The race for March Madness is on like the break of dawn in men’s college basketball. Unlike some years where one team is clearly head and shoulders above the race, this season sees no such Goliath.
However, one team does remain undefeated after winning 96-61 on Thursday night. The No. 1 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs beat up on San Francisco, running their record to 27-0 and 15-0 within the West Coast Conference. At this point, it would be stunning to see Gonzaga lose a game before the NCAA Tournament, considering it already pounded the only other ranked team in the WCC, the St. Mary’s Gaels.
For Mark Few’s club, it has been an easy breeze through the regular season, but that doesn’t guarantee much a month from now. The last few teams to reach the NCAA Tournament undefeated — the Kentucky Wildcats and Wichita State Shockers — were both bounced before the national championship. In the case of Wichita State, it lost before reaching the Sweet 16.
Perhaps the most important win of the evening took place in Ann Arbor, Mich. Nationally televised on ESPN, the Michigan Wolverines pulled off the upset over the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers, winning 64-58 in Big Ten play. Michigan improved to 17-9 overall and 7-6 within the conference, getting a key win for the tournament resume. If the Wolverines can finish on a strong note, they now appear a lock to make it back into March Madness.
The loss doesn’t damage Wisconsin all that much. The Badgers are hoping to end up as a third seed in the NCAA Tournament, with the best-case scenario being the second line. To get to that point, they would likely need to win the Big Ten Tournament and have some other top teams get knocked out of their respective conference tourneys rather quickly.
Elsewhere, the Pac-12 saw the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks win handily. Both teams are favorites to come out of the conference tournament with some hardware, and the winner could end up as a No. 1 or 2 seed in March Madness. Arizona sits fifth in the nation with Oregon two spots behind it, hoping to make a move over the next few weeks. Under head coach Sean Miller, the Wildcats have been one of the most impressive teams in the country from start to finish this year.
The Utah Utes, who lost to Oregon on Thursday night, should be a lock to get into the tournament. Utah is 17-9 overall with an 8-6 conference mark. Barring a total collapse down the stretch, it should be a decent seed for the Utes, who boast some tourney experience from recent seasons.