Friday, January 2, 2009

NCAA hoops conference play preview

By Rick Morris

There's been a trickle of conference games already in college hoops, but traditionally, the start of January marks the start of the intense two month-plus period of those games -- so it's time for a breakdown of what is to come here in The FDH Lounge (additionally, there are some good resources worth checking out for your edification -- a great analysis from Andy Katz, the present rankings and our preseason rankings).

^ Right now, it's North Carolina & everyone else, not merely in the ACC, but in the whole country. They have the best chance to be the first undefeated team since 1976’s Indiana in a long time. Duke, Wake Forest and Clemson (to an extent) can challenge them somewhat, but they’re a tier down at best.

^ It's a brutal Big East with Georgetown definitely in the upper echelon as Andy Katz celebrates. Syracuse, UConn, Pitt, Louisville, Notre Dame, Villanova and (possibly) West Virginia & Marquette make for an interesting top tier.

^ Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan & Ohio State have been surprising in the Big 10. Michigan State and Purdue are still the teams to beat, but the conference looks a big more wide-open. Indiana’s taking their lumps, but Tom Crean was hired with the knowledge that a turnaround would take awhile.

^ Oklahoma & Texas are the class of the Big 12 so far, with Baylor & Texas A&M each having a chance to break through.

^ Like Indiana, Arizona is down right now in the Pac 10 but they will be back. UCLA and Arizona State looking the best so far, with USC a big disappointment.

^ Tennessee is the only ranked SEC team so far, but Florida & LSU are both showing signs of coming alive in league play.

^ Mid-majors trying to get poised for a long March run: Davidson (they’re baa-ack!), Gonzaga/Xavier/Memphis (as always), Butler (will have to work to hold off Cleveland State in the Horizon) & St. Mary’s (doing a nice job of solidifying the rise of the program)

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