If you love basketball, you are well aware that the madness that usually comes with the start of tournament play came in February of 2016, instead of March.  Maybe it is because this is a “Leap Year”, but whether it is NCAA College or NBA, basketball fans have probably been both spellbound and amazed at the quality of roundball that has been presented thus far in 2016.

The ranking of “NCAA Number 1” has been more than difficult to hold on to, but seems to have been a “jinx” to those holding that exalted position.   There have been many good teams who have been regarded as the best in the country, but few that have been able to retain the bragging rights to that position for more than a week or two.

As of February 21, 2016, the teams that had earned the No. 1 ranking, only to have been “upset” and having to surrender that spot have been:  North Carolina, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Kansas,  Michigan State and now Villanova, which had managed to hold that ranking for three consecutive weeks.

February 24th, proved to be not a good day for the Wildcats, as both Villanova, Nationally ranked at No. 1 and Arizona at No. 9, went down to defeat.  Arizona, shared the lead in the PAC-12 conference along with the Oregon Ducks, but their defeat by Colorado and Oregon’s win at Washington State will change that.

Of the top ranked 25 teams, only Villanova (currently No. 1), Kansas (currently No. 2, and Arizona (currently No. 9) had escaped being defeated over the past two weeks.  That means that 22 of the top 25 teams had all lost games since the beginning of February,   In the third week of this leap month, now, 24 of the top 25 teams have lost, which should cause the polls to be shuffled yet again, and the “experts” to question their “expertise”, yet again.

Last year, we wrote about the apparent parity that has been reached, as the level of skills that the young hoopsters has continued to rise with each season.    Although Kentucky boasts many of the top recruits in the country, they don’t get all of them.  This year that parity is apparent, as the unexpected losses among NCAA basketball’s best teams continue to confuse and delight those watching this exciting sport.

The Villanova Wildcats had managed to maintain their No. 1 ranking by having lost only three games until February 24th, when they lost to the Xavier Muscateers.  The Wildcats held the number 1 spot in the polls for three weeks, but their loss to Xavier just proves how tough holding  the top spot has become.

The second ranked Kansas Jayhawks lead their conference and sport a 23-4 won-loss record, and are pegged by many not only to make it to the Final Four, but to emerge as National Champions.

Although there is very little being said about the Ducks of Oregon, they have quietly occupied a place in the nation’s top 25 teams from the start, and are sure to be in the NCAA Tournament.  The Ducks are currently ranked 13th . in both polls, and now sit atop the PAC-12.

The PAC-12 is considered to be one of the strongest conferences in the country.  Teams to watch, as SelectionSunday nears, include Utah, California, USC, Colorado, and Washington.    The Utes of Utah have been playing very well, and one of the nicest surprises are the Bears of California, a team dominated by young players, who gain attention with every game.  The Colorado Buffaloes playing at home, gave Arizona  all they could handle on Wednesday, ultimately beating the Wildcats.  Having led Arizona by as much as eleven the Buffaloes looked strong enough to warrant serious consideration by the NCAA.

Surprisingly, the Trojans of USC are likely to make the Tournament this year, and even more of a surprise is the fact that UCLA and Stanford probably will not.   There is talk that the PAC-12 entries for “The Big Dance” might well include UCLA, but the Bruins have not been impressive this season.

While neither is nationally ranked, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga, the two leaders in the West Coast Conference (WCC) are sure to make the NCAA Tournament, with BYU a strong probable.  From the Mountain West Conference, San Diego State is a shoo-in.  Hawaii, leading The Big West Conference should earn a place in the tournament, as should New Mexico State of the West Coast Conference.

With both Villanova and Arizona losing on Wednesday, it will be interesting to see how the polls turn out next week.  Kansas will probably be No. 1, and Xavier should move up.

Stay tuned, basketball fans.  This year’s NCAA Tournament is shaping up to be the most well balanced, ever.
By Luke Conley
OBSERVER Correspondent