Is This the Year?

You never truly know what you'll see during a college basketball season. Take Saturday, for example. In the span of a couple of hours, the sport gave us a couple of results that many could have thought impossible.

In Division III, Greenville (IL) University reached the absurd mark of 200 points ... in a 40-minute game! On the other end of the kaleidoscope, the 23rd-ranked team in Division I, N.C. State, gave up 47 points to 12th-ranked Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack lost by almost getting doubled up! Their 24-point effort was the worst by an ACC team or a ranked team in the shot clock era.

There's always going to be the status quo, but results like the ones on Saturday prove that trends can be broken, regrettably or not. With about a month to go in the regular season, there have been signs of unusual endpoints for the 2018-2019 campaign. Is this finally the year...

... That the Big Ten can win the Big One?

They've come so close. Michigan State's title in 2000 was the last one lifted by a Big Ten member (no, Maryland's 2002 championship doesn't count). And the conference has come close to grabbing another. Seven times in the last 19 years, the national runner-up was a Big Ten school. This season, two teams have played above the fray that is that has been the rest of the league.

Despite losses this past week, the two Michigan teams appear to be the best shot at the conference getting back on top. The Wolverines are last season's runner-up and have come loaded for bear. The Spartans have tripped up a couple of times lately (including Saturday against Indiana), but a bigger loss may be the injury to star guard Josh Langford. The good news is that Sparty has a month to figure everything out before the start of tournament season.

There's another team that looks to be hitting stride in the heart of the league schedule. Purdue has teased before. Four times in the Matt Painter era, the Boilermakers have reached the regional semifinal round. They're 0-4 at that stage, including last March's loss to Texas Tech. Heading into November, Purdue was a Top-25 team. They rose all the way to 19 before losing 4 of 5. After that swoon, though ... nothing but fire. The Boilers have won seven in a row and 10 of 11 (including Sunday's win over Minnesota). This team is one of the hottest in country. But can they sustain it for eight more weeks?

... That a Power 5 Only Gets One Shot?

One thing you can usually count on is the power conferences filling up the national tournament bracket with multiple bids. However, that may be an issue as eyes turn West this month. Since conferences were able to get multiple tourney bids in 1975, the Pac-12 has rarely missed out on that opportunity. The last time was the 1978 tournament. But that mark could be in jeopardy next month.

Washington has emerged as the squad to beat, holding a 9-0 conference record and a three-game lead going into Sunday. If the Huskies pull away even further and win the conference tourney, will any other school have the resume to play in the NCAAs?

... That the Phog Lifts?

Few teams have been as successful in conference play than Kansas has over the last decade and a-half. The Jayhawks have owned the Big XII like no other program in the sport's history (including UCLA of the '60s and '70s). After a 14-year run of regular season crowns (shared and outright), though, is this good thing coming to an end?

KU has lost quite a bit at this point. They lost star center Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending injury. They lost the use of big man Silvio de Sousa to an NCAA eligibility ruling. They've lost three of their first four conference road games. Could that ultimately lead to them losing their grip on the top of the league standings?

After the weekend, the Jayhawks only sit one-half game back of Baylor and Kansas State. This makes Tuesday's trip to Manhattan extremely important Bill Self's squad. KU still has two games left against the Wildcats, a season-finale against the Bears (whom they already beat in Waco), and one versus Texas Tech (whom they beat on Saturday) in Lubbock. The path is there for this team to separate and rise up once again. It's also filled with potholes that could derail any thoughts of celebration No. 15.

... That the Old Dominion Can Pass Through Tobacco Road?

The Commonwealth of Virginia has had a tough time. No, I'm not talking about the embarrassing situation with its governor. I'm merely sticking to basketball. Now, it's true that one team has recently made a run to the national semifinals. However, I don't believe that the Rams of VCU would qualify as one of the state's two biggest names.

UVA really made their name back in the early 1980s. Thanks to the presence of big man Ralph Sampson, the Cavaliers were able to make a run to the 1981 Final Four. They had a similar result three years later (the year after Sampson graduated). Then, came a mixed bag of results. There were three regional final appearances since 1984. But most years ended up with them seeing their Carolina neighbors to the south raising banners and trophies.

Virginia Tech doesn't have a lot a hoops legacy to cling to. Other than a spot in the 1967 regional final (in the school's first NCAA appearance), the second round is all that the Hokie program could get to.

This appears to be changing with the entrances of Tony Bennett (UVA) and Buzz Williams (VT). This year, the Cavaliers continue to be highly ranked and utterly embarrassed (after becoming the first 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed last April). This year, the Hokies try to reach new heights the program has yet to see (with chances for more statement wins to come). Let's face it. The state of North Carolina in the kingpin of ACC land. But could this be one of the rare occasions where a squad from the Commonwealth will be laughing last?

... That the SEC Expands its Footprint?

When it comes to SEC basketball, what schools come to mind? Florida, sure. LSU has had some grand success, as has Georgia. And, oh yeah, Kentucky. What about Rocky Top or War Eagle?

Yes, Tennessee and Auburn have had some big names roll through Knoxville (Bernard King, Ernie Grunfeld) and onto the Plains (Charles Barkley, Chuck Person). However, I don't know if you can really say that the Vols and Tigers have had the amount of attention they've seen over the last 18 months.

Both schools were ranked in the AP's top 11 starting the season. Bruce Pearl's team dipped, going on a three-game losing streak after center Austin Wiley got injured. They've adjusted since. The Vols have surged, with their only blemish being an overtime loss to Kansas on a neutral floor. Rick Barnes' team has flourished since, winning 16 in a row. Thirteen victories were by double digits. And that has been enough to vault UT to No. 1 in the country for only the second time in the program's history (coincidentally, the other time was in 2008 ... under Pearl). Could one of these teams be destined to play in a Final Four come April?

... That the MAC Can Attack from Multiple Angles?

Over the era of the at-large bids, the MAC has been able to steal a couple of those spots. The last time that happened, though, was 20 years ago. During that 1999 tournament, Miami of Ohio made it to the Sweet 16, while Kent State bowed out in the first round. After two decades of searching for the at-large bid, we may finally be at that next time.

The Buffalo Bulls were dreadful when the school joined this conference. But after an infusion of the legendary Hurley coaching family (namely, Bobby), the program found a direction. That led to 2015, the year of their first conference tournament title and first March Madness berth. Fast forward three seasons to last April, when the Bulls stunned Deondre Ayton and Arizona for the program's first NCAA win. That leads us to this season, which includes a convincing win at West Virginia and sports a 19-3 record. At this point, the Bulls should be a solid at-large pick for the committee.

That makes Bowling Green's win on Friday all the more important. The Falcons are hunting their first NCAA appearance since 1968. Their resume is not near as "qualifying" as Buffalo's (losing at Hartford and Cleveland State will do that to you). But Friday's home win over the Bulls gives BGSU hope that a neutral floor win in the conference title game is possible. There are other games they can't look past (vs. Toledo, vs. Kent State) before the season-finale rematch in Upstate New York. But I am saying there's a chance.

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