And so it’s here. The essence of the college basketball season can be distilled into one magical word.
The past four months have been a long and lively series of hints, omens, signs, clues, suggestions. And sometimes confusing turns. On the last Thursday night in February, six ranked teams played unranked opponents, and five of them lost.
March will provide the final answers.
But what are the best questions? Here are a few, true or false.
You wonder about North Carolina. The Tar Heels have already clinched the Sybil Trophy for multiple personalities by beating Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky while losing to Belmont and UAB. They lost four of five in the ACC, but have now won 10 in a row.
All’s well that ends well. They’re primed for a deep run. True or false?
You wonder about Louisville. The Cardinals have not gotten a lot of buzz, and how does that happen when you’re the defending national champions and 24-4? They have lost one game since Jan. 9 and are among the nation’s finest in turnover differential. That sounds an awful lot like 2013.
A repeat is in the Cards. True or false?
You wonder about Michigan State. The most overworked person in East Lansing has been the Spartans’ trainer. The top four scorers have all missed multiple games with injuries, and Tom Izzo -- who recently estimated his hobbled troops have missed 150 practices among them -- has been forced to use 10 players in 14 different starting lineups. And yet, they’re still 22-6.
Once healthy, the Spartans will be the scariest team in March. True or false?
You wonder about Kansas. Another year, another Big 12 title. That makes 10 in a row. The Jayhawks are as reliable as a tide table, and what should not go unnoticed is the remarkable 25-year streak of at least 22 victories in a season. “When you win the league, it’s a good year,” head coach Bill Self was saying. “Now we need to go make it a great or special year.”
Oh, they will, led by special freshmen. True or false?
You wonder about Saint Louis. How do you go 25-3 and still need nametags for the rest of the nation? The Billikens’ 19-game winning streak was washed away in Thursday’s upset wave by Duquesne, the 10th-place team in the Atlantic 10.
Saint Louis starts five seniors. It plays defense. It climbed into the top 10 for the first time since 1965. Never mind Thursday. The Billikens are this year’s Wichita State, Butler, VCU, et. al. True or false?
You wonder about Wichita State. The Shockers are 30-0. We can talk about strength of schedule until the Kansas cows come home, but we’ll end up back in the same place. The Shockers are 30-0.
Move over, 1976 Indiana? Probably not. But Wichita State will go far enough to make the doubters dine on baked crow. True or false?
You wonder about Creighton. Not since The Waltons has there been a family show this precious. The McDermotts. Dad coaches the Big East co-leader, while his senior son cleans up all the top individual awards in this, the Year of the Freshman.
Surely, this has to have a happy Final Four ending. True or false?
You wonder about Florida. Can it be the Gators haven’t lost since Dec. 2, and without a certifiable star averaging so many as 15 points a game? Yep. Florida is now No. 1 and has done its best work on the road, snapping Arkansas’ 25-game home winning streak, and Kentucky’s 22-game Rupp Arena run.
Time for Florida’s three-year streak of Elite Eight finishes to end. The good way. True or false?
You wonder about Arizona. The Wildcats were No. 1 for the longest time, but then forward Brandon Ashley was lost to injury, and leading scorer Nick Johnson’s shot went south. He was 19-for-70 in five games.
Johnson has become reacquainted with the rim, and Arizona just blew away Colorado and California by 27 and 28 points, respectively. The Wildcats are back on their A game, just in time. True or false?
You wonder about Duke. Jabari Parker had a January cold snap -- just like every state east of the Rockies. But he’s had eight double-doubles the past 11 games and is emerging as the winner of the freshman sweepstakes, if there was one. The Blue Devils just came through four ACC games in eight days, answering the frustration of losing to North Carolina by beating Syracuse in the outcome that turned Jim Boeheim into Mount Etna. “I think we achieved something mentally,” Parker said of the ordeal.
The Blue Devils have passed their moment of truth. They’re ready. True or false?
You wonder about Kentucky. Freshman orientation has not gone smoothly, including losing in overtime to Arkansas twice. The general assumption has always been John Calipari’s gaggle of McDonald’s All-Americans would be dangerous when the time came.
The time has come. True or false?
You wonder about San Diego State. It’s not just that the Aztecs are 24-3, they own two of the niftiest stats anywhere -- winning 40 games in a row against teams from California and 114 games in a row when leading at the 5-minute mark.
By late March, the nation will know their numbers, and their faces. True or false?
You wonder about Virginia. How do you lead the ACC and still be 294th in the nation in scoring? By being No. 1 in the nation in fewest points allowed.
The Cavaliers have held 11 opponents under 50. Maybe it’s not always pretty, but defense can be the ticket for a long ride in March. True or false?
You wonder about Syracuse. The state fair should have a ride so thrilling. The Orange’s past five games have been decided by 14 points. Not hard to understand why Boeheim seems a tad excitable.
Earning an advanced degree in brinkmanship, Syracuse gets Boeheim back to the Final Four at the age of 69. He’s joined there by SMU’s Larry Brown at 73, San Diego State’s Steve Fisher at 68 and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski at 67. It’s the NCAA Final Four, brought to you by AARP. True or false?
You wonder about free throws, and how many fates they ruin later this month. Arizona, Louisville, Virginia, San Diego State and Florida have at least two things in common. They’re all leading their conferences – and they’re all ranked 243rd or worse in the nation in free-throw percentage.
But they’ll make them when they have to. True or false?
So possibilities are vast as March dawns. There are bluebloods and wannabes, the unsung and an unbeaten. Old coaches and freshman phenoms. It’ll be a fascinating month. True or true?