We were off the grid last weekend, which figures, because for all intents and purposes the college hoops season got under way while we were gone. What are we talking about? Upset Saturday, baby.
A couple weeks ago we pointed out that this season to date has been
boring uninspiring due largely to the complete lack of upsets among the top teams. No more. Last weekend the carnage in the Top 25 was significant, as nine ranked teams (incl. 3 of the top 10) took a loss. The most shocking were the twin home losses of #2 UNC and #4 UCLA to unranked conference rivals Maryland and USC, respectively. Throw in last night’s loss by #7 Tennessee at Kentucky, and we’re starting to see a trend here.
But we shouldn’t be too shocked. Conference play is tough, no matter who you are or where you’re ranked. And now that we’re heading into late January, some teams that may have looked like complete garbage a month or more ago are starting to show signs that there was a larger plan after all. In addition to the Terps and Trojans, take a bow, UConn, K-State, Kentucky and Cincinnati. Meanwhile, some other teams that looked like worldbeaters in December are now starting to exhibit some mental and/or physical fatigue. UNC, Texas A&M, Marquette and Ole Miss fall into this category.
Let’s Strap In and Enjoy the Ride.
We watched the good weekend games on Tivo last night, and what really struck us as impressive was the level of intensity being played by teams on both ends of the court. For example, we’ve seen Maryland play a handful of times this year, and the Terps have typically looked like they’d rather be somewhere else. Not Saturday – Maryland may have come into Chapel Hill with a record of 11-7 and a loss to American on its resume, but they played every second of the game as if they belonged on the same court with the unbeaten Heels. At Florida, the bloody carcass known as Kentucky may have come into Gainesville with a record of 0-3 on the road, but they played as if Chuck Hayes and Tayshaun Prince were once again taking it to Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh (in other words, hard). To keep the analogy going, USC may have been a meager 1-3 in the Pac-10, but their HS all-americans played as if they were talking smack and running with the older but slower UCLA guys on the Santa Monica courts.
What all this means is that we’re hitting the last third of the season, and teams are, as usual, finding life in conference play to be tough. For most of the Top 25, there will be far fewer easy victories than before; for the teams that struggled through the first half, seasons can be saved with a few key victories at the right time. Everyone who follows college hoops rightly loves March for its wild and unpredictable nature, but we shouldn’t sleep on the next six weeks either. The end of January and all of February is where the seeds of March Madness are sown. Let’s all strap in and enjoy the ride…