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The NFL season has come to an end, thanks to that one ref who didn’t want us to have overtime. Imagine, they could technically still be playing right now! That’s what they’ve robbed us of! But if you’re like many casual sports fans, this is the time when you saddle up and dive into the world of college basketball. Luckily for you, we’ve been watching all season long. Here’s what you missed.
Alabama is a Basketball School
Labeling them as a ‘basketball school’ at this point is putting it lightly. This team is a wagon. Nate Oats, fresh off a contract extension, has this team playing great basketball. For the first time since 2002-03, they’re sitting at #1 in the latest AP Top 25 (although our internal rankings would disagree) with a handful of quality wins. They’ve been great, but they’re not perfect, which is a big theme in college basketball this season. They lost at home to UConn, on the road to Gonzaga, and got blown out on the road against Oklahoma. Some could argue that they only received the #1 ranking because of Purdue’s recent struggles, but hey, that’s college basketball for you.
Led by a solid forward tandem of Noah Clowney and Brandon Miller, the Crimson Tide are a team built for a tournament run. Barring a complete collapse in the next few weeks of the season, they should be a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I’ll let you all make your own decisions, but I’ve penciled them in for the Elite Eight at the very least.
The Big 12
Right now, there’s not a deeper conference in college basketball than the Big 12. Every year, we have at least 2 or 3 good teams from the Big 12, but this season, something changed. They have six ranked teams right now, and two of them are legitimate title contenders. It’s incredibly difficult to repeat in college basketball, but if any team can do it, it’s Kansas. Led by the dynamic duo of Jalen Wilson and Gradey Dick (don’t laugh), this team has quality wins up and down their schedule. However, they’ve been victim of the Big 12 cannibalizing itself. Unlike college football, this isn’t a bad thing for playoff implications but could impact their seeding. 4 out of their 5 losses have come at the hands of Big 12 opponents, but that just speaks to the talent in the conference this season.
The other title contender coming out of the Big 12 is the Texas Longhorns. Yes, they’re baaaaaaaaack. Right now, they’re sitting at #6 in the rankings, right behind Kansas. They’re closing out their regular season with an absolute gauntlet, facing Oklahoma, Iowa State, Baylor, TCU, and Kansas. If they can make it out of that stretch with a 4-1 or even a 3-2 record, they’re going to be dangerous in the tournament. They have elite guard play, which is crucial down the stretch, and have all of the makings of a team that can make a deep run in March.
Looking past the big two in the Big 12, other teams to look out for include Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State, TCU, and Oklahoma State. Keyontae Johnson is a stud for the Horned Frogs, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that school had themselves a year with a football and basketball run. Baylor always reloads after March Madness runs, and we know how gritty programs like Iowa State and Oklahoma State can be. When in doubt this March, roll with the Big 12.
You’ll Love the NIT
Would you believe me if I told you that North Carolina, Kentucky, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Michigan, and USC are trending to miss the NCAA Tournament? It’s been a shaky year for blue bloods and familiar names. But, as we saw last season, things can change in the blink of an eye. A solid end to the season followed by a run in a conference tournament could be just what a team like UNC or Kentucky needs.
Kentucky has been a mess all season, even leading some in Big Blue Nation to call for Calipari’s job. Whether or not he’s the head coach at the end of the season, they have a steep hill to climb. It would be difficult imagining them getting through a team like Alabama or Tennessee to boost their tournament resume, but anything is possible in this sport.
Players to Watch
Zach Edey is the best player in the country. There’s no debate about it at this point. Any book that has Wooden Award odds have him sitting at least at -1000, right now BetMGM has him at -1400. That’s not to say there isn’t a crop of elite talent throughout the rest of the country, however. The aforementioned Jalen Wilson is having an incredible year, Trayce Jackson-Davis continues to blossom in Indiana, Drew Timme and Oscar Tshiebwe are elite big men, and guys like Alabama’s Brandon Miller, Houston’s Jarace Walker, Baylor’s Keyonte George, and UConn’s Jordan Hawkins are all projected to be lottery picks. In the days of one-and-done players, it’s awesome to see guys like Timme and Jackson-Davis develop with their programs and blossom in the college game. When it comes to awards, it’s a one-man race. But the individual talent this year in college basketball has been fun to watch.