It’s hard to believe, but we are officially less than a week away from knowing which 65 teams will compose this year’s NCAA Tournament field. Where does the time go?
Before that though, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, as Championship Week kicked off with a bang this past weekend, and five teams- Cornell, Winthrop, East Tennessee State, Murray State and Northern Iowa- have already claimed their automatic bids.
Make sure to follow Hoops Addict all month long, for continuing coverage of the NCAA Tournament coverage and in-depth analysis. But before that, let’s get to the Final Power Rankings of the 2010 regular season.
1. Kansas (29-2, 15-1): The regular season ends right as it began: With Kansas on top. After convincing wins against Kansas State and Missouri this week, the NCAA Title has officially become the Jayhawks to lose.
2. Kentucky (29-2, 14-2): The little brother that’s been tagging along on Kansas’ backside all season has locked up a No. 1 seed regardless of what happens in the SEC Tournament. But with every game from now on a “lose and you go home,” proposition, is Kentucky ready for the pressure that the next month will bring?
3. Duke (26-5, 13-3): Love or hate Duke, there isn’t a team that plays harder defense for 40 minutes a game. And we all know defense wins championships. The Blue Devils will still need a few other breaks to win the big one, but Saturday’s performance against North Carolina should have wrapped up the school’s first No. 1 seed since 2006.
4. Syracuse (28-3, 15-3): At this point, all Syracuse can hope is that they won’t have to play Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, as they’re 0-2 against the Cardinals and 28-1 against everyone else. Either way, the Orange are the team nobody wants to play going forward, talented but almost pathologically unselfish. As we’ve said before, they’re college basketball’s ultimate team.
5. Ohio State (24-7, 14-4): Speaking of teams no one wants to play, it’s Ohio State, winners of 10 of their last 11 games. Although Purdue and Michigan State are good, the Big 10 Tournament should be the Buckeyes national coming out party.
6. Purdue (26-4, 14-4): Anyone think that obituary we wrote on Purdue’s season might have been a bit premature? While their wins without Robbie Hummel haven’t been pretty, it’s impossible to question this team’s heart, playing without their most important player.
7. New Mexico (28-3, 14-2): This is what New Mexico’s schedule the last week looked like: One game, one win, one Mountain West championship. Not bad huh? And should the Lobos win the MWC Tournament as well, they could be looking at a No. 3 seed come tournament time.
8. West Virginia (24-6, 13-5): Whether you were ready for it or not, West Virginia threw us into the madness of March with their overtime win over Villanova on Saturday afternoon. But despite all the Mountaineers talent down low, do they have enough guard play to make a deep tournament run?
9. Butler (27-4, 18-0): It only took one win for Butler to get to the Horizon League tournament final, which they’ll play Tuesday against Wright State. This team will be in the Big Dance whether they win their conference tournament or not, but could certainly use some momentum after Saturday night’s sloppy win over Milwaukee.
10. Michigan State (24-7, 14-4): On paper the Spartans have everything you want in a contender: Good guard play, size, and experience after last year’s Final Four run. But if you dig deeper and look at their schedule, the Spartans really haven’t beaten all that many good teams this regular season. Nobody could use a strong conference tournament run to boost their national image quite like Michigan State could this week.
11. Kansas State (24-6, 11-5): Don’t look at Kansas State’s loss against Iowa State Saturday as anything besides a (major) letdown after losing to Kansas earlier in the week. Think the Wildcats wouldn’t like to get one more shot at their cross-state rivals in the Big XII Tournament?
12. Villanova (24-6, 13-5): The fear that we’ve had all year for Villanova (their lack of size down low) seems to have finally caught up with them for good, as they lost their fourth of six games to West Virginia Saturday. If this team can’t turn it around in the Big East Tournament, expectations of a return trip to the Final Four might go out the window as well.
13. Gonzaga (25-5, 12-2): If Gonzaga can just make their foul shots, they could very well find themselves in the first Final Four in their school’s history. But first they must get by their biggest conference rival- St. Mary’s- in the WCC Tournament final Monday night. Be sure to tune in.
14. BYU (28-4, 13-3): The Cougars did exactly what they were supposed to do this week, rolling over TCU on the road. This team will be in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in the Mountain West Tournament, but would sure like another shot at New Mexico, which has already beaten them twice this season.
15. Tennessee (23-7, 11-5): There was a lot of basketball played this weekend, but maybe not a better performance than Tennessee’s road win at Mississippi State. Despite their doubters, this team still continues to get it done game after game, and will be a tough out in the NCAA’s.
16. Wisconsin (23-7, 13-5): Well, hell froze over Sunday afternoon as Wisconsin finally (FINALLY!) got an impressive road win, in front of the Orange Crush at Illinois. In all seriousness though, the Badgers are coming on strong, especially with Jon Leuer finally healthy. Leuer may be the most underrated big man in the country right now.
17. Temple (26-5, 14-2): Temple emerged from a loaded Atlantic 10 with a regular season conference championship, which is no small feat. But to get a conference tournament title, they’ll need to run through a slew of desperate teams trying to impress the NCAA Tournament committee (Dayton, Rhode Island, Charlotte, St. Louis). Think they’re up to the challenge?
18. Baylor (24-6, 11-5): If you’re looking for an off the radar team who might make some noise in the tournament, Baylor may be your pick. They’ve got all the ingredients needed: An experienced point guard (Tweety Carter), a pure scorer on the wing (LaceDarius Dunn) and two shot blocking big men down low (Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy). At this point, I’d be more surprised if Baylor wasn’t playing the second weekend of the tournament than if they were.
19. Pittsburgh (24-7, 11-5): Quick straw poll: Who saw Pittsburgh ending the regular season tied for second place in the Big East? Anyone? Despite going to the Elite Eight last year, this may be Jamie Dixon’s best coaching job yet.
20. Vanderbilt (23-7, 12-4): Saturday’s loss against South Carolina was nothing more than a hiccup for one of college basketball’s most underrated teams. Like Baylor, the Commodores have all the ingredients needed to make a deep run this March.
New to the Power Rankings: Baylor
Dropping Out: Georgetown
(Author’s Note: Aaron will be Tweeting all day Wednesday live from the Big East Tournament, and for all of Championship Week from his couch. To get all his inside thoughts, on everything college hoops, follow him, click here or add him at Twitter.com/Aaron_Torres
Also, to read all Aaron’s writing as we get closer to March Madness, be sure to visit him at www.aarontorres-sports.com)