San Diego State’s quest for the perfect season took a wrong turn at home against UNLV — a 14-14 team oblivious to the odds and hardened by playing in six previous overtime games. The echo of the Rebels’ 66-63 upset was heard all the way in the Midwest. The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers could relax, with their special status as history’s last unbeaten champion renewed for yet another year.
So scratch one juicy plot for the stretch run — a team in pursuit of a perfect record. But there are plenty more where that came from. This season is running a fever. Just look at Saturday, with 35 games decided by either a single possession — three points or under — or in overtime. It became the day where winning streaks went to die.
Down went San Diego State’s 26-0 victory spree. And also . . .
Baylor’s 23-game winning streak, courtesy of Kansas, as the Bears became the sixth No. 1 team to lose this season. Not to mention . . .
Gonzaga’s gaggle of winning streaks, at the hands of BYU. The regular season conference 40-gamer, the 39 league victories in a row on the road, the 19 consecutive wins this season. All snapped in Provo.
So college basketball should keep the compelling storylines coming. These, for instance, in the coming weeks:
1.) Who’s No. 1? Really? Seven teams have taken their turn in the ejector seat. Come Monday, Kansas probably returns. Then again, who wants the ranking, anyway? It’s as worthless as Monopoly money in March. Only two No. 1 teams in the final regular season Associated Press poll have ended up national champions in the past 24 years.
2.) The plot might have just thickened about the four No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tournament. The four current frontrunners had been widely agreed upon — Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga and San Diego State — but three of them just lost Saturday. Might there be a vacancy available?
DOWN GOES SDSU: How UNLV ended San Diego State’s perfect season
3.) Blueblood alert. That thunder you hear are the giants of the game on the move. That always makes March more intriguing. Kentucky has taken control in the SEC, and seems on the verge of its 49th conference championship — the other 13 current members have a combined 52. Kansas now shares the lead in the Big 12. Duke has moved toward the top in the ACC, though just when you think the Blue Devils are rolling, their entire roster was outscored the first half the other night by two guards from North Carolina State. Villanova has won four in a row to get within a game of Seton Hall in the Big East. Even the UCLA Bruins — remember them? — are in the picture. They’ve charged into Pac-12 contention. Much more of this, and they will go from losing at home to Hofstra and Cal State Fullerton to making the tournament field.
4.) Who’ll be carrying the longest winning streak into the NCAA tournament? With the hat trick of Baylor, Gonzaga and San Diego State losing, the new co-owners at the moment are Dayton and New Mexico State, at 16 victories in a row.
5.) Is it Baylor’s time to get to the Final Four again after 70 years? San Diego State’s time to get there for the first time ever? Gonzaga’s time at last for a championship? They remain among the most fascinating contenders because of their barrier-breaking potential, Saturday defeats or not. It gets odder and odder to see the Zags atop the CollegeInsider.com mid-major top-25. What exactly is mid-major about Gonzaga?
6.) Do you want a ticket on Maryland’s bandwagon? The Terrapins have been the most consistent team in the meat grinder that is the Big Ten, but they also own a recent history of tournament mishaps. Buyers beware, but Maryland looks awfully good. Someone has to carry the standard for the Big Ten. That was supposed to be Michigan State’s job, but consider the irony if it would end up Maryland ending the Big Ten’s national championship drought that goes back to 2000. The Terrapins have won it since then — as a member of the ACC.
7.) Dayton is still unbeaten in regulation this season. Obi Toppin is not only one of the game’s most affable stars, some of his dunks register on the Richter scale. March is going to love these guys if they stick around very long.
8.) Louisville and Chris Mack, Florida State and Leonard Hamilton, Baylor and Scott Drew, Seton Hall and Kevin Willard, Maryland and Mark Turgeon, et. al. Surely there’s a long-suffering Final Four wannabe out there whose ship will come in next month. Maybe more than one.
9.) True or false: A crazy season like this means a truly unexpected name could show up in Atlanta? Maybe a Creighton, or a Penn State, or a BYU. Or in the end, is natural order restored?
10.) The eventual fate of all the surprise faces at the top of league standings.
Arizona State was picked sixth in the Pac-12, but the Sun Devils haven’t lost since last month, and here they are, at the top of the mess that is the league standings. Five teams are within a defeat of one another. Arizona State’s ascent includes the most productive sixth man in the land. Alonzo Verge Jr. has scored at least 20 points in a relief role five times, including 43 the game against Saint Mary’s when the rest of his teammates scored only 13. His average in nine starts is 9.9; in 15 games off the bench it’s 17.5.
Little Rock was picked to finish 11th in the Sun Belt, but leads by 1.5 games. The Trojans have 19 wins already. The past two seasons combined, they had 17.
Saint Peter’s was picked ninth in the MAAC, and now is in first, despite starting six true freshmen this season and not having one player averaging in double figures.
William & Mary was picked seventh in the Colonial, but is close behind league leader Hofstra. The Tribe badly want their first NCAA tournament in history, and might have the star — Nathan Knight and his nation-leading 22 double-doubles — to do it.
Merrimack was picked 11th in the Northeast, mostly because the Warriors were playing their first season in Division I, and who wants to vote for the new guys? But Merrimack has the league lead by a game and is trying to become the first program in history to win a conference season title in its first season in Division I. The Warriors are not yet eligible for the conference or NCAA tournaments, so this is their time to shine.
11.) The scoring champion will be . . . ? Looks like a hot two-man race down the stretch. Marquette’s Markus Howard is at 27.1, Texas at San Antonio’s Jhivvan Jackson at 26.9. That’s a 5-11 guard going against a 6-foot guard.
12.) While we’re at it, the national player of the year picture isn’t all that clear. Matter of fact, it’s a cavalry charge, from Dayton’s Toppin to Seton Hall’s Myles Powell to Duke’s Vernon Carey Jr. See what Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike did to Baylor Saturday? Yeah, he’s in the hunt. So is Iowa’s Luke Garza.
Here’s the Big Ten preseason all-conference team, incidentally. Ten names, none of them Luke Garza. Can a guy go from not even being preseason all-league to national player of the year? It seems this is the year when anything is possible. And that is the main storyline for March, no matter who loses on any given Saturday.