Tim Crone: Basketball seasons will actually crown champions this year

The Examiner
Tim Crone

It looks as though the high school winter sports season will have a full season and not be cut short as it was this time last year due to the pandemic. I am sure there is a much greater appreciation of having the ability to play through a complete season with teammates.

With that said, it is time to begin thinking about March Madness and how the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be played out. This year’s college basketball season has been difficult to pull off and looks strange with few to no fans in attendance.

College basketball has always been about a roar from college students with every shot made. I have previously worked several KU basketball games at Allen Fieldhouse and it was totally impossible to hear anyone on the other end of the headphones. That will obviously not be the case during the NCAA tournament.

Perennial powers such as Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State and North Carolina may not even make the field for this year’s tournament.  It looks as if area teams Missouri and KU will make it to the dance. Mizzou will be a shoo-in this year with a much-improved squad that was ranked 24th in the nation in this week’s poll.

Kansas has had a tough season, but they moved back in the top 25 after ducking out of it for a week. The Jayhawks had three very tough games in a row against Texas Tech, Texas and Baylor, and if they lose their remaining two, they may be on the bubble to make the tournament even with a good showing in the Big 12 Tournament.

The remarkably interesting thing about this year is the total domination of the top two teams in the country throughout the year. No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor have not budged from those spots all season. They could very easily be the participants in the national championship game with both teams going into the contest undefeated.

However, a great fact about the NCAA Tournament is that some team always seems to hit a hot streak at the right time.

The best overall basketball conference in the country is the Big 10. This week, according to the polls, Michigan is ranked third, Ohio State is fourth, Illinois (which lost to Mizzou) is fifth, Iowa is ninth and Wisconsin is 23rd. There will be at least six or seven Big 10 teams in the tournament, probably including Indiana.

We can talk all day about teams that can play a dark horse role from conferences scattered all over the country. No. 12 Houston, out of the American Athletic Conference, is flexing their muscles and traditional Big East powers like No. 8 Villanova and No. 13 Creighton will be very tough outs come tournament time.

The SEC will have teams like No. 6 Alabama, No. 24 Missouri and No. 20 Arkansas, along with a No. 25 Tennessee team that embarrassed the Jayhawks in the regular season. They will provide threats to advance deep into the tournament.

The Pac-12 does not have a lot of top 25 caliber teams, but No. 19 Southern Cal appears to be a threat, as does a very solid San Diego State team from the Mountain West Conference.

The ACC has several teams that will be tough come tournament time. No. 15 Virginia won the last men’s NCAA Championship played in 2019 with a style of play that is extremely tough to play against. No. 16 Virginia Tech and No. 11 Florida State are incredibly good teams to watch. A possible underdog threat would be the Seminoles. They have only played fourteen games due to the pandemic, but they are incredibly talented with tough play on the boards and defensively.

The March Madness brackets – which will all be played in the Indianapolis area this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic – will offer basketball fans something positive and fun to think about instead of all the negativity we have been enduring through the last year. It is probably too early to pick who will be in the Final Four but at least we have something positive to look forward to.

My old high school teammate and lifelong friend, Gary Bass, who has lived close to Gonzaga most of his adult life, tells me every year that the Zags are the team to beat. I hope he is right this year but never forget how tough it is to go undefeated in any season.

• The quote of the week comes from Basketball Hall of Famer Larry Bird: “In the closing seconds of every game, I want the ball in my hands for that last shot – not in anybody else’s, not in anybody else’s hands in the world.”

Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School and is a host of a weekly radio show, “Off the Wall with Tim Crone,” on KCWJ (1030 AM) 6 p.m. every Monday. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at t.crone@comcast.net.