All eyes in 'Nova Nation are on the No. 1 seed line of the mock brackets and the number of days left until Selection Sunday, as they are for fans of Virginia and Duke (forget Kentucky; they appear to be a top seed no matter what happens before the field of 68 is chosen). ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi told us Friday that "Duke and/or Villanova could fall [the others not]" with a loss Saturday, and a replacement would depend on what happens among the possible No. 2 seeds such as Wisconsin and Arizona. The scramble will place extra attention on the coming week's conference tournaments (if there wasn't enough attention already).
Except for Tuesday's Penn-Princeton game, this weekend marks the final two days of a 2014-15 regular season that has provided us with more than a few surprises over the last four months. How about Maryland and Notre Dame, two teams that weren't even ranked in the preseason but have surged to be projected No. 3 seeds going into Saturday? Then you have the falls of Florida (No. 7 in the preseason polls) and defending national champion Connecticut (No. 17), who have no shot at the NCAAs unless they win their conference tournaments. And Texas (10th in preseason) is barely hanging on to the NCAA bubble.
And how about the surest shot of the year - Kentucky, which can complete an undefeated regular season and a wire-to-wire run at No. 1 with a home victory over Florida? The Wildcats had a close call Tuesday, falling behind Georgia by nine points with about nine minutes to play before rallying to defeat the Bulldogs. Coach John Calipari was pleased with the win but sounded weary after the game. "I just want the regular season over with," he said. "I've been telling the guys for two weeks, 'Just get this over.' The real stuff starts in a week or two. Let's just get this done."
Kentucky's senior class consists of three walk-ons, two of whom - Sam Malone and Brian Long - were part of the Wildcats' 2012 national championship squad starring Anthony Davis. Naturally, people want to know how this year's juggernaut compares with that team, and it doesn't sound close. "This team is a lot deeper," Malone said in a story on CoachCal.com, Calipari's official website. "I think our chemistry got going a lot earlier than it did in 2012." Long said this year's Wildcats are "really deep and very unselfish and we've played real well all year." Malone, Long and Tod Lanter have combined for four points in 27 minutes played all season.
There's little question that the nation's two best players are 6-foot-10 freshman Jahlil Okafor of Duke and 7-foot senior Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin. It's difficult going on stats alone to decide between Okafor (17.8 ppg., 9.4 rpg., 66.5 percent shooting) and Kaminsky (18.2, 8.2, 55.4 percent) for player of the year so we'll drop in on Tom Izzo, whose Michigan State team played against both. "I recruited Jahlil and I love everything about him," Izzo said in an Associated Press story. "I wouldn't have even put them close when you look at Kaminsky a year ago. But Kaminsky is phenomenal right now. I just think he does it in so many different ways."
Heading into Saturday's final day of the regular season in the Big East, one of the few knowns is that Villanova is the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The Wildcats will play their first game Thursday against the 8-9 winner on the event's opening day, and that could be DePaul, Seton Hall, Creighton or Marquette. A victory for 'Nova would move the team into Friday night's semifinals, where the Cats would play the 4-5 first-round winner. On Saturday, if Providence beats Butler, Georgetown defeats Seton Hall and 'Nova wins at home against St. John's, the 4-5 game would be Butler vs. St. John's.
These are trying times at Indiana, where the Hoosiers were cruising along with a 15-4 record Jan. 22, but have lost seven of 11 games since and are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament. The Indianapolis Star reported head coach Tom Crean and his players were booed off the court after a 77-63 loss to Iowa on Tuesday in Bloomington. Athletic director Fred Glass told Crean afterward that the coach's job was safe but there also is the fact that Crean is owed an $11 million buyout if he is fired after April, the Star said. Glass denied what he called "a sense" that Crean was keeping his job because of the buyout, ESPN.com said.
James Madison junior guard Ron Curry, of Pennsauken and Paul VI High School, finished the regular season as the Dukes' leader in scoring (13.8 points per game), assists (4.4) and three-point baskets (56), and was named second-team all-CAA. Curry's teammate, former Lower Merion High star Yohanny Dalembert, placed second on JMU in scoring (11.6) and leads the team in rebounding (5.9), blocked shots (37) and field-goal percentage (59.1). The Dukes finished in a four-way tie for the CAA regular-season championship.
Florida at Kentucky, Saturday at 2 p.m., CBS3:
The Wildcats go for the undefeated regular season, which appears to be just a formality against a Florida team that began the season with a No. 7 ranking but enters this game at .500 (15-15). While the Gators would love to salvage a sorry season with the year's most significant upset, it appears nothing will get in the way of the Big Blue train here.
Michigan State at Indiana, Saturday at noon, ESPN:
The Hoosiers have lost seven of 11 since finding themselves ranked No. 22 on Jan. 26 and need a win here to retain their tenuous hold on the NCAA bubble.
Stanford at Arizona, Saturday at 4 p.m., CBS3:
The Wildcats would appear to have the best shot of overtaking Villanova as a No. 1 seed should the Main Line Cats falter before next Sunday.
Virginia at Louisville, Saturday at 6:30 p.m., ESPN:
The Cardinals' Feb. 7 loss at Virginia began a 4-4 stretch entering this contest, and the home team could sure use a win to take some momentum into the ACC tournament.
Duke at North Carolina, Saturday at 9 p.m., ESPN:
The Blue Devils won a 92-90 decision in their first meeting against the Tar Heels, and a repeat at the Dean Dome will clinch the No. 2 seed in the ACC tourney.
Tulsa at SMU, Sunday at 3 p.m., ESPNU:
The American Athletic Conference showdown in Dallas will determine the regular-season champion, and hurt or help the visiting Golden Hurricane's NCAA chances.
- Joe Juliano