Justin Bjorseth, 23 Sports

Sunday, February 26–

With just one week remaining in the regular season, it seems that the field of 68 is taking shape. There is a lot of seeding still up for grabs, and lots of teams are fighting to get a number one seed and get the games close to home, while many more are trying to avoid falling to the dreaded fifth seed line, which automatically puts any team on upset alert.

The headline from the weekend was the Gonzaga Bulldogs being taken down. They may not know it now, but this loss was the best thing that could have happened to them. Entering the tournament as an undefeated team puts a target on your back, and is certainly no guarantee to go all the way, or perhaps go anywhere at all. Just ask the 2014 Wichita State Shockers. It was those same Shockers who took out Gonzaga in round two just a year earlier, the last time the Zags were a No. 1 seed. Losing their first game before the postseason gives Gonzaga time to grow, especially considering they have a week off between their conference tournament and Selection Sunday. I think they’re as dangerous as ever.

It’s more clear after this weekend that the Big Ten will not provide a serious contender for a national title this year. Their top three teams, who are all still fighting to win the regular season crown, were all dropped this weekend. Granted, Purdue and Wisconsin lost on the road, on senior day, against two tournament opponents. Yes, Michigan and Michigan Sate are both very hot, but both were double-digit defeats. Purdue trailed Michigan by 22 at one point. Maryland was dropped at home by 14 by a likely NIT-bound Iowa Hawkeyes squad. The Terps and Boilermakers had disappointing tournament showings last year, and it appears neither team is ready to step up to the stage this year, either. It’s hard to write off Wisconsin, considering they’ve been to four straight Sweet Sixteens, but they’re the Big Ten’s only chance at a Final Four bid.

Tobacco Road will have a lot on the line on Saturday. Duke is hurting right now, having dropped two tough road games this past week. They face another tough opponent in Florida State before heading to Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have already clinched a share of the ACC regular season crown, but it goes without saying that they will be out for revenge against Duke. A win will surely lock up a one seed for North Carolina. A loss or two more this week could drop Duke to a five seed, putting perhaps the nation’s most talented team at risk for an extremely early exit.

One thing is for sure: this year’s tournament promises to be one of the best in a while. There isn’t one team that everyone will be guaranteed to have going all the way when they fill out their brackets. Many major conferences are sending several teams to the dance, meaning there will be low seeds that are battle tested and perfectly capable of pulling off an upset. Two teams to watch are Iowa State and Butler. They have both had sneaky good seasons, as Butler has beaten Villanova twice and Iowa State won at Kansas.

There will be plenty more takeaways from this final week of the season, and as we gear up for the tournament, we will see more and more teams either rise to the occasion or crumble under the pressure. As we sit right now, I believe that the Kansas Jayhawks are the favorites to go all the way. Much as it pains me to say.