College basketball’s championship week is upon us and with Selection Sunday less than one week away, there’s much at stake for teams fighting for a trip to the NCAA tournament. Yet there’s also much on the line for teams trying to rekindle their swagger.
Here’s a look at five teams looking to get back on track during the pivotal week before NCAA bids are announced.
1. Kentucky: The Wildcats (22-9, 12-6) were No. 1 in the preseason USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll based on a recruiting class that had eight McDonald’s All-Americans. Kentucky probably will finish the regular season unranked after losing three of its last four and struggling to mature at the rate coach John Calipari would like. Julius Randle has been consistent, averaging a double-double. But the decision-making and production in the backcourt — namely Andrew and Aaron Harrison — has been suspect despite steady strides. A strong showing in the Southeastern Conference tournament could significantly boost the Wildcats’ résumé and confidence.
2. Syracuse: The Orange (27-4, 14-4) locked up a No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, but Jim Boeheim’s group has been under a microscope since its 25-0 start ended. Syracuse lost four of its last six, including two against teams below .500. Jerami Grant, who missed time nursing a back injury during the skid, has been a difference maker — evidenced by his 16 points and eight rebounds Sunday in a win at Florida State. Syracuse’s offense has been vulnerable much of the season, but with Grant in the lineup there’s less pressure on All-America candidates Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair. It also relieves pressure from long-range specialist Trevor Cooney. It probably will take an ACC tournament title to get a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
3. Michigan State: The Spartans (23-8, 12-6) were bit by the injury bug and it showed in February when MSU went 3-4 and slid out of consideration for a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But now that coach Tom Izzo has his starting lineup back — Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson and Keith Appling all fought through injuries — it’s a matter of chemistry. The Big Ten tournament is a perfect time to iron out the kinks.
4. Iowa: The Hawkeyes (20-11, 9-9) certainly aren’t playing their best brand of basketball, having lost five of their past six games, including a buzzer-beating at Illinois to close Big Ten regular-season play. Led by Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White, this veteran-laden team has a potent offense (sixth nationally in points a game) but its defense has been a different story (ranking 183rd nationally). Clearly, Iowa’s primary concern is confidence, and the Big Ten tournament could be a necessary springboard in avoiding an early exit in the NCAA tournament.
5. Saint Louis: The Billikens (26-5, 13-3) had their 19-game winning streak end Feb. 27 against Atlantic 10 bottom-feeder Duquesne en route to a three-game losing streak. Saint Louis held on to secure the A-10 regular-season title and won its final game of the regular season at Massachusetts. The secret to this experienced squad’s success has been playing smart and making key plays down the stretch. Saint Louis won’t dominate teams, but getting back to their winning ways in the Atlantic 10 tournament should be a top priority. Dwyane Evans and Jordair Jett are two players who could become March stars.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball