Last season, college basketball made sense.
There was Kentucky, inexorably demolishing just about everything in its path on its way to a national championship.
Sure there were stumbles—after all, it’s been 37 years and counting since a team went undefeated for a full season (Indiana in 1975-76) and we’re now 22 years removed from the last time a team went into the NCAA Tournament with a zero in the loss column (UNLV in 1990-91).
Kentucky began last season ranked No. 2, moved up to No. 1 in the third week of the season, dropped to No. 3 after suffering their first loss of the season at Indiana by a single point, then roared through 24 straight wins—moving back up to No. 1 along the way–before stumbling against Vanderbilt in the final of the SEC Tournament.
Then the Wildcats pretty much made mincemeat of everyone they faced at the Big Dance. They reached the Final Four without a scare, winning each game by double figures, then beat Louisville and Kansas by eight points each to cut down the nets after a 38-2 season.
But this season? Trust me; no one is going 38-2.
This might be one of those crazy years when a team with double-digit losses wins the title, something that has only happened twice in the history of the tournament—North Carolina State in 1983 and Villanova in 1985.
For the fifth straight week, the No. 1-ranked team in the land has lost. This time, it was Indiana (again) and they lost in absolutely inexplicable fashion.
Playing at Illinois Thursday night, the Hoosiers led by nine points with 3:36 to play.
Top-ranked teams don’t blow nine-point leads to unranked opponents in the final 3:36. They just don’t.
Except they did.
Illinois closed the game on a 13-2 run, including a game-winner that was as unexplainable as it was shocking. With the game tied, the Illini were inbounding the ball with less than a second on the clock.
With the clock showing 0.9 seconds, there was enough time for a shot … just usually not a very good one.
That is, until Indiana’s defense forgot where the basket was.
Indiana center Cody Zellar drifted toward the perimeter and Illinois forward Tyler Griffey sneaked in behind him for an uncontested layup as time expired. It’s one thing to get beaten by a 35-foot desperation heave from the 3-point range. But to lose on an uncontested layup is unthinkable.
I mean, how do you completely lose a guy who is 6-9? It’s not like he was hiding in the bushes or anything.
It was Indiana’s second loss as the top team in the country. Duke has also lost twice while at the top of the polls. Louisville and Michigan have also lost games after reaching No. 1.
Illinois has seen life on both sides of the coin this season. The Illini started 12-0. Then they went 2-7 to open Big Ten play.
The win over Indiana keeps Illinois at least in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Yes, the Illini are just 16-8. But they also have wins over Gonzaga, Butler, Ohio State and now Indiana.
Who wins the tournament this year? Are you kidding? It could be anyone who gets a bid.
At this point, I’m not ruling anything out.