With only three weeks left until Selection Sunday, college basketball has entered its stretch run in a season packed with more fantastic finishes, talented stars and universal parity than ever before. In this past week alone three of the top five teams in the country fell, Tennessee asserted itself as the number one team in the country and a few teams from the Big East have crept back into the national title picture. With the Big Dance right around the corner, here are some teams that are rising and falling as we turn the calendars over to March.
Notre Dame: One of the most dangerous teams in the country, Norte Dame is quietly putting together an amazing season, boasting a 21-5 (11-3) record, sitting one-half game outside of the top spot in the country’s deepest conference, the Big East. The Fighting Irish have won eight of their last nine games and have the offensive weaponry to make a deep run in the tournament. What makes Notre Dame so scary is their ability to attack from anywhere on the floor (picture Duke with an inside game). Potential Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody is putting up 20.2 points per game and 10 rebounds a contest, leading the conference in both categories. His running mate Kyle McAlarney is chipping in another 15 ppg from the shooting guard position. In the Irish’s most recent win over Syracuse, McAlarney hit 9/11 three pointers, joining four other Irish players in double figures. Notre Dame has somehow stayed under the radar as one of the most offensively potent clubs in the country and depending on their draw (I believe they will be a three seed), they can use their three-point prowess and low-post dominance to make a run towards the Final Four.
North Carolina: Following a narrow one-point victory over Virginia on February 12th, for the first time this season, you could start to see the nervous perspiration starting to develop on Tar Heel fans’ brows. With Ty Lawson, the general of the typically explosive Carolina attack, sidelined with an ankle injury, the Heels had lost to Duke and barely scraped by against both Clemson and Virginia, games which the Heels should have lost. Since then, Tyler Hansbrough, the soon-to-be-named three-time first team All-American performer, may have solidified his spot as the Naismith Award winner. Over the last three games Hansbrough has been averaging 28 ppg and over eight rpg. He has virtually put Carolina on his back and willed them to resounding victories in the absence of Lawson. With Hansbrough putting up huge numbers, Quentin Thomas, the third-string point guard has stared to settle in and is averaging seven ppg over his last three, along with 17 assists compared to just seven turnovers. The Heels have won their last three games by an average of 23 points and have secured their spot as a number one seed in the tourney. With Lawson set to return before March Madness begins, this could be the team to beat when it is all said and done.
Duke: When you live and die by the three, it is very difficult to win consistently. As well as Duke shoots the long ball, 39% as a team, their lack of a complete offensive repertoire has lead to two straight ACC losses. Duke shot 8-28 from deep in a 13-point loss to Wake Forest and scored just 15 two-point baskets in a one-point loss to Miami. Kyle Singler, Duke’s fantastic 6’8″ forward is primarily a three-point specialist and Lance Thomas, the Blue Devil’s other starting forward, averages just four ppg. Duke has historically had a slew of great post-players, including Christian Laettner, Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer, Shelden Williams, all of whom led successful Duke charges through the NCAA tournament. Without the low post presence to draw defenses inside the paint, it is difficult to consistently make looks from three-point range. Furthermore, in the NCAA tournament, where you play two games in three days, a cold streak from outside could lead Duke to another early exit.
Georgetown: The most overhyped team in the nation, period. The Hoyas, entering the week at #11 in the latest AP rankings, are clearly not the feared team that entered this season with the five-seed ranking and hotel reservations for the Final Four. For as well as the Hoyas started the season, they are a missed lay-up, a rimmed out three-pointer from Johnny Flynn and a terrible call against Villanova away from having gone 8-6 in their last 14 games. Georgetown has continued to win but they are no longer intimidating. If Roy Hibbert gets in foul trouble, this squad doesn’t have the ability to run the Princeton offense. They have become sloppy, averaging 13 turnovers per game and are second-to-last in free throw percentage in the Big East, at 65% from the line. Don’t get me wrong, this team puts together spurts where they can run with anyone, but the edge that they entered this season with has worn thin and I don’t believe that this team has the fortitude to make a run past the Sweet 16.