What’s that racket? We’re one month from brackets. It’s time to dive into college hoops

Here are 10 items to get you caught up on the season.

SHARE What’s that racket? We’re one month from brackets. It’s time to dive into college hoops
Purdue v Indiana

Purdue’s Zach Edey and Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis battle in a February game won by the Hoosiers.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Welcome to college basketball’s final four!

The number of weeks until Selection Sunday, that is.

This is your cue to get up to speed on the college season if you aren’t already.

Football ends Sunday, so no more of that. Watching the Bulls, who stood pat at the NBA trade deadline, is as enjoyable as pruning one’s nose hairs with a bolt cutter. If you ripped out a tooth every time the Blackhawks scored a goal, you still would be ordering steak into April.

But college basketball is all ramped up and ready to entertain. A lot of sports fans in a pro town such as this one treat college sports fans like 1950s TV dads treat their offspring, which is to say they roundly ignore them until further doing so would be an unconscionable dereliction of duty. That’s you right now — or some of you, anyway — in regard to college hoops. You’ve been only vaguely aware of the season until now, but it’s time to put down the dang newspaper and engage with what’s right in front of you.

That was a terrible way to put it. Please keep reading. Here are 10 items to catch you up:

1. Good — maybe not great — at the top: Purdue has the best player in the land in 7-4 center Zach Edey, but the rest of the Boilermakers are standard-issue Big Ten. Houston is reminiscent of Baylor’s tough-as-nails national-title team of two seasons ago, but a slightly lesser version. Alabama is a football school. Arizona’s rebuilt squad probably isn’t quite as strong as its 2022 version, which crapped out in the Sweet 16.

Those are the top four squads in the country this week. None of them should be viewed as the team to beat because there really isn’t one.

2. A half-dozen of the others: Regardless of where they’re ranked at this point, UCLA, Kansas, Baylor, UConn, Creighton and even far-from-its-best-self Gonzaga are teams that could step on the gas and eventually pass everybody.

3. Blue-hoo bloods: North Carolina brought back nearly everyone from a national-runner-up squad and has been a spectacular failure, lucky to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Kentucky is a dusty shell of its former self, too. Villanova is below .500 after making 16 of the last 17 tournaments under Jay Wright, who’s now retired. Duke is a No. 7 seed in ESPN’s latest bracket, worse off than it has entered a Big Dance since 1996. And Gonzaga is looking up at Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference, in real danger of not winning it for only the second time in the last 22 seasons.

North Carolina v Duke

Armando Bacot and preseason No. 1 North Carolina have struggled all season.

Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

4. The same-old-big thing: A bunch of the best interior stars from last season came back to school rather than pursue NBA opportunities, and the results have been underwhelming. Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and North Carolina’s Armando Bacot haven’t stopped their teams from getting worse. Hunter Dickinson hasn’t been able to lift Michigan out of the muck. Led by Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana has gotten better but not dramatically so.

5. Edey’s ceiling:His trajectory as a college player has been astonishing, whether the NBA values him as a major prospect or not. But can Edey carry a team like Danny Manning carried Kansas in 1988, like Glen Rice carried Michigan in 1989, like Carmelo Anthony carried Syracuse in 2003, like Kemba Walker carried UConn in 2011? In other words, not stopping until confetti is dropping? It will be fascinating to find out.

6. What a beast: Even with Villanova down, the Big East is surging. Even with forward Zach Freemantle on the shelf for at least the rest of the month, Xavier is legit. So is Marquette. So is Providence. Creighton is playing better than any of them, and UConn was, as recently as January, getting No. 1 votes. And don’t get us started on DePaul. . . . No, really, don’t.

Texas v Kansas

Defending champion Kansas and Texas are the top heavyweights in a stacked Big 12.

Photo by Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

7. But not the best:The Big East arguably has surpassed the SEC as the second-finest conference this season, but the Big 12 is still No. 1 by a mile. It has the last two national champs — Baylor and Kansas — in contention and No. 5-ranked Texas leading an absurdly challenging race. The Longhorns are being coached on an interim basis by Rodney Terry, who stepped up when Chris Beard was fired amid felony domestic-violence charges.

8. Little engines that can: Four smaller-school teams that nobody with any sense will want a piece of down the line are Florida Atlantic, Charleston, Oral Roberts and Kent State. OK, you’ve been warned.

9. The Houston angle: LSU won the college football title in New Orleans a few years back. Then the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in Tampa a year later, and the Rams won it in Southern California a year after that. Houston — with the Final Four in its city — could be a successor, of sorts, to those teams. For that matter, so could Texas, in a bit of a stretch (it’s a three-hour drive away). And what a story it would be.

10. A tantalizing two-fer: Yes, Illinois and Northwestern are headed for the NCAAs. If they don’t blow it. Which either or both could. But you won’t let that happen on your watch, will you? You’re too locked in now for that.

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