Home » DeCourcy’s Dozen: Ranking college basketball’s top 12 teams, and appreciating the greatness of UConn, Houston, Purdue | Sporting News

DeCourcy’s Dozen: Ranking college basketball’s top 12 teams, and appreciating the greatness of UConn, Houston, Purdue | Sporting News

Can someone explain to me why the theme of this season, like the dozen or so before it, has been the unusual competitive balance in the sport?

Oh, my, top 25 teams are losing!

That only happens every single freaking year.

You know what doesn’t happen every year?

Connecticut, Houston, Purdue.

Those three teams have ruled over the regular season that concluded Sunday with a degree of dominance rarely seen in 21st century college basketball. Those three teams carry records of 28-3 into their conference tournaments. Only once in the past 10 full seasons have there been three No. 1 seeds with winning percentages of better than .900 at the start of March Madness. The most defeats the Huskies, Cougars and Boilermakers can carry into the NCAA Tournaments is four; only twice in the past 10 full seasons have the four No. 1 seeds own four or fewer defeats.

What these teams have given us is something extraordinary, but because the No. 1 poll ranking has changed ownership a few times, and because there’s not a whole lot of consistent excellence being transacted below them, these three teams have not been accorded nearly the respect they’ve earned.

There’s no guarantee the 2024 NCAA Championship will be claimed by one of the three. But the past two times the No. 1 seed line was filled with such dominance, the champion came from that group: Villanova (entered 30-4 in 2018) and Duke (entered 29-4 in 2015).

So you may not need to look far when searching for your champion in next week’s bracket pool. There’s a pretty fair bet it will come from one of these three, who also have dominated DeCourcy’s Dozen through the course of the year.

MORE: Latest bracket projection for 2024 NCAA Tournament

1. Purdue (28-3)

KenPom rank: 3

NET rank: 2

Next up: Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal, March 15

Overview: A year ago, shooting guard Fletcher Loyer entered the postseason in an 11-of-51 (.216) slump from 3-point range. Last month, he went through a five-game stretch in which he was only 1-of-7 from deep, frequently passing up open shots. Now? Uh-oh. After breaking out Feb. 25 against Michigan – at least in terms of willingness to take open shots – he has made 8-of-11 on threes and 16-of-26 from the field over the past three games. It’s exactly what Purdue needs.

2. Connecticut (28-3)

KenPom rank: 2

NET rank: 3

Next up: Big East Tournament quarterfinal, March 14

Overview: In seven wins over an eight-game stretch, UConn’s average victory margin is 23.4 points. No one in the Big East is coming close. It’s hard to see it being much different in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

3. Houston (28-3)

KenPom rank: 1

NET rank: 1

Next up: Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal, March 14

Overview: With a 30-point blowout of perennial Big 12 power Kansas, the Cougars paid Kansas back – big – for their own humiliation at Allen Fieldhouse on the first Saturday in February. A game that many had anticipated as one of the best of the year was over when the score reached 22-5 in the first 10 minutes. Yikes.

MORE: Tracking the auto-bids for the 2024 NCAA Tournament

4. Tennessee (24-7)

KenPom rank: 5

NET rank: 5

Next up: SEC Tournament quarterfinal, March 15

Overview: After they’d run through Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina, all of which led to clinching the SEC regular-season title, it seemed highly possible the Volunteers might have some trouble locating the same degree of motivation Kentucky would bring south into Thompson-Boling Arena. Kentucky wanted Saturday’s game more than Tennessee. Maybe not more than Dalton Knecht, who ripped the UK defense for 40 points, but more than the Vols as a group, who saw a seven-game winning streak end.

5. North Carolina (25-6)

KenPom rank: 8

NET rank: 7

Next up: ACC Tournament quarterfinal, March 14

Overview: How did Harrison Ingram go from a 31.9-percent long-distance shooter to 37.4 percent now, and from 5.8 rebounds to 9.3 just by trading the West Coast for Tobacco Road? He must have had a hell of a summer training in Chapel Hill. Was that it? Because Ingram’s entry as a transfer is one of the best reasons Carolina has a chance to return to the Final Four after missing last year’s tournament entirely.

6. Arizona (24-7)

KenPom rank: 6

NET rank: 4

Next up: Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal, March 14

Overview: If you’d like to explain how this team managed to lose to the three teams at the very bottom of the Pac-12 standings (USC 8-12, Stanford 8-12, Oregon State 5-15), you’re one up on Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd. After falling to the Trojans late Saturday, he told reporters: “If I knew how to make sure we didn’t have a night like this, I would probably have won 25 national championships by now. But I don’t know. That’s the hard thing, you have to help your team through those moments. Like I said, there’s a lot of emotions that go into it. Today was a great experience for us, and hopefully that we’ll learn from it. And it’ll help prepare for what’s coming next.”

7. Marquette (23-8)

KenPom rank: 13

NET rank: 13

Next up: Big East Tournament quarterfinal, March 14

Overview: It’s hard not to be excited about Kam Jones developing into an overwhelming scorer over the past month. He’s had four 30-point games since Feb. 1 and three in his past six games. But he’s had to play more and score more as the Golden Eagles navigate their present with All-America candidate Tyler Kolek absent from the point guard position with an injury to an oblique muscle. They can’t win in the NCAAs without Kolek.

CONFERENCE TOURNEY BRACKETS: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC

8. Creighton (23-8)

KenPom rank: 9

NET rank: 11

Next up: Big East Tournament quarterfinal, March 14

Overview: Veteran Trey Alexander’s command of the Creighton offense has increased of late, to the point he went for double-digit assists in two of the team’s past three games. The Bluejays scored more than 80 each of the five times he passed for at least eight assists. There’s a lesson there.

9. Kentucky (23-8)

KenPom rank: 17

NET rank: 19

Next up: SEC Tournament quarterfinal, March 15

Overview: Here’s an experiment for you: Watch Kentucky play, and count up the number of times you catch yourself saying, “Wow!” If you’d carried out this experiment during Saturday’s win over Tennessee, you might have needed all your fingers and toes.

10. Iowa State (24-7)

KenPom rank: 12

NET rank: 9

Next up: Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal, March 14

Overview: No more Hilton magic for the Cyclones, who were 18-0 at home, but only 6-7 in road or neutral games. How good is this team, really?

11. Kansas (21-9)

KenPom rank: 18

NET rank: 18

Next up: Big 12 Tournament second round, March 13

Overview: It seems kinder to just move past this, say nothing.

12. Illinois (23-8)

KenPom rank: 10

NET rank: 15

Next up: Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal, March 15

Overview: The Illini are built to be a great defensive team. They are not one. But they did climb from worse than 90th in the defensive efficiency rankings at KenPom.com to 73rd after suffocating Iowa’s top-10 attack in a comfortable Illinois win Sunday. Illinois has length, dynamism and a coach who very much wants his guys to defend. In this one, they did, and it was on the road. If the Illini commit to guarding, they could find themselves playing hoops in the Arizona desert a month from now.