The College Basketball season kicks into conference slate of games after the competitive non-conference scheduling. Some teams came out of the non-conference with their heads held high and resumes boosted by big wins and reputation enhanced.
Currently Arizona are the No1 team in the country at 15-0. This could be surprising to onlookers considering the Pac12, only two years ago, had only two entries to the NCAA tournament. This year the Pac12 is a much better conference. Oregon (13-1) have utilised the college transfer system and have a high scoring offence, however, they suffered their first loss on the road at Colorado giving up 100 points in the process. The Buffaloes themselves rise to 13-2 in the conference.
As well as the Wildcats of Arizona who remain the only undefeated team in the conference, there is UCLA (12-4) and California (10-4). Don't sleep on Washington who are 9-6, but always play tough in conference play.
The best conference in America remains the Big10. Critics say it, fans say it and currently there are five teams from this conference in the Top 25; Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois.
Last night in a conference opener, the Michigan State Spartans hosted the Ohio State Buckeyes, who were an undefeated 15-0. In a barn-burner, the Spartans won 72-68 in overtime. The Buckeyes ended regulation on a 20-3 run to force overtime. Spartans lost Keith Appling to cramps and miss Trice through injury. Buckeyes were led by Aaron Craft who is one of those special College performers, what he lacks in size he makes up for in graft and guile. Craft actually uses his brain, he banked an inbound pass off of an opponents backside to set up an easy lay up.
Year in, year out the Wisconsin Badgers hang around the conference standings. Many predicted the Badgers to have a down year as Bo Ryan rebuilt, however, he has assembled a vibrant group of players and unusually for a Ryan coached side they score heavily. Only four times have they scored under 70 points, they still have stellar defence as a 48-38 road win at Virginia can attest to, yet for Bo to have interior presence instead of being reliant on the three point shot is music to his ears.
The conference is ultra competitive, so expect a team to suffer four, maybe five defeats due to the intense nature of conference play. Yet the reason I mention the Spartans, Buckeyes and Badgers primarily is because they have a mixture of form, coaching and experience. The Spartans have Appling and will be strong once they get healthy, the Buckeyes have the x-factor that is Aaaron Craft and he Badgers gave got Bo, coaching is so important especially in conference play.
The ACC has new blood in the form of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Duke, North Carolina and Maryland remain. Duke have prospective overall Number 1 pick in Jabari Parker, but Parker was pulled during the loss to Notre Dame on Saturday. Parker needs to find a bit more resolute nature to his play and find an answer against teams who will attempt to shut him down, as the Irish did. Coach K benched Parker hoping it would motivate the freshman to reflect on his performance. Duke have suffered three losses (Arizona, Notre Dame and Kansas) to ranked squads, no shame in that but losing the first conference game is never a good start.
How about a Cinderella? Although they are currently ranked 9th, the undefeated Iowa State Cyclones (14-0) are the current darlings of the College Basketball fraternity. A mixture of moxie, scoring and coaching has made them the current Big 12 big dogs over the established Kansas Jayhawks with Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis and Marcus Smart with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Tuesday night (7th Jan) they beat higher ranked Baylor 87-72 in a showcase for the dominance of DeAndre Kane (a senior transfer from Marshall) who has 30 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and five steals. Helped by Melvin Ejim who had 18 points. Two more players along with the aforementioned, average over 12 points a game something Kansas cannot lay claim to. Whilst the Cyclones have no problem scoring they can also defend the ball well by controlling the paint. The Jayhawks meanwhile are struggling with scoring indicated by their four losses all coming by six points or less. That margin of error is costing the Jayhawks in terms of consistency and getting the best out of their players.
Other teams to note: Wichita State (15-0), Villanova (13-1), Creighton (12-2) and Southern Methodist (11-3) coached by Larry Brown, they beat UConn with Shabazz Napier 75-65 at home for a statement win in the American (former Big East) which includes Cincinnati (14-2) and National Chapions Louisville (13-2).