The game has been so good lately.
And we’re starting to see the best teams rise to the top — as it should be as we enter February.
Stars are taking over, finishing games and coming through with game-winners and thrilling finishes.
And the wins by the top teams have been so impressive that the chase to New Orleans continues to expand with a slew of candidates.
But the top two haven’t changed and it will be hard for anyone to change the opinion that Auburn and Gonzaga aren’t the two best teams in the country.
Kentucky certainly made a strong case with the 80-62 win at Kansas. That will go down as the most impressive win of the season and did earn the Wildcats our March Madness Team of the Week honors. The win over Mississippi State earlier in the week added credence to the debate. But it was just the previous Saturday that the Wildcats didn’t get past Auburn on the road. There is still work to be done.
In the Big Ten, Purdue has proven that ultimately the league will go through West Lafayette as predicted. There have been a few blemishes but the win at Illinois on MLK day and then the Sunday buzzer-beating win over Ohio State have shown that the Boilermakers are still the team to beat (yes even though Indiana won in Bloomington in the middle of those games).
The shot Sunday — by Jaden Ivey — gave him the final points of the game and earned him 21 on the afternoon and the March Madness National Player of the Week. Ivey, arguably the most entertaining player in the game this season, had scored 15 off the bench in a road win at Iowa after coming back from a hip injury. Ivey is a first-team all-Big Ten and all-American candidate.
WATCH: No. 6 Purdue's Jaden Ivey nails buzzer-beater 3 to take down No. 16 Ohio State
February is upon us and the chases for national player of the year, coach, freshmen and every major conference race is going to go down to the final weekend. Let’s get to it.
1. Auburn (1): The Tigers have won 17 in a row and looked like one of the favorites to win the title.
2. Gonzaga (2): This was supposed to be a challenging WCC. It hasn’t happened yet. Zags have won 10 straight.
3. Purdue (5): The Boilermakers have been challenged but have stepped up to the moment by winning at Illinois and then on Sunday at the buzzer against Ohio State.
4. Kentucky (6): The Wildcats dominance at Kansas was one of the most impressive wins of the season. Keion Brooks was the latest ‘Cat to shine with 27 points in the 80-62 win.
5. UCLA (10): The Bruins took down Arizona and went 3-0 on the week. Jules Bernard has emerged as a leading figure on this team.
6. Duke (7): The Blue Devils have some blemishes but they still rise when called upon. This team has title chops.
7. Houston (11): Time to start considering Kelvin Sampson for national coach of the year. The injury-riddled Cougars have won 10 in a row.
8. Arizona (3): The Wildcats got blitzed at UCLA, but this squad will be in the Pac-12 title race.
9. Kansas (4): I’m going to let the Kentucky loss be more of an anomaly. The Jayhawks have played with fire, but this team still has the goods.
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10. Illinois (14): The Illini beat Michigan State without Kofi Cockburn. A healthy Illinois can win the whole thing.
11. Baylor (8): The reigning champs have played a rugged schedule and there is no shame in losing at Alabama.
12. Villanova (12): The Wildcats are still the class of the Big East until Providence knocks them from the perch.
13. Michigan State (9): The Spartans blitzed rival Michigan. But the loss to Illinois stings.
14. Wisconsin (13): The Badgers keep finding ways to win and pulled out Ws at Nebraska and over Minnesota.
15. Ohio State (15): No reason to drop the Buckeyes after the buzzer-beating loss at Purdue.
16. Providence (17): The Friars probably won’t make up the three COVID-postponed games. But they may not need them since they could be the Big East champs with or without them.
17. Texas Tech (18): Mark Adams will be/should be a top 10 national coach of the year candidate with the way the Red Raiders have played.
18. Alabama (26): Look, good Alabama is worthy of being top 20 (see win over Baylor) but then bad Alabama (losing to Georgia) wouldn’t have them ranked. I’ll still stick with the latest result this week.
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19. Marquette (23): The Golden Eagles had a great chance to win at Providence. Shaka Smart has Marquette all the way in the field. What a job he has done.
20. Oregon (19): The Ducks obliterated rival Oregon State. And, like Alabama, good Oregon is very, very good.
21. UConn (22): A healthy Huskies has the look of being a second-weekend team.
22. Arkansas (24): The Hogs have won six straight and suddenly all is well again in Fayetteville.
23. Boise State (25): The Broncos have won 14 straight and are now the team to beat in the Mountain West.
24. Texas (NR): Chris Beard’s squad beat Tennessee and has won three in a row.
25. Miami (30): The ‘Canes are having one of those seasons as Charlie Moore hits a half-court shot to win at Virginia Tech.
26. USC (16): The Trojans have three losses all in the Pac-12, one to Oregon and two to Stanford. I still believe in the Trojans as a second-weekend team.
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27. TCU (33): The Horned Frogs beat LSU in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and are on a path toward a bid for Jamie Dixon.
28. Tennessee (27): The Vols shouldn’t drop with the road loss at Texas. This team will be in the SEC chase for third behind Auburn and Kentucky.
29. Indiana (31): Yes, last Sunday Indiana lost to Michigan at home. But the good Hoosiers against Penn State was as impressive a looking squad as they have put on the floor this season.
30. VCU (NR): The Rams beat Davidson and Richmond to serve notice they are in the A-10 chase to stay.
31. Davidson (21): The Wildcats have one loss in the A-10 now but also have to contend with surging George Mason and Dayton.
32. SMU (NR): The Mustangs have won five in a row and while they aren’t in the same class as Houston, they aren’t too far behind.
33. Notre Dame (NR): Welcome to the Power 36. Mike Brey may just get the Irish in the Big Dance again.
34. Saint Mary’s (NR): The Gaels had an epic 17-point comeback at San Francisco and have won five in a row. No surprise. The Gaels are now No. 2 in the WCC ahead of BYU and USF (and Santa Clara and USD) behind the Zags.
35. Murray State (36): The Racers have won 10 in a row and will be a team no one will want to face in round one.
36. Toledo (NR): Time to give the MAC leaders some love. The Rockets have won eight in a row to go to 9-1 in the league, 17-4 overall.
Dropped out: Florida State (20), Loyola-Chicago (28), Michigan (29), Iowa (32), Wake Forest (34).
Also under consideration: North Carolina.
And a special shoutout to: Hawaii (won 7 in a row), UNC-Wilmington (11), Iona (7), Wagner (13) and Seattle (9).