NCAA Mid-Season Madness: Checking in on Men’s Basketball

NCAA Mid-Season Madness: Checking in on Men’s Basketball

It’s not March yet. But the madness is already setting in for the teams striving to claim a place in the NCAA Tournament — and even more so for those with dreams of hoisting the trophy when the final buzzer sounds.

Four different teams — Kansas, Arizona, Purdue and UConn — have held the top spot in the Associated Press rankings for at least a week.

Each day that arrives is a chance for a new, stunning upset. Kansas lost to West Virginia? OK . . . Gonzaga lost to Santa Clara? Wow.

The stars you expected to lead the way are doing just that while up-and-coming players are establishing themselves in the national conversation.

With conference battles heating up and tournament season on the horizon, let’s take a look at the most intriguing storylines and brightest stars of the season so far. Plus, we’ll throw in a few bold predictions for March Madness.

UConn is Back On Top — Can They Stay There?


Source: AP Photo/Seth Wenig

It took nearly three months for the reigning NCAA champions to claw their way back to the top of the rankings, but they’ve arrived. The Huskies have benefited from more recent, unexpected losses from teams ranked higher, but they’ve done their part by going unbeaten since late December. Cam Spencer, a transfer from Rutgers, and Alex Karaban are leading UConn in scoring. Coach Dan Hurley has a tall task to keep them on top of their game for two more months.

Purdue’s Redemption Run


Source: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Purdue became the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Boilermakers are on a mission for redemption. Led by the 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, averaging nearly 22 points and 11 rebounds per game, Purdue held the top spot in the rankings until they suffered a surprising 16-point loss to Nebraska on the road. Can they gather themselves and finish strong?

Blue Bloods (in Blue) Firmly in the Mix


Source: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

While it’s always fun to see new teams in the mix for championships, some programs seem to find themselves in the thick of it more times than not year after year, decade after decade. Programs like Kansas, North Carolina and Duke have earned their “blue blood” status, and all three are ranked in the Top 10. Of the three, Kansas may have the best team, but don’t count out the Tar Heels.

The Pac-12’s Last Stand


Source: Rebecca Sasnett / Arizona Athletics

The college basketball landscape is undergoing a seismic shift — and it only gets more dramatic after this year. It’s the last stand for the Pac-12, which is expected to dissolve after the season because the majority of its top teams will move to the Big 12 and the Big Ten. The Pac-12 has only one ranked team at the midpoint. Arizona briefly held the No. 1 spot in the rankings but have since fallen entirely out of the Top 10. Led by senior guard Caleb Love, the Wildcats may have one last run in them. If they can pull it off, it may be the Pac-12’s last chance to make waves in the NCAA tournament. 

Upset of the Year (So Far)


Source: Santa Clara University Athletics

For so many years, it seemed impossible. Until it wasn’t anymore. Santa Clara, a mid-major program nestled in Silicon Valley, toppled the mid-major Godzilla known as Gonzaga. The Zags had beaten Santa Clara 26 consecutive times, spanning 13 seasons. This wasn’t just a David-versus-Goliath victory … Santa Clara’s win proves that any team, on any given night, can write their own Cinderella story. The loss dropped Gonzaga out of the Top 25 rankings and opened the door for a new champion in the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga has at least shared the regular season title each year since 2011.

Towering Titans and Dazzling Guards


Source: The Associated Press

While Purdue’s Edey reigns supreme as the National Player of the Year frontrunner, he’s facing stiff competition from other dominant big men like Kansas’ Hunter Dickinson and Duke’s Kyle Filipowski. On the perimeter, watch out for Tristen Newton from UConn and Tyler Kolek from Marquette. 

3 Bold Predictions for the Second Half

Buckle up because here are three surprising predictions for the rest of the season:


Source: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Upsets Aren’t Done Yet

It will be hard to top Gonzaga over Santa Clara, but there’s still plenty of time for a big shakeup. Over the weekend, then-No. 3 Kansas fell to a West Virginia team that entered the game with a 6-11 record. No. 1 UConn barely survived with a 1-point victory over Villanova. Our prediction: Purdue will fall to one of the Big Ten’s lower-tier teams, dropping the Boilermakers out of the Top 5 and costing them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Duke-UNC Rivalry Heats Up

Though their iconic coaches may have retired, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels are still Top 10 teams. And they still have to play each other twice this season. These games will have the intensity of some of the most memorable games in the rivalry. We’re predicting a split in the regular season before North Carolina topples Duke in the ACC Tournament.

Still No Repeat Champs

Does UConn have a great chance to repeat as champions and become the first team to do it in nearly 20 years? Yes, they have a chance. Will they? We’re going to say no. With powerhouse teams like Kansas, North Carolina and Purdue in the mix, it’s a tall mountain to climb. And you never know what lower-ranked team is ready to make a big run in March.