Last power rankings of the regular season. Can't hold anything back now.
1. KENTUCKY (28-1, 14-0) (1)
LAST WEEK: Beat Mississippi State (73-64); Beat Vanderbilt (83-74)
THIS WEEK: vs. Georgia (3/1); At Florida (3/4)
Perhaps it's the memory of the 1996 team losing to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament, but the hot talk in Lexington for the past couple of weeks has been that this Kentucky needs a loss before the big dance. John Calipari himself told his team that they "need to get beat," and later told the media that a loss might not be a bad thing depending "on how you lose." The debate is probably a useless one anyway, since there doesn't appear to be a team in the SEC anywhere near as good as that MSU one 16 years ago.
2. SYRACUSE (29-1, 16-1) (2)
LAST WEEK: Beat South Florida (56-48); Beat Connecticut (71-69)
THIS WEEK: vs. Louisville (3/3)
In any other year, a one-loss Big East team would be the talk of the country, but instead much of the conversation concerning Syracuse is still centered around whether or not they could beat Kentucky. The Post-Standard recently took an extensive look at the comparison between the two teams. Here's a portion:
It's a much-discussed topic in Syracuse because the Orange is minus-0.8 on the season. SU doesn't have to outrebound opponents to win, but it must avoid being dominated on the glass. Kentucky is a strong plus-7.3 in rebounding.
Kentucky hits 37.6 percent of its 3's, compared with 34.2 percent for SU.
Kentucky leads 72.4 percent to 69.7 percent.
Both teams take care of the ball. SU commits only 10.5 turnovers per game. Kentucky's at 11.7.
Both teams are big-time shot-blockers. Kentucky averages 9.0 per game, and SU swats 7.2.
Both teams rely on steals to ignite their offenses. SU's 9.9 steals per game leads Kentucky's 6.5.
Raise your glass (or mug) and let's toast to this game actually happening.
3. KANSAS (25-5, 15-2) (4)
LAST WEEK: Beat Texas A&M (66-58); Beat Missouri (87-86 OT); Beat Oklahoma State (70-58)
THIS WEEK: vs. Texas (3/3)
Today is Feb. 29, which means 2012 is a leap year. I'm not going to explain the whole phenomenon, just trust me. Kansas has won three national titles in basketball. They occurred in 1952, 1988 and 2008. What do those years have in common? All leap years. The Jayhawks advanced to the title game and were defeated in the non-leap years of 1953, 1957, 1991 and 2002.
I'm not sayin' ... I'm just sayin'. Maybe we should ease up on the criticism of Memphis' free-throw shooting in 2008. The Tigers were working against something bigger than 15 feet.
4. NORTH CAROLINA (25-4, 12-2) (5)
LAST WEEK: Beat NC State (86-74); Beat Virginia (54-51)
THIS WEEK: vs. Maryland (2/29); At Duke (3/3)
North Carolina fans have essentially spent the entire regular season waiting for the Tar Heels to play like the force most expected them to be. How UNC handles Saturday's meeting with Duke -- a game that provides an opportunity for both an ACC championship and revenge over an arch-rival -- should be extremely telling as far as what to expect from this team in the big dance. If they can't get up for this one, then cutting down the nets in New Orleans probably isn't realistic.
5. DUKE (25-4, 12-2) (7)
LAST WEEK: Beat Florida State (76-68); Beat Virginia Tech (70-65 OT); Beat Wake Forest (79-71)
THIS WEEK: vs. North Carolina (3/3)
I'll say this, Duke emailers: the Blue Devils are much more of a Final Four threat than I ever thought they could be. There are still areas for extreme concern -- lack of post presence, ability to defend ... anyone -- but Austin Rivers has come of age in a big way, and when you can put up points in the manner that this team does then you're capable of beating just about anybody.
6. MICHIGAN STATE (24-6, 13-4) (6)
LAST WEEK: Beat Minnesota (66-61); Beat Nebraska (62-34); Lost to Indiana (70-55)
THIS WEEK: vs. Ohio State (3/4)
The Spartans squandered both their temporary hold on a No. 1 seed and a chance to secure the sixth outright regular-season Big Ten championship in school history Tuesday night at Indiana. Ohio State and Michigan are still a game and-a-half behind MSU in the league standings, but the Buckeyes are coming to East Lansing on Sunday.
7. MISSOURI (25-4, 12-4) (3)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Kansas State (78-68); Lost to Kansas (87-86 OT)
THIS WEEK: vs. Iowa State (2/29); At Texas Tech (3/3)
Missouri had an opportunity to all but lock up the third No. 1 seed last week against Kansas and Kansas State, but a pair of losses to the teams from the Sunflower State suddenly have the Tigers on the outside looking in. The Tigers would love a third shot at the Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament. K-State? Probably not as much. It's one thing to be proud and want revenge, but the Wildcats are the perfect (or imperfect) match for Mizzou.
8. MARQUETTE (24-5, 13-3) (10)
LAST WEEK: Beat Rutgers (82-65); Beat West Virginia (61-60)
THIS WEEK: At Cincinnati (2/29); vs. Georgetown (3/3)
I'm not sure there's ever been a lower-profile No. 7/8 team during the regular season's final week than the Golden Eagles. The fact that they play in the nation's highest-profile conference makes it all the more baffling. That's how Buzz Williams likes it.
9. BAYLOR (25-5, 12-5) (11)
LAST WEEK: Beat Oklahoma (70-60); Beat Texas Tech (77-48)
THIS WEEK: At Iowa State (3/3)
A win at Iowa State in the regular season finale would probably lock up at least a three-seed for the Bears heading into the Big 12 Tournament. Another solid accomplishment for the most successful senior class in program history.
LAST WEEK: Beat Illinois (83-67); Lost to Wisconsin (63-60)
THIS WEEK: At Northwestern (2/29); At Michigan State (3/4)
One of the biggest reasons Jared Sullinger returned to college was to prove to NBA scouts that he could play the four spot and, in turn, improve his draft stock. Instead, Sullinger has gone from runaway national Player of the Year favorite to Big Ten Player of the Year also-ran behind Draymond Green, and his Buckeyes have dropped three of five heading into the last week of the season.
"It is just the little stuff," Sullinger said recently. "It is just me letting the refs get to me, or letting everything on the outside get to me and it letting it creep in. I was focusing on other stuff besides the basketball team and what this team needs me to do to win basketball games."
11. GEORGETOWN (22-6, 12-5) (9)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Seton Hall (73-55); Beat Villanova (67-46); Beat Notre Dame (59-41)
THIS WEEK: At Marquette (3/3)
The Hoyas can clinch a Big East Tournament double bye and also notch a huge resume win if they can knock off Marquette on Saturday in Milwaukee.
LAST WEEK: Beat Illinois State (68-55); Beat Drake (81-58)
THIS WEEK: Missouri Valley Conference Tournament
LAST WEEK: Beat Tennessee State (80-62); Beat Tennessee Tech (69-64)
THIS WEEK: Ohio Valley Conference Tournament
A conference tournament championship is always nice, but it's safe to say that Murray State has a decent amount to lose and not a whole lot to gain this week. The Racers are expected to win two games in the OVC Tournament and likely won't be rewarded at all for doing so. A loss, however, could definitely drop them a couple of lines on the NCAA Tournament s-curve.
14. WISCONSIN (22-8, 11-6) (NR)
LAST WEEK: Lost to Iowa (67-66); Beat Ohio State (63-60); Beat Minnesota (52-45)
THIS WEEK: vs. Illinois (3/4)
Wisconsin's win over Minnesota Tuesday night locked up a first round Big Ten Tournament bye for the Badgers for the 12th straight year. Knock his teams' style of play all you want, but Bo Ryan has turned Wisconsin into a model of consistency.
15. MICHIGAN (21-8, 11-5) (15)
LAST WEEK: Beat Northwestern (67-55 OT); Lost to Purdue (75-61)
THIS WEEK: At Illinois (3/1); At Penn State (3/4)
Michigan has looked shaky since its emotional win over Ohio State two Saturdays ago. A pair of road wins over the reeling duo of Illinois and Penn State would provide come solid momentum heading into the postseason.
16. UNLV (24-6, 8-4) (NR)
LAST WEEK: Beat Boise State (75-58); Beat Air Force (68-58)
THIS WEEK: At Colorado State (2/29); vs. Wyoming (3/3)
The Runnin' Rebels head into the final week of the regular season in a three-way tie for first in the Mountain West. They'll have a tough road test at a Colorado State team which desperately needs a big win to shore up its at-large status before returning home for Senior Day against Wyoming. Vegas will be looking to end the season a perfect 18-0 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
DROPPED OUT: Florida (12), Florida State (14), Notre Dame (16).
ON THE CUSP: Indiana, Louisville, San Diego State, Temple, New Mexico, Notre Dame.