And so college basketball’s regular season ended the way it began.
With Kentucky No. 1, and everyone else wondering if the Wildcats will ever lose a game.
With Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky as the man to beat for player of the year.
With Duke and Arizona and Wisconsin and Virginia among the names most likely to rain on John Calipari and the Wildcats’ parade.
If anyone is ruin to UK’s shot at a perfect season.
Not that the regular season was without the unexpected. Northern Iowa did not receive one vote in the preseason rankings. Today, the 30-3 Panthers have banged on the door of the top 10, and appear ready to make lots of trouble. Meanwhile, some big names took wrong turns.
What do Syracuse, Florida, Michigan and Connecticut have in common? They all were in the Final Four in the past two years. What else do they have in common? None will likely even be in this year’s field. Defending national champion UConn struggled to 17-13, injury-battered Florida went from 36-3 to 15-16 and Michigan dropped from a top-25 team to 15-15. Here at the end of Jim Boeheim’s 39th season at Syracuse, a scathing infractions report suddenly has cost him victories, scholarships, a nine-game suspension, the Orange self-exile from the postseason – and questions whether there should be a 40th season.
Division I basketball was a varied world — from Kentucky at 31-0 to San Jose State at 2-28. Then there was Virginia allowing 50 points a game to Coppin State allowing 83. Then there was Syracuse’s average attendance of 23,854 compared to Grambling State’s 282. It is a place where Duke can finish second in the ACC with nine McDonald’s All-Americans, and Dayton can finish second in the Atlantic 10 with seven scholarship players, none taller than 6-6.
So let’s take a look around at the vagaries of a regular season that just ended.
The longest game of the season was played in its first hours – High Point over CSU Bakersfield 100-99 in four overtimes back on Nov. 14.
A powerhouse stood tall in Durham, North Carolina. No, not Duke. Barely three miles from Mike Krzyzewski’s office, North Carolina Central has won 34 consecutive games in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference — the nation’s longest league victory streak.
The nation’s top performances in single game scoring and rebounding both came from the same team. On Dec. 17 Delaware State’s Amere May scored 48 points against St. Francis Brooklyn. On March 5, the Hornets’ Kendall Gray grabbed 30 rebounds against Coppin State. All that, and Delaware State went 15-16.
It was a good year for conference newcomers. Davidson joined the Atlantic 10 and promptly won it. New arrival Maryland took second in the Big Ten. Same for Tulsa in the American Athletic.
Here in the age of one-and-done phenoms, something could still be said for those who stayed. Fourteen of the top 20 scorers in college basketball were seniors. Meanwhile, the only freshmen in the top 100 were Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor.
Not that anyone was tearing up the game with offense. Eastern Washington’s Tyler Harvey was No. 1 in the country at 22.9 points a game. That’s the lowest average to lead the nation in scoring since 1949. Twenty years ago, Harvey’s average would not have been in the top 10.
Virginia’s 50.2 points allowed a game was the lowest number to lead the nation in 23 years. And to think, Pete Maravich once averaged 44.5 points by himself.
Kansas was Big 12 regular season champion for the 11th consecutive season, continuing one of the game’s more remarkable feats: In his 12 seasons as Jayhawks coach, Bill Self has more league titles (11) than home losses (nine).
The Colonial Athletic Association was the poster league for parity. Four of the 10 teams shared the season championship, losing six games each.
Seven of Charlotte’s 31 games went overtime. So did five of IUPUI’s 13 home contests. “I told my staff we were going to have to change our pricing structure,” IUPUI Athletic Director Michael Moore said, “because our cost per minute is going way down on our tickets.”
Texas Southern started 3-10, then blew through the SWAC at 16-2. Two of the wins in that 3-10 were at Michigan State and Kansas State. What gets forgotten is that the Tigers have a man – Mike Davis – who once coached Indiana to the national championship game in 2002.
Harvard and Yale tied for the Ivy League title, meaning they will decide the NCAA tournament berth with a playoff game. This is the ninth playoff in Ivy history, but the first without Princeton.
Louisville pulled off its biggest victory of the season, 59-57 against No. 2 Virginia, with the winning jumper in the final seconds from a reserve who had scored one field goal in the previous five weeks. “Our 64th option,” Rick Pitino said afterward of Mangok Mathiang.
Briante Weber blew out his knee at VCU, and no team felt an injury more. His defense was the heart of Havoc. When he went down, the Rams were 17-3. They’re 5-6 since.
Murray State had a wonderful regular season. The Racers went 16-0 in the Ohio Valley, rolled to a 27-5 record. Then they lost in the league tournament to Belmont, and with their low RPI, now face possibly winning the dreaded award of owning the best record not invited to the NCAA tournament.
The best dunk of the year was not on a spectacular breakaway fast break that made the rafters rattle, but by a guy taking his first shot in nearly four years, and the last of his career. Georgetown’s Tyler Adams had to give up the game his freshman season in 2011 because of a heart ailment. He stayed with the program as a student assistant and on what would have been his senior day, he took the court for one last time. Seton Hall’s defenders stood aside and let him slam one home.
San Diego State ran its streak of victories when leading with five minutes left to 142 games in a row. You get the Aztecs in the first 35 minutes or you don’t get them at all.
Wisconsin averaged fewer fouls and fewer turnovers than anyone in the nation. Whatever an opponent wants from the Badgers, it has to take. They aren’t giving away much.
Notre Dame won 26 regular-season games, its most since 1909. That was four years before Knute Rockne showed up on campus.
Gonzaga led the nation in field-goal accuracy and was outshot twice in 31 regular-season games.
— John Calipari
As a tribute to their work ethic, Wayne Tinkle started five walk-ons in Oregon State’s final home game against rival Oregon. He pulled them after 28 seconds, and it was the first Division I game this century where a team’s starting five did not score a point.
So the road was long and winding, but it has come back to where it started. Kentucky. The Wildcats played 1,255 minutes this regular season. They trailed for just under 170 minutes of it.
But here come the toughest minutes of all.
“The one worry I had prior to the game was I wonder if they’re feeling this,” Calipari said after the regular season finale against Florida. “I’m older. I’ve been through so much. You shoot me, it goes through a bazooka hole. I’ve been shot at so much. I’ve been through the grind of this. They haven’t.”
Kentucky handled the grind well enough in the regular season. But the regular season is over.