Welcome to the best month of the year, March
It seemed inevitable going into a season without the typical scrimmages and preseason practices that more teams would be on upset alert on a nightly basis. The extent of this parity, however, has proved immense.
As top programs wrap up their regular season with their minds set on conference tournament matchups, the elite head coaches will make sure their players are focused on the game at hand and not future endeavors. But we still saw this weekend what can happen when you start to look past your present.
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The most astonishing aspect of Arizona, Oregon, Kentucky and DePaul’s losses was that each ranked team lost to a conference opponent that most likely will not even make the NCAA Tournament. Talk about losing concentration down the stretch.
Arizona St. bested Arizona in overtime, which overshadowed the 30-point performance from bonafide superstar Aari McDonald. Oregon fell to Oregon St. but has a chance for revenge, as the two in-state rivals are the 4 and 5 seeds in the upcoming conference tournament. Barring an early loss from the Beavers and they might sneak into the field with an at-large first four in bid.
Kentucky and DePaul have a lot more explaining to do. The Wildcats lost to an Ole Miss squad that was 4-10 in the SEC, and it is largely due to the Rebels shutting down the elusive Rhyne Howard. Howard shot just 6-for-25 from the field. Does Kentucky have enough offensive firepower outside of their star to hang in close games when she isn’t hot?
DePaul’s loss to Butler last night was inexcusable for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the Bulldogs came into the game with just two wins on the season against their fellow Big East bottom-dwellers. Secondly and most important, DePaul now drops to 4 in the Big East standings, meaning a likely semifinal matchup with UConn rather than a finals appearance. Maybe a stinging defeat like this is what the Blue Demons needed to get back on track.
New Queens in the SEC
If beating South Carolina to take control of the number one spot in the conference standings and a surefire 1-seed in the NCAA tournament isn’t a program defining win, then I don’t know what is. The most impressive part about Texas A&M’s victory on Sunday wasn’t the diversity of scoring, with four starters reaching double digits, but their tenacious team defense.
The Aggies had eight steals and six blocks but most importantly shut down the Gamecock guards, Zia Cooke and Destiny Henderson. The backcourt duo shot 31 percent on the evening and could never find any rhythm.
Texas A&M claim their first ever regular season conference crown, and climbed to a program record #2 in the AP Poll. Head coach Gary Blair doesn’t want to dwell on the win any longer, however, “Now it’s up to both of us to throw this season away and start all over at the SEC tournament and NCAA Tournament.”