That’s Debatable: Most Compelling Conference RacePosted by rtmsf on January 20th, 2011
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Week’s Topic: We’re a couple of weeks into conference play and early results are in on some of the contenders and pretenders. Which conference race have you found the most compelling so far and why?
Tom Wolfmeyer, RTC contributor
The most compelling conference race this year is in the SEC. The reason is that out of the twelve conference teams, only Auburn is so ridiculously bad so as to not cause problems for another conference team on a given night. And hell, even the Tigers beat Florida State (y’know, the team that defeated Duke last week). It’s a veritable trainwreck of a league this year, but what’s the adage? You can’t take your eyes away from it, because you have no idea what will happen. Which Tennessee team will show up — the one that beat Pitt and Villanova or the one that lost to Oakland and Charlotte? Will Mississippi State gets its act together or will Renardo Sidney start throwing haymakers on some fans during a timeout? Will Kentucky figure out how to play on the road or will they self-destruct due to selfish m*****f***** play? Consider that the SEC East, by far the better division, has South Carolina at the top of its standings at 3-1. South Carolina! Three of the teams from this division projected to make the Tournament are 2-2 already. On the other side, Alabama and LSU are on top. This isn’t football, folks — those two teams have been largely terrible for the better part of the last three or four years. Yes, this year’s most compelling league is the SEC, if for no other reason that nothing would surprise us about this basketball quagmire of a conference.
JL Weill, RTC contributor
Another year, another dog fight in the Missouri Valley. No unbeatens in the conference and all five teams with three losses or fewer have a chance. And as with most so-called mid-major conference teams, there isn’t a lot of meat on the pre-conference menus for any of the contenders. Wichita State beat Virginia and LSU, but they already have two losses in the MVC. Last year’s NCAA Tournament darling Northern Iowa took out Indiana and Iowa State but has three losses to conference foes. The firing squad effect means that the team that finally emerges from the pack will be battle-hardened for the conference and postseason tournaments. It also means that there’s a good chance that for the fifth year in a row only one team from the MVC will make it to the NCAAs. While the conference has four teams in the RPI top 100, only one of them is in the top 40 — Missouri State — and Cuonzo Martin’s Bears haven’t beaten anyone of note. Finding an at-large berth from the MVC, even with an expanded field, could be tough. Wins are at a premium, and it’s a multi-horse race. Gotta love it.
Kevin Doyle, RTC contributor
It is anyone’s best guess as to what team will be the last one standing in the Atlantic 10. Throughout much of the non-conference slate, the Temple Owls and Richmond Spiders emerged as the frontrunners. Bill Clark and the Duquesne Dukes quickly knocked Temple off of their pedestal, while Richmond lost a heartbreaker to Bucknell at the buzzer in their final OOC game. Now, it is the school from Pittsburgh along with Xavier who are the lone squads undefeated in the A10. There are, however, five schools that are 3-1 in the conference who are nipping at the heels of the two leaders. You’d be foolish to think that the two teams up front won’t fall at some point in the coming weeks. Even Dayton—the lone .500 team in conference—has a supreme amount of talent and is fully capable of going on a run. But, losses at UMass and Xavier have set them back in the conference. Unlike many of the BCS conferences—although, the Pac-10 and ACC sure are weak this year—the Atlantic 10 is likely to only receive two bids to the NCAA Tournament this year. Ranging from 2-2 Dayton all the way up to 4-0 Xavier and Duquesne, there are a total of eight teams that are vying for an Atlantic 10 championship and that coveted automatic berth.
Matt Patton, RTC contributor
I’d go with a tie between the Big 12 and the SEC. The Big 12 has tons of talent, and is chock full of surprises (and some not surprises). You’ve got your terrible teams: Oklahoma and Texas Tech. You’ve got your contenders: Kansas and Texas. You’ve got your second tier: Missouri and Texas A&M. You’ve got your big-time national pretenders: Kansas State and Baylor. And some surprising squads in between: Nebraska, Iowa State and Colorado. That pretty much leaves Oklahoma State as the only boring, mediocre team out there. The conference sports the most exciting team to watch in MIssouri, and some of the nation’s best freshmen in Perry Jones, Josh Selby and Tristan Thompson. For a different kind of compelling I’ll take the SEC. Everyone loves a metaphorical train wreck, and the SEC West qualifies with flying colors. The East is stuffed with teams that can beat any of the others on any given night. How many conference divisions sport four teams at 2-2 and five teams that could legitimately win the conference (Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida)? And the only team that would shock me winning the conference is South Carolina–who currently has the top conference record!
Brian Otskey, RTC contributor
With apologies to the race in the Mountain West between San Diego State and BYU as well as the SEC East where South Carolina leads the pack right now at a surprising 3-1, I’m going with the Atlantic 10 (or is it the A-14?). Five teams are within a game of first place Duquesne and Xavier with Dayton also lurking two games back at 2-2. The Dukes blasted Temple on Saturday and seem to have staying power behind Ron Everhart’s up-tempo system, #1 in defensive turnover percentage. Duquesne can shoot the three ball well but rebounding will be a problem down the road. Xavier should stick around although this is not your typically loaded Musketeers team. You’d have to figure Temple and Richmond will pick up their level of play as well. Both teams are talented enough to do so and despite some inconsistent play of late, they may still emerge atop the conference when all is said and done. It’s unlikely that George Washington, Rhode Island and Massachusetts can keep up their winning ways, although the Rams did win at Richmond. This looks to be an exciting four team race between Temple, Richmond, Duquesne and Xavier with Dayton possibly making a run.
Ned Reddick, RTC contributor
It has to be the Big East. The Big Ten is also loaded and has plenty of solid teams, but Ohio State seems to have put a bit of distance between itself and the rest of the conference. In the Big East there are plenty of good teams and nobody seems to have separated themselves from the field. Pittsburgh looks like the best team in the conference so far, but that is based on a home game against a Syracuse team playing without its best player, Kris Joseph,. I’m not buying Lunardi’s trash about 11 Big East teams making the NCAA Tournament, a claim that seems to be made every year, but that doesn’t mean that I think the conference isn’t loaded. There are at least eight very good teams that could beat any team in the country on a given night and that should mean plenty of competitive games in February that will go a long way to determining the regular season conference champion.
Danny Spewak, RTC contributor
In October, it was decided. Memphis would win Conference USA, and it wouldn’t be close. McDonald’s All-Americans don’t automatically equal success, though, and Josh Pastner’s young Tigers have dealt with all sorts of disciplinary issues and a general lack of cohesion this season. They’ve dropped out of the polls and most recently suffered a perplexing road loss at SMU last week. Memphis’ stumble creates an opportunity for a handful of other teams to claim a championship. Will it be UTEP or Southern Mississippi, both of whom were trendy picks to finish near the top of the C-USA and are currently in the thick of the race? Could it be Central Florida, the team that started 14-0 before losing three straight conference road games? Throw in a few sleepers in UAB, Tulsa and Houston, and there’s no telling what may happen in this league. I might not necessarily bet against Memphis, which did win at Southern Miss this week, but it’s still a wide-open league. And it’s not just that the league is competitive– it’s also all about coaching redemption. Tim Floyd is in his first season at UTEP after the USC fiasco, and former coaching icons Mike Davis (UAB), Larry Eustachy (Southern Miss) and Matt Doherty (SMU) have been staples of the league for several years now after rocky finishes with their former teams.