Tuesday, November 20, 2012

One Major Thought on Each Major Conference

This is extremely depressing news, but as of the end of the day on Wednesday, we will be 10% of the way to Selection Sunday. To keep from hyperventilating about that thought, let’s make some observations based on the past week and a half. I’ll hit on one thing from each of the major conferences, and if you don’t consider the A-10 a major conference, you’re crazy.

A-10: Reports of Xavier’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

With Butler and VCU joining the Atlantic 10 (if we’re going to keep re-aligning within conferences, for the love of Shabazz Muhammad, please start renaming the conferences), with Saint Louis and St. Joseph’s expected to have better than average seasons, and with Tu “Terribly Underappreciated” Holloway and Kenny Frease now toiling away in European leagues, the Musketeers were pegged for 9th place in the A-10 despite 6 consecutive seasons in the top 3. They responded by dropping 117 on Fairleigh Dickinson in their season opener (and before you say “Who cares? It’s Fairleigh Dickinson!” I’d like to point out I didn’t exactly see any ranked teams other than Gonzaga top 100 points in their season opener) before beating Butler by 15 and better-than-you-think Robert Morris by a pair. I think Chris Mack would like to thank the pre-season polls for providing his team with some motivation at the low cost of a few copies at Kinko’s. They open the DirecTV Classic against Pacific on Thursday before likely drawing Saint Mary’s in the semi-finals, which would serve as a great opportunity to remind the nation that they’re still a force to be reckoned with.

ACC: Let’s go ahead and forget about that whole South Alabama game.

And yes, this is absolutely me copping out on making any sort of judgment call on NC State after 4 games. In what was the biggest story of opening day that didn’t involve games being postponed or cancelled due to condensation on a boat, the Seminoles inexplicably lost at home to South Alabama – who, based on ESPN’s pre-season projections, would be lucky to qualify for the CIT or CBI tournament. Since then, FSU pretty comfortably handled BYU (jury is still out on whether they’ll be any good this year) and prevailed in a great game against what should be a very good St. Joe’s team. Is Florida State a top 25 team? Probably. Upcoming battles with Minnesota and Florida will further help us answer that one. Are they good enough to win the ACC? Probably not. I wouldn’t rule them out in a single game against any team, because if Michael Snaer gets hot and Terrance Shannon can stay out of foul trouble, they could beat anyone; but I don’t foresee them putting together a good enough complete season to unseat Duke or UNC from their throne.

Big 12: Not even Nate Silver could figure out who will be the runner-up.

Kansas will win the conference, as has been the case every season since the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, but beyond that, the only thing I can confidently say is that TCU and Texas Tech will not finish in second place. Coming into the season, most would’ve given the nod to Baylor or perhaps Texas, but it’s officially anyone’s game. The Bears struggled considerably in the Charleston Classic against 3 teams that still aren’t in Joey Brackets’ field of 68, and you’ve probably heard that the Longhorns lost by double digits to a team that doesn’t have double digit wins against D1 schools over the course of the past 30 years. Those struggles coupled with impressive starts to the season for Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and (to a lesser degree thus far) Iowa State makes for a real cluster-you-know-what in the Big 12. And despite their shellacking at the hands of Gonzaga in their only game to this point in the season, it’d be pretty foolish to just assume that West Virginia will be a bottom-feeder. I’m not so sure you can disregard Oklahoma either. When all is said and done, the Big 12 might be the most exciting conference to watch, and the one most battle tested for March Madness.

Big East: Ahoy, Hoyas!

This might look really, really stupid in a few hours, but Georgetown looks good for now. They didn’t impress against Duquesne or Liberty, but it would have been unrealistic to expect anything else without their best player. With Otto Porter back in the line-up, the Hoyas simply outplayed a full-strength UCLA from start to finish. A lot of people (myself included) overlooked them this season after losing their top 3 scorers from last year, but with Porter, Starks, and Lubick, they’ve still got a solid corps of “veteran” guys and will contend for one of the coveted-but-seemingly-worthless double byes in the Big East tourney. The Hoyas start 4 guys over 6’7” and will be a match-up nightmare for every team they play. Also worth noting, there’s not a single senior on the roster, and it’s never too early to start thinking about March 2014.

Big Ten: Purdue could really use a 7th season from Robbie Hummel.

I will point out that the Boilermakers got royally screwed against Villanova last week. With Purdue up 4 and 44 seconds remaining, Villanova was in foul mode and had trapped DJ Byrd on the sidelines. After being harassed for 3 seconds with no foul call, Byrd lifted his arms over his head, looking for some breathing room and/or a teammate. Byrd’s tricep made contact with one of Villanova’s defenders who subsequently went down more convincingly than Cristiano Ronaldo trying to draw a penalty shot. [Hey look, SIIJ made a futbol reference!] The refs went to the tape and somehow determined Byrd should be given a flagrant 1. So now, rather than Purdue going to the line to increase their lead, Villanova went to the line with a chance to cut the lead to 2 and ultimately tie the game. Don’t get me wrong, anything could’ve happened in those final 44 seconds, but that sequence of events should not have been what actually happened. That being said, Purdue looks bad. They finished 4th out of 4 in the 2K Sports Classic – which, with the likes of Alabama, Oregon State, Purdue, and Villanova, really should have been re-labeled as the “Round Robin to Pre-Emptively Resolve Bubble Debates” – and also lost their season opener against Bucknell. I don’t know if they’ll be battling Penn State and Nebraska for last place in the conference, but I would say that’s a more likely outcome than them going 10-8 in conference again.

Pac-12: Colorado looks great, but they can’t possibly sustain it.

To be fair, if Colorado had played as well in 2011-12 as they have through 4 games this year, they would have gone undefeated in the Pac-12. Whether or not that’s a compliment to their play thus far or a knock on last year’s Pac-12 is up to you to decide, but the conference is much improved this year, and you’re not going to continuously beat quality teams by shooting 64% from the free throw line or averaging 8.8 assists per game, which respectively would’ve been good for 306th and 342nd in the nation last season. For the record, there are 345 teams in the country, but you probably surmised that those numbers aren’t very good. Maybe they picked up some of the mile high magic that Tebow left behind, because despite those stats, they beat 3 quality teams in the Charleston Classic; but let’s just say that I’m a skeptic, and won’t be too surprised if they drop one (or more) games in the next 4 weeks against Mountain West also-rans Air Force, Wyoming, Colorado State, and Fresno State.

SEC: This is the best Gators team since Joakim Noah.

That might seem like crazy talk with Beal and Walker leaving town and nary a freshman averaging 5 points or 18 minutes per game thus far, but their upper classmen heavy starting five might be the best in the country. Kenny Boynton can shoot it from literally anywhere within 30 feet. Will Yeguete is a rebounding machine. Patric Young might be the best shot blocker in the SEC with Anthony Davis and Festus Ezeli no longer in the picture. And Erik Murphy can do all of the above. If Mike Rosario can put it together, and if the bigs can stay out of foul trouble, Florida could legitimately challenge Kentucky for the SEC title, as well as the National Championship. Yeah. They’ve looked that good. We’ll see if I change my mind after the next 10% of the season.

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