Don’t Look Now… But Here Come The Blue Bloods!

Two weeks ago, when the Kansas Jayhawks fell from the top-25 of the AP Poll, breaking an absurd streak of 433 straight games played as a ranked team, something happened that we have never seen before in college hoops history. For the first time ever, all of the top-13 programs in college basketball history, in terms of most wins, were unranked at the same time. In a season that has been upside down and backward due to COVID-19, I’m not sure anything is as crazy as seeing all of college basketball’s elite programs struggling at the same time.

But since the media jumped all over the history making polls, the blue bloods have quickly reminded everyone how they became the best programs in the first place. And now, just two weeks after it looked like the college basketball blue blood royalty was dead, they are now roaring back! With just a couple of days left before March, and the Madness set to begin soon, these blue blood programs are playing quality basketball and making cases for NCAA tournament bids. Want to win your bracket pool in March? Make sure you pay attention to these teams down the stretch.

Kansas Jayhawks (17-8)

While the Kansas Jayhawks falling from the top-25 is what started all of this conversation in the first place, I am not so sure they even deserved to be in the conversation of these blue bloods that are struggling this season. Yeah, the Jayhawks had a rough patch that saw them lose five out of seven games, but the Big 12 is scary good this year, and all of those losses came to top-25 level competition. Kansas has an SOS of 19, so they have played a brutal schedule, and their losses were much more a function of tough scheduling than they were about them being a bad team.

Since that skid, the Jayhawks have quickly bounced back, as they won five straight games and jumped right back into the top-25 nationally, coming in at 17th this week. That run included signature wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Kansas nearly made that six straight wins last night, as they lost a heartbreaker in overtime in Austin against 14th ranked Texas. Now that Kansas has stopped the bleeding, they are firmly a tournament-level team and depending how they finish out the regular season and Big 12 tournament, they could still end up with a top-4 seed.

Every single one of the Jayhawks losses have come to elite teams, and they have quality top-100 victories over Texas Tech (twice), Kentucky, Creighton, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. If you don’t think Kansas can make a run to the Final Four, you need to take another look, as this is a very talented team. The Jayhawks finish the regular season at home against Baylor, and a win against the undefeated Bears likely moves them up at least one line in March Madness seeding. Pencil in Kansas to the second week of the tournament right now, they are that good.

Duke Blue Devils (11-8)

What a strange year it has been for the Duke Blue Devils. Duke started the season outranked in the top-10 nationally and had one of the best recruiting classes in the country. The Blue Devils picked up a couple of early-season losses in non-conference play, but after winning their first three ACC games, this looked like just another Duke team that would compete for a one seed and a conference title.

But then things took a turn for the worse for Coach K’s team, as they lost six out of eight games and dropped from the top-25. Coach K has talked all season long about how he didn’t think teams should be playing amidst the Corona Virus pandemic, and his team followed suit, by not playing up to their potential. The Blue Devils hit rock bottom when top freshman Jalen Johnson quit on the team, as he left the program to pursue a professional basketball career.

With the loss of Johnson, it looked like the Blue Devils were locks to be sitting on the couch in March. But Coach K isn’t the greatest active coach in the country because he gives up, and since Johnson left the program, the Blue Devils are all of the sudden looking a lot like the top-10 team we all thought they would be earlier this season.

The Blue Devils have won four straight games, including quality wins over Syracuse, NC State, and Virginia. We all know that the ACC is down this year, but with that run, the Blue Devils have guaranteed that they will finish with at least a .500 record in league play, and it is hard to deny Duke a pair of dancing shoes with that on their resume.

Duke is easy to hate on, but don’t let your hate of the program mask the fact that this team has multiple NBA players on the roster. Now that Matthew Hurt doesn’t have to fight with Jalen Johnson for the ball, the Blue Devils are playing much more efficiently on offense, and they are winning games. Duke has three games left in the regular season, all of which come against teams ranked in the top-50 on kenpom. They likely need to win two of those three games and at least one more game in the ACC tournament to punch their dance ticket.

The Blue Devils just knocked NC State and Syracuse off of the bubble, and they have a chance to do that again against Louisville, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech. Those wins would count as double, as it boosts their resume and knocks fellow bubble teams down a notch. This team is playing well right now, and I see them making the tournament, and I am sure that nobody wants to see the Blue Devil’s name across theirs as potentially a double-digit seed. Could Duke be on the other side of a 12-5 upset this year?

Kentucky Wildcats (8-13)

Many of you out there likely think that Kentucky has no shot at making the NCAA tournament. And it is hard to disagree with you, as they do have an awful record at 8-13. We have seen teams with a losing record make the tournament before, but those have all come from conference championship teams getting auto-bids.

Never before have we seen a team with a losing record get an at-large bid, but never before have we seen the Corona Virus wipe out huge chunks of the season either. The NCAA Selection Committee is going to have a very tough job to do this season as so many teams lost time to virus outbreaks and teams that don’t have a lot of wins are going to get in.

Kentucky just might be one of those teams. The Wildcats came into the season feeling like a Final Four caliber team with the nation’s top recruiting class. But after starting their season out 1-6, those dreams were quickly dashed. After winning their first three SEC games, the Wildcats lost seven out of eight games to run their record to a dismal 5-13. But similar to Duke, the Wildcats are finding some life late in the season, as they have won three straight games, and looking back on their resume, they aren’t as far out of the mix as most people seem to think. Kenpom currently has the Wildcats ranked 47th in the nation.

Kentucky has top-100 wins over Auburn, LSU, Florida, Mississippi State, and they just blew out 19th ranked Tennessee on the road by 15-points. The Wildcats host a Gators team that they beat by 18-points in their next game before finishing the season at Ole Miss. If Kentucky can win those two games, they would be at 10-13 with seven wins over the top-100. Throw in another win or two in the SEC tournament, also likely coming over the top-100 as basically the entire league is decent, and Kentucky finishes the year somewhere around 12-14 with nine top-100 wins.

You’re telling me you wouldn’t rather see a Kentucky team with multiple NBA draft lottery picks on the roster than, let’s say, a Colorado State team that has just three top-100 wins or Boise State that has seen fourteen of their eighteen wins come against teams ranked outside of the top-150? I am not hating on the little guys here, but Kentucky has played the 5th toughest schedule in the nation, and if they finish out the season playing as well as they did in their last game in Knoxville, I say throw out the records and let them dance.

Michigan State Spartans (12-9)

Under head coach Tom Izzo, the Michigan State Spartans have made the NCAA tournament every year since 1998. Izzo has taken the Spartans to the Final Four eight times, winning the national title in 1999. While Sparty doesn’t have the long legacy as, say, a Kansas or Kentucky, they have been as good as it gets since the turn of the century. The Spartans were ranked 13th in the preseason, and we’re excited to welcome back the oft-injured Joshua Langford to lead this team to yet another deep tournament run.

The season started out well enough, as Michigan State went 6-0 in the non-conference, including quality victories over Duke and Notre Dame. They rose to as high as 4th in the AP Poll with the hot start. But then Big 10 conference play started, and the losses started stacking up. Michigan State lost their first three Big 10 games, and a month into conference play, they sat at just 2-7 in the Big 10. It looked like the Spartans were going to snap their long streak of tournament appearances, as things just weren’t clicking.

But here, late in the season, Izzo is rallying the troops, and the Spartans have won four out of their last six games. Their last win was the biggest of them all, as they knocked off Illinois, beating the 5th ranked Illini 81-72. The overall record isn’t stellar for Michigan State, but they do have a nice collection of quality victories. Michigan State has wins over Illinois, Indiana, Penn State, Rutgers, Duke, and Notre Dame.

Looking ahead on the schedule, there is still a lot of meat left on the bone for Sparty as they have home games against Ohio State and Indiana, and a road trip to Maryland, before finishing up the regular season with a home and home series against the Michigan Wolverines. That is an awfully tough stretch of games as three of those five games come against team currently ranked in the top-5, but it does give Michigan State a chance to pick up another huge upset like they did against Illinois.

Even the wins over Maryland and Indiana would go a long way, as both of those teams are right on the bubble as well. If Tom Izzo has shown us anything in his time leading the Spartans program, it is that he knows how to win meaningful games in March, and as the calendar flips over to the greatest month of the year in sports, it is hard to not expect Izzo to find a way to sneak into the Madness and win a game or two when he gets there. In this 22-year run of making the tournament every year for Michigan State under Izzo, they have won at least one game in the tournament in all but four seasons. Fear the Spartans in March.

North Carolina Tar Heels (14-7)

Roy Williams had one of his worst season ever as a head coach last year. The Tar Heels finished the season an embarrassing 14-19, and with the NCAA tournament getting canceled, they didn’t have to suffer through not hearing their names called on Selection Sunday, but make no mistake, they weren’t getting in. This year, they are playing much better, but I guess the hangover from last year has tainted the public, as they are at least somewhat undeservingly, sitting on the NCAA tournament bubble right now.

The Heels resume isn’t as impressive as it could be with the ACC down this season, as normally an 8-5 record in the ACC would put you into lock status for an at-large bid. The resume for North Carolina looks a lot like UCLA’s, as both teams have a nice chunk of solid, but not spectacular, wins. Wins over Stanford, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Syracuse, NC State, Pittsburgh, Duke, and Louisville aren’t going to blow your hair back, but they are all top-100 wins, and they add up to a nice overall story for the Tar Heels.

Roy Williams has his boys playing their best basketball of the season as they have won six of their last eight and nine of their last twelve games. Those three losses all came on the road at Florida State, at Clemson, and at Virginia. Looking back on their seven losses, they show me that six of those seven losses came in true road games, and all of them came against top-100 teams. Four of those losses came to teams currently ranked in the top-15 of the AP Poll.

The Heels will have ample opportunities to add more quality victories of their record as they finish the regular season with three out of their last four games coming at home. North Carolina is a perfect 8-0 in Chapel Hill this season, and if they can pick up wins over the likes of Florida State, Marquette, and Duke, on their home floor, they are going to hit the ACC tournament red-hot. Roy Williams had taken teams to the tournament in 22-consecutive seasons before last season’s debacle, making it to the Sweet 16 or deeper a whopping 12 times. Expect a strong finish to the regular season for North Carolina, and they are going to be a tough out in March.

UCLA Bruins (16-5)

I have no idea why so many people are hating on the UCLA Bruins this season. The Bruins were the preseason favorites to win the PAC-12, and with just a handful of games left on the schedule, they have a shot to do just that, with a stellar 12-3 conference record. I guess since the PAC-12 is down this year that everyone thinks that a potential power conference championship team isn’t worthy of a national ranking?

The Bruins weren’t great in the non-conference as they scheduled light, and the only two teams that they did play that were any good, San Diego State and Ohio State, they lost both games. The Bruins do have a lot of decent wins on their resume, though, as they beat Marquette, Utah, Colorado, Arizona (twice), Arizona State (twice), and Washington State. None of those wins, with the exception of the win over Colorado, are anything to write home about, but the sheer volume of wins against solid competition is impressive.

UCLA is playing well down the stretch as they have won three straight games, and they will have several chances to add additional quality victories before the season wraps up. UCLA plays their next three games all on the road, at Utah, at Colorado, and at Oregon, before finishing up the season hosting USC, in a game where the PAC-12 regular season title may be on the line. Just because UCLA hasn’t beaten a lot of good teams doesn’t mean they can’t, and if the Bruins sweep through the last two weeks of the regular season and win the PAC-12 title, I could see them ranked as highly as potentially a two or a three seed in the tournament.

If all of these teams have one thing in common, it is that they are well-coached. Izzo, Bill Self, Coach K, Roy Williams, and John Calipari are all Hall of Fame coaches, and UCLA’s head coach, Mick Cronin, is well on his way to the hall as well. Cronin led the Cincinnati Bearcats program for thirteen seasons, taking them to the NCAA tournament in each of his last nine seasons. He also took the Murray State Racers dancing in two out of his three seasons leading that program.

Cronin can flat out coach basketball, and after a bit of a slow start in Westwood, he has now won 27 of his last 35 games with UCLA. Just like Kansas, the Bruins don’t deserve to be mentioned with these struggling blue bloods. They are a good basketball team but just aren’t getting enough attention playing out west. Do not sleep on the Bruins.

Wrap Up

John Wayne once famously said, the reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated, and when you look at all of the media attention surrounding the death of the college hoops blue bloods, I think we can all agree that talk was a bit premature. Yeah, it has been a wild and crazy year, with lots of unexpected results, but as we get ready to hit March in a couple of days, the best college hoops programs in the nation are once again looking elite. Thanks for reading, and make sure that you check out TheSportsGeek’s college basketball betting page, where we bring you high-value free daily betting picks each and every day.

Sub Categories:
Jason Gray / Author

Jason is a true Las Vegas insider as he has called the sports betting capital of the world his home for sixteen years. Jason started out his career in gaming by running the biggest poker tournaments in the world and managing some of the biggest sportsbooks on the strip. Jason has transitioned out of casino operations and has been covering sports betting for the sports geek for just over two years. His main focus is on baseball, college basketball, and the NFL