Now that the Super Bowl is over, we switch our focus to a fantastic college basketball season. Here are four burning questions as we head down the stretch toward the conference tournaments and March Madness.
Can Ohio State go undefeated?
The 24-0 Buckeyes are trying to become the first team since Bob Knight's 1975-76 Hoosiers to have a perfect season. It won't be easy. They have two games (home and away) against Wisconsin, which is ranked 13th and plays stifling defense, holding opponents well under an average of 60 points a game. The Buckeyes also host underachieving but always dangerous Michigan State and Illinois. And they must travel to Penn State, which gave Ohio State fits in Columbus last month, losing by three. But the game to watch is Feb. 20 at No. 14 Purdue. Then again, the Buckeyes beat Purdue by 23 on Jan. 25. If they get through all that without losing, they then have to navigate the conference and NCAA tournaments. There's a reason it has been 35 years since a team has gone undefeated.
Which teams have been the biggest disappointments?
By far, Kansas State and Michigan State. Both started the season ranked in the top five with plenty of returners from last season, when Michigan State reached the Final Four and K-State the Elite Eight. K-State has had leadership problems and is 178th in the country in field-goal percentage. It is 16-8 and still has to play Kansas, Missouri and Texas. Making the NIT might be a chore. Meantime, the Spartans are in even more trouble. They are 13-10 and 5-6 in the Big Ten. They have lost to their share of powerhouses — Duke, UConn, Syracuse, Purdue — but also have some ugly losses: Michigan and Iowa.
Who is the player of the year?
Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger is the best player on the best team in the country, averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game. Duke's Nolan Smith is averaging 21 points, 5.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds, and has kept Duke elite despite the loss of injured point guard Kyrie Irving. UConn's Kemba Walker, in the top five in the nation with an average 23.2 points per game, has been the best player in the best conference (Big East). But Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette, right, seems to have a folk-hero status about him. He leads the country in scoring at 27.6 points and has three games of at least 40. Plus, how cool would it be to have someone named Jimmer be player of the year?
Who is looking good for the Final Four?
A truly great team might not be out there. But a ton of really, really good teams are. Ohio State has to be a favorite. Pitt doesn't seem to have as much talent as past Pitt teams, but it does seem more mentally tough for handling the rigors of March Madness. After that, it's pull-a-name-out-of-a-hat among Duke, Texas and Kansas. And if you're looking for a Cinderella, there's San Diego State. Experience could be the difference, and that's why, at this moment, we see Duke and Kansas joining Pitt and Ohio State in the Final Four.