Perhaps everyone in and around Lawrence, Kan., breathed an overdue sigh of relief on Monday.
Kansas, by pounding conference rival Kansas State, looked like it would be just fine this college basketball season. And by all indications, Kansas will. The Jayhawks are not without their flaws, but they are just one of many examples of promising teams this season that have gone through momentary, even extended, bouts of less-than-stellar play --your local Gophers included.
The Gophers, Kansas, Oregon, Louisville and Illinois all have lost three consecutive games since the beginning of the calendar year while being ranked.
Not every team will pull out of that sinkhole -- the Gophers, for one, still have some work to do to get into out the NCAA tournament -- but for the good ones, a January or February slide can be simply part of the process that still leads to great things.
And although we have enjoyed talking about this season's craziness and unpredictability, these midseason slumps aren't really all that unusual.
According to STATS LLC, 10 teams combined in the previous two seasons (four in 2011-12 and six in 2010-11) lost at least three consecutive games while in the top 25: Georgetown, Michigan State, Washington, Texas A&M, Minnesota and Syracuse in 2010-11 and Creighton, Connecticut, Indiana and Wisconsin last year. All, except for the 2010-11 Minnesota team (sorry Gophers fans) went on to make the NCAA tournament and all, except for the 2010-11 Minnesota team (again, sorry) advanced to at least the second round.
Still, this season is distinctive with such high-ranking teams taking the nose dive -- including Kansas, which was as high as No. 2 in the AP poll, and Louisville, which went tumbling immediately after taking over the No. 1 spot. And these setbacks have only been magnified by the greater trend of wacky upsets happening all over college basketball, whether it be Arkansas trumping Florida by double digits or the completely unpredictable TCU rout of Kansas.
Those seemingly wild events, not to mention the rarity of road victories this year -- the Wall Street Journal reported that ranked teams had the lowest winning percentage in true road games in January and early February of the past six seasons -- have college basketball fans and media speculating about the strength of the sport and the uniqueness of this particular year.
But none of that is necessarily a predictor of eventual success, either.
Although the Gophers and Illinois have since fallen out of the rankings, all five of those ranked teams that have lost three consecutive games this season are still projected to be in the NCAA tournament, according to CBSSports.com bracketologist Jerry Palm, with Louisville and Kansas still holding 3 and 4 seeds, respectively, and Oregon occupying the lowest with a No. 9 seed.
That's right, Gophers fans. We're saying there's a chance.
RAYNO'S SHORT TAKES
• It's not very often that a court-rushing is justified in a Duke victory over North Carolina. But this week was one of those times. You don't remember fans piling down the bleachers after the Blue Devils' Wednesday comeback over the Tar Heels, you say? Nope, not that one. Before those teams went head-to-head, the team managers got after it, and the game's end, dare I say it, was more thrilling than the headliner. And perhaps even more stunning was the reaction. After Duke hit a buzzer-beater three-pointer to win, the fans in attendance -- fans in attendance at the managers' game? -- stormed the court. This is the depth of this rivalry.
• There's been plenty of renewed discussion contemplating the best strategy -- to foul or defend -- when up by three and an opponent has one final possession. Stats guru Ken Pomeroy comes down on the side of fouling even if he admits that his own numbers showed a slight advantage in the case of defending in that situation. Then Monday, we saw first-hand an example of how fouling could potentially work out in the favor of an opponent if everything works out just perfectly. In a Division III game between No. 2 Amherst and No. 3 Middlebury, Amherst's Willy Workman was fouled with 1.8 seconds left and his team trailing by three. He hit his first free throw, intentionally missed the second, then flew in for the rebound himself, laying the ball in and taking his team to overtime, where it eventually won. Tough to convert, certainly, but a good anecdote to continue the debate.
• There's a reason everyone is still stunned about third-ranked Miami (Fla.): this level of surprise doesn't happen that often. Since 1985, only 12 teams have advanced to the AP top 25 after starting the season unranked and spending the entire previous season unranked, CBSSports.com's Matt Norlander wrote this week. Michigan State in 1989-90 was one of those 12 teams. What's more, if Miami (11-0 in the ACC) reaches No. 1, it will be the first team with the previous qualifiers to do so.
BIG TEN POWER POLL
1. Michigan State: It's hard to say any team has more momentum than the Spartans right now.
2. Indiana: The Hoosiers didn't spend much time mulling over the Illinois loss, defeating Ohio State and Nebraska.
3. Michigan: The Spartans overwhelmed the Wolverines in the paint, a weakness that has been exposed a little more lately.
4. Wisconsin: A loss at Minnesota significantly hurt the Badgers' title chances, but their conference push has still been impressive.
5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost their first home game and had a difficult stretch this week, but are still very much in the hunt.
6. Illinois: Quite a turnaround for the Illini, who again look tournament-bound.
7. Minnesota: With a tough three-game stretch ahead, the Gophers notched a huge one against the rival Badgers.
8. Purdue: When the Boilermakers lose, they lose badly.
9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes won consecutive games for just the second time this season. Next up: The Gophers.
10. Northwestern: With four losses in five games, the shorthanded Wildcats are in need of a spark.
11. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers make every game sticky with their clock management, but they're not there yet.
12. Penn State: The schedule is looking less and less favorable for even a single victory in this conference slate.