Jones: March Madness is weeks away. What’s up with college basketball?

Published January 11 2018
Updated January 12 2018

We’ve been a little busy lately.

What with Dirk Koetter staying and Evan Longoria going. We’ve been distracted by UCF and amazed by Alabama. There has been Jon Gruden news and what is shaping up to be a very special season for the Lightning.

With all that going on, we’ve lost track of college basketball. Believe it or not, we’re only a couple of weeks away from March Madness.

So now seems like a good time to catch up with what is going on in college hoops.

Florida is not as good as we thought but is trending up

After last year’s run to the Elite Eight, the Gators were supposed to be title contenders this season. And things started off well enough with an early victory against Gonzaga and a close loss to Duke. But that loss was the start of four losses in five games and a drop out of the polls. The Gators do seem to be getting their act together. They have six consecutive victories, including one over ranked Texas A&M on the road. They still could make some tournament noise, but there are a few more doubters because of Florida’s inconsistent shooting.

FSU is better than we thought but is trending down

This was supposed to be a season when the Seminoles restocked. But they are still a Top 25 team thanks to victories against Florida and North Carolina. But FSU might be coming back to earth with three losses in its past four games, though the losses came against tough competition: Duke, Miami and Louisville. The Louisville loss was especially rough; FSU blew a 17-point lead. That loss snapped a 28-game home winning streak.

Best team in the state

Miami. The Hurricanes are 13-2 and ranked 18th. They suffered a surprising loss to New Mexico State, but they do have nice victories against Minnesota and FSU. There were high hopes for UCF, but the Knights are 12-5 and just so-so. But don’t worry. If UCF doesn’t make the tournament, it can just declare itself national champ, right?

Best player

This isn’t even close, is it? Oklahoma freshman (yes, freshman) Trae Young not only leads the country in points (29.2) but also assists (10.1). He’s the reason the Sooners are thinking Final Four. And he’s the reason former Gators coach Lon Kruger is considered a good coach again. And, oh, let’s hear it for the Big 12 with three teams ranked in the top nine: West Virginia at No. 2, Texas Tech at No. 8 and Oklahoma at No. 9. No other conference has that many teams in the top 10.

Kevin Knox’s season

The Kentucky freshman from Tampa Catholic has been everything he was advertised to be. He still has the occasional rough outing, such as his 1-for-9 shooting night in a loss to Tennessee. But he followed that with a perfect 5-for-5 in a 15-point game against Texas A&M. Knox leads the Wildcats in points per game (14.1) and rebounds per game (5.7).

Biggest surprise

Clemson was supposed to finish near the bottom of the ACC. Instead, the Tigers are 3-1 in the conference and 15-2 overall, including victories over Florida, N.C. State and Louisville. They’ve climbed to No. 19 in the polls, though a loss at N.C. State on Thursday night might drop the Tigers. Let’s see if they can sustain their success with a rugged ACC schedule that still has Virginia, Duke, North Carolina (twice) and FSU (twice).

Biggest disappointment

Two Big 10 teams are struggling. Northwestern, last season’s darling of college hoops by getting into the NCAA Tournament for the first time, was ranked 19th coming into the season. But the Wildcats are scuffling with an 11-7 record, including ugly losses to Nebraska and Penn State.

Meantime, no one was talking Final Four — or anything like that — for Wisconsin, but the Badgers’ streak of 19 consecutive seasons of making the NCAA Tournament is in jeopardy. They are 9-9, including a loss to Big Ten bottom-feeder Rutgers.

What else is new?

UConn continues to be the dominant force in women’s basketball. The Huskies are 13-0, including a 51-point victory over what we thought was a pretty good USF team. UConn’s next big test is Monday at No. 7 Texas.

Final four predictions

Right now the top four teams in the country are Villanova, West Virginia, Virginia and Michigan State. Virginia always plays outstanding defense, but usually it’s the offense that disappears in a big tournament game. West Virginia is legit. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said teams should be "scared’’ of West Virginia. So, with that in mind, here’s my halfway-point, not-going-out-on-a-limb Final Four prediction: Villanova, West Virginia, Duke, Oklahoma.