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NCAA Tourney Cheat Sheet Vol. II – Year of the Streaker

ROBBINS NEST

File photo Neil Miller/The New York Extra

By Lenn Robbins

When the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee arrives in New York the Tuesday prior to Selection Sunday they will be charged with one of the most daunting tasks in college basketball history:

Try to make some sense of this unpredictable season.

Why do we proclaim this season to be one of the hardest to predict in history? Consider the streaks we’ve seen this:

When Kansas edged Baylor 63-61 on Saturday it snapped the Bears 23-game win streak, which snapped the prior Big 12 record of 22 straight, held by, yep, Kansas. The Jayhawks also avenged a 67-55 loss to Baylor in Lawrence which snapped a 28-game home streak. Kansas has now won  12 straight.

Baylor’s five-week run as the nation’s No.1 team was the longest in the Associated Press since Kentucky in 2015.

BYU’s  91-78 upset of Gonzaga snapped the Bulldogs 19-game win streak. It also broke Gonzaga’s streaks of 40-straight regular-season wins in the West Coast Conference and 39-straight road wins in the WCC. against WCC opponents. The 40-game winning streak was the longest league streak in the nation.

UNLV took out the last remaining unbeaten, shocking San Diego State, 66-63. The Aztecs opened at 26-0 and unveiled its regular season conference championship banner before tipoff, something that wasn’t lost on the Runnin Rebels.

“They’ve had a historic year,’’ said UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger. “Is there a chance it got talked about in our locker room before the game? Certainly, but I seem to forget what they said.” Doubtful.

In Volume I of our NCAA Tournament bracket cheat sheet, we named Mick Cronin as one of our coaches who is doing a terrific job. It’s only gotten better. Not only did the Bruins post their ninth straight win in their last 11 games, but the last victory was a 70-63 stunner at Colorado.

The Buffaloes were up 50-41 with 12:34 on Senior Night when the Bruins broke off a 20-3 spurt. UCLA’s bench outscored Colorado’s 28-16.

“It’s senior day, they’re playing for the Pac-12 title, it’s huge,” Cronin said. “Nine down with 12 to play, on the road against a great team. They’re playing all juniors and seniors, you’re playing freshmen and sophomores and you’re able to pull it out? It’s monstrous.”

Are the Bruins as dangerous as the Providence Friars? Not according to coach Ed Cooley.

“There’s no more desperate team in America than Providence College,” Cooley said after an 84-72 victory over Marquette.

Providence was 4-4 in the Big East and 11-10 overall after losing three straight. Earlier in the season the Friars suffered losses to Penn, Long Beach State and the College of Charleston.

The win over the Golden Eagles was Providence’s fourth straight over a Top 25 team and moved the Friars into undisputed fourth place in the Big East at 9-6 and 16-12 overall. On a personal note, here’s hoping the Friars get into the Big Dance. Cooley is a helluva coach and one of the great personalities in the game.

Seton Hall continues to be in first place in the Big East and the Pirates remain a legit Elite Eight or better squad but no team wants to face Creighton, which is one game back after winning 9-of-10.

 The Blue Jays shredded Butler, 81-59 by making 15-of-26 3’s. Creighton has three players shooting 40-percent or better on 3’s – guard Marcus Zegarowski (40-percent) set his career high with seven of Creighton’s season-high 15 treys, is Ty-Shon Alexander also is at 40-percent. Mitch Ballock is at 44-percent.

Creighton does this by making the extra pass. It had 19 assists on 27 baskets against the Bulldogs, who lost one of our favorite Big East players in Kamar Baldwin with an ankle injury.

Staying with the Big East, Villanova uses the 3 as well as any team in the league but there’s an edge to this season’s team that could serve them in NCAA play. In a 64-55 loss to the Wildcats, Xavier coach Travis Steele had this observation after watching the X-men score their fewest points at home since a 57-52 win over Temple in January of 2013.

“That’s the most physical team we’ve play all year, by far, and it’s not even close.”

The team that continues to streak is Dayton, which beat Duquesne 70-60 for its 16th straight. The Flyers (25-2) have won 16 straight and moved to 4th in the AP poll and 3rd in the coaches’ poll, their highest since finishing third during the 1955-56 season. They are dunk contest in action. If you haven’t seen this team play, they’re at Rhode Island on March 3rd (CBSSN) in what could be a streak  ender.

Maryland still has a two-game lead in the Big Ten and should win the regular season title but the Terps, 79-72, loss at Ohio State ended their nine-game win streak. Few teams have been streakier than the Buckeyes who won their first nine and were 11-1 after a 71-65 win at Kentucky before losing 6-of-7.

The Buckeyes win might have boiled some blood between the two schools. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson was “allowed to be the bully offensively today. If he’s allowed to be the bully, he is a heck of a player.”

Wesson had 15 points and nine rebounds. Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann didn’t take kindly to that.

“Mark said that? To each his own. His opinion can be his opinion. I thought Kaleb was physical and well within the rules.”

Staying in the Big Ten, Penn State has a legit conference player of the year candidate in Lamar Stevens but he can’t do it alone. After winning eight straight the loss of Myreon Jones (illness) finally kicked in. Jones has missed five straight including the last two losses, including a 68-60 setback at Indiana.

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