I haven’t addressed the so-called "new rules" that have been emphasized so that offensive players can have more freedom of movement. The worry was that the games would turn into free-throw shooting contests, and that did happen in November. Now I think players and coaches have adjusted, and that has made the game better to watch.
To me, the best aspect is the change on the block/charge call. It had swayed far too much to the charge side. Offensive players can once again attack the basket without worrying about a player flopping at the last second to draw an offensive foul. I’d say it’s a success.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats are not pleasant to watch. In fact, it’s downright ugly. It’s working, however. Tough defense, opportunistic offense, and overall aggressive play have helped the Bearcats compile a 13-2 record with a six-game winning streak. The sixth was a gritty, tough win at Memphis.
Creighton: The conference season has just started but it’s looking like Creighton and Villanova are on a collision course in the Big East. The Bluejays crushed Marquette, 67-49, in their first Big East game, then beat Seton Hall in beautiful downtown Newark. They have won seven in a row and are 11-2.
Hawaii: The Rainbows have won nine of their last 10, are now 11-3, and have positioned themselves as a Big West contender. Their last bid was 2002 and they’ve only been in the tournament four times.
San Diego State: The Aztecs beat Kansas, 61-57, at Allen Fieldhouse, ending the Jayhawks’ 68-game home-court winning streak against nonconference opponents. They’re 12-1, and the only loss was to No. 1 Arizona. They play a methodical, physical game; they’re great defenders and rebounders. This is a potential Final Four team.
Stephen F. Austin: The Lumberjacks are one of the best mid-major programs in the country and they’re on a roll with 10 straight wins (13-2 overall). Plus they’ve won 26 straight at home, the second-longest active streak in the nation.
Butler: Maybe Brad Stevens left at the right time. The Bulldogs opened Big East play with a pair of losses, to Villanova in overtime at home and then on the road against Xavier.
UConn: It was pretty clear to me that UConn would compete with Louisville and Memphis in the newfangled AAC but the Huskies had a disastrous road trip to Texas (horrible to think UConn has a league road trip with two games in Texas). The Huskies lost to a mediocre Houston team on New Year’s Eve and then got outhustled and outmuscled by SMU on Saturday. They’ll probably fall out of the Top 25, and Harvard is next.
Oral Roberts: The Miracles almost always win more than they lose, but this season it might be a struggle to accomplish that. They’re 7-8 and have lost five of their last seven including a horrible 94-57 demolition at the hands of Baylor and a home loss to Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
Northwestern: New coach Chris Collins, ex-Duke assistant, is going to have a long season in the Big Ten. The Mildcats lost at home to DePaul in a semi-rivalry game, then things got worse when league play started. They weren’t even competitive in losing to Wisconsin, 76-49, and Michigan, 74-51.
Temple: The Owls weren’t supposed to be good, but the season is veering out of control with consecutive road losses to Rutgers and Central Florida. The Owls are now 5-7 overall.
This week’s George Mason (best mid-major): Wichita State. The Wheat Shockers are 15-0; they travel to Missouri State next Saturday and that won’t be easy.
This week’s Final Four: Michigan State, Arizona, Louisville, Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State lost at Kansas State but I’m not dropping it out. Ohio State and San Diego State are threatening to crack this list.
This week’s national champion: Michigan State
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell