NCAA Tournament: teams to watch
By Edwin Blebu
ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
Last weekend’s schedule of college basketball included many Top 25 matchups that provided a better insight as to which teams are hot and which teams are cooling down heading into conference tournaments.
One of the notable Top 25 teams who made a big statement over the weekend was the Georgetown University Hoyas. Over the last month the Hoyas have been playing their best basketball of the season, with decisive wins against conference foes Marquette University Golden Eagles and the Syracuse University Orange.
On Saturday, the Hoyas completely dismantled the Orange, winning 61-39, making a strong case for being selected as one of the top seeds on Selection Sunday. The Hoyas are led by sophomore forward Otto Porter, perhaps the most instrumental player on the roster because of due to his versatile game and his high basketball IQ. With their most recent victory against the Orange, the Hoyas earned the No. 1 seed in the Big East Conference tournament and is a viable contender to reach the Final Four in the NCAA tournament.
The recent struggles of the Orange may indicate serious warning signs for a first or second round upset in the NCAA tournament. The Orange have been playing their worst basketball of the season over the past two weeks, and the most recent loss to the Hoyas has created some rather bleak implications of their future heading into the Big East Conference tournament. Lead guard sophomore Michael Carter-Williams has been the primary source of offense for the Orange, but Carter-Williams has also struggled with committing several turnovers over the course of a game.
Currently, the Orange are not executing on defensive the end with the same sense of urgency that they played with toward the first half of the season. Syracuse also has some apparent issues on offense as their ball movement appears to be very stagnant and one dimensional especially during the second half of their last two games. Although Syracuse is ranked No. 17 nationally, their success in the tournament will largely be based on whether or not they can effectively remedy their recent defensive woes. The Orange have a substantial amount of talent but could easily end up being a first or second round exit when the tournament begins next week.
Another team to monitor during the Big 12 Conference tournament is the Baylor University Bears. The Bears are coming off a convincing home win against the University of Kansas Jayhawks 81-58. Senior guard Pierre Jackson the primary catalyst for the Bears’ offense. If Jackson is able to repeat his dominating performance against the Jayhawks by setting the tone offensively and defensively, the Bears will be hard to beat in the conference tournament.
In addition to Jackson’s consistent performance, junior forward Cory Jefferson and freshman center Isaiah Austin have increased their production as well. As the Bears continue to exploit all of the potential mismatches with Austin, their chances of shifting the hierarchy in the Big 12 tournament will continue to increase.
Last year’s national champion the University of Kentucky Wildcats could very well find themselves without an invitation to the NCAA tournament if they fail to reach the championship game of the Southeastern Conference tournament. Despite their crucial win against the University of Florida Gators on March 9, the Wildcats have underachieved for the majority of the season.
After losing freshman center Nerlens Noel to a season-ending knee injury, the Wildcats have had little success against conference opponents. But, despite their relatively dismal season the Wildcats still have a slight chance at making the NCAA tournament. In the event that the Wildcats are fortunate enough to receive a bid to the Big Dance, it is doubtful that this team will be able to repeat the success of their 2012 national championship team.
With no clear-cut powerhouse program that dominated like last year’s champion, many of the conference tournaments will be crucial in determining what teams will be gaining a lot of momentum before the tournament begins. This year’s tournament will be a great showcase of the abilities of finest college basketball players and their desire to achieve the ultimate team accomplishment in collegiate athletics.