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Full-Court Press: February Frenzy precedes March Madness
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Basketball Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The NCAA Tournament selection committee's tasks of picking a field and assigning seeds are never easy.
This season, those tasks will be next to impossible thanks to a continuous flow of unprecedented upsets that have continued to stir up the conversation and shake opinions.
It is amazing the difference one year can bring. It was pretty clear that Kentucky was destined for the No. 1 seed in the Big Dance for most of the 2011-12 season. This season, it appears at least three top seeds are still up for grabs with the conference tournaments right around the corner.
"I think what you saw today is why we all love college basketball," said Michigan head coach John Beilein after his fourth-ranked Wolverines were dealt a shocking, 84-78 loss by Penn State on Wednesday. The Nittany Lions came into the contest without an 0-14 record in Big Ten Conference games, but that did not stop them from providing their student section with an excuse to rush the court.
The Wolverines were once owners of the No. 1 ranking, but have gone 3-4 since the day they were deemed the nation's best. The seat atop the polls is no longer a throne for lounging. It is more comparable to a chair at a speed dating event before time inevitably gives someone else a shot to try their luck.
Although only Indiana, Duke, Michigan and Louisville have earned the honor, there was a five-week span before the Hoosiers reclaimed the No. 1 ranking while a new team occupied the position each week.
The rest of the top 25 has played a game of follow the leader. While some have been more notable than others, 19 different ranked teams have endured a loss over the past 15 days with the majority of the setbacks coming courtesy of unranked foes. The past seven days have been riddled with thrilling bouts both inside and out of the Top 25.
Miami (Fla.) set the tone for this week's parity on BracketBuster Saturday when it was completely demolished at Wake Forest, 80-65. The following day, the 18th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to upset the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans, 68-60, in Columbus.
On Monday, Marquette handed Syracuse its second loss in a row while No. 6 Kansas needed the help of a controversial call late in regulation to escape on the road with an overtime win over Iowa State. The Jayhawks may have finished off February on a positive note, but they began the month with three straight losses, including a 62-55 setback at TCU in what may have been the most unexpected result of the season.
Villanova added another blemish to its NCAA Tournament resume on Monday after Seton Hall overcame a four-point deficit in the final 13 seconds to snap the Wildcats' three-game winning streak.
The night after the Pirates basked in victory was even crazier as three of the four ranked teams to take the floor were upset. Indiana once again fell as the No. 1 team as it was handed a 77-73 loss by Minnesota, Florida fell by six points at Tennessee and Memphis had its 18-game winning streak snapped in Cincinnati by Xavier.
Although seven of the top 25 teams to take the floor on Wednesday took care of business, there were a couple that didn't get the memo that the upset bug was going around. Arizona dropped an 11-point decision at USC after Penn State's victory versus Michigan.
The Missouri Valley Conference provided some commotion under the radar as Drake upset Indiana State, Southern Illinois defeated Northern Iowa and Evansville collected its first win in Wichita in over 12 years with a 59-56 victory over the Shockers. Wichita State's loss has made its bout scheduled for Saturday with Doug McDermott and Creighton the deciding game for the MVC regular season title.
The final day of the month delivered a bundle of activity. Outside of the Top 25, UT Martin generated a shocker as it defeated Murray State, 69-68, in the Racers' own building. Also, Niagara failed to clinch the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season title as it was bested by nine points at home by Rider.
The 25th-ranked Louisiana Tech Bulldogs protected their newly acquired ranking with a rout of Utah State, but the other four Top 25 schools that saw action faced greater challenges.
Coach Dana Altman's Oregon Ducks needed to overcome a nine-point deficit to complete the season sweep of their Civil War series with Oregon State, which came in with a 3-12 Pac-12 record. Ohio State needed a late rally to get past Northwestern despite the Wildcats only trotting out seven scholarship players.
Third-ranked Duke fell behind early to Virginia in front of a sellout crowd at John Paul Jones Arena and the Cavaliers kept the foot on the gas all night en route to their first win over the Blue Devils during the Tony Bennett era.
With Coach K's squad falling, Mark Few's second-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs seemed like a very likely candidate to rise to the pinnacle of the polls. However, they had to get by a feisty BYU squad first. Gonzaga coasted with ease to a 20- point victory over the Cougars at home four weeks ago, but the game was completely different with the stakes raised in Provo, Utah. Thanks to a stellar performance by All-American candidate Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga hung on for a five- point win after a very physical 40 minutes.
The Bulldogs will conclude their regular season on Saturday when the 11-19 Portland Pilots visit the McCarthey Athletic Center. A victory could lift Gonzaga to its first-ever No. 1 ranking, which would mark the first time a West Coast Conference school occupied the top spot since Bill Cartwright led San Francisco to the top over 30 years ago.
Although on paper Gonzaga should have no trouble with Portland, it is clear nothing can be taken for granted at this point.
While the Bulldogs have been solid all season long, there is no telling what this year's NCAA Tournament will bring. A trip to the Final Four is going to be a realistic possibility for more schools than ever before. The titillation of February was tremendous, but it was all only a precursor to the imminent postseason.
03/01 09:54:48 ET