Cultivating a championship college basketball team takes time, effort, perseverance and a little bit of luck—ask any of the coaching greats and they will probably hit you with the famous Seneca quote: “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”
Now, Bill Self, Mark Few and Dana Altman may not be Roman philosophers, but they do believe in being prepared when the moment to strike presents itself. This is why I believe we can glean insight into this year’s eventual champion from a few very telling games. Of course, no one has a collegiate crystal ball, but winning certain games against formidable opponents regardless of the time of year speaks volumes of a team’s character.
Here are four telling games that might make a college basketball champion.
Oregon vs. UCLA
This game back on December 28 is a perfect example of why the Pac-12 can’t have nice things. In the conference opener for both teams, then No. 21 Oregon upset No. 2 UCLA 89-87 on a three-pointer hit by Dillon Brooks with .8 seconds left in the game. Most people knew Oregon was good, but they just assumed the Bruins were better, especially with the gift of Lonzo Ball leading the way. But mayhem reigns supreme in the Conference of Champions, as the Ducks showcased why they have a solid case for cutting down the nets in April.
Since that glorious game, Oregon has only faltered once, suffering a 74-65 loss at Colorado. The Ducks are nearly back to preseason form.
Kansas vs. Baylor
In a quintessential Big 12 match-up, the No. 3 Jayhawks defeated the No. 2 Baylor Bears 73-68 behind a solid performance by star freshman Josh Jackson, who finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Kansas also made strides in potentially locking up yet another conference title while continuing to live that streak life. This win marked the Jayhawks' 51st straight at Allen Fieldhouse and ninth in a row over Baylor. It also gave Kansas a one-game lead over the Bears in conference play.
This contest was indicative of Kansas itself: a speedy start, giving way to turnovers that let the other team hang around before Frank Mason and Devonte Graham go all Mortal Kombat and finish them. Kansas is now moving swiftly into March.
Villanova vs. Virginia
Talk about that March Madness feel—No. 1 Villanova held on to beat No. 12 Virginia 61-59 in a frenzy of a finish that culminated in a timely tip-in by the Wildcats’ Donte DiVincenzo. This game was a struggle for Nova, who trailed the Cavaliers by 12 with 10 minutes left. But the Wildcats clawed their way back, and Josh Hart’s missed layup, deftly tipped in by DiVicenzo, is the epitome of preparation meeting opportunity. This game shows how tough (and lucky) Villanova is, making them a dangerous opponent come tournament time.
Virginia vs. Louisville
That night against Nova, the then No. 12 Cavaliers may have taken an L, but just a few nights ago they bounced back with 71-55 win over No. 4 Louisville. Virginia’s lone senior London Perrantes finished with 18 points and junior Isaiah Wilkins added 13 points along with 11 rebounds and five blocks. Perrantes is to points what Wilkins is to anything around the rim—fire. This was the fourth consecutive time the Cavaliers have beaten Louisville, and it moved them into a tie with No. 14 Florida State for second place in the ACC.
Granted, the Cardinals' wings were clipped, playing without their second and third leading scorers, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel. But Virginia did open a door for Louisville by committing 14 turnovers. The Cardinals just couldn't walk through it, so the Cavaliers came out on top. But you can bet head coach Tony Bennett will be addressing the sloppy play moving forward.
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.