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Some nice college basketball being played, just not around Chicago

Syracuse Tyler Ennis left looks pass ball against North CarolinStateís Lennard Freeman right during first half an NCAA college basketball

Syracuse Tyler Ennis, left, looks to pass the ball against North Carolina Stateís Lennard Freeman, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. North Carolina Stateís head coach Mark Gottfried, back, calls out to his players. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi) ORG XMIT: NYNL103

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Updated: March 18, 2014 6:30AM



If you’re like a lot of sports fans, you don’t pay college basketball any serious mind until March. Even if you’re one who really digs the college game, there’s a good chance you’re trying hard to wait until March to remember you care.

This has been a colossally bad season for our teams. Illinois’ Big Ten experience has been so awful, the 49-43 defeat at Northwestern last month doesn’t even stand out among the lowlights. Coach John Groce doesn’t like it when fans boo? He should be thankful anyone cares enough to boo.

Like the Illini, DePaul, Loyola and UIC all are in last place in their respective conferences. Notre Dame’s ACC irrelevance oozes “when does spring football start?” Northwestern was kind of a good story for a while, but guess what? The Wildcats are under .500 again and certain to finish there.

But let’s stop discussing our favorite sad-sack squads. It’s too depressing to go on.

The funny thing about it is that this is, from a national perspective, one of the better college seasons in a long while. Less than a month from Selection Sunday, there are two unbeaten teams chasing history but zero clear favorites to reach the Final Four. There’s a can’t-miss national player of the year who has yet to be overexposed by ESPN. Lots of great story lines — why wait until March to start enjoying them?

The top five story lines:

1. Syracuse and Wichita State

The Orange are 25-0, trying to become the first team to rip through the regular season without a loss since UNLV in 1990-91. They’ve been in the best game thus far (91-89 over Duke in overtime) and the most fantastic finish (Tyler Ennis’ 35-foot heave to beat Pitt at the buzzer).

The Shockers are 27-0, with a much better shot at perfection than Syracuse because they play in the Missouri Valley Conference. Turns out last year’s shocker of a Final Four run was no fluke at all.

2. Dougie McBuckets

That would be the nickname of Creighton senior Doug McDermott, who’ll sweep the national player of the year awards and become just the third player, joining Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale, to be named a first-team All-American in three seasons.

Creighton’s coach is McDermott’s dad, Greg. To our knowledge, no one calls him Greggie McBuckets, but they should. The Bluejays are killing it in their first season in the Big East. On Sunday, they stole the league lead from Villanova by blowing out the Wildcats for a second time. There might be a national coach of the year award or two, as well, on the McDermott family mantle soon.

3. Florida

The Gators aren’t undefeated — they’re 23-2 — but they’ve got to be the best team in the country right now. A weekend takedown of Kentucky in Lexington was the 17th straight ‘W’ for the most well-balanced and driven group Billy Donovan has coached since the Joakim Noah glory days.

4. No. 1 seeds

As of now, they’re Syracuse, Wichita State, Florida and Arizona, and there’s no debating it.

5. Larry Brown

So quietly and sneakily that you may have completely missed it, Brown, one of the truly great coaches of his time, is at it again. In his second season at SMU (20-6), of all places, Brown has the Mustangs bearing down on the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993. No one wants a piece of this guy in March.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg



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