And Southern California is chugging along at 23-4 after sweeping a four-game homestand.
That’s arguably three of the top 20 teams in the country, part of a stellar season of strong basketball in the Pacific and Mountain time zones. The West Coast Conference, headlined by Gonzaga, has four credible at-large contenders. So does the Mountain West.
The Pac-12 does, too, but everyone beyond its top three is teetering. Only three Pac-12 teams besides Arizona, Southern Cal and UCLA are even in the top 100 of the NCAA’s NET rankings — Washington State (No. 47), Oregon (No. 66) and Colorado (No. 81).
The NET is more of a sorting tool than an be-all, end-all set of rankings. But the sorting looks even worse for the league’s second tier. Washington State (14-12, 7-8) does not own a Quadrant 1 victory. Colorado (18-9, 10-7) is 1-6 in Quad 1 games, the victory coming at Oregon.
And that brings us to the Ducks (17-10, 10-6), who absorbed a desert sweep from Arizona and Arizona State over the weekend and have done little of note since winning at UCLA and Southern California last month. Now those two are due a return trip to Oregon on Thursday and Saturday, and it’s the best chance the Ducks have (besides a Pac-12 tournament run) to distinguish themselves.
A late February/early March surge wouldn’t be unprecedented for Oregon. The Ducks did exactly that to go from 15-12 to the Sweet 16 in 2019. Yet stabilizing a wobbly season might be required if the Pac-12 is going to find a fourth team to earn a place in the field of 68.
Last four included: BYU, San Francisco, VCU, Rutgers
First four on the outside: Belmont, Oregon, Florida, North Carolina
Next four on the outside: St. Bonaventure, Indiana, Michigan, Dayton
Moving in: Cleveland State, Princeton, Rutgers, SMU, Towson, VCU
Moving out: Florida, North Carolina, Oakland, Oregon, UNC Wilmington, Yale
Conference call: Big East (7), Big Ten (7), Big 12 (6), Southeastern (6), Atlantic Coast (4), Mountain West (4), West Coast (4), American Athletic (3), Pac-12 (3), Atlantic 10 (2)
West vs. East; South vs. Midwest
(1) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (16) BIG SOUTH/Longwood
(8) MOUNTAIN WEST/Boise State vs. (9) Creighton
(5) Arkansas vs. (12) CONFERENCE USA/North Texas
(4) Texas vs. (13) METRO ATLANTIC/Iona
(3) Illinois vs. (14) IVY/Princeton
(6) LSU vs. (11) Rutgers/San Francisco winner
(2) ATLANTIC COAST/Duke vs. (15) PATRIOT/Colgate
Creighton is through its stretch of games against the bottom of the Big East, and it began its rigorous closing sequence in the regular season Sunday by completing a sweep of Marquette. The Bluejays can’t afford to lose out just yet, but they’re looking increasingly safe. … Only two teams in the country are undefeated in true road games: Gonzaga and North Texas. The Mean Green landed its biggest victory yet Saturday, edging UAB in Birmingham. The defending Conference USA champs have won 12 in a row and 18 of 19. … Arkansas is answering the bell with its difficult finish to SEC regular season play. Since Feb. 8, it has defeated Auburn, Missouri, Tennessee and Florida and lost by one at Alabama. Still to come: Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee again. The Razorbacks’ stock is rising. …
Illinois landed on the No. 3 line of the committee’s top-16 reveal, and a victory at Michigan State on Saturday only cemented the position. … Rutgers doesn’t own a flawless résumé, but its 6-3 record in Quadrant 1 games stands out among teams at the edge of the field. Its Feb. 12 victory at Wisconsin is immensely valuable as proof the Scarlet Knights can beat anyone of note away from Piscataway. … Iowa was missing a truly noteworthy victory — until it picked off Ohio State by 13 in Columbus. That’s a better top-of-the-résumé result than beating Indiana at home or winning at Virginia (this year, anyway).
(1) SOUTHEASTERN/Auburn vs. (16) HORIZON/Cleveland State-BIG WEST/Long Beach State winner
(8) Xavier vs. (9) Wyoming
(5) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Houston vs. (12) SUMMIT/South Dakota State
(4) UCLA vs. (13) AMERICA EAST/Vermont
(3) Villanova vs. (14) MID-AMERICAN/Toledo
(6) Michigan State vs. (11) San Diego State
(7) Saint Mary’s vs. (10) Our Lady
(2) Baylor vs. (15) SUN BELT/Texas State
Auburn was the second No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament committee’s top-16 reveal Saturday. Then the Tigers lost to Florida, which in this projection drops them down to No. 4 overall. … The in-season top-16 announcement provided more guidance on Houston than just about any team. The Cougars’ absence doesn’t mean their ceiling is a No. 5 seed, but it’s clear the committee is somewhat skeptical of the lofty metrics that Kelvin Sampson’s shorthanded team has produced. …
Michigan State tumbled to the No. 6 line with its loss at Iowa on Tuesday. That’s five losses out of six for the Spartans (18-9), who get Purdue at home next and still have trips to Michigan and Ohio State looming next week. Tom Izzo’s team hasn’t hit its floor yet. … Baylor has two chances to push its way to the top seed line. The first is a three-day stretch starting Saturday, when the Bears play Kansas and then turn around two days later to visit Texas. The second is the three days they’ll play in the Big 12 tournament.
(1) PAC-12/Arizona vs. (16) MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/Norfolk State
(8) Iowa State vs. (9) Wake Forest
(5) Ohio State vs. (12) BYU/VCU winner
(4) BIG EAST/Providence vs. (13) SOUTHERN/Chattanooga
(3) Texas Tech vs. (14) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State
(7) OHIO VALLEY/Murray State vs. (10) Seton Hall
(2) BIG TEN/Purdue vs. (15) NORTHEAST/Wagner
Something impressive about Arizona is how efficiently it handles its business, which gets underscored in the rare times the Wildcats don’t breeze to a victory. Saturday’s 84-81 victory over Oregon was just the third of Arizona’s 24 victories to be decided by less than nine points. The others were Wichita State and at Illinois, both four-point decisions. … VCU has quietly stacked five victories in a row since absorbing a 30-point pounding at home against Dayton. The Rams can run that streak to seven with defeats of George Mason and Massachusetts this week. …
Murray State is running out of potential losses. The Racers (26-2, 16-0 Ohio Valley) have a tough home matchup Thursday against Belmont, then visit Southeast Missouri State two days later before heading to the conference tournament. Murray State shouldn’t risk things with an unlikely three-game skid, but it might be okay for an at-large even if that happens. … Seton Hall can dictate how precarious a situation it faces heading into the Big East tournament. The Pirates are 5-6 in Quadrant 1 games, are 4-5 on the road and have no truly galling losses. Beating Butler and Georgetown at home and splitting with Creighton and Xavier on the road probably would eliminate any Selection Sunday worry.
(1) BIG 12/Kansas vs. (16) SOUTHLAND/New Orleans-SWAC/Southern winner
(8) Colorado State vs. (9) ATLANTIC 10/Davidson
(5) Connecticut vs. (12) MISSOURI VALLEY/Loyola Chicago
(4) Tennessee vs. (13) COLONIAL/Towson
(3) Wisconsin vs. (14) ATLANTIC SUN/Liberty
(6) Southern California vs. (11) Memphis
(7) Marquette vs. (10) Miami
(2) Kentucky vs. (15) BIG SKY/Montana State
The Mountain West’s at-large contenders are difficult to evaluate, and Colorado State is no exception. The Rams had their five-game winning streak end Saturday at UNLV, a team they have not matched up well against this season. Colorado State closes with home games against Wyoming and Boise State sandwiched around a trip to Utah State. … Towson last played in the NCAA tournament in 1991, but the Tigers drew even in the loss column with UNC Wilmington with a victory over the Seahawks on Thursday. Towson is old, deep, rugged and dangerous. …
Just call Southern Cal–Memphis the Boogie Ellis Bowl. The guard averaged 10.2 points for the Tigers’ NIT title team last year, but the San Diego native transferred closer to home after last season. He’s averaging 12.4 points for Southern Cal. … Miami’s 4-1 mark in Quadrant 1 games is valuable, but the Hurricanes aren’t going to be able to enhance that figure in the next two weeks. A closing stretch of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Syracuse — all but Virginia Tech on the road — means Miami has more to lose than gain and just needs to handle its business until it gets to the ACC tournament. The Hurricanes started that sequence impressively Tuesday by ripping Pitt, 85-64.