With so many quality teams, there is one thing we know about the championship chase in college basketball. It is apparent the one among as many as 20 teams could walk away from March Madness holding the trophy over their heads.
Many of the tradition-filled programs are having typically good seasons, but three of the most dominant programs of the past decade, Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State have encountered recent difficulty and had weaknesses exposed.
Duke is 14-4 but stands 3-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. That record is tied for the sixth-best mark in the conference.
The Blue Devils, defending national champions, have something in common with the Florida State Seminoles. On Wednesday, they, like Florida State in their conference opener, ventured into Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum and came away a loser, 88-83. They followed that up with a home loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, 95-91.
Kentucky, college basketball’s winningest program, is 13-4 and 3-2 in the Southeastern Conference. Their conference mark is tied for fourth with Arkansas and the Florida Gators.
After a quick start, including a number one ranking and a win over Duke, the Wildcats have lost four of their last 10 games. Among those is a loss to a below-average Ohio State team, a wipeout at LSU and Saturday’s debacle at 8-8 Auburn.
Michigan State, a two-time NCAA champion, is 3-2 in the Big 10 and 16-2 overall. Their conference record is tied for sixth.
The Spartans were recently ranked No. 1, but a key injury to top player Denzel Valentine set them back. They had close wins over inferior opponents, then were smashed at Iowa in their conference opener.
With Valentine back in the lineup, Iowa again took it to Michigan State, this time in East Lansing, on Thursday. The Spartans may not even be the best team in the Big 10.
It is more likely the next champion will come from some other program other than these three. Other traditional powerhouses have the components to win it all.
Kansas (15-2) is loaded and will be well-tested in a tough Big 12 Conference. The Jayhawks, second in all-time wins, suffered their second loss this week at West Virginia.
North Carolina, the program with the third most wins all time, is 5-0 in the ACC and 16-2 overall. When injuries are not taking key players out of the lineup, they can beat anyone. They took down a respectable Florida State team in Tallahassee by 16 points despite missing star player Kennedy Meeks.
Among those with a chance to put things together and go all the way are Oklahoma, West Virginia, Iowa State and Baylor from the Big 12. In the Big 10, Iowa, Maryland, Purdue, and possibly Indiana join Michigan State.
North Carolina’s competition in the ACC includes Duke, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Miami, but if Clemson keeps beating the contenders, they deserve honorable mention. Kentucky is in a league that includes contenders Texas A&M, South Carolina and possibly LSU.
The Pacific 12 has traditional power Arizona and a much-improved USC team (coached by former Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield) and the program with the most NCAA titles, UCLA. The Big East’s Villanova, Xavier, Providence could create some havoc during March Madness.
Plenty of good teams are in the mix. Unlike years past, there is no great team. That gives hope to the players, coaches and fans of multiple teams that they can win it all.