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Mutka: No. 1 in college hoops? No such thing

Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) Michigan State guard Branden Daws(22) chase after loose ball first half an NCAA college

Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr., (10) and Michigan State guard Branden Dawson (22) chase after a loose ball in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, March 3, 2013, at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Tony Ding) ORG XMIT: AAS107

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Updated: April 5, 2013 6:25AM



Number One in college basketball? Ain’t no such animal, folks.

Being placed on that pinnacle was a recipe for disaster in this wild and woolly season.

Ask Indiana’s Hoosiers, who have been knocked off twice since perching on the NCAA’s Mt. Olympus. If Cody Zeller needed an NBA wake-up call, his shaky performance at Minnesota should convince him he needs another year of college basketball to beef up and flex his muscles.

Zeller may be an All-American, but a nine-point, four-turnover game in that loss probably cost him any chance he had of being named player of the year. Give that nod to Victor Oladipo, who has electrified the Hoosiers in game after game.

Ask Duke, which was 15-0 with Ryan Kelly in the lineup, but suffered a horrendous 90-63 loss to Miami’s Hurricanes and struggled while he recovered from a foot injury before returning Saturday to help Duke edge Miami.

I still like the Blue Devils chances of making the Final Four with players like Warsaw’s 6-10 Mason Plumlee (18.2 ppg, 10.7 rebounds), who has posted an astounding 16 double-doubles.

Nobody would confuse the easily disliked Hurricanes with a people’s choice, but they won 14 of 15 games to reign as ACC champions. When you think of Miami, you think of under-achieving academic athletes. You think of football. If you’re from Notre Dame you think “Catholics vs. Convicts.” But basketball? That’s a big wow from the nation’s biggest surprise.

Ask Michigan, which once reached the giddy heights only to be pounded by state rival Michigan State. No need to apologize for that, but Penn State ... really? Chalk it up to youth. The Wolverines have three freshmen and a sophomore in their top six.

If you’re looking for a people’s choice you might consider Gonzaga. The Zags (28-2) won 11 in a row after losing to Butler, but skeptics point to a weak strength of schedule for the western dudes.

They are intriguing, though, with seven-footer Kelly Olynyk. Anything but a stiff, he’s averaging 18 points and 6.9 rebounds and has rung up nine 3-pointers. Point guard Kevin Pangos puts up the kind of numbers you like to see from a floor general, shooting 42 percent from the arc and 82.2 percent from the line. Elias Harris (14.4 ppg) adds a third recipe for success.

Led by the top-ranked Big Ten, college basketball hasn’t been this entertaining for years. Here’s a few observations:

Wisconsin: Nobody enjoys playing the frustrating Badgers, who have owned Indiana throughout Tom Crean’s spectacular rebuilding years. Bo Ryan’s defensive-minded team errs about as often as a vegan enjoys a Texas barbecue and has ambushed Michigan and Ohio State.

Kansas State: Illinois would like to forget Bruce Weber, but his Kansas State Wildcats are hunting Kansas in the Big 12.

Speaking of Kansas, which nearly drove former Illinois coach Bill Self to distraction with three consecutive losses the Jayhawks have rebounded behind scoring leader Ben McLemore. Don’t get too excited, though. The Wildcats have a habit of underachieving in the Big Dance.

Kentucky: What fun it was to see the Wildcats get blown away recently by Tennessee. This passes for a down year in Lexington, but Kentucky is still capable of making waves.

Sleeper? Beware of St. Louis. The specter of Rick Majerus must be guiding a team which could qualify as a people’s choice. St. Louis closed in on the Atlantic 10 title by sweeping Butler and beating VCU, who no longer can be described as the teams everybody loves.

Beware of MSU: Never count out the Spartans as long as Tom Izzo is running the show. In spite of recent losses to Indiana and Ohio State they remain formidable. Any team that demolishes Michigan (75-52) deserves our respect. This time Gary’s Branden Dawson, who missed last year’s tournament with a knee injury, will be available to deliver key rebounds and trash opponents with garbage points.

Give some kudos to Florida: A withering full-court press and a top-five scoring defense keep the Gators snappy, but they haven’t fared well outside of Gainesville. Florida’s towering front line has a huge appetite.

Ohio State: Outside of DeShaun Thomas, the Buckeyes don’t have enough firepower but they’re capable of reaching the Sweet 16 with him and defensive whiz Aaron Craft.

Big East sleeper: Georgetown — The Hoyas have quietly taken charge in this crumbling conference behind Otis Porter Jr.

Big Ten sure things: In the NCAA Tournament, Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin should receive no worse than a No. 4 seed. Minnesota had been declining, but rejuvenated its season by knocking IU out of its No. 1 spot. Ditto for Illinois, which has revived and earned the NCAA committee’s attention with early victories over Butler and Gonzaga, then stunning Indiana. Improving Iowa could make a case for an eighth Big Ten team with a couple of victories in the Big Ten tournament.



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