Five observations from the week in college basketball:
1. Harrison Barnes has arrived. We’re so quick to judge in today’s society. We want everything now. We’re all guilty of lacking patience. Barnes took time to adjust to the college game and the role he was handed as an elite freshman. He expected to come in and lead North Carolina. Barnes still isn’t shooting well overall (especially from 3-point range), but he is making timely shots. He beat Miami on a 3-pointer in the final possession. Sure, the Hurricanes fell down defensively, but Barnes still had the confidence to take and make the shot. Then he led the Tar Heels with a career-high 25 points in a blowout win over NC State. Barnes continues to be a difficult matchup and should only get better as the season progresses.
2. A tournament without Butler just won’t feel the same. The Bulldogs are going to be at a disadvantage in the Horizon League tournament if the Bulldogs can’t somehow climb back into one of the first two seeds. Butler lost in overtime twice last week -- at home to Milwaukee and at Valparaiso. That dropped last year’s national runner-up to 6-4 in the league standings, two-plus games behind leaders Cleveland State and Valpo. Butler has the Horizon League tournament experience, but the Bulldogs likely have to win the tournament to get a bid. If they don’t, March Madness will certainly lose a key storyline.
3. Gonzaga could suffer the same fate as Butler. Just like Butler, the Zags still have the talent to win a game or two and erase the woes of this season. But the talent in the WCC has caught up to Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have lost on the road at Santa Clara and San Francisco and watched rival Saint Mary’s win in Spokane for the first time since 1995. Gonzaga did climb within two games of the Gaels after SMC fell at Portland on Saturday -- proving how competitive and balanced the WCC has become.
4. NCAA tournament selection committee chair Gene Smith, Ohio State's athletic director, said last week in Columbus that the NCAA needs the West to be better. There is still time and the Pac-10 has a good chance to get three bids. BYU and San Diego State are locks, but the MWC could use a third team to win the tournament. Getting Gonzaga in position to join Saint Mary’s would help. And as long as Utah State doesn’t lose until the conference tournament (that may not be fair to the Aggies but could be reality), then the Aggies should be in position for an at-large bid. But if the numbers are low like two Pac-10, two MWC, one WCC and one WAC, it does create an imbalance on the bracket that can be a challenge.
5. The SEC West has saved face. The easy thing to do was to ridicule the SEC West during the nonconference season -- and with good reason. But the West has proudly held its own against the SEC East with some notable wins. Arkansas’ win at Vanderbilt this weekend was the latest blow to the East’s feeling of superiority. The Hogs had already beaten Tennessee at home to start the SEC season. Alabama beat Kentucky, the highest-ranked SEC team, at home and knocked off South Carolina on the road. Mississippi State saved face with a home win over Florida. And then even lowly Auburn won at South Carolina by 15. The SEC needs the West to rise up to create competitive balance. In the past couple of weeks, that has happened. Now the danger is that the SEC tournament could end up knocking a few teams out of the field of 68.