So, the NFL season is officially over.
If you’re a diehard football fan, you’ve probably spent most of this week preparing: looking at mock fantasy drafts, checking Super Bowl odds for next season, or setting up Google Alerts for “Tom Brady return.”
We know it’s not easy to move on after a season — especially a season like that one — but having fun in the sporting world doesn't stop now that (spoiler alert) the Rams are Super Bowl champions.
While you were watching every Aaron Donald sack, Tyreek Hill peace sign, and Josh Allen nuke, we were preparing for this very moment.
So, what’s next? The answer is surprisingly easy.
March is right around the corner, so let’s start with the hardwood and catch you up on what’s already been an incredible season of college basketball, before the Madness begins.
Meet The Top Two
There’s no better place than to start with the AP rankings.
Casual fans won’t be surprised to see Gonzaga sitting at the top, as the Bulldogs have put together another elite roster and boast the number one scoring offense in the country a year removed from coming up short in the National Championship game. Led by the unicorn Chet Holmgren, the Zags are primed to make another deep run in the tournament.
Casual fans may be surprised, however, to see the Auburn Tigers sitting at #2 in the rankings.
That’s right, Auburn is a basketball school now.
Led by consensus top-5 pick in this year’s NBA draft Jabari Smith, the Tigers play a fast and dominant brand of basketball, anchored by one of the best defenses in the SEC.
The Tigers are second in the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and first in the conference in Effective FG%. Even if they aren’t the typical name you’re used to seeing in March, they’re more than worth a watch between now and the NCAA tournament to see how Bruce Pearl has turned this team into a perennial powerhouse.
The Blue Bloods Strike Back
After a 2020 season that saw a lot of pain and general ugliness for the blue bloods, the rest of the top 25 is filled with your typical faces this year. Kentucky has rebounded from an abysmal season. The Purdue Big Man Factory has churned out more centers that continue to dominate the Big 10. Kansas, Baylor, Duke, Villanova, and Michigan State are all sitting comfortably in the top 25. In a lot of ways, this makes the world feel like a safe place again.
A PAC Attack
Oh and the PAC finally got the memo that being good at basketball is fun in the 21st Century. Arizona and UCLA make up our non-Gonzaga West Coast powerhouse programs. Even good ol' USC showed us recently it's capable of breaking up some bracket this year as they beat UCLA without their leading scorer and rebounder star Isaiah Mobley.
In Ken We Trust
The AP rankings don’t show the whole story.
I’m a gigantic fan of the KenPom rankings each year, I believe they give a fuller picture than the AP Top 25 (well worth the $19.95/year subscription in my opinion.) KenPom has a similar top 25 compared to the AP, but you’ll notice a gigantic discrepancy in the top 10.
The AP has Providence, darlings of the Big East this season, sitting at 8 in the rankings. With wins over Wisconsin, Texas Tech, UConn, Seton Hall, Marquette, Xavier, (should I keep going?) they seem well-deserving of their ranking, right? Wrong! They're just lucky!
Most of those teams are irrelevant for our purposes, but you’ll notice Providence sitting right at the top of that list. KenPom has the Friars ranked 47 this season. Forty-seven. That’s quite the difference! The bottom line is that while Providence is an exciting team to watch out for this season, AP rankings don’t always tell the full story.
A few bounces and calls go your way and you too could find your team in the top 10! But, I digress. (I apologize to all of the Providence students/alumni, I didn’t mean for this to be an anti-Providence article. But don’t be surprised if you guys get bounced in the first round of the tournament.) Let’s move on!
The Best of the Rest
Another element of this college basketball season that has been awesome to follow is the mid-major play.
Mid-Major Madness on Twitter does arguably the best job of covering the chaos each season, but I’ll do my best to summarize the action. We’ve got two mid-major schools in the AP top 25, with your obvious number one in Gonzaga (three if you want to count ‘high-major’ Wyoming.)
While we haven’t seen the typical mid-major names play up to their normal levels, like VCU, Dayton, Saint Louis, etc., this new crop of mid-majors has been an absolute treat to watch.
Murray State is currently riding a 14-game winning streak, Boise State is projected to be an 8 seed in the tournament as of today, Colorado State is poised to make a run in March, and Rick Pitino is back in the spotlight by turning Iona into a team to look out for in the coming weeks. Yeah, THAT Rick Pitino.
The bottom line is, there is a LOT happening outside of the Top 25, and what better time than now to start tuning in?
Players to Watch
We’ll leave you by highlighting some of the best names in college basketball. OddsShark’s Player of the Year odds can give you a pretty good idea of the big names.
You probably remember Kofi Cockburn from last year’s Illinois squad, and he’s even better this season.
Duke has a baller in Paolo Banchero, Johnny Davis from Wisconsin might be the surprise stud of the year, Oscar Tshiebwe has played a huge part in helping Kentucky rebound from last season after leaving West Virginia behind, and Ochai Abaji from Kansas is playing at an elite level.
We mentioned Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith as NBA-level talents, and some others projected to go in this year’s NBA draft include Jaden Ivey from Purdue, Keegan Murray from Iowa, and Kendall Brown from the reigning champion Baylor Bears.
So there you have it.
If you haven’t tuned in to a Super Tuesday yet this season, check it out the next time around. Don’t you want that competitive advantage over your friends come March? Do your research! And don’t forget to set up those March Madness pools, and enjoy the rest of the action.
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