BOZICH | Door open for Louisville, Kentucky to win conference titles
With 2 1/2 weeks left in the regular season, the path is open for Louisville and Kentucky to win regular season championships.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In a college basketball world where March – and only March -- matters, February remains fabulous stuff to me.
Winning a record-season championship in a league like the Atlantic Coast or Southeastern Conferences never makes the One Shining Moment video, but there is enough Old School in my DNA that I refuse to sneeze at the achievement.
Especially this season, certainly in the monstrous ACC.
Check the ACC standings. With less than three weeks to play, six teams are wedged within two games of first place. The final projected ACC standings at Ken Pomeroy’s website has Louisville and North Carolina finishing 13-5 with four more teams expected to challenge at 12-6.
Write this down: If Louisville can win at North Carolina next Wednesday, the Cards become the clear favorite. (Disclaimer: The Tar Heels are unbeaten in Chapel Hill this season).
The SEC is not as complicated. But the SEC race is more dramatic than it was expected to be in early January, when Kentucky was the pick to cruise to another regular-season title with a two- or three-game cushion over Florida and South Carolina.
You have my approval to scratch the Gamecocks. Back-to-back home losses to Alabama and Arkansas eliminated Frank Martin’s team.
So far, Florida has not blinked.
I italicized the qualifier because the Gators just lost John Egbunu, their leading rebounder, second-leading shot-blocker, as well as a guy who scores nearly eight points per game, with a knee injury this week.
Torn ACL. Season over. The Gators’ don’t have a young Al Horford to plug into the lineup.
Pomeroy projects Florida and UK to share the SEC title with 15-3 records. But the absence of Egbunu as well as the game Florida plays at Rupp Arena Feb. 25 tilt the rim toward John Calipari’s team.
If you’re March-obsessed, there’s an NCAA Tournament angle to this, too.
Last Saturday, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee announced its predictive list of the top 16 tournament teams. North Carolina was No. 5, two spots ahead of Louisville. Florida was 11th, one spot ahead of Kentucky.
Want a better seed and (likely) a better opportunity to start the tournament as close as possible to your campus?
Win your conference title.
U of L and UK have positioned themselves to do that.
North Carolina (10-3) holds a one-game lead on Rick Pitino’s 9-4 Cardinals.
How does Louisville flip the script?
Win in Chapel Hill next week – and win out. If the teams finish tied, the Cardinals grab the tiebreaker with head-to-head success.
Carolina has a more challenging closing stretch – home games against Virginia, Louisville and Duke. Road games with Virginia and Pitt. Pomeroy says 13-5 for Roy Williams’ team.
Four of Louisville’s final five games will also be against NCAA Tournament teams – home with Virginia Tech (Saturday), Syracuse and Notre Dame and the trip to UNC. Louisville has won four ACC road games and Pomeroy puts the Cards’ chances of winning a fifth (at Wake Forest March 1) at 66 percent.
Put Louisville at 13-5.
In case you didn’t believe me the first two times I said it, the Louisville-UNC game should decide the champion. Pomeroy has Duke, Virginia, Florida State and Notre Dame all finishing 12-6.
In the SEC, Pomeroy has Kentucky and Georgia (currently tied at 11-2) each finishing with four wins in their final five games.
Kentucky’s most dangerous game is the one the Wildcats play at Georgia on Saturday at 6 p.m. The Bulldogs played well enough to take Kentucky and Florida to overtime on the road and have inside (Yante Maten) and outside (J.J. Frazier) threats. Some suggest Mark Fox is coaching for his job.
Florida, in case you missed it, has won seven straight, but the Gators game at Mississippi State on Saturday will be their first without Egbunu. With games against South Carolina and UK ahead, Florida cannot afford a stumble in Starkville.
Regular-season championships deserve more love. They’re sitting there for Louisville and Kentucky to grab.
Copyright 2017 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.