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March Madness On The Way

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By Brendan Kapfer

From south-east to the north-west, college basketball is entering the most incredible time of the season. This past weekend, we got the glimmer of Texans proving to be among college basketball’s elite along with Saint Mary’s walking out of Gonzaga’s shadow.

Questions emerge from last years from three college basketball’s best teams and the stage set for a game that all women’s college basketball fans have had circled. College basketball has been unpredictable this season and that is what has made it one of the best in recent memory.

Team of the week: Texas Longhorns

I love this Texas team. I think everybody should get along with everything going on in the Big 12 now. In that conference that has just ten teams, there are currently six teams ranked in the top 25 and by tomorrow that number could climb to seven. Texas beat two of those ranked teams this past week, doing something not many teams have been able to do this year; be consistent. They are a team that hasn’t been getting near enough love that it deserves, being overshadowed by a great Kansas team and a superb Baylor team.

The Longhorns’ first game of the week came against those Baylor Bears who coming into the game were red hot. The Longhorns played as if they had something to prove which they very much did. They had won six games in a row and finally became healthy. Despite Baylor dominating on the glass, Texas found a way to control the duration of the game by having a wise shot-selection and forcing Baylor to shoot an excessive number of threes that they are not comfortable with. It was a game of runs but the Longhorns held the Bears at bay to gain the top spot in the Big 12 Standings. The final score was seventy-six to seventy-one Texas.

Texas went to Kansas State on Saturday and in that game, they withstood all the pressures of the crowd and playing a top-ten team on the road. Texas came back from down double digits in the second half, and that come back was led by Jabari Rice and Christian Bishop who each led the scoring for Texas with fourteen points off the bench. Rice had a double-double on Saturday evening (double-digits in two stat categories, his being rebounds and points), Bishop had the go-head bucket with thirty-six seconds and Rice sealed the deal with two free throws with nine seconds left. The final score was Texas sixty-nine to Kansas State’s sixty-six.

What’s next for Texas?

Texas sees Kansas on the road Tonight in what should be a fun game to watch. They host West Virginia on Saturday, and despite how good the Big 12 has been, it will be a nice break for the Longhorns to not have to play a top eleven team. If they win on the road Tonight, there is a very strong case that one could make that they are the best team in the country. For the simple fact that they have been consistent no matter who or where they play and the fact that they will have beaten three top-eleven teams in a row including two top-ten teams back-to-back on the road there is no way they wouldn’t be considered a top three team come next Monday. They are building a strong resume to become a one seed for the NCAA Tournament and putting them in a good spot for the always highly coveted Big 12 Championship.

Player of the week: Jeremy Roach

Full disclosure I am not a Duke fan. I have never been one, but I am a fan of Jeremy Roach. He is a kid who does everything he needs to do for his team without making a ton of noise. Last year’s Duke team was stellar, and it looked as if the stars were aligning for Coach K’s (the greatest basketball coach ever) farewell tour to end with him winning yet another national championship until they ran into their archrival, North Carolina in the final four and lost. They had also lost to North Carolina on Coach K’s senior night at home.

This game is always personal, but this time it was even more personal for these Duke players. Jeremy Roach, being one of the stars of last year’s team and the unsung hero of the tournament for Duke, had something he needed to prove on Saturday night. Jeremy Roach played all forty minutes for the Blue Devils and despite being a back-court player, finished with twenty points and seven rebounds. He gave everything he had Saturday evening and is going to try to lead his team who has struggled this year, on another late March run.

Game of the Weekend:

#12 Gonzaga vs. #18 St. Mary’s

I would say this was a huge upset but frankly it wasn’t. Forget about the fact that the St. Mary’s fans stormed the court because that does not matter. Not in the slightest in regard to what this game means to college basketball. In fact, a sight that is rare to see happened on Saturday night, Gonzaga was the underdogs against an opponent inside their own conference. People including myself have said for years that Gonzaga should change conferences because they don’t have a lot of competition in their own conference (the West Coast Conference) but all that is starting to change.

During the game, St. Mary’s trailed from the eighteen-minute mark of the first-half, all the way to the four minute and twenty-five second mark of overtime. St. Mary’s tends to be made to feel as if Gonzaga is their big brother, but recently the rivalry has been even. Saint Mary’s came back from down eight points with a little over seven minutes left in the game to send the game to overtime and in overtime they really rook over. The Gaels outscored the Bulldogs by a score of seventeen to nine and saw their star guard who some are saying will play in the NBA, led the scoring for St. Mary’s with eighteen points.

What this game means for college basketball is that there is no king of the west anymore and Gonzaga has some climbing to do if they want to be considered for anything more than a five-seed for the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga is currently two games back of Saint Mary’s for the West Coast Conference, meaning if they can’t get two games back, they will have to win the conference tournament on the road and at their biggest rival’s court. This is a storyline to follow and one I will keep you posted about.

My Top Three Teams Right Now:

1. Houston – The Cougars have two losses and the second loss which was to Temple was just avenged on the road last night. Their other loss came on the road to Alabama who is just barely not on this list. Some may knock their schedule, but they have been by far the most consistent team in college basketball and have a win over who was at the time the second ranked team in the country, Virginia, on the road. They have been to the final four within the past two seasons and should be one of the favorites to win the national championship this year. Their defense is suffocating, and their offense does everything it has to do to support their strong defense. Some might hate watching this strong defensive team, but greatness deserves its respect.

2. Texas – Another team from the lone star state on my list, they have beaten two ranked teams in a row and have proven themselves to be the best team in the best conference. That matters a hell of a lot in my book along with how a team handles themselves on the road against tough opponents. They have a deep roster and that will take them far this year. They are my favorite team to watch this year and they keep growing. They have seen a coach get fired and replaced during the season and the kids along with the coaching staff kept going and has taken this team to heights it hasn’t seen since Kevin Durant was there.

3. Tennessee – Houston’s defense is strong, sure but they are not what the Volunteers defense is. This defense held a team who just scored ninety-four points against a solid Georgia team to forty-three points during the entire game. Beating that Auburn team was enough to make me say this team deserves to be in the top three. It wasn’t just how the defense didn’t allow Auburn to get settled during one offensive possession, it was the way they hit shots when they needed to. Sure, forty-six points isn’t the most impressive thing in the world, but holding a ranked team to forty-three points sure is. They bounced back from a difficult loss to Florida and have proven themselves to be not just among the very best teams in the country but a team that one could make the case for is the best team in the country.

Three Questions of the Week:

1. Baylor: How do they perform against TCU? – It will be the first time they play on the road since their loss to Texas and it will be the first ranked team they will have seen since. TCU will have just played two teams that should be in the big dance (the NCAA Tournament) in Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Kansas State will be looking to bounce back from their loss against Texas on Saturday so it will be no easy task for the Horned Frogs. The Bears will be playing a team that will be very hungry to get back on track or hungry to get a second win in a row against a ranked team. Baylor is going to have to prove itself next Tuesday for it to be considered among the elite in college basketball.

2. Auburn: How do they respond to the Tennessee loss? It was heartbreaking the loss they suffered on Saturday afternoon. There was a controversial call to end the game, but it was the hardest the Tigers had fought all season, just to lose by three points. In the past when they have suffered a loss like this it is followed by a couple more, they have lost three of

their last four games, so they are going to need to right the ship. In their next two games, they have to go to a Texas A&M team that has beaten them two times in a row and they get to host their nemesis, the Alabama Crimson Tide. They need to bounce back if they want to stay out of the bubble (teams that may or may not make the tournament) and the perfect opportunity is now. They get to rewrite a loss they just suffered, and they get to see their archrival at home who is having a historic season that they can take part in stopping. The time is now for these Auburn Tigers.

3. North Carolina: They just suffered a gut-wrenching loss to their nemesis in Duke and by no measure have had an easy season. They have already suffered eight losses and are right on the bubble at the current moment. They get to play another bubble team on Tuesday, on the road to start to right the ship and host two ranked teams in a row in Clemson and Miami. Just winning two of these next three wins can help put them in a spot like the one they were in last year that they utilized to get to the final four. They were an eight seed last year that despite running through a gauntlet of teams in the tournament, made it all the way to the national championship. They are a team that is experienced so all they need is a chance to be dangerous and they can surprise the nation.

Game of the Upcoming Week:

South Carolina vs. LSU 

No this is not men’s basketball. This is women’s basketball, and this is the only two undefeated teams left in the nation. LSU deserves all the respect in the world and has been given it, led by Angel Reese who has averaged 23.4 points per game which is top five in the nation. She is also second in the nation in rebounds, with an average of 15.4 rebounds per game. Her Tigers will be facing Aaliyah Boston’s South Carolina Gamecocks who hasn’t lost a game since last year’s SEC Tournament. Aaliyah Boston is averaging a double-double and won the most valuable player award last year for the entire

season. The nation’s two best players on the nation’s two best teams going at its next weekend on Super Bowl Sunday. What a time to be a college basketball fan.

Games to watch:

1. Kansas vs. Texas at 9:00 on ESPN on Monday (Tonight)

2. TCU vs. Kansas State at 9:00 on ESPNU on Tuesday

3. Baylor vs. TCU at 4:00 on ESPN on Saturday

4. South Carolina vs. LSU at 2:00 on Sunday

5. Alabama vs. Auburn at 2:00 on ESPN on Saturday

These next few weeks will create the madness that will unfold before our eyes on college basketball’s biggest stage but there is still madness to enjoy at the present time. From the Big Twelve’s supremacy over college basketball to the struggles of Auburn and North Carolina, there is a lot to watch in the coming week. I will be back next week giving you everything you need to know when it comes to college basketball, until then stay safe and enjoy the madness before March.

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March Madness On The Way