayhawks won’t be playing for a national title April 7.
After a rough stretch during the mid-point of the season, Duke has gotten its rhythm back. The Blue Devils’ offense has been superb and besides McDermott, there’s no better scorer in the country than Jabari Parker.
Louisville is hitting its stride at the right time and is more than capable of playing in this year’s Final Four. I believe Russ Smith has been the most underrated player in the country this season, averaging 17.5 points, 4.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game.
Lastly, as stated above, Michigan State and Wichita State both have the potential to be playing in Texas on April 5.