— Repeat after me: It doesn’t matter who is ranked No. 1 in the polls. This isn’t college football. College basketball decides its national championship with a playoff system called the NCAA tournament. The best team will be the one that wins six games in the tournament.
Ohio State. Texas. Kansas. Pittsburgh. Duke. Sure, the debate is fun. But nobody will care by the time we get to the Final Four in Houston. Trust the system. Now, it’s time to answer some questions.
A: Arizona is a great story, Casey, and a win over Washington on Saturday would be huge for the Wildcats. I cannot see Arizona entering the tournament with a No. 2 seed, however.
Beating Washington would give Arizona two victories over teams in the RPI 1-50 range. The other came against UCLA. The Wildcats have five more wins in the 51-100 range, but there are just too many teams with more impressive resumes ahead of the Wildcats. When you look at the entire body of work, you can’t elevate Arizona into the tournament’s top eight.
Sean Miller has done a great job turning this program around quickly and I love watching Derrick Williams play. I was impressed with the way Arizona played in that loss to Kansas back in November. Even though they lost that game, I think the Wildcats picked up a lot of confidence. Now they are finishing strong.
Right now, I’d have Arizona holding a 5 seed. A win over Washington might make the Wildcats a real solid 4 seed, if they take care of business the rest of the way.
A: Not sure what you mean by the word “believer.” Do I think Kansas can win the national championship? Yes, if they are healthy and play their best basketball for six games. I don’t think Kansas should have been ranked No. 1 this week. Voters who automatically move teams up are doing fans a disservice. I no longer vote in the AP poll. If I did, I would have left Ohio State on top, even after the loss to Wisconsin. That’s irrelevant. As I said in the introduction, the polls don’t mean a thing in college basketball. They’re just there for fun.
When I saw the quote from Marcus Morris saying he wanted that No. 1 chip on his shoulder, I knew the Jayhawks wouldn’t be ready to play in Manhattan just hours after the release of the polls. The Morris twins are very talented and give Kansas a unique matchup problem on the floor. They still haven’t matured into the type of leaders a team needs to win a championship. The body language from the Jayhawks on Monday night indicated they thought they could waltz into Bramlage Coliseum and win because they were ranked No. 1 and they had routed K-State in Lawrence. I can’t understand a team not being ready to play in that situation. Kansas should have been pumped up at the first sight of purple.
The Wildcats needed a victory in the worst way, and the Jayhawks didn’t seem to recognize that. Big mistake. You could say Kansas was ripe for a loss because of injuries and the fact they were on the road against their in-state rivals. The Jayhawks should have realized they needed their “A game” on the road. That’s the rule in college basketball now. The Morris twins have been warned about their mental meltdowns, the elbows, the intentional fouls and the incredulous looks at officials. If they don’t grow up and stop their foolish behavior, the Jayhawks will pay the price in March. Bill Self has done so much for these brothers. It’s time they paid him back by doing the right thing.
But that goes much deeper than the loss to K-State. It’s silly to overreact to one game. On Feb. 23, 2008 the Jayhawks looked horrible in a loss to Oklahoma State. They won the next 13 games and beat Memphis for the national championship. It could happen again.
A: The Gators are building a strong resume for the tournament. Billy Donovan’s team has emerged as the team to beat in the SEC. Florida has a two-game lead over Vanderbilt in the SEC East and Kentucky is three games behind. Led by Chandler Parsons, Ervin Walker, Kenny Boynton and Vernon Macklin, the Gators have won four straight and seven of eight.
Right now, David, Florida looks like a team that should reach the Sweet 16. More than ever, the tournament should be wide open. Anything could happen this season. I’d give the Gators a No. 3 seed. But closing out the regular season against Georgia, at Kentucky, against Alabama, and at Vanderbilt could change that dramatically — in either direction.
A: He has done a terrific job. Rice was a great hire for Rutgers, and in this first season you’ve got to look at the big picture, not just a 13-12 record that includes a 4-9 mark in the Big East. Fans can point to Steve Lavin at St. John’s and say he has had a bigger impact, but that’s not fair. Lavin inherited 10 seniors, a group of guys starving for success and driven to reach the NCAA tournament.
Rice knew when he was hired it wasn’t a quick fix at Rutgers. But the Scarlet Knights have a huge victory over Villanova (in a game with a strange and controversial ending) and came close to upsetting Pitt. They have beaten Providence, South Florida and Seton Hall. With games remaining against West Virginia, DePaul and Providence, there’s a chance to pick up more victories. The fan base seems fired up, and the RAC has been hopping again.
The best news for Rutgers fans is that Rice put together a recruiting class ranked No. 15 in the nation by ESPNU's recruiting site. That class is led by point guard Myles Mack (Paterson, N.J.) and includes power forward Kadeem Jack (Queens, N.Y.).
Rice played at Fordham and was an assistant coach at St. Joseph’s and Pittsburgh before moving on to Robert Morris, where he won 73 games the past three seasons. He built a lot of recruiting relationships along the way, especially when he worked with the Hoop Group and when he served as director of the Eastern Invitational Basketball Camp. Rice and his staff have been well received. If that continues, you’ve got to figure brighter days are ahead at Rutgers. It’s long overdue.