Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Look At Conference Play

Although college football season has ended, it seems that Saturday's are still the day of the upset - yesterday eight ranked college basketball teams lost, with seven of those losses coming to unranked opponents (Duke knocked off Clemson). True, not all of these games should should be considered upsets (Stanford beating No. 25 Arizona State or No. 24 Miami losing to North Carolina State), but when five of the top sixteen teams in the country lose to unranked and overmatched foes in one day (more on Saturday' upset special tomorrow), it makes you realize how topsy-turvy our college basketball universe is. Which is why I love it.

I know it is still so early in league play, but let's take a quick look at how the standings are shaking out in the BCS conferences, as well as the A-10.

Duke and UNC are 1-2, but would expect (or hope for) any different in the ACC? After that - who knows. Boston College is tied for second, but they have lost to Robert Morris and were absolutely manhandled by Kansas at home. Clemson started out hot, but look to be taking another nose dive in league play. Miami? Please. Maryland? They lost to AU and Ohio, but handed UNC their first loss. Virginia Tech, Florida State, Wake Forest - the model of inconsistency.

With every team already playing at least five games, Georgetown is the only team to have lost less than two. And with teams like Marquette, Pittsburgh, Villanova, West Virginia, etc. in this conference, who are the two teams that are currently tied for second place in conference play? Cincinnati and DePaul, who are a combined 17-18 and have logged L's to teams like Belmont, Bowling Green (Cinci), North Carolina A&T and Illinois-Chicago (DePaul). Wide open, if any of about ten teams get hot they can make a run at a regular season title.

What is probably the weakest of the BCS conferences, the Big Ten really only has three teams that will be able to compete for a title - Wisconsin (5-0), Indiana (4-0), and Michigan State (4-1). Purdue and Minnesota have had hot starts, but neither have enough talent to continue to play at the level (see Minnesota's 2-3 start to league play). The only other possible contender is Ohio State, but they are too inconsistent and rely on jump shooters too much.

BIG 12
Kansas may be the best team in the country, and remains atop the conference standings, but behind them there are only four teams with one loss or less. One of those four is Texas (to be expected from a team that's been ranked as high as #5). Granted its still (very) early - the Big 12 has only played three conference games - but the other three, all ahead of Texas, are Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State.

PAC 10
The Pac 10 has started to unfold the way many expected - UCLA and Washington State at the top, with five or six other teams battling it out for what looks to be six-bid league. The only exception has been Arizona State, a young and talented team that has jumped out to a (4-1) start.

Everyone knew about Tennessee this year, but did anyone expect Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Florida and Vanderbilt to be the next four best teams? Admittedly, this is a down year for the SEC (it would take a borderline miracle anyone other than these five to make the tourney), but three of these four teams are rarely considered basketball "powers", and the fourth (Florida) lost pretty much the entire team that won back-to-back titles.

The Atlantic 10 should be in this conversation this year with five or six different teams that could play their way into at-large bids. How good is this league? Top 25 Rhode Island is sitting at 1-2 in conference play. The only problem is with so many quality teams (Xavier, Dayton, UMass, URI, Charlotte, St. Joe's), they are going to beat each other up as is evidenced by every team having lost a league game two weeks in.

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