North Carolina and Duke meet Wednesday night in a rivalry that has become such an event, an entire week of television is set aside for it. As usual, we will see both of these teams in the NCAA Tournament.
That wasn’t always a sure thing for Duke this season. The Blue Devils lost four out of five games to end January, but they have since won four in a row. Duke still has several tough games left, not the least of which is the home and home with the Tar Heels, but the Blue Devils should get a chance to defend their championship.
North Carolina was the preseason No. 1 team in the polls and has been trying to climb back up ever since losing to Northern Iowa. Just when we thought the Tar Heels were on a roll, they lost back-to-back games at Louisville and Notre Dame. The Tar Heels can still climb up the bracket to a No. 1 seed, but they will need to pile up some higher quality wins to match the other teams competing for that spot. They have a home win over Maryland and a few wins over middle of the bracket quality teams, and that’s about it. The schedule gives them two games with Duke and one each with Miami and Virginia, so there are chances for UNC to make a move.
For some of the other bluebloods of the sport, it’s been a mixed bag.
The team with the most championships is UCLA with 11. This year’s Bruins have a lot of work to do to make the NCAA Tournament, though. They sit 14-11 with a couple of nice wins over Kentucky and Arizona, but that record just isn’t good enough to get picked. They have a home-heavy schedule left, so it’s not over for them, but UCLA needs to get hot to have a chance at an at-large.
Kentucky: The Wildcats are an 8-time champion and they seem to have the talent to add to that list. So far, the Wildcats haven’t been able to get that talent to gel, although maybe they are getting there. After a loss to Tennessee, UK has won three straight in blowout fashion. The Wildcats have a strange profile. They have a handful of good wins, but five of their six losses are to teams that are either on the bubble or on the wrong side of it.
Indiana: The Hoosiers have had a decent season as they pursue a sixth national championship. The win over Iowa at home is the signature win, although they have also beaten Notre Dame. Duke blew them out early in the season and Michigan State did the same last week, and they have three bad losses, so there is some inconsistency with the Hoosiers.
Connecticut: The Huskies have four titles, but finds itself pretty squarely on the bubble this year. The Huskies beat Texas and Michigan outside the league, but have fared poorly against their peers in the American Athletic Conference. They are just 1-4 against Tulsa, Temple and Cincinnati. They still have a home and home with SMU ahead of them.
Kansas: The Jayhawks has the inside track to a No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament as the Jayhawks look for a 15th Final Four and fourth title. They have more top-50 RPI wins than anyone at the moment with nine. If not for a loss at Oklahoma State and a difficult remaining schedule, KU would probably be a lock for a top seed, but that isn’t how college basketball rolls this season.
So, this year’s bracket figures to have a lot of familiar names in it, but they may be more spread out than usual.