March is on the horizon and the madness begins already in two weeks after the selection Sunday. As the bubble teams of the NCAA tournament sweat to know if they will hear their names, the best teams in college basketball are focused on closing their conference seasons and getting a seed favorable for the tournament.
Here’s a look at the biggest winners and losers in this regard on Saturday:
Virginia: The Cavaliers have won six straight games, including Saturday’s 52-50 defensive victory over Duke, to get out of the bubble and get closer to number 7. Jay Huff’s 10 blocks in Duke’s victory show how point this team can be defensive, while leading the nation with 52.7 points awarded to opponents. Coach Tony Bennett won’t have the same offense he had for the defending national team last year, but his defense is good enough for UVA to beat just about anyone.
Kansas: The Jayhawks (26-3, 1 NET score) took command of the Big 12 last weekend with a victory over Baylor. They were in danger of an upheaval in a round-trip game with Kansas State on the road before removing it for a 62-58 win behind Devon Dotson’s 25 points. KU is a lock at this point to clinch a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and if he finishes strong, it will be the seed in the tournament. Baylor’s loss to TCU also means Kansas is well positioned to win the Big 12 this year after placing second last year for the first time in 15 years.
Kentucky: The Wildcats (24-5, 18 NET points) clinched the SEC regular season title with a 73-66 home victory over Auburn. It also avenges Kentucky’s last defeat on February 1 at Auburn. Now the Wildcats have won eight straight games in March. In the grand scheme of things, this renowned victory keeps the United Kingdom in the mix for a seeded No. 2 or No. 3 in the NCAA.
State of San Diego: The Aztecs (28-1, 5 NET points) appear sloppy in their 83-76 road win over Nevada, but returned to the win column last week after suffering their first loss of the season against UNLV last Saturday. As good as the SDSU record is, it must continue to win if it is to achieve a No. 1 seed in the tournament, as much of the team’s victories have occurred in quadrants 3 and 4 – as evidenced by the strength of the non-conference calendar outside the top 100.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes (20-9, 29 NET points) entered the day as seeded No. 5 projected on the latest bracketology screening of USA TODAY Sports, and a 77-68 home win against Penn State gives Iowa a total of eight wins in Quadrant 1 to get closer to line # 4. Meanwhile, Penn State entered the day as number 4 and could be closer to number 5. With top player Jordan Bohannon suffering from a late season injury in December, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery saw his team elevate their game in a crowded Big Ten, where their identity begins to take shape.
Seton Hall: The Pirates (21-7, 15 NET points) are in the mix for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and Saturday’s 88-79 victory over Marquette only reinforces this possibility. It also helps the Florida State seed # 2 and Villanova seed # 3 lost on Saturday – paving the way for Seton Hall to move forward. It’s a team that has 11 wins in Quadrant 1 without any bad losses on their tournament summary and has proven to be the best team in the toughest conference in the country, the Big East.
Baylor: Bears (25-3, 2 NET points) were upset 75-72 against TCU on the road in a Quadrant 2 loss that saw the Horned Frogs stage an 18-1 race to close the win. Including last Saturday’s loss to Kansas, it’s now two of the last three games that Baylor has lost after winning 23 straight games. This moves the Bears out of first place in the Big 12 rankings and could even affect their pursuit of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
As early as last week, Baylor was the favorite to secure first place overall, but this late-game collapse opens the door for other top candidates – Gonzaga, San Diego State and Maryland – to catch the Bears if they weaken. in the latter part of the regular season. Although coach Scott Drew’s team has been fantastic all year, it doesn’t peak in March. However, the overall profile of Baylor will be difficult to transform into the seeded No. 2 unless it takes place completely.
duke: The Blue Devils (23-6, 6 NET points) are not on their A-game because the calendar turns to March. They only managed 50 points in a two-point loss on the Virginia road. Duke has now lost 3 of 4 and is headed in the wrong direction with only two regular season ACC games left. While this team was in the mix for a No. 1 seed a week ago, it is now approaching a No. 3 or No. 4 seed on selection Sunday – where first round reversals are much more dangerous.
Maryland: Barely a week ago, the Terrapins (23-6, 9 NET points) seemed ready to climb to the top of the line in parenthesis. Then they lost to Ohio State, barely escaped the Minnesota Big Ten basement team, and have now lost 78-66 at home to Michigan State. Maryland is still leading the Big Ten, but their chances of a No. 2 seed could take a hit with Saturday’s loss to the Spartans.
State of Florida: The Seminoles (24-5, 7 NET points) fell on the road for Clemson 70-69 bubble team to break a four-game winning streak and could drift closer to line 3, where Seton Hall ramp. FSU has only five wins in Quadrant 1 and will have to add to that if it wants to keep its ranking line for selection Sunday.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers (19-10, 17 NET points) lost six of seven straight games in a 73-62 home loss to Oklahoma on Saturday. In addition to being below .500 in the Big 12, WVU continues to fall with its planned seeding. After starting the day with a No. 6 seed, the climbers probably plunged into a No. 7 seed. At the beginning of the month, they were in the running for a No. 2 seed. What helps this team is the second best calendar force in the country.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders (18-11, 20 NET points) played the bubble to enter Saturday as a No. 9 seed, but after a 68-58 home loss to Texas, the Coach Chris Beard is less secure than she would like in March. It’s also the second straight loss this week, and Tech’s calendar for the Big 12 season is as tough as it gets: Baylor on Monday and Kansas next Saturday. Yes.
Follow university basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.