Conference Play Ready to Roll in College Hoops
For the most part, the big non-conference games are over and the teams across the college basketball landscape are now prepared to do battle with their fiercest conference rivals.
There will be a few non-conference contests left as some of the teams take a break from conference play but now is the time that champions are made. Teams that had cupcake schedules or rarely if ever left the confines of home will be called to the floor (Syracuse I’m looking at you).
Thoughts on the past week… Steve Alford’s New Mexico Lobos had lost two straight including one at home to South Dakota State before traveling to the Midwest to play 8th ranked Cincinnati. The Bearcats had been unbeaten and I never dreamed would lose at home but they did. The Lobos won 55-54.
UCLA scored a huge non-conference win this past weekend by knocking off #7 Missouri in overtime 97-94. It was a confidence-builder if nothing else for a Bruins’ team that sorely needed a statement win going in Pac-12 play.
Top-ranked Duke looked a little sluggish in the second half against Santa Clara and actually trailed at one point before going on to win 90-77 behind Seth Curry’s 31 points… #2 Michigan beat Central Michigan 88-73 and did so without Tim Hardaway, Jr who was out with an ankle sprain… Louisville hung on to defeat in-state rival Kentucky 80-77 ending a four-game losing streak to the Wildcats… North Carolina beat #20 UNLV in Chapel Hill 79-73 for an important confidence-booster heading into ACC play.
Fearless Conference Predictions for some of the top conferences…
Big Ten – Michigan simply because of their balance, depth and ability to beat you in so many ways. Don’t sleep on… Illinois or Michigan State.
ACC – Duke because I believe they will actually get better. They will get beat once or twice in ACC play, but they are the best team. Don’t sleep on… Virginia or NC State.
SEC – Florida because I think they’ve had their little stumble and will be ready for conference play. Don’t sleep on… Missouri, obviously and Kentucky.
PAC-12 – Arizona is the cream of this league and only injuries can derail them. Don’t sleep on… UCLA and Oregon.
Mountain West – New Mexico is now proven in my mind and can win this conference. Don’t sleep on… Boise State and San Diego State.
Missouri Valley – Creighton with a slight advantage over Wichita State. Don’t sleep on… Bradley, but the above two are the only choices.
Big 12 – Kansas because they are clearly the most talented team. Don’t sleep on… Kansas State.
Big East – Lousiville will emerge from a talented conference. Don’t sleep on… Pitt and Georgetown
Games to Watch this Week
#8 Cincinnati at #24 Pittsburgh – The Panthers have stayed quietly under the radar in the Big East and now host a Bearcats team coming off their first loss. I like Pitt at home in the conference opener.
#19 Michigan State at #11 Minnesota – This is where we find out just how good the Gophers are playing at home in the Big Ten opener. I actually like MSU to pull the upset.
#10 Ohio State at #12 Illinois – Much like Minnesota, this is Illinois’ opportunity to prove the pre-season was no fluke. The Buckeyes will prove a tough challenge, but I like the battle-tested Illini.
#22 Oklahoma State at #25 Kansas State – While the big 12 is Kansas’ to lose, one of these two will emerge as the Jayhawks’ top competition. Bruce Weber is an excellent coach who has done a nice job with the Wildcats and I fully expect this to be a battle to the end, but I’ll take KSU on their home court.