Getty Images

NCAA Tournament 2019: Instant Analysis South Region

2 Comments

The South Region is led by some top seeds who were bounced early in the NCAA tournament last season as Virginia and Tennessee look to redeem themselves after strong seasons.

The South Region is led by No. 1 seed Virginia. Following last season’s stunning loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round, the Cavaliers will get a chance to redeem themselves against No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb, the champions of the Big South.

The No. 8/9 matchup is a matchup between SEC and Big 12 as Ole Miss and Oklahoma battle. The Rebels were one of the most pleasant surprises of any team in the field this season while Oklahoma has won some games down the stretch to earn another bid.

Wisconsin draws the No. 5 seed as the Ethan Happ-led Badgers get a major test in No. 12 seed and Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon. Although the Ducks struggled during the regular season — particularly after the loss of star freshman Bol Bol — they’re a dangerous team with two recent wins over Washington.

ANALYSIS: East | South | West | Midwest

The No. 4 seed is Kansas State as they are still hoping to get senior forward Dean Wade (foot) healthy enough to play in the NCAA tournament after he missed all of last season’s Elite Eight run for the Wildcats. They’ll face No. 13 seed UC Irvine, the champions of the Big West.

Defending champion Villanova drew no favors from the committee with the No. 6 seed. There hasn’t been a No. 6 seed in the Final Four since 1992 as the Wildcats will have an uphill battle to make the Final Four for the third time in four years. They draw No. 11 seed Saint Mary’s as the Gaels gained a lot of momentum in winning the WCC title over No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Earning a surprising share of the Big Ten regular-season title this season, Purdue draws the No. 3 seed as they get a tough first-round opponent in No. 14 seed Old Dominion.

The committee also didn’t help No. 7 seed Cincinnati as the Bearcats had an impressive showing in an AAC title-game win over Houston on Sunday. The Bearcats will face No. 10 seed Iowa in a clash of styles and tempo.

After falling short in the SEC tournament title game, No. 2 seed Tennessee gets a matchup with No. 15 seed Colgate — a program making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years. Although the Raiders feature the Patriot League Player of the Year in forward Rapolas Ivanauskas, they’ll face one of the best frontcourts in the tournament with the Vols’ veteran combo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

NBC Sports Top 25: The final power rankings of the college basketball season

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
6 Comments

Yes, I’m the guy that still has Duke at No. 1. I explained why in detail last week, and I’m not going to do it again, especially now that it appears Zion Williamson will be back for the ACC tournament.

And just to make it clear: This does not mean that I believe Duke should be a No. 1 seed. I don’t. Losses, even if they come when a team is not at full strength, need to matter for things like NCAA tournament seeding. They don’t matter when it comes to how the industry — and me, specifically — rank which of those teams are the best.

Beyond that, there isn’t all that much to talk about in what will be the final top 25 of the 2018-19 season.

I bumped Texas Tech up to fifth after they won a share of the Big 12 regular season title. Outside of a three-week stretch in January when Jarrett Culver forgot how to shoot, the Red Raiders were the best team in that conference. With the way they are shooting and scoring the ball in the last month combined with that defense, they are very much a threat to win a national title.

One other thing that I’ll note here: I think there are three tiers at the top of college hoops. At the top is a healthy Duke, Gonzaga and Virginia. Right behind that trio sits North Carolina, Texas Tech, Tennessee and Kentucky. I think those seven are pretty clearly the top seven teams in the country, and one you get past them, it starts to get wild. Purdue, Kansas State, Michigan State, Houston, Michigan, Florida State, Nevada. I think there is an argument for all of these teams to be ranked in the back end of the top ten.

Anyway, here is my final Top 25 of the season:

1. Duke (26-5, Last Week: 1)
2. Gonzaga (29-2, 2)
3. Virginia (28-2, 3)
4. North Carolina (26-5, 4)
5. Texas Tech (26-5, 6)
6. Tennessee (27-4, 5)
7. Kentucky (26-5, 7)
8. Michigan State (25-6, 12)
9. Purdue (23-8, 9)
10. Kansas State (24-7, 10)
11. LSU (26-5, 11)
12. Houston (29-2, 12)
13. Michigan (26-5, 8)
14. Nevada (28-3, 15)
15. Florida State (25-6, 18)
16. Virginia Tech (23-7, 17)
17. Buffalo (28-3, 20)
18. Wofford (27-4, 22)
19. Wisconsin (22-9, 19)
20. Kansas (23-8, 16)
21. Marquette (23-8, 14)
22. Auburn (22-9, NR)
23. VCU (25-6, NR)
24. Mississippi State (22-9, NR)
25. UCF (23-7, 25)

Dropped Out: 21. Iowa State, 23. Villanova, 24. Cincinnati
New Additions: 22. Auburn, 23. VCU, 24. Mississippi State

Saturday’s Things to Know: Conference titles get decided; Murray State and Ja Morant earn an autobid

Getty Images
1 Comment

PLAYER OF THE DAY: Ja Morant, Murray State

Many consider the sophomore point guard to be among the nation’s best players, but Morant hasn’t received the type of national attention that he got on Saturday night. And the future lottery pick delivered in a big way.

Helping Murray State to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, Morant pick put up 36 points to go with seven rebounds and three assists as the Racers took down Belmont to earn the autobid in the Ohio Valley Conference.

With some fans tuning in to see Morant play for the first time, he didn’t disappoint, as he displayed the breathtaking playmaking ability and jaw-dropping athleticism that scouts have been raving about. One night after producing the go-ahead three-point play in the OVC semifinals, Morant again put his team on his back and got them back into the Big Dance.

March Madness just got soooo much better knowing that we get at least one more national showcase for Morant.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Michigan State Spartans

On Senior Day at the Breslin Center, if you’re going to kiss the Spartan logo at center court, then you better have the win in-hand before checking out for the final time. Especially when the Big Ten title is on the line and it’s a battle against bitter in-state rival Michigan when both teams are ranked in the top 10.

Michigan State rallied in impressive fashion in the second half to claim a share of the Big Ten title while also preventing the Wolverines from achieving the same with a 75-63 win. Trailing by eight points in the second half after a sluggish first 20 minutes, Michigan State started firing on all cylinders as junior point guard Cassius Winston’s hot stretch ignited a 25-4 Spartans run. After an ice-cold 1-for-8 start to the evening, Winston buried five straight shots to end the game with a team-high 23 points and seven assists.

This Big Ten title is especially impressive for Michigan State because the Spartans did it without Joshua Langford and Nick Ward playing for large stretches of time during the season. Missing two of their top players, and still earning a Big Ten title, speaks to the depth of the Spartans while Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo accomplished one of his most impressive feats.

Now the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, Michigan State is hoping to ease Ward back into the lineup so he can contribute during the NCAA tournament. The phrase “Izzo in March” is usually reserved for the NCAA tournament. But it feels okay to use it here given the extraordinary late-season circumstances.

SATURDAY’S WINNERS

Co-ACC Champions North Carolina and Virginia: The Tar Heels swept the regular-season series with the Blue Devils to claim their share ACC glory as Roy Williams continues to own Coach K in the regular-season ACC title department since taking over the Tar Heels in 2004. Even though North Carolina had some question marks entering this season, most notably at lead guard, they’ve put themselves in position to potentially earn a No. 1 seed with their play this season.

Virginia shook off the historic NCAA tournament loss to No. 16 seed UMBC to earn another ACC title with a win over Louisville as Tony Bennett continue to have the league’s number. Looking stronger, deeper and more dangerous than last season, Virginia is the rare No. 1 seed with a legitimate chip on their shoulder entering the postseason.

Buckle up for a fun ACC tournament next week, as Duke, North Carolina and Virginia all have solid cases to potentially earn No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

LSU: Playing without head coach Will Wade and freshman starting guard Javonte Smart, the Tigers still took care of business in a big home win over Vanderbilt. The victory gave the Tigers the outright title in the SEC — something few could have predicted entering the 2018-19 season given the strength of Kentucky and Tennessee. The recent Wade/Smart scandal has dominated the headlines and cast a black cloud over young LSU’s surprising season. It’s also easy to forget that the Tigers had to deal with the loss of teammate Wayde Sims in late September as he was tragically killed in a shooting. There’s a very real potential that this SEC championship will eventually get erased from the record books. But for now, LSU deserves to celebrate a special season in which they’ve overcome some incredibly difficult circumstances to become one of the best teams in the country.

Purdue: Splitting the Big Ten regular-season title with Michigan State after a road win at Northwestern, nobody expected head coach Matt Painter and his Boilermakers to have this type of season. With only one returning starter in Carsen Edwards, and with a mostly-new supporting cast, Purdue has been one of the nation’s pleasant surprises this season as Painter deserves National Coach of the Year chatter. In a brutally-tough Big Ten, Purdue seemed to only get better as the season wore along as they proved to be more than just Edwards and his scoring punch.

Co-Big 12 Champions Texas Tech and Kansas State: Who could have predicted these two winning the Big 12 championship? While Kansas State was a preseason top-10 team in the eyes of some following last season’s Elite Eight appearance, Texas Tech is another included on the list of most surprising teams in the country. The Red Raiders overcame the loss of six of their top eight scorers as head coach Chris Beard basically put an entirely new rotation on the floor from his own Elite Eight appearance last season. The national focus has drifted mostly towards Kansas losing its 14-year Big 12 regular-season title streak. Not enough credit has been given to Kansas State and Texas Tech both overcoming slow conference starts to bring home a league title.

Seton Hall: The Pirates had the best week of any bubble team in the country, and frankly, there doesn’t feel like a close second place. Earning back-to-back Q1 wins over Marquette and Villanova, the top two teams in the Big East, Seton Hall essentially punched its ticket into the NCAA tournament by grabbing two more monster wins during the final week of the regular season. Myles Powell is playing with a ton of confidence right now and the Pirates will be a fascinating team to follow at Madison Square Garden during the Big East tournament.

Temple: A home win over UCF could be the final ingredient in getting the Owls into the NCAA tournament. In head coach Fran Dunphy’s final season on the sidelines, Temple is hoping to be the fourth team from the American to make it into the Big Dance. During a season where many bubble teams are hovering near .500, while drawing the ire of college hoops diehards, it’s hard not to root for a story where a respected veteran coach leads his team into the field.

Villanova (even in a loss): Suffering a disappointing road loss at Seton Hall, the Wildcats still got lucky enough to win the Big East title, outright, thanks to Marquette’s shocking home loss to Georgetown. Even though Villanova struggled down the stretch this season — losing five of their last eight games — they still captured a conference title during an up-and-down season. Earning a No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament was an added bonus as Villanova tries to figure things out before the NCAA tournament.

SATURDAY’S LOSERS

Marquette: This recent stretch will haunt Marquette fans for years to come. Losing four straight games to close out the regular season, the Golden Eagles blew a shot at the Big East regular-season title on numerous occasions. As noted above, Villanova lost five of its final eight games. That allowed Marquette every opportunity to stay in the race. None of those chances were more apparent than Saturday. After the Wildcats fell to Seton Hall to begin the afternoon slate of games, Marquette took the floor at home against Georgetown knowing that they could win and earn a share of the Big East championship. And just like the previous three games, Marquette faltered in the final minutes to blow another winnable game. The Golden Eagles have been pitiful late in games over the last two weeks as they’re suddenly in a freefall heading into MSG for the Big East tournament. On the bright side, Marquette has single-handedly kept the Big East’s bubble teams afloat by gifting recent wins to Creighton, Seton Hall and now Georgetown.

Tennessee: Entering Saturday, the Vols were given a chance to be co-SEC champions with LSU. Tennessee squandered those circumstances with a road loss at Auburn to start the afternoon. Although it’s never easy to win at Auburn now that Bruce Pearl and the Tigers have that place rocking, Tennessee has to be kicking themselves knowing that they could have won the league in back-to-back seasons.

Loyola: We won’t be seeing Loyola and Sister Jean in the 2019 NCAA tournament following last season’s memorable Final Four run. The top-seeded Ramblers were upset by Bradley in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Saturday as Loyola’s two Conference Players of the Year, Clayton Custer and Marques Townes, were held to only 17 points combined on 7-for-27 shooting.

South Dakota State and Mike Daum: One of college basketball’s all-time greats will not be playing in the 2019 NCAA tournament as No. 1 seed South Dakota State shockingly fell to No. 8 seed Western Illinois in the Summit League tournament quarterfinals. Making an NCAA tournament appearance the past three seasons, it will feel bizarre not to have Daum and the Jackrabbits in the Big Dance during his final college season. Daum finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in the loss as he only attempted 10 field goals on the night (making five).

FINAL THOUGHT

In looking over the power conference champions decided on Saturday, it’s crazy to think about how quickly things changed in college basketball throughout the course of this regular season. Let’s do a brief rundown in a bullet format to make things easier.

  • A few weeks into the season, Duke going undefeated was a legitimate storyline that people were discussing. Flash forward a few months later and North Carolina and Virginia split the ACC crown.
  • Listed as the preseason No. 1 team and national title favorite by many pundits, Kansas faltered and saw its dominant 14-year reign in the Big 12 come to an end. Kansas State started the Big 12 season 0-2 and Texas Tech was 4-3. Both of those teams pulled it together and shared the league title.
  • Within the last month, two top-10 tilts between Kentucky and Tennessee dominated the SEC headlines. LSU snuck in the back door to claim the SEC title over both of them. Outright.
  • Villanova was left for dead during nonconference play with losses to Furman and Penn. St. John’s and Marquette became trendy picks to win the Big East as conference play started. The Wildcats prevailed and still ended up gaining the Big East title.
  • And the Big Ten focused on Michigan’s early-season dominance only to see the Wolverines relinquish the league crown to rival Michigan State and Purdue. The Spartans lost arguably two of their top three players for most of conference season and still won while Purdue replaced four starters and became one of the nation’s biggest overachievers.

I guess the main point in all of this is that college basketball’s 2018-19 season has been absolutely insane — and that’s only touching on five major conferences to get to my point. That doesn’t even include the Pac-12’s historically awful season, Houston emerging as a legitimate top-10 team, and a point guard from Murray State being called the second best prospect in the upcoming NBA Draft only behind a dude who has been compared to LeBron.

Good luck predicting what’s going to happen over the final month of this zany season. All of the drama and surprises will be a ton of fun to watch.

Jerome helps rally No. 2 Virginia past Louisville 73-68

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Four Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season titles in six years might make it seem like old hat at No. 2 Virginia, but after the Cavaliers earned that fourth one by coming back to beat Louisville 73-68 on Saturday, Ty Jerome said it was time to celebrate.

Even if the ACC Tournament still beckons, followed by pursuit of the school’s first national championship.

“You can’t take this for granted,” Jerome said after the Cavaliers cut down the nets with most of the 14,000-plus fans remaining in John Paul Jones Arena and cheering each snip. “Like coach (Tony) Bennett said, over an 18-game stretch to only lose two games, you can’t take that for granted. You have to be thankful for that, but we’ve got to stay humble and we have to know what we’re still trying to do.”

Jerome scored 24 points, including the go-ahead free throw with 5:34 remaining, as the Cavaliers rallied for their eighth straight win.

They will head to Charlotte, North Carolina, as the top seed and with a double-bye. No. 3 North Carolina tied for the top spot when it beat No. 4 Duke on Saturday night, but the Cavaliers had the tiebreaker for the seeding by virtue of their 69-61 victory at UNC on Feb. 11.

“Now we’ve just got to get back in the gym and work really hard and get into an extra gear going forward,” Jerome said.

Kyle Guy added 13 points and Jay Huff also made huge contributions at both ends for Virginia (28-2, 16-2), which has now won or shared the ACC title nine times in its history. Guy said the way the Cardinals made them fight for it can only bode well for Virginia going forward.

“We’re in 40-minute territory and it really showed tonight. I think there’s no better way to prepare us for what we’re about to get into and this gauntlet that we’re about to start,” he said. Virginia has trailed in three of its last five second halves and came back to win each time.

Jordan Nwora scored 19 and Malik Williams 12 for the Cardinals (19-12, 10-8), who lost their ninth in a row in the series and for the sixth time in the last eight games under first-year coach Chris Mack. The Cardinals missed nine of their last 11 shots.

“We put ourselves in position to win the game and I think their composure versus our composure in the last 3, 4 minutes probably decided the game,” Mack said. “They looked like a team that’s been there before.”

Louisville used a 20-4 run spanning the half to open a 47-40 lead early in the second half, quieting the sellout crowd until Virginia immediately scored seven straight to tie it. The game was tied at 49 when Louisville scored six in a row to go back ahead, and the lead flip-flopped until Jerome followed a three-point play by Christen Cunningham by making a pair of free throws.

That put Virginia ahead 63-62 and when Louisville turned the ball over on its next possession, Jerome found Huff free at the top of the key for his second 3-pointer. Huff also had two steals and a block during the rally, and Guy and Braxton Key hit 3-pointers.

SWAN SONGS?

Virginia honored its lone senior, center Jack Salt, before the game, but he might not be the only player the Cavaliers lose.

De’Andre Hunter, a 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore guard, has been mentioned as a potential NBA lottery pick, and Jerome, a 6-5 junior with NBA 3-point range, could also be considering leaving after the season, though Jerome wasn’t letting on afterward.

“I just try to block it all out,” he said of whether his thoughts about his own future caused him to savor the moment a little more. “Coach Bennett always says that tomorrow has enough problems. Just focus on today and never surrender to the little things.”

BIG PICTURE

Louisville: The Cardinals managed just 52 points in their 12-point loss to Virginia on Feb. 23, but offensive bursts by Williams (seven points early) and Nwora (10 in the last 8:33) had them within 36-33 at halftime. Nwora scored eight of Louisville’s 10 during a 10-3 run that briefly gave them a 27-26 lead with 6:06 remaining. … The Cardinals also outscored Virginia 20-16 in the paint after being outscored there 38-4 in their home loss to the Cavaliers.

Virginia: Huff has a huge offensive upside and is a fan favorite at Virginia, but his defensive liabilities have limited his playing time in the past. Lately, he’s grasping Bennett’s Pack-Line defense better, working as a rim protector and getting critical playing time.

“He’s just playing with a high level of confidence,” Guy said of the 7-foot-1 Huff.

UP NEXT

Louisville: The Cardinals will await their opponent in the ACC Tournament.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have byes through the first two rounds of the ACC Tournament.

Follow Hank Kurz Jr. on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hankkurzjr

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Zion Williamson’s reign still remains, but for how long?

AP Photo/Gerry Broome
Leave a comment

1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

I spent a good portion of the mock draft that I published last week discussing what makes Zion Williamson so effective on the defensive end of the floor.

We saw all of that play out in Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last Tuesday. Without Williamson, the Hokies spread the court with shooters and put Kerry Blackshear in ball-screen after ball-screen. Marques Bolden is notoriously bad defending ball-screens, which created opportunities for Blackshear to be able to attack off the dribble in pick-and-pop actions while he was able to bury Javin DeLaurier in the paint on the possessions where Bolden was off the floor:

It should not come as a surprise, then, that this was easily the worst defensive performance of the season for the Blue Devils, giving up 1.222 points-per-possession. Williamson’s presence would have helped immensely, as this was the perfect scenario for the Blue Devils to trot out their lineup that features Williamson at the five.

It appears as if Williamson is just about ready to return to the lineup for Duke. Assuming he does, he has National Player of the Year locked up.

2. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Monday night’s win at Syracuse summed up everything that makes De’Andre Hunter so good. He finished with 21 points, six boards, four assists and three blocks while shooting 5-for-7 from the floor, and he did the heavy-lifting on Tyus Battle defensively. How many players can be a go-to scorer and can be a shutdown defender on players at four different positions?

I broke down his defensively versatility last week:

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

It was a disappointing week for Marquette, as they blew two late leads and lost to both Villanova and Creighton. That cost them a two-game lead over the Wildcats in the Big East standings, meaning that an outright Big East title is no longer in their control. Howard, in those two games, had 13 turnovers.

4. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Duke has gone just 2-2 in the four games that Zion Williamson hasn’t played, so it’s pretty clear who the best player on that team his. That said, it is worth noting that Barrett has been much more efficient scoring the ball and a much more willing distributor in his absence.

5. JA MORANT, Murray State

Murray State’s regular season ended last week, and we now wait for the kick off of the OVC tournament to find out if the Racers are going to end up with an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. I don’t think that they have done enough to earn an at-large bid, so we will need them to roll through to an automatic bid to have a shot at seeing Morant try and put 50 on some unsuspecting No. 4 seed.

6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

Culver is the engine that makes Texas Tech run, and the Red Raiders are one win at Iowa State away from ending Kansas’ 14 year run atop the Big 12

7. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

Clarke’s PER as of today is 37.4. That is the best PER that any college player not named Zion Williamson has posted in the last decade. I’m not sure there is a more underrated player in college basketball than Clarke.

8. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

I think the biggest knock on Winston this season is that he gets worn out by the end of games, but that’s understandable. He’s playing 38-40 minutes a night in competitive games while having an entire offense built around him. Perhaps the most impressive part about his junior season has been that the added workload has not really impacted how well he protects the ball.

9. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Williams reclaimed his hold on the SEC Player of the Year award after a couple of dominant performances this week. He had 21 points, six boards, four assists, three steals and two blocks in a win at Ole Miss before putting up 24 points and seven boards as Tennessee mollywhopped Kentucky in Knoxville.

10. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

Kansas has struggled with injuries and Lawson has one of the youngest supporting casts in all of college hoops, but he has still managed to find a way to roll out of bed and put up 20 and 10 on a nightly basis. He has his flaws, but he’s been a rock for Bill Self to build around.

ALSO CONSIDERED: Phil Booth (Villanova), Jordan Carolina (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), Ty Jerome (Virginia), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s), P.J. Washington (Kentucky), Coby White (North Carolina)

 

Monday’s Things To Know: Texas Tech, K-State on track to beat The Streak, Virginia goes 3-crazy and the postseason begins

Getty Images
2 Comments

It was a night light on games, but not on significance as the Big 12 race heated up, Virginia was red-hot and March Madness got its start. Here’s everything you need to know from Monday:

TEXAS TECH AND KANSAS STATE ARE A GAME AWAY FROM ENDING THE STREAK

It might actually happen.

The seemingly unstoppable, infallible and inevitable streak of Big 12 regular season titles for Kansas could come to an end this week as both Texas Tech and Kansas State guaranteed themselves a cushion of at least one game heading into their regular season finales Saturday by beating Texas and TCU, respectively, on Monday evening.

If Kansas loses tomorrow at Oklahoma, it’s over. If the Jayhawks lose Saturday to Baylor, it’s over. If Texas Tech beats Iowa State on the road and/or Kansas State wins at home against Baylor, it’s over.

Despite all the close calls, the obituaries written and dire situations over the last 14 years, the Jayhawks’ amazing streak looks like it has finally found a corner from which it won’t escape. It’s been a truly remarkable run.

Kansas State would have been one of the contenders everyone picked to be a threat to end Kansas’ streak this year after the Wildcats went to the Elite Eight a year ago, but the doubts about just how talented they were got pretty loud after they opened the Big 12 0-2 and then trailed West Virginia by 21 before rallying to avoid 0-3. Since then, they’ve won 13 of 15 Big 12 games.

Texas Tech’s move to the top is more surprising. Jarrett Culver went from third-option behind Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith to a likely lottery pick, which has helped the Red Raiders overcome huge roster losses from last year’s Elite Eight squad. All of a sudden combining red-hot 3-point shooting with the nation’s top defense also goes a long way.

Their fortuitous turns have coincided with what seems like disaster at every turn for Bill Self and Kansas. The Jayhawks lost Udoka Azubuike to an injury, which completely changed the dynamics of the team. Then Silvio De Sousa was ruled ineligible (though not surprisingly) by the NCAA, and that was followed by Lagerald Vick’s departure from the team, with no definitive word on if he’ll return. It didn’t help that Marcus Garrett turned his ankle and missed time, too.

It took all that to end the streak. Well, at least it looks like that’ll be enough to finally put an end to it, anyway.

And while it’s the end of an astounding streak for Kansas, a streak that underscores its excellence and consistency as a program under Self, it’s the end of what has to be, or at least should be, an embarrassing year-after-year result for the league. Yes, Kansas has shared a couple titles during the streak and they have a rich tradition and spend millions (insert joke here, if you so choose) in its upkeep, but in a league with programs of the resources of Texas and Oklahoma, with the proud basketball traditions at places like Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, somebody should have stepped up and ended this thing at some point – and probably more than once – over the last decade-and-a-half.

Yes, these 14 years have been a triumph for Kansas, but they’ve been a failure for the rest of the conference, too.

Maybe now, that’s over.

Or Texas Tech and Kansas State will bumble this away Saturday and the Jayhawks streak will continue to live on in perpetuity until the sun engulfs us all.

TEXAS AND TCU MISS BIG CHANCES

While Texas Tech and Kansas State’s pursuit of the End of The Streak gets top billing in the Big 12, the league’s quest to get eight of its 10 teams into the NCAA tournament is an interesting subplot, one which got dinged by the furtherance of the Red Raiders’ and Wildcats’ quest Monday.

TCU and Texas both missed big chances to bolster their NCAA tournament prospects, with the Horned Frogs losing at home to K-State and the Longhorns losing in Lubbock to the Red Raiders.

In our Monday-morning bracketology, we had Texas as a No. 11 and TCU as a No. 10 seed. While neither team suffered anything close to what would be considered a bad loss Monday, both missed out on wins that could have really gone a long way in solidifying their shaky position.

One of them will be in better position come Saturday night, however, as they face each other in the regular season finale. That’s bad news for the loser, though.

VIRGINIA GOES BONKERS FROM DEEP

I’ve written before that the failures of previous Virginia teams shouldn’t be held against this current version. I’ve written how good these Cavs are and how they’re different from their predecessors. Mostly in their willingness to shoot more 3s.

That was on display in a major way in their 79-53 second-half dismantling of Syracuse.

The Cavs hit a school-record 18 triples, with Kyle Guy connecting on eight and both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter on five apiece.

We all know how good Virginia’s defense is. It’s been nearly invulnerable for years, and it’s very much so again this season. Pair that with a team that can shoot it like this one – capable of piling up points in a low possession game – and look out.

That’s a pretty good recipe for a national title contender, if you ask me.

CONFERENCE TOURNEY SEASON IS UPON US

The Power 5 games Monday will get all the attention, but it’s worth marking the unofficial start of March Madness with the Atlantic Sun’s conference tournament tipping off.

North Florida, Liberty, Florida Gulf Coast and Lipscomb were all first-day winners, for those keeping track at home.