March, dead ahead. So how did college basketball get here? The numbers of the season can do the talking.

RANKINGS: Associated Press | USA Today | RPI

Duke

The team went from preseason No. 1 to using its 10th different starting lineup this past Saturday. The Blue Devils were in frequent flux, but here's a fair warning: One recent lineup Mike Krzyzewski settled on is 8-1. Another Duke number of note is 132—as in consecutive home non-conference victories. That streak, born in 2000, has been handed off to 2017-18.

Gonzaga

The Zags won 21 consecutive games by double figures in a stampede to 29-0 and No. 1. But the three most troublesome letters in the alphabet for the Zags are BYU. Gonzaga sank in its first close game in nearly three months, getting outscored 8-0 in the final minute to lose 79-71 to the Cougars. The Zags have but six home defeats in three years. BYU owns three of them.

Villanova

A class that put up amazing vital statistics was just honored on Senior Day. Four Big East season titles, one home loss, a 124-16 overall record, never a losing streak of two games, a 16-0 record in Philadelphia’s Big Five. Oh yeah, and a national championship.

Kansas

Kansas must make room for another Big 12 championship trophy.  In the same season Bill Self lost his 10th home game at Kansas, he won his 13th consecutive league title—an amazing feat of consistency, as the challengers come and go. In those 13 years, eight different schools have either shared the regular season title or finished second. The new one wasn’t easy. Seven of the Jayhawks’ 12 conference victories were by five points or under. But then there was this at Kansas: A 5-0 record against top-10 opponents.

North Carolina

UNC won the Maui Invitational and never trailed a second in three games. A good omen, for any of the Tar Heel folks looking for such a thing, since both the 2005 and 2009 North Carolina teams won in Maui, too. They eventually cut down nets in April. Though Roy Williams cautioned, “I’ve never seen a national championship on the day before Thanksgiving.” Breaking 80 points 11 times and going 13-3 in their first 16 ACC games might be a more reliable omen.

UCLA

The Bruins lit up scoreboards from Rupp Arena to Pauley Pavilion. A year after going 15-17 to mass mumbling in Westwood, the Bruins are 26-3 with a balanced offense that borders on the unstoppable. There’s the nation-leading 91.6 scoring average, the 52.9 percent shooting, the six players averaging in double and figures and the 21.7 assists a game. The last number is the highest in Division I in 26 years.

Central Michigan

Watched the nation’s leading scorer at work every game. Marcus Keene has broken 40 points six times, which is the most anyone has done in 20 years. His loudest bang was Jan. 21 against Miami when he scored 26 consecutive points for the Chippewas in roughly six minutes and ended with 50. His current average is 29.7, but that hasn’t helped the bottom line lately. Central Michigan is on a five-game losing streak.

Oregon

It beat California with a three-pointer at 0.2 seconds, and UCLA with a three-pointer at 0.8. Dillon Brooks made them both. The Ducks now own the nation’s longest home court winning streak at 42.

Clemson

The Tigers have spent all winter coming close. And not, as the cliche goes, in horseshoes. Included in the Tigers’ 4-12 league record through February was a 1-9 mark in games settled by five or fewer points. Their last five ACC defeats were by a combined 12.

Purdue

Purdue has been able to count on a double-double from Caleb Swanigan with only slightly less certainty than sunrise direction. His 23 are the most for a Big Ten player in 31 years.

Iowa State

Iowa State has a point guard whose picture is in the dictionary next to the word "efficient." Monte Morris has committed one turnover every 35.2 minutes in the court, and his assist-turnover ratio the past seven games is 52-5. 

Butler

They lost to three teams with losing records but beat four opponents in the top 10 -- including Villanova twice. In the Big East preseason poll, the Bulldogs were picked to finish sixth. They'll enter the league tournament as the No. 2 seed.

Florida State

FSU played six consecutive ranked ACC opponents in 21 day and went 5-1. The Seminoles have played nine unranked opponents since and gone 5-4.

Indiana

It went from being ranked as high to No. 3 in the country to currently being tied for 10th in the Big Ten. Injuries were damaging, but this was even worse: A turnover differential that, at last count, was 341st in the nation.

Syracuse

The Orange tried to keep its NCAA Tournament chances afloat with a flurry of close ACC games – seven in a row decided by six or fewer points or in overtime – and an Iron Man display at forward. Tyler Lydon has played 11 consecutive conference games without coming out one minute. That included two overtime games.

Michigan State

It appears to have resumed normal operations; struggle against a brutal schedule early, be revived by March. Once 12-9, the Spartans have won six of their last eight games, and the danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 19 years has waned considerably. “We put ourselves in a position,” Tom Izzo said, “where I can look in the mirror and say we deserved some things.”

Miami

The Hurricanes are going through the ACC season with only nine scholarship players available, four of them freshman. But they still hit 20 wins, holding Duke to 50 points – 31.7 under its average – and whipping North Carolina by 15.

Virginia

It led the nation all season in scoring defense and has held opponents to 55 points or under 17 times. But all that defense couldn’t prevent a recent slide of six loses in eight games, including a three-game ice age when the Cavaliers shot 32 percent and scored 144 points. That’s its lowest three-game output since 1951.

Minnesota

It pulled the U-Turn of the season. The Gophers were the nation’s most improved team, going from 8-23 to 22-7 in under 12 months.

Saint Mary’s

It was the picture of good health and stability. For the Gaels through February: 29 games, 26 wins, one starting lineup.

Baylor

The Bears have put together a fine season but still can’t solve the aggravating Kansas problem. They have led their last four meetings at halftime but lost all four by 6, 4, 5 and 2.

Toledo

It went overtime in five of its first 10 games and eight in all. The Rockets were 3-5 when that happened.

Central Florida

It might have had good days and bad days on offense or defense, but Tacko Fall was always 7-6.  In shooting 73.8 percent, he’s missed only 51 field goal attempts all season. At the other end, he’s blocked 73, which is one good reason why opponents are shooting 36.3 percent, the lowest in the nation.

Fort Wayne

It reveled in possibly the nation’s biggest upset of the season, upsetting then-No. 3 Indiana in overtime in November, its first win over a ranked opponent in school history. Other opponents gave the 19-11 Mastodons more trouble, especially a South Dakota State sophomore forward named Mike Daum. In their first meeting, Daum had a career-high 42 points. In their second, he went for 51, the nation’s high for the season.

Army and Navy

The pair was even more fun to watch play basketball than football. In their first meeting, Navy blew a 10-point lead in the final minute of regulation, but then it outscored Army 21-5 in overtime and escaped 96-80. In the second meeting, Army came from 25 points down to win 70-68.

Wichita State

It merely reloaded after graduating weren't-they-there-forever stars Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. The 27-4 Shockers own a 19.5-point average winning margin and have one with the masses. They put up 82.5 points a game, despite not having one player averaging more than 11.7. Nine Shockers have started at least five games. Their vice grip on the Missouri Valley Conference goes on. They are 33-3 on the road in the league the past four years, with 25 of the wins by double figures.

Creighton and Nebraska

Are the only two schools in the top 12 of average attendance this season who have never won a national championship. They obviously like their basketball in the Cornhusker State.

Kentucky and North Carolina

They made more noise in Las Vegas than the slot machines. Kentucky freshman Malik Monk scored 47 points – and the game-winner with 16.7 seconds left – to outduel North Carolina’s Justin Jackson with 34, in a 103-100 Wildcat victory. Together in the desert, the two teams shot better than 53 percent, scored 203 points and had only 19 turnovers. It was the first time in North Carolina’s long history that the Tar Heels had scored 100 points in regulation and lost.

Nevada

It won the best game of the year that nobody saw. Down 25 points with 11 minutes left and 90-76 with 1:10 remaining, the Wolfpack hit six three-pointers in 63 seconds to catch New Mexico then won 105-104 in overtime. Marcus Marshall had four of the six 3-pointers, two of them bank shots.

UTEP and Florida International

The pair shared a memorable Jan. 12. In El Paso, the UTEP men ended a 12-game losing streak by beating Florida International on Dominic Artis’s fall-away jumper at the buzzer of the second overtime. Final score: 88-87.  Two hours earlier, and 1,642 miles away in Miami, the Florida International women beat UTEP on Kristian Hudson’s 30-footer at the buzzer of the third overtime. Final score: 88-87.

Louisiana Tech

It might have had the season’s most remarkable final six minutes of a game. UAB beat the Bulldogs 79-70 in a game interrupted by a brawl that led to mass ejections for both teams. Louisiana Tech had only four players the last six minutes. The four Bulldogs outscored UAB 20-16. 

Texas

The Longhorns started the season No. 21 in the rankings. Last count, the Longhorns were 10-19 and had lost 12 of 15. Meanwhile, Connecticut had gone from No. 18 to a 14-14 record. Injury-wrecked Xavier from the top-25 to dropping five in a row, its longest losing streak in 35 years. Maryland from 22-4 and playing for the Big Ten lead to losing three games in seven days, all by double digits. Wisconsin from the top of the Big Ten to dropping four of five, as the shooting percentage went south. The Badgers have not topped 44 percent in nine games. And USC from a 14-0 start to a 7-8 stretch run.

That's what the numbers say most of all. How the road to March can giveth and how it can taketh away.

Mike Lopresti is a member of the US Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, Ball State journalism Hall of Fame and Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. He has covered college basketball for 43 years, including 38 Final Fours. He is so old he covered Bob Knight when he had dark hair and basketball shorts were actually short.
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