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.
5. VIRGINIA (LW: 9)
The Cavaliers battered Syracuse 75-56 Saturday to clinch their first regular season ACC crown since the Ralph Sampson glory days of the mid-80s. A couple of neat factoids from ESPN: Virginia is 16-1 in the ACC, equaling 1998-99 Duke for the most ACC wins in a season; the Cavaliers averaged 132 points per possession Saturday, the highest offensive efficiency surrendered by the Orange in three years; and for only the first time in ACC history, neither Duke nor North Carolina has a share of the conference title in back-to-back seasons. Miami (Fla.) won the outright regular season championship last winter.
6. KANSAS (LW: 6)
If I’m a Kansas fan, I’m not concerned about the Jayhawks’ loss at Oklahoma State Saturday — the Cowboys needed that game in the worst way to boost their NCAA tournament profile — but I am fretting about Joel Embiid’s recurring back problems. After missing a win over TCU on Feb. 15 with a back issue, the freshman center reinjured his back Saturday and KU coach Bill Self said Monday Embiid will sit the final two games of the regular season.
7. SYRACUSE (LW: 4)
The Orange were one of five top-10 teams to lose on the road Saturday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time five top-10 squads lost on the road on the same day was Jan. 18, 2003. Syracuse has now dropped three of four, and its grip on a No. 1 seed is loosening by the day. Offensively, coach Jim Boeheim’s team is stuck in a funk: the Orange haven’t scored more than 60 points since Feb. 3; guard Trevor Cooney, the team’s primary floor-spacer, is 6-of-29 from 3 in his past four games; and sophomore swingman Jerami Grant, averaging 11.8 points, has scored four points and played 26 minutes in the team’s last two games while dealing with a balky back.
8. WISCONSIN (LW: NR)
Michigan (11-3 Big Ten) sewed up a share of the conference title over the weekend, but Wisconsin still has an outside shot at duplicating that achievement if it can beat Purdue and Nebraska this week. The Badgers would need the Wolverines to lose at Illinois tonight and fall to Indiana at home Saturday, too.
9. MICHIGAN (LW: NR)
I thought the Wolverines’ Big Ten title hopes were kaput when big man Mitch McGary was ruled out for the season with back problems in early January, but Michigan has marched along just fine thanks to probable Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert, Stauskas’ unlikely sidekick. After averaging 2.3 points on 2.7 field goal attempts in 2012-13, LeVert has raised his game this year, pouring in 13.4 points on 10.3 shots a game. LeVert has bumped his field goal shooting (31.5 to 43.6) and 3-point shooting (30.2 to 40.2) numbers as well.
10. VILLANOVA (LW: NR)
Villanova hasn’t gotten much respect nationally because they’ve been beat down by Creighton and likely national player of the year Doug McDermott twice, but otherwise the Wildcats have enjoyed a heck of a season. By beating Marquette Sunday, Villanova moved to 26-3, the first time in the 95-year history of program it has won 26 regular-season games. With victories this week against Xavier and Georgetown, the Wildcats will also clinch the outright Big East championship.
Dropped out: Saint Louis (7), Creighton (8), Cincinnati (10)
Grant Freking is a sportswriter for the Daily Reporter. Contact him at (317) 477-3230 or at firstname.lastname@example.org