Nothing that transpired last week in the Countdown was odder than this: At 5 a.m., 14 hours before Duke versus Miami, sprinklers went off near the arena and soaked students who were spending the night queued up — in south Florida, not Durham, N.C.
OK, the winters are mild there, which invites camping out, but the close circle of Hurricanes hoops fans are accustomed to showing up for games during the national anthem, not a full day in advance.
Feeding off the energy, Miami dealt Duke the third most severe loss ever for a No. 1 team, 90-63. Three Devils combined to shoot 1-for-29 during a week in which Nos. 3, 5 (twice), 9, 11 and 12 (twice) went down.
Of course, this being Miami, the Canes’ 10th on-campus sellout in a decade had to share good-news headlines with word that the NCAA fouled up an investigation of the football program, which could delay or prevent any penalties assessed.
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Enough factoring in the projected return of players from injury (outta here, Duke) or suspension (buh-bye, Syracuse). From this point, teams will be judged solely on the here and now. Which leaves …
Kansas. The Jayhawks’ lone loss was their opener — in the A-T-L. It’s only fitting that they play the season closer here. Given their sticky defense, to paraphrase the President, it’s “Yes, You Kan-Sas.”
Michigan. The Wolverines have a point guard to die for (Trey Burke) and, by most metrics, the nation’s most efficient offense. Props for a 14-point road win at Illinois, no easy feat in the Big (Bad) Ten.
Florida. No more ignoring the Gators, whose average margin in their past eight wins is nearly 25 points. Did they really win by 35 on the road Saturday in the semi-bad SEC, Marv Albert? Yessss.
Indiana. What other team flaunts two first-team All-American candidates? Indiana’s one-two punch is Cody Zeller (see Profilin’) and Victor Olapido. Speaking of pairs in the spotlight: Hey, coach Tom Crean, which of your Harbaugh brothers-in-law will you root for Sunday?
The Pac-12, shut out of the Final Four since 2008, has three teams in the picture, as long as it is taken with a wide-angle lens.
Oregon is taking after its gridiron brothers with a high-octane offense that tops the league in scoring. The Ducks look better than their home-court floor, which supposedly depicts a forest of fir trees but instead looks as if someone spilled a bucket of paint on it.
Arizona also likes to stay in the fast lane, as does UCLA, though in part because the Bruins seem to be running from suspicion of NCAA no-no’s. If pedigree counts for anything, those two might have the goods to achieve greatness at the Georgia Dome.
NO MIDDLING MID-MAJOR
At 19-2 and ranked 15th, the Wichita State Shockers are living up to their nickname. Their five highest scorers from last season were seniors. Three starters were felled by injury last month, and only one has returned. Yet they, not more acclaimed Creighton, lead the Missouri Valley Conference.
Then again, maybe the shock value here is exaggerated. Wichita is working on a fourth consecutive 25-win season under coach Gregg Marshall, who has deflected numerous job feelers from power-league schools.
Standout forward Carl Hall would kinda, sorta feel at home in the Georgia Dome. He hails from Cochran, just below Macon.
ON THE POLL
Your turn, Michigan. The Wolverines are on the swiveling hot seat, trying to retain No. 1 for a week. Oregon, by conquering the state of Washington last week, hoisted itself six spots to No. 10. Miami made the grandest leap, from 25th to 14th, by dismantling Duke and Florida State. Down went Minnesota, 11 places to No. 23 after failing twice to reach 50 points in losses. Louisville (12th) and Kansas State (18th) backslid seven slots because of 0-2 weeks.
Gonzaga, with its international flair, would fit right in our culturally diverse Final Four city. Forward Elias Harris of Germany is the Bulldogs’ foremost rebounder and No. 2 scorer. Point guard Kevin Pangos of Canada is the assist leader and third-best scorer. Occasional starter Guy Landy Edi hails from Ivory Coast and reserve Przemek Karnowski from Poland. Wonder if there is a basketball staffer devoted full-time to arranging player passports and visas.
There are big men who skate by on their talent. And there are guys such as the 7-foot-ish Cody Zeller, who work tirelessly to improve. His stats suggest that Zeller, who has small-forward skills, has leveled off as a sophomore, but he suffers from having set the bar high enough to have been the Player of the Year fave.
Zeller also bears the burden of being front-and-center on the consensus preseason choice to dance the night away April 8. At least he can lean on big brothers for advice. Luke played at Notre Dame, Tyler at North Carolina. Cody chose his state’s flagship university, whose basketball program was in tatters only a few years ago.
Before he becomes the third Zeller in the NBA next season, a title would be an appreciated going-away gift. Fans here would not get the z’s from watching the high-energy Z-man.
Biggest Final Four upsets, No. 7: Before surfacing in the 1985 championship game, which just might make our list of surprises, unranked Villanova had to aim a slingshot at tall, talented Memphis State. Bulls-eye. The Wildcats, an eight seed, felled the foul-burdened second seed 52-45, setting up a seemingly hopeless task against Georgetown.
Final Four referees might be giving the touchdown signal often if Michigan freshman Nik Stauskas loads up here. At 49 percent (51 of 104), he is the nation’s second most-accurate three-point shooter.
AT THE BUZZER
If, by some unimaginable alignment of planets, Northern Illinois reaches the Final Four, souvenir stands at the Georgia Dome should stock up on NoDoz. At halftime Saturday, the Huskies had four points. With one more basket, NIU would have exceeded the five-spot it hung up in the first half Dec 1.
Of greater concern to those who have invested in tickets are alarmingly low totals for legitimate contenders. On Saturday alone, New Mexico scrounged out 34 points, Minnesota 44 and Louisville 51.
Anyone in favor of a 20-second shot clock?