Bucket List: Kansas’ streak; Notre Dame’s upset bid; Coach K’s successor
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Thursday marked six weeks until the first full day of the NCAA Tournament. That’s roughly six weeks longer than I care to wait, but what the heck — it’ll be here before we know it. This week’s Bucket List: 10 observations on the college basketball season.
1. Go on, just try to name a better team streak on our sports landscape than Kansas’ 11 consecutive Big 12 regular-season championships. And you’d better think fast, because that streak is getting ready to end. Maybe.
The Jayhawks are 6-3 in league play this season, tied with Baylor and Texas behind Oklahoma and West Virginia, both of which are 7-2. That’s a serious snarl of traffic for Bill Self, his staff and their players to navigate. KU still has to go on the road and face three of those contenders, including the top-ranked Sooners. The whole situation screams “take the field.”
2. It’s impossible to top this season’s Big 12 race, but the Big Ten race —with Iowa and Indiana each at 9-1, and Maryland at 9-2 — is more dramatic than usual and getting better all the time. It’s shaping up to be the most exciting home stretch to the regular season since 2012, when Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan all finished 13-5, with Wisconsin a game behind them.
3. One way the Big Ten should have the 2011-2012 campaign beat is in NCAA Tournament seeding. Four Selection Sundays ago, Michigan State was named a No. 1 seed, and co-champs Ohio State and Michigan, as well as Wisconsin, were No. 4 seeds. The bracketology picture is more promising this year.
Iowa and Maryland still are powerfully in play for No. 1s. Michigan State, with its outstanding non-conference victories — and the allowances the selection committee will make for star Denzel Valentine’s earlier knee issues — could rise to the top line. Indiana has ground to gain, but the opportunity is there to do so. Same for Purdue.
Put another way: There’ll be at least two Big Ten teams with top-three seeds — book it.
4. Pretty convincing 79-70 victory for Miami over visiting Notre Dame on Wednesday, but remember this about the Irish — they’re 11-1 at home this season.
At 15-7 overall, they’ve got some résumé-building to do if they’re going to reach the NCAA tourney. That makes Saturday night’s home date with No. 2 North Carolina — with ESPN’s GameDay crew in the house — the game of the season for the Irish. Upset? I’m kind of feeling it.
5. By the way: Illinois 110, Rutgers 101? So much worse than it sounds.
6. Did you catch DePaul’s 77-70 upset of 11th-ranked Providence on Tuesday? Let’s not kid ourselves: No, you didn’t. And that’s the sad part about a great night for the ever-up-against-it Blue Demons. It was a “home” game at Allstate Arena, inasmuch as a DePaul game inside that soulless suburban edifice can even remotely be described as a home game.
Look, it’s not like I was there, either. But I read reports of DePaul’s players “storming” the stands because there weren’t enough students on hand to storm the court. Like I said, sad. But still a terrific victory.
7. Watched a VCU game from courtside during the Rams’ current 12-game winning streak. This team isn’t as talented as the one former coach Shaka Smart led to the Final Four, but it’s experienced, has a deadeye shooter in Melvin Johnson and, led by defensive-end-in-shorts Mo Alie-Cox, plays with unrelenting effort. Remember that when the time comes to fill out your tourney bracket.
8. Just a cool observation I stumbled into while perusing stats: Three of the top six scorers in the country — Howard’s James Daniel (No. 1, 27.5 points per game), Oakland’s Kahlil Felder (3, 25.6) and Ole Miss’ Stefan Moody (6, 23.5) — are sub-six-footers. And a fourth, Davidson’s Jack Gibbs (4, 25.5), is listed by the school at 6-0. You know what that absolutely never means? That a guy is a millimeter over 5-11, that’s what.
It’s the Season of the Shrimp.
9. Mike Krzyzewksi missed a game this week with an illness, a reminder that the 68-year-old living legend won’t coach Duke forever. Many have made a sport of speculating about who will replace Coach K in Durham.
Will it be current assistant Jeff Capel? Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins? Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski? Um, Northwestern’s Chris Collins? All played under Krzyzewski and have had success running programs.
For what it’s worth, I’m a Capel fan. He had a strong-four year run at VCU that got him the Oklahoma job. Helped by star Blake Griffin, he got the Sooners to an Elite Eight. And now he has had several seasons at Krzyzewski’s side, broadening his skills. He’d be my pick.
10. Yet you’d better believe Krzyzewski won’t want to miss the fun next season should bring. If I had to bet which team will be ranked No. 1 heading into the 2016-17 campaign, I’d bet on the Blue Devils. It sounds crazy, but — with Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum, the nation’s top two recruits, coming in — it could be Coach K’s most gifted team yet.