College Basketball Coverage: Sweet 16 Report

For most of the power conferences, this is the penultimate weekend of the regular season. For Gonzaga and other schools who start their league tournaments early for TV exposure, this weekend brings the curtain down on the regular schedule. If you want to build momentum, there’s no time to waste, so with that in mind TheSportsNotebook’s college basketball coverage continues its weekly breakdown of the top 16 teams in the country—how they’re playing in the present and what the immediate schedule holds.

No team’s present form is better than that of Georgetown. The Hoyas are a #2 seed in the projections of ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi and they’ve been steadily rising.  I don’t dispute Lunardi’s seed position, which is based on the overall body of work, but it’s hard to find a reason not like Georgetown as one of the best four teams in the nation.

In the past week, the Hoyas took first place in the Big East with an impressive 57-46 win in Syracuse. As the score indicates, it was a game where defense reigned, but Georgetown’s Otto Porter stepped up with a 33-point performance to be the difference-maker. I won’t call Wednesday’s 79-78 double OT win at UConn more impressive than winning in the Carrier Dome, but it was pretty impressive nonetheless. UConn’s a good team and because they are on probation, they have to make their statements in games like these. There was every reason to excuse Georgetown if they might have had an emotional letdown. The Hoyas were outrebounded in Storrs, but were more efficient in their three-point shooting, notably Markel Starks, and it was enough scrape out the win. Georgetown has what should be an easy home win over Rutgers on Saturday, then a road trip to Villanova on Wednesday.

Lunardi’s seed projections are updated as of Friday morning, so here’s a snapshot look at the other teams currently holding a Sweet 16 seed spot…

#1: Indiana, Gonzaga, Miami, Kansas: It’s a mark of how tough it is for teams to assert themselves that Miami can be a 1-seed after a week where they lost by fifteen at Wake Forest. The Hurricanes played lousy defense, suggesting a lack of focus and effort. They got back on the beam with an easy win over Virginia Tech, but the team I’m looking for a reason to pick to win the whole thing needs to give me something tomorrow night at Duke—the ‘Canes don’t have to win in Durham, but they can’t mail it in just because the ACC race is all but over.

Kansas has moved up to the top seed line and we took a closer look at the Jayhawks earlier this week, after their wild overtime win over Iowa State. KU hasn’t played since so everything in that article is current and they host West Virginia on Saturday.

Indiana showed why I can’t get excited about them as an elite team, getting beat up on the boards at Minnesota. Losing on the road to the Gophers—a good team who was desperate for a big win—is not the problem. It’s losing to them on a night Minnesota didn’t shoot particularly well and that has to concern Tom Crean.

As for Gonzaga, they won a tough game at BYU last night 70-65. This was another case of playing on the road against a reasonably decent and desperate team. You can give the Zags credit for winning in spite of going 6-for-30 from three-point range. Or you can wonder what the hell they were doing chucking thirty treys if they weren’t going in, instead of pounding it into center Kelly Olynyk. I wouldn’t fault if you took either tack.

#2: Duke, Louisville, Michigan State, Georgetown–This is absolutely nuts that Duke is still seeded this high and if they win at home against Miami, the Blue Devils probably go back to the top line. Has anyone watched this team play since ACC games began? The past week saw Duke play shaky defense against Boston College in a home win, then get pummeled on the glass at Virginia last night. The Dookies lost the UVA game 73-68, a score that’s deceptively close—it was never a game. Right now I like about 12-13 teams better than Coach K’s crew.

Michigan State continued to struggle with an eight-point loss at Ohio State last Sunday and they haven’t played since. Keith Appling is having problems with his shooting touch from the perimeter, leading me to believe that if the veteran guards gets his stroke back, Sparty will start winning. It has to come back quickly, because they’re in Ann Arbor to play Michigan on Sunday, then a home date with Wisconsin on Thursday.

Louisville coasted through Seton Hall and DePaul this week and now starts a challenging stretch drive, with a road date at Syracuse on Saturday, then a quick turnaround to play Cincinnati at home on Sunday. If we peek ahead to next weekend, the finale will be the rematch with Notre Dame, after those schools played the five-overtime epic in South Bend a couple weeks ago.

#3: Kansas State, Michigan, Florida, New Mexico–I promised I’d lighten up on the Lobos being seeded this high if they went out and beat Colorado State last Saturday. New Mexico did just that, winning 91-82 on the road and then beating San Diego State earlier this week. I guess I have to shut up about this 24-4 team being a 3-seed, but for the record I’m still not really sold on their merits for deep advancement. New Mexico needed a monster 46-point game from Kendall Williams to beat Colorado State in spite of being outrebounded and the Rams having better offensive balance. And the Lobos were also outrebounded by San Diego State—you know for a guy who promised to lighten up, I’m still knocking New Mexico aren’t I? Okay, let’s zip it.

Florida and Michigan both lost this week. Florida’s was understandable—they were on the road against an improving Tennessee team that might have played their way into the NCAA Tournament. And the Gators were missing three key role players to injury, all of whom will be back for Saturday’s game with Alabama. Michigan doesn’t have the same excuse. They lost to Penn State and committed 15 turnovers against a defense not known for its aggressive ferocity. The Wolverines are in a funk and need a game like the Sunday date with Michigan State to snap them out of it.

Kansas State is still tied with Kansas in the Big 12 race and has a big game at Baylor coming up on Saturday. The Wildcats took care of business admirably in gimme games against Texas and Texas Tech, shooting well and hitting the glass.

#4: Marquette, Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin—I live in southeastern Wisconsin, halfway between the campuses of Wisconsin and Marquette. And Wednesday night some friends and I posited that college basketball in our home state might be the home to the great overachievers. Seriously, who expected the Badgers and Golden Eagles to be a game out of first in their respective conferences at this point in the season? Granted, we’re biased—though in my case, the bias is only to Wisconsin, as I have no use for MU. This weekend, both teams host rivals from the state of Indiana—it’s Notre Dame-Marquette and Purdue-Wisconsin. And the Badgers have that big aforementioned battle at Michigan State coming up Thursday.

Syracuse and Arizona are both on the decline and need to snap out of it. Arizona has to be worried about their defense, which is shaky in a win over Washington State and awful in a loss to USC that may cost the Wildcats the Pac-12 title. Syracuse has to be worried they’re just not good enough, with losses to Georgetown and Marquette marring the week. The Orange and Wildcats bookend the Saturday schedule of marquee TV games—it starts with Syracuse-Louisville at noon ET on ESPN and ends with Arizona-UCLA in the prime-time showcase game at 9 PM ET.