Monday, January 18, 2010

NCAA hoops conference play overview

By Rick Morris

With regular conference games now underway, the shape of the 2009-10 NCAA hoops season is emerging in great detail. The biggest story is unfolding in Lexington, Kentucky, and it is actually two huge stories in one: potentially the greatest player to emerge since Lebron James in John Wall and the effect that he and his talented returning teammates are having in terms of immediately restoring one of the game's most hallowed programs. They figure to clean up on a completely overmatched SEC conference, so much so that chatter is already underway about a potential wire-to-wire undefeated season, the first since Indiana's accomplishment 34 years ago. What a difference a year makes! Mississippi State and Vandy appear to be jockeying for "best of the rest" status.

In the other major conferences ...

^ Kansas almost seemed to be a consensus #1 pick at the start of the season, but as we have seen so far, it will take everything that they have to outdistance the conference's other year-in-and-year-out power, Texas.

^ Contrary to last year's dominance by North Carolina, the ACC should be very competitive at the top this year, with a renewed competitiveness between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils providing the headline material.

^ The Big East continues to outdistance all other conferences by a wide margin, with Syracuse and Pittsburgh defying preseason expectations to remain near the top of the heap. West Virginia and Villanova remain the best bets to come out on top, though.

^ Purdue is the team to beat in the Big 10, but Michigan State and Illinois are right behind them and as we have seen so far, Ohio State and Michigan remain at least dark horse candidates to come through the pack with the conference crown.

^ The Pac 10 is horrible, with a landscape littered by NIT flotsam-and-jetsam. Their recent goose-egg in the coaches' Top 25 poll probably won't be the last this year.

What would be the early picks right now for the Final Four? Call it Kansas over Texas in one national semifinal, Kentucky over West Virginia in the other one and Kentucky over Kansas in a tradition-laden battle for the ages in the national championship game.

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