Rothstein Files: Personnel losses haven’t slowed Villanova down

UCLA rothstein

1. North Carolina could put itself in position to be a No. 1 seed

The Tar Heels were slotted as a two seed when the NCAA Selection Committee released its Top 16 overall seeds last Saturday on CBS, but everything is in position for Roy Williams’ squad to move up if it can handle its business down the stretch.

North Carolina improved to 22-5 overall following Wednesday night’s 24-point win over NC State in Raleigh and has a chance to pick up several key victories down the stretch that could really move the needle.

In their final five games, the Tar Heels play Virginia twice, travel to Pitt and host both Duke and Louisville in Chapel Hill.

North Carolina is currently in sole possession of first place in the ACC. Holding onto that position, coupled with several quality victories, could very well be what it takes to be a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday.

It will be interesting to see if a team like Baylor — who has recently lost to both Texas Tech and Kansas State — can hold its spot on the one line. The Bears will host Kansas on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

One other thing worth noting about the Tar Heels? They won’t be quite as deep moving forward, as sophomore Kenny Williams will undergo knee surgery and is likely done for the rest of the season.

2. Personnel losses haven’t slowed down Villanova

It feels like more programs than ever have been decimated by injuries this season, but lacking key pieces hasn’t slowed down the defending national champions.

This writer saw the Wildcats last summer prior to Villanova’s foreign tour to Spain. The expectation was that Jay Wright’s squad would have five-star freshman Omari Spellman in the low post as a replacement for Daniel Ochefu with veteran guard Phil Booth back on the perimeter.

Neither has been available.

The NCAA ruled Spellman as a partial qualifier in the preseason and Booth hasn’t played since mid-November due to a knee injury.

Still, the Wildcats have remained at the very apex of the sport.

Twenty of Villanova’s 25 wins have come by double figures, and a tighter rotation hasn’t slowed down this team’s focus, poise or ability to make the extra pass.

The Wildcats are in position to again win the Big East regular season title for the fourth consecutive season and be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the last four years.

3. UCLA should be foaming at the mouth entering Saturday’s game against USC

The Bruins have been one of college basketball’s best stories this season and will likely earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament with a 23-3 overall record and 10-3 mark in Pac-12 play.

But UCLA still has lost four straight meetings by an average of 16.3 points to crosstown rival USC and that could change Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion.

The Bruins haven’t beaten the Trojans since March 12, 2015 and lost by eight points earlier this season when the two teams played at the Galen Center.

Nobody is going to mistake the basketball tradition with UCLA’s program compared to USC’s, but the facts are the facts: Andy Enfield has the Trojans in line to appear in their second consecutive NCAA Tournament and has quietly built momentum recruiting the west coast at a high level.

There are now two legitimate college basketball programs in Los Angeles, even if one of them (UCLA) has significantly more pedigree and more upside long term this season thanks to the fact that Lonzo Ball is its point guard.

The Bruins can punch their rival in the mouth on Saturday night in Westwood and it will be interesting to see how USC reacts, especially since it’s been the one that’s dominated this rivalry over the last 24 months.

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This and That:

– Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson is averaging 24.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in his last four games while shooting 63.0 percent from the field, 67.0 percent from 3-point range and 78.0 percent from the free-throw line. Kid is a stud.

– One important thing to remember about Indiana? The Hoosiers have won two of the last four Big Ten regular season titles outright. It’s not like Tom Crean forgot how to coach. The guy has had some awful luck this season.

– Maryland is now 10-1 this season in games where Melo Trimble scores 20 or more points. The crafty junior is as valuable to the Terps as any player is to any team in America. Trimble went for 32 in Wednesday night’s double-figure win over Northwestern in Evanston.

– How dominant has Wichita State been in Missouri Valley Conference play? The Shockers have won 14 games by an average of 22.7 points. That’s utterly ridiculous. Gregg Marshall’s squad doesn’t boast many marquee wins, but it’s performed at a high level in league play.

– Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado has now posted double-doubles in 20 of his 25 games this season. By comparison, Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan has 23 double-doubles in 26 tilts. Delgado may very well be the least appreciated big man in the sport.

– Clemson has lost six ACC games this season by five points or less and is just 4-9 in conference play. If the Tigers had won just two of those, they’d be firmly on the NCAA bubble. Instead, they’re pushing a boulder up a hill. This is life in arguably the best league in the history of the sport.

– Cincinnati is getting back to being Cincinnati defensively. The Bearcats held their last three opponents to 60 points or less and are 23-3 overall heading into Saturday’s game against Tulsa. For this team to advance in March, it has to be able to regularly stop people.

– Buy stock in Iowa State freshman Solomon Young. The 6-8 big man had 18 points and 12 rebounds in the Cyclones’ win at Kansas State earlier this week and has played 14 minutes or more in each of his last four games. Kid is going to be a regular name in the Big 12 for years to come.

– Florida is now 19-2 this season in games where Canyon Barry scores in double figures. The son of former NBA star Rick Barry, Canyon Barry had 30 off the bench in Tuesday’s win at Auburn. This is another example of a graduate transfer that made a big difference. Canyon Barry played last season at Charleston.

– Give Jeff Neubauer credit. Fordham is arguably the hardest job in the Atlantic 10 and Neubauer has led the Rams this season to wins over VCU, Rhode Island and Davidson.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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