You will hear from various entities about the shrinking number of days or weeks remaining between now and Selection Sunday.
Don’t count the days.
March is glorious, but it will arrive when it is scheduled to arrive. If one spends too much time obsessing about the impending NCAA Tournament, it’s too easy to miss the wonders of the regular season.
February is coming, too.
And these, 1-16 in our power rankings, are the teams that will most command your attention:
1. Gonzaga (16-2, 5-0 WCC)
This team is not as good in general as its predecessor, but it is far more dynamic at both ends of the floor. These Zags have an easier time scoring and are more adept at wrecking opposing offenses. They just lack the consistency and precision of last year’s Zags. Things could be worse.
2. Auburn (19-1, 8-0 SEC)
When people talk about Gonzaga lacking sufficient conference competition, they might need to check out what’s left of the SEC for Auburn, at least until the Tigers get to Nashville for the league tournament. How this team’s schedule came to be so bereft of challenges is hard to say, but it will help keep the path smooth to a No. 1 seed.
3. Kansas (17-2, 6-1 Big 12)
KU has so much depth, not just guys but truly talented players, that it can win in a wide variety of ways. The challenge now is to keep every player moving in the same direction, which would be toward New Orleans and the Final Four.
4. Baylor (18-2, 6-2 Big 12)
The Bears began to wobble when James Akinjo began to ache. The closer this team’s point guard gets to full health, the more reliable the whole operation appears to be.
5. Purdue (17-3, 6-3 Big Ten)
Was the outstanding tandem performance of point guards Isaiah Thompson and Eric Hunter against Northwestern a major step forward? We saw the same in Thursday’s road win against Iowa. Or was it just a really good week? The answer could be the difference as the Boilermakers seek their first Final Four in more than 40 years.
6. Duke (16-3, 6-2 ACC)
The Blue Devils continue to work through some lineup and availability issues. But there isn’t anyone else out there starting four players who could be chosen in the NBA Draft first round.
7. UCLA (15-2, 7-1)
The Bruins were looking for two things to reassert themselves as contenders: a legit home crowd, and an elite opponent. They got both when Arizona visited, and we all saw the result.
8. Kentucky (16-4, 6-2 SEC)
Is it more unfair to them or to us that the Wildcats always seem to wind up with significant injury when they play their biggest games?
9. Arizona (16-2, 6-1)
If one watched the Wildcats closely against UCLA, the evidence of Arizona’s potential to be a March factor was there, even if buried under a 16-point defeat.
10. Villanova (15-5, 8-2)
If you gave this team a 6-10 shot blocking center, you might have to give it the national championship trophy, also.
11. Wisconsin (16-3, 8-2 Big Ten)
As Big 10 defenses throw more of their toolboxes at Badgers star Johnny Davis, the team becomes at least a little more human. Still not all that beatable, but more human.
12. Texas Tech (15-5, 5-3)
The weirdest thing about Monday night’s visit to Allen Fieldhouse is that the Raiders — perhaps more reliant on their defense than any other terrific team — gave up more than 90 points and still should have won the game.
13. LSU (16-4, 4-4 SEC)
This already was one of the best teams in the SEC. Adding Shareef O’Neal — an actual Baby Shaq — increases depth in the front court and adds five fouls to spend. And he’ll likely use a lot of them.
14. Connecticut (14-4, 5-2)
If there’s any team on this list that still has yet to uncover how great it can be, it is these Huskies.
15. Providence (17-2, 7-1)
The Friars suffer when measured by the most esteemed metrics, and they surely don’t have love from poll voters, but they have more impressive results than most any team in the country, including Wednesday’s road win at Big East contender Xavier.
16. Houston (17-2, 6-0)
It doesn’t appear that there will be many challenges or challengers for Houston in its conference. So there’s plenty of time to speculate on whether Kelvin Sampson will recognize, when the offers arrive, what a great situation he has found.