Two weeks left and counting the questions
We've seen buzzer-beaters and bounce-backs, quick wins and endless overtimes, stars emerge and old favorites stand out.
Oh, and there's that revolving door at No. 1.
One thing (we think) we know about this college basketball season thus far: It's been a weird combination of frenetic, fascinating, frustrating and fun.
One question going forward: With only two weeks left in the regular season, what fantastic thing is going to happen next? And after that?
Here's a quick conference reset, as teams make their final push toward the postseason:ACC
One thing (we think) we know: Miami has been a heckuva story.
OK, it would've been a better tale for UM fans had the second-ranked Canes not gotten stomped at Wake Forest on Saturday and stayed undefeated in league play. But they still boast experience (what other teams have so many juniors and senior these days?), a savvy coach in Jim Larranaga and a fun-to-watch point guard in Shane Larkin. Oh, and they still have a rematch next weekend at Duke, the team the Canes beat by 27 points last month. Currently, Miami has a 2.5-game cushion in the conference standings.
One question: Who is the ACC Player of the Year?
The preseason pick by the coaches and media was NC State's C.J. Leslie, but he had as many turnovers as points (six) at UNC on Saturday and has two teammates (Lorenzo Brown and Richard Howell) who have legitimate cases for first-team All-ACC votes, as well. There's Larkin, the guy who makes the squad at the top of the standings go. There's Duke's Mason Plumlee, one of the top big men in America. And don't forget about Virginia Tech guard Erick Green; he stars on the last-place team in the league but is the highest scorer in the nation. This will be an interesting vote.BIG TEN
One thing (we think) we know: If your remote was stuck on one conference this season, it should have been -- and still should be -- this one.
It seems somewhat unfair to the standings that Indiana and Michigan State and Michigan and Wisconsin and Ohio State and Illinois and Minnesota have all had to constantly beat up on each other. But aren't we lucky they did? The top-ranked Hoosiers' down-to-the-wire win over the No. 4 Spartans was just the latest example of eye-widening plays in a game worth of an immediate replay. And it's not over yet.
One question: Can Indiana win it all?
The Hoosiers have depth, balance, leadership and an improved defense. And who else has two legitimate National Player of the Year candidates in their starting five? Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo make for a potent outside-inside punch -- and as mentioned above, they've been battle tested. Right now, they hold a one-game lead in the conference standings and a No. 1 seed in Joe Lunardi's Bracketology.BIG 12
One thing (we think) we know: Kansas, yet again, looks like the best of the bunch.
After nearly falling out of the league title picture (insert gasp here) earlier this month with three straight losses -- versus Oklahoma State, at TCU and at Oklahoma -- the ninth-ranked Jayhawks are tied for first place again in the conference after winning four straight games (including outlasting the Cowboys in double-overtime). The toughest matchup left en route to their ninth straight Big 12 title: at Iowa State on Monday night.
One question: Can Kansas State make the Jayhawks share the league crown?
Why, yes. By winning out, the Wildcats could claim a share of the conference title since winning the old Big Eight crown in 1977 (they're currently tied with the Jayhawks, who swept the series this season). K-State's last four games are against Texas Tech, at Baylor, versus TCU and at No. 14 Oklahoma State (which is now a full game behind first place). The Wildcats' best finish in the Big 12, thus far, was a tie for second in 2010.SEC
One thing (we think) we know: Florida and Missouri are in.
The NCAA tournament, that is. The fifth-ranked Gators, despite their recent loss to the Tigers, moved back up to a No. 1 seed in Lunardi's Bracketology on Saturday night, and Missouri was projected a No. 8 seed as of Friday.
Of course, Mizzou's seeding was before it lost in overtime to Kentucky on Saturday, so stay tuned.
One question: Who (if anyone) else will join them in the field of 68?
Lunardi had Ole Miss as a No. 12 seed prior to Saturday's blowout win against Auburn; and UK moved back into the "Last Four In" category after Saturday's victory. But the Rebels still have lost five of eight, and Kentucky has lost star forward Nerlens Noel to injury, so those bubbles still look awfully slippery. Tennessee has now won five straight, while it took LSU three overtimes to halt Alabama's four-game win streak.
All this to say: Wouldn't it be interesting if someone besides Florida won the league tournament and automatic bid? In this crazy league, that would be fitting this season.PAC-12
What (we think) we know: Cal is hot.
The Golden Bears have won seven of their past eight games, including one against then-No. 7 Arizona and two over ranked Oregon, and have played their way into the NCAA tournament conversation. Perhaps we shouldn't have expected anything else from an entertaining conference in which three-fourths of the teams can beat each other on any given day. No wonder it still has a half-dozen teams (including the Bears) still in contention for the regular-season league title.
One question: Can Oregon hold on?
The Ducks dropped three of four when they first lost guard Dominic Artis to a foot injury but have improved since, winning four of five to sit atop the league standings. Plenty of teams are within striking distance, but No. 23 Oregon has the most favorable schedule of the bunch, with Oregon State at home and road games at Colorado and Utah left.
One thing (we think) we know: No. 16 New Mexico has this league wrapped up.
Kendall Williams scored 46 points on Saturday to make sure of it, hitting an MWC record 10 3-pointers to beat No. 21 Colorado State and giving his squad a commanding two-game league lead.
One question: What is up with UNLV?
Well, after going through a weird stretch in early February in which they lost three of four games -- and to teams in the lower part of the league standings, to boot -- it looks like the Rebels may be running back on track, winning three straight (including a close one over Colorado State). With Anthony Bennett, Anthony Marshall, Mike Moser and Khem Birch, UNLV has the horsepower to make things interesting in March. But it first must close out strong against three teams it should beat to complete the regular season.BIG EAST
One thing (we think) we know: It's a shame that Saturday marked perhaps the final Syracuse-Georgetown showdown at the Carrier Dome.
With the Orange leaving this summer for the ACC, the Hoyas won another gripping installment of two of the Big East's founding members, 57-46. This time around, the Hoyas' Otto Porter (33 points) starred while fans and reporters waxed nostalgic. The teams have one more regular-season rematch at Georgetown, and Cuse coach Jim Boeheim said he hoped it's not the end, leaving the door cracked for future nonconference matchups. It's hard to believe, though, that it would ever be quite the same.
One question: Should John Thompson III be getting some National Coach of the Year buzz?
If the Hoyas, currently atop the Big East, win it, then yes. Georgetown has won 10 in a row (three against Top 25 teams), and Thompson has done a noteworthy job of rebuilding after losing his top three scorers from last season, and then adjusting after losing second leading scorer and leading rebounder Greg Whittington in December.ATLANTIC 10
One thing (we think) we know: Butler might be the best clutch shooting team in the country.
The Bulldogs are 3-1 on last-second shots this season, with wins against Marquette, Indiana and Gonzaga and a loss at La Salle. All three winners came from different players, which could make things interesting (and be a down-to-the-wire advantage) if games get tight come March.
One question: Who are the Saint Louis Billikens?
Thus far, they're a team that has won nine in a row and is perched atop the A-10 standings after recent back-to-back wins over No. 15 Butler and No. 24 VCU. Saint Louis has four victories against Top 25 teams this season, is led by junior forward Dwayne Evans and senior guard Cody Ellis, was a No. 9 in Lunardi's projections as of Friday, and could be one of those teams you find advancing in your bracket a few weeks from now.
Observations from Saturday's games
• Every time I post something on Twitter about how impressed I am with the Memphis Tigers, the responses are always the same. They play in a weak league. Who have they beaten? Just wait until the NCAA tournament. Something tells me the folks saying these things haven't watched Memphis play in recent weeks.
Saturday's 89-73 victory over Southern Miss marked the 18th straight win for Josh Pastner's squad. That's impressive no matter what league you're in. Yes, I realize Conference USA doesn't offer up the best competition, but Southern Miss -- an NCAA tournament team a year ago -- is still darn good. So is Central Florida, which features one of the better forwards in the country in Keith Clanton.
Neither of those teams has come close to beating Memphis, which is 24-3 overall and 13-0 in league play. Talent has never been an issue for the Tigers, but lately, they've also looked extremely well-coached. Great ball movement, good shot selection, selfless play, tons of energy. Tell me, what's not to like? I'm not ready to peg Memphis as a Final Four team, but I'll be disappointed if it doesn't make it to the Sweet 16. -- Jason King
• Kentucky stepped up in the most important game of its season. Prior to Saturday's Missouri-Kentucky matchup, the SEC had already completed multiple exciting games earlier in the day. LSU beat Alabama in triple overtime. Georgia defeated South Carolina in overtime. And Tennessee outplayed Texas A&M in quadruple overtime. But Kentucky and Missouri delivered in the conference's most significant matchup. After losing Nerlens Noel to a season-ending knee injury, the Wildcats lost to Tennessee by 30 points. Season over, right?
I mean, that team competed like a team that just wanted the season to end. Kentucky didn't do anything that a squad should do when it's trying to convince the selection committee that it's worthy of an NCAA tournament bid. I had no faith in this group. The Wildcats, however, silenced some of their critics with their overtime win against Missouri at Rupp Arena on Saturday. The 90-83 victory might help UK get into the field of 68 -- and the Cats might have changed the trajectory of their entire season with the gutsy win.
Julius Mays led the Wildcats (four reached double figures) with 24 points. By the end of the game, he could barely walk. Kentucky had earned that exhaustion. Missouri, meanwhile, earned criticism. More criticism. Once again, the Tigers collapsed on the road. They were up by 13 points in the first half, and then they unraveled. They always do outside Columbia, it seems. Phil Pressey's costly turnover with 48 seconds remaining in overtime summed up Mizzou's entire season: talent marred by mistakes and chemistry issues. In the end, a Tigers team comprised of veterans lost to a group of raw youngsters which graduated from high school a year ago. Give Kentucky credit. Doubt the Tigers. -- Myron Medcalf
• Stick a fork in Baylor. The Bears are done. Scott Drew's squad was embarrassed in a 90-76 loss at Oklahoma on Saturday. Or, heck, maybe they didn't feel embarrassed at all. For the past few weeks, the Bears -- who trailed 47-21 at halftime Saturday -- have hardly seemed like they care. Baylor has now lost six of its past eight games. Drew's team is 7-7 in league play but only 1-7 against teams in the top five of the Big 12 standings.
The Bears aren't going to make the NCAA tournament, which is inexcusable for a squad that features the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year in Pierre Jackson -- who leads the conference in scoring and assists -- along with future lottery pick Isaiah Austin and one of the nation's premier 3-point shooters in Brady Heslip.
Sure, the Bears lost three players from last year's Elite Eight squad to the NBA draft. But there are still enough pieces on this roster to have significant success during a somewhat down year for the Big 12. -- Jason King
• Health will be Florida's top concern in March. The Gators proved that they're still a high-powered team when they bullied Arkansas 71-54 on Saturday. Florida's loss to Missouri -- and an earlier loss at Arkansas -- sparked questions about Billy Donovan's program, but the Gators have been one of the nation's most dominant teams all season. And their successes outweigh their stumbles.
In March, they're not going to run into many teams that can handle their backcourt and Patric Young (14 points, 7 rebounds and a block on Saturday).
What about their health? Michael Frazier II suffered a concussion in the victory over the Razorbacks. Erik Murphy tweaked an ankle this week. Will Yeguete is out with a knee injury. Donovan's program hasn't been 100 percent in a long time.
That's a concern now and as March Madness approaches. A healthy Gators team can contend with any program in the country. There will be less certainty, however, if Florida enters the NCAA tournament at anything less than 100 percent. -- Myron Medcalf
To read more Saturday observations from Jason King and Myron Medcalf, click here.
POW: Otto Porter, Kendall Williams
Team of the week: Saint Louis
The Billikens had quite a week, pounding VCU at home and then winning at Butler. With four games left to an emotional season, Saint Louis is in the driver's seat in the Atlantic 10.
Interim coach Jim Crews took over for the late Rick Majerus and has done an exceptional job in keeping Majerus' mission alive with SLU playing tremendous defense and unselfish offense.
Saint Louis should have been picked to win the league, but because of Majerus' death, there was a sense that SLU couldn't get it done. But the Billikens have been as locked in as any team recently. The only setback was Kwamain Mitchell's injury. Once he returned, the Billikens rolled, and they'll be one of the toughest teams to knock out in the NCAA tournament. That doesn't mean they'll get to Atlanta, but this team has the defense, offensive commitment and emotion behind it to go on a magical ride in March.
Five other teams of note:
Indiana: The Hoosiers had one game last week, a win at Michigan State. The win gave the Hoosiers a sweep of Michigan State and put them in position to win the Big Ten regular-season title outright. The victory also showcased Victor Oladipo, fresh off an ankle injury, as the potential player of the year. Oladipo had a big impact on the game in a variety of ways once again and made the plays that mattered most for the Hoosiers.
Kansas: The Jayhawks won an overtime game at Oklahoma State to stave off the Cowboys' attempt to gain the edge in the Big 12 race (Kansas lost to OSU in Lawrence earlier this season). Kansas then destroyed TCU and is clearly the team to beat once again in the league.
Cal: The Bears swept the Oregon schools, surviving late charges by both the Ducks and Beavers. Both games came down to the last possession. Justin Cobbs hit the game winner at Oregon, and then the Bears defended Ahmad Starks well on a runner that could have won the game for the Beavers. The Bears are still in contention to win the Pac-12 after winning at Arizona and beating Oregon twice.
Villanova: The Wildcats will find a way into the NCAAs after looking dreadful at times earlier in the season. Villanova has once again knocked off a ranked Big East team at home by taking down Marquette (and beating Rutgers earlier in the week). Villanova has wins over Syracuse, Louisville and Marquette at home. No need to see more.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels re-established themselves as a team of note with a sweep of games at Georgia Tech and over NC State. The small ball of Carolina is working quite well. North Carolina is going to make the NCAA tournament and be an intriguing team in Round 1 and possibly Round 2.
1. Missouri's Phil Pressey is maddening to watch. For 90 percent of most games, he looks like the top point guard in America. There are a lot of good point guards this season, but Pressey is the only one who has "wow" moments, when he does something so phenomenal that you can't help but drop your jaw as you envision him playing in the NBA. Still, Pressey has crumbled down the stretch this season more times than I can count. His decision-making at the end of close games has been dreadful -- and it's only getting worse. He took two awful 3s in the waning minutes of both regulation and overtime in Saturday's loss at Kentucky. He missed the first one and got caught in the air on the second. In some ways, you could say Pressey is directly responsible for losses at Kentucky, Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU. He's just not good under pressure.
2. Steve Alford doesn't get enough credit. If New Mexico goes on to win the Mountain West Conference title -- it has a two-game lead over Colorado State -- the Lobos will have won four of the past five regular-season championships. That's an impressive feat in any league, but especially in one as deep and competitive as the MWC.
3. Murray State point guard Isaiah Canaan won't earn All-American honors as predicted, but his play certainly hasn't dipped from last season. Canaan is averaging career highs in points (21.2), assists (4.2) and steals (1.5). His field goal percentage has dropped from 46.8 percent last season to 43.2 percent this season. But he's facing even more pressure than he did a year ago. Murray State is 20-7 overall and 10-4 in the Ohio Valley Conference, which is why Canaan, a senior, hasn't received as much hype as he did a year ago, when the Racers entered the NCAA tournament with a 31-1 record.
Three things I learned
1. Otto Porter is a national player of the year candidate. We probably shouldn't have to say this. Porter has been on pretty much everyone's radar since the start of the season, when in games against Indiana and UCLA at Madison Square Garden, he showed he was able to be not only Georgetown's best rangy defender but a focal point of its offense. But people have slept on Porter, particularly recently. However, since teammate Greg Whittington was ruled academically ineligible in early January, Porter has been playing the best basketball of his career, and some of the best by anyone not named Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke or Cody Zeller. Since Whittington's departure, Georgetown hasn't lost a step. Indeed, it's improved, in large part because Porter has been more efficient in a larger role. After his 33 points, eight rebounds and five steals in Saturday's 57-46 series-ending win at Syracuse -- a game which lasted just 59 possessions, mind you -- it will be impossible to sleep on Porter now.
2. Kentucky's not dead yet. The Wildcats are far from safe as it pertains to the NCAA tournament. If they're in, they're barely in. And Missouri is far from unbeatable, particularly on the road. But you have to give those young Wildcats some credit for not totally coming apart at the seams following the loss of Nerlens Noel. In that 30-point loss at Tennessee, it appeared that was exactly what the Wildcats would do. And they didn't look much better at home against Vanderbilt. But the Wildcats held on for that overtime win against Missouri on Saturday night, which is exactly what they needed to stay in the hunt for postseason play.
3. Cal is on its way to the tournament. The Bears were a mostly uninspiring group for much of the season, but Allen Crabbe and company have really come along lately. On Saturday, their 60-59 win at Oregon State was their fifth in a row, a streak that began with a win at Arizona and has included a home win over UCLA and a road win at Oregon. The win in Corvallis isn't exactly marquee, but the survival of what would have been a horrible loss Saturday keeps Cal's tournament résumé looking clean -- and worthy.
This week's starting five
Kendall Williams (New Mexico): The 6-foot-4 guard dropped 46 points during a 91-82 win at No. 22 Colorado State on Saturday. He went 10-for-13 from the 3-point line, a Mountain West Conference record. It was the third consecutive win for the No. 16 Lobos, who are now two games ahead of the Rams in the MWC race.
C.J. Harris (Wake Forest): He finished with a game-high 23 points in his team's 80-65 upset over No. 2 Miami on Saturday. Harris shot 7-for-13 from the field and 5-for-5 from beyond the arc in Miami's first conference loss of the season. The senior, along with Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre, cracked double figures in the win.
Chavaughn Lewis (Marist): The sophomore guard/forward finished with 30 points, 16 rebounds, six assists, five steals and a block in a 112-74 win over VMI on Saturday. He's the first Division I player to achieve that stat line since the 1996-97 campaign, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Otto Porter (Georgetown): In the last Big East matchup between No. 8 Syracuse and No. 11 Georgetown at the Carrier Dome, the sophomore put up the following ridiculous numbers: 33 points (career high), eight rebounds, five steals and two assists in a 57-46 win. He was 12-for-19 from the field. Now, the Hoyas stand alone atop the conference. Porter also had 11 points in Wednesday's 90-66 win over DePaul.
Christian Williams (Jackson State): The 6-1 guard scored 44 points in a 90-71 win at Mississippi Valley State on Saturday. It was the best offensive performance by a SWAC player in seven years, according to ESPN Stats & Info. He went 13-for-16 from the field and 7-for-8 from beyond the arc. He didn't miss a free throw (11-for-11), and he also recorded three steals.
Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary's): 19 points (5-for-10 from beyond the arc), six rebounds and five assists in a 74-66 win over Creighton on Saturday; 20 points in a 64-57 win over BYU on Thursday.
Kevin Parrom (Arizona): 19 points (5-for-6 from beyond the arc) and seven assists in 73-56 win over Washington State on Saturday.
Darrun Hilliard (Villanova): 22 points (3-for-5 from beyond the arc) and three steals in a 60-56 win over No. 17 Marquette on Saturday; 14 points and three steals in a 71-63 victory over Rutgers on Monday.
Trae Golden (Tennessee): 32 points, six rebounds and four assists in Tennessee's 93-85 quadruple-overtime win at Texas A&M on Saturday; 20 points and eight assists in an 82-72 victory over LSU on Tuesday.
Joe Efese (Central Connecticut State): 21 points, six rebounds and eight blocks off the bench in an 80-72 win at Sacred Heart on Saturday.