After road upsets ruled the weekend, the back half of the Top Freking 10 was thrown into chaos. Also, Wichita State’s continued pursuit of the record books, Virginia’s rise and Kansas’ concerning injury to a key player.
1. WICHITA STATE (last week: 1)
There’s no getting around the obvious: 31-0 is damn impressive, no matter your qualm with Wichita’s State strength of schedule (ranked 100th in the country by CBS). The Shockers are the first team to enter their conference tournament undefeated since Jameer Nelson and Delonte West-led St. Joseph’s in 2004. And they own the best start to a season since UNLV went 34-0 in 1991 before losing in the Final Four. I don’t claim to have a degree in Bracketology, but I’d be very surprised if Wichita State wasn’t the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional. The Midwest Regional semis (Sweet 16) and final (Elite Eight) will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 28 and 30.
2. FLORIDA (LW: 2)
In my mind, Florida and Wichita State have separated themselves as the top two teams in the country for two reasons: they are two elite defensive teams (both are ranked in the top 12 in scoring defense) who possess a handful of players that can erupt on a given night. For example, Gator guard Dorian Finney-Smith scored 19 and 16 points in Florida’s two wins last week after going a month and a half with back-to-back games in double figures. That’s depth.
3. ARIZONA (LW: 3)
Aaron Gordon is heating up at the perfect time for the Wildcats. The freshman forward scored 19 and grabbed 15 rebounds as Arizona clinched the Pac-12 title Sunday against Stanford. In his last three games, Gordon is averaging 18.3 points, nine rebounds and shooting 67 percent from the field.
4. DUKE (LW: 5)
Marshall Plumlee may be the key to Duke’s title hopes. Not Jabari Parker. Not Rodney Hood. Not Coach K. Marshall Plumlee. The 7-foot redshirt sophomore is the third Plumlee brother to play for the Blue Devils, but his career to this point has been largely insignificant because of foot injuries. Lately, Plumlee has gained consistent minutes for the first time all season, playing between 12 and 19 minutes in Duke’s last three games. In that time, Plumlee is averaging about 2.7 rebounds for every minute played. Plumlee’s sturdy frame gives the normally porous Blue Devil defense (222nd in opponents’ field-goal percentage) a roadblock in the middle and puts less pressure on Hood and Parker. It will be interesting to see if Plumlee can acquire Coach K’s trust in crunch time.