All in the Family: Episode 2

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2011

We’re back with the second episode of AITF, a semi-regular piece that will take a closer look at each of the six power conferences to see what interesting tidbits relating to the national picture might be occurring.  And yes, for those of you asking, we’re still classifying the SEC as a power conference (even if KenPom has the Mountain West ahead of it). 

Power Conference Rankings

1.  Big East.

  • Everyone in the Big East has now played between six to nine conference games, so we have a somewhat decent sense as to how the pecking order in this league looks at this point.  So far, Pittsburgh (7-1), Villanova (5-1) and possibly Connecticut (4-2) have separated themselves in our eyes as the cream of the conference.  Syracuse (5-2) is just a shade below that group, but they’re going to have to figure out some things before we anoint the Orange among this year’s Big East elite – we’ll keep them at the bottom of the top tier for now, though.  The next level is a muddled mess of seven teams — Louisville, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Marquette, Cincinnati, St. John’s and Georgetown.  The most likely candidate from this group to play up to the next level is (unsurprisingly) Notre Dame after last night’s big win at Pitt, while the most likely candidate to fall completely apart is Steve Lavin’s Johnnies.  ND has already played the toughest part of its schedule whereas St. John’s is already sputtering and still faces four games versus the top tier (plus Duke and UCLA).  The lower tier — Rutgers, Seton Hall, Providence, South Florida and DePaul — isn’t likely to do much more than spring an occasional eyebrow-raising upset (witness PC’s win over Louisville on Saturday).
  • Notre Dame has been the beneficiary of the scheduling gods thus far.  The Irish have played nine games (6-3), winning five in the friendly confines of South Bend while going 1-3 away from home.  With nine games left, Mike Brey’s team has only four remaining contests at home, BUT five of their remaining games are against bottom-tier teams, more than another school in the mid-pack.  If the Irish can simply win all of those, they’ll already have eleven wins this season, good enough for an NCAA Tournament bid and a strong seed.  On the other hand, West Virginia, already with wins over three of the bottom tier en route to a 4-2 record, has four games remaining against the elites including a home date with Pitt. 
  • We’re simply not a believer in Louisville despite their 15-4 overall and 4-2 conference record.  The Cards shoot 41% of their attempts from three, and when the bombs aren’t falling, bad things happen.  In UL’s two bad performances this season, vs. Drexel and at Providence, Rick Pitino’s modern-day bombinos shot 8-39 (.205) from outside the arc.  When you keep in mind that the Cards have had a soft Big East schedule thus far and escaped Marquette on a miraculous comeback, it wouldn’t surprise us to see the wheels come off soon.
  • Rutgers is at 3-4 after defeating after defeating fellow bottom-dwellers South Florida and Seton Hall last week.  But credit is due to Mike Rice’s team for separating the Scarlet Knights a little from the true bottom of the barrel by beating those two plus Providence so far this season.  Having lost the personnel they did and to already be well past last year’s pace of five wins is a solid achievement even if the schedule toughens up from here on out.

2.  Big Ten.

  • There was some consternation over the weekend about Michigan State suffering its seventh loss of the season and whether that puts Tom Izzo’s team in danger of falling onto the bubble, and that worry is misguided at this point.  According to Pomeroy, MSU has played the toughest schedule in the nation to date, and various bracketologists (Glockner – #7; Lunardi – #6; Hayes – #6) as of this morning have the Spartans still feeling comfortable.  Still, the Spartans are a couple of bounces away from having lost six in a row (instead of three of six), and it’s clear that Michigan State is struggling to find answers.  Kalin Lucas still doesn’t appear to be himself, and the continued inconsistency of Durrell Summers and Delvon Roe remains perplexing.  Sparty needs to win its next three easily (vs. Michigan, vs. Indiana, @ Iowa). 
  • Big Ten schools must be so tired of Bo Ryan and Wisconsin.  Year after year no matter the personnel the guy finds a way to become an annoying thorn in the side of every team in the league.  After a road destruction of Northwestern in Evanston on Saturday, the Badgers sit at 5-2 in the league with four shots to overtake league leaders Ohio State and Purdue on the horizon.  Since the Big Ten expanded to an 18-game conference schedule, the Badgers have averaged a 13-5 record, with Purdue (13.3 wins) and Michigan State (13.7 wins) just barely ahead.  Would you bet against them? 
  • Illinois has been close-but-no-cigar in losses to Texas and Ohio State this season, and there’s a general sense that Bruce Weber’s team is just one little thing short of being truly elite.  That one thing is interior defense.  Despite having the very large Mikes (Tisdale and Davis) inside to man the post, Jared Sullinger and Tristan Thompson shredded the Illini frontline for easy scores when they needed them down the stretch.  If Illinois had made stops in those situations (in addition to losses to UIC and Wisconsin), they would very likely be 17-3 or thereabouts and sitting in the top eight of the polls. 
  • It’s no big surprise, but Northwestern’s NCAA prospects are dim and fading to black after the beatdown that Wisconsin put on the Wildcats Sunday.  Now at 3-5 in the league with Minnesota away followed by Ohio State and Illinois at home, it’s very likely that the next two weeks will finish them off.  The sad part is that both Michigan State losses were there for the taking; had Northwestern won those, we would be handicapping a very different situation.

3.  Big 12.

  • Texas’ win over Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday must have felt like a program-defining win for Rick Barnes, but can UT sustain the success?  The Horns are very talented, but they’re still essentially a team of freshmen and sophomores.  Wednesday night’s game at Oklahoma State will tell us a lot about the maturity of players like Jordan Hamilton, J’Covan Brown, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph.  As the better team, if they can withstand the crowd and pressures as they did so spectacularly over the weekend, they will take another step toward legitimacy after last year’s nightmare.
  • Is there another coach in America as overlooked annually as Mark Turgeon at Texas A&M?  In his three years at the school, his teams have averaged 25 wins and been painstakingly close to reaching the Sweet Sixteen the last three seasons.  This year’s team is on the same (or better) track after a weekend win over Kansas State.  The Aggies play Nebraska next weekend followed by a home rematch against Texas on Big Monday, but after that the schedule really opens up.  It wouldn’t surprise us in the least to see A&M sitting at 25-3 overall and 12-2 going into Lawrence on March 2. 
  • K-State probably didn’t save its season last night against Baylor, but Frank Martin’s team may have at least avoided its demise.   The fact of the matter is that this team has not adjusted well to life without Denis Clemente to run the show and the unrealistic burden of expectations.  The problem the Wildcats face is that, with ten conference games remaining, they still have to play Kansas twice, Texas in Austin and Missouri at home.  Four more losses means the best KSU can do is 8-8 in league play, and frankly, they’ve had enough trouble beating the bottom tier of the league much less the best teams.  Our best prognostication on this team is that they’ll play up against one of the elite teams and perhaps even sneak out a win, but they’ll also end up losing a couple of other should-win games and end up at 7-9 in Big 12 play. 

4.  ACC.

  • With Florida State’s newfound ranking in the national polls and the win over Duke still fresh in everyone’s minds, some people may wonder if Leonard Hamilton’s team is on the verge of putting something big together.  We wouldn’t count on it.  FSU has been rewarded for having four of its first six ACC games at home, and keep in mind that away from the friendly rims of the TLCCC, this is still the same team that lost to Auburn.  Three of the next four are on the road, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if FSU loses all three (@ Clemson, @ UNC, @ Georgia Tech).  Great defense can carry you at home as the crowd and unfamiliar surroundings take their toll on opponents; but you need to be able to score on the road to win games, and FSU has trouble scoring on anybody.
  • We’ve harped on this before, but the ACC this season is as bad as we’ve ever seen for this once-great basketball conference.  It’s almost as if all the talent has shifted to the north in the forms of the Big East and Big Ten.  Other than Duke, there’s not a single team that we’d pick right now to win a first-round NCAA game, much less a second-round one.  It’s a painful thing to say, but the problem isn’t as much talent of players as it is talent of coaching.  The league was once a hotbed of rising stars — Rick Barnes, Jeff Jones, Herb Sendek — peppered in with the old mainstays — Dean Smith, Coach K, Bobby Cremins.  But look around the ACC now.  Steve Donahue and Brad Brownell are promising new additions, but other than Coach K and Roy Williams, does anyone else excite you?  Would you want to hire any of the remaining eight coaches at your school if there was an opening?  The ACC won’t get back to where it once was until house is cleaned, and it starts with coaching talent. 
  • The wildcard team this year remains North Carolina.  We can’t remember a single time all season where we were impressed with the Heels, yet they are 3-1 in the ACC with some solid wins Kentucky and Virginia Tech at home.  Yet, as soon as you think Roy’s team is turning a corner, they blow themselves up in a horrific performance like what we saw at Georgia Tech two Sundays ago.  Their schedule is such that the next four games are all winnable — @ Miami (FL), vs. NC State, @ BC, vs. Florida State — but with the yo-yo performances of seemingly every one of their players, you just never know what you’re going to get.  Does Kendall Marshall moving into the lead guard role help?  Probably, but we’re talking margins here.  It’s not like he’s Ed Cota in the spring of 1997. 

5.  Pac-10.

  • The problem with Washington from here on out is that we’re not going to be able to accurately gauge their performances by beating up on Pac-10 teams.  After two more relatively easy wins against the Arizona schools over the weekend, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Huskies are not only the best team in this league, but far and away so.  Short of a slip-up against one of those same schools in the desert next month, we’re probably looking at a 17-1 or, at worst, 16-2 Pac-10 record for Lorenzo Romar’s team.  Without a doubt the move of Isaiah Thomas from the off guard slot to playing the point has worked spectacularly well, but UW is 1-4 in close games this season (@ USC) and we still have reservations on the question of if this team is a serious threat to make a run to the Final Four. 
  • So who is the second-best team in this league, and as such, the most likely NCAA team?  Each of Arizona, UCLA, Washington State and USC quartet have shown signs at one time or another, but none has stepped up to claim the mantle just yet.  Let’s analyze road wins.  Arizona has two — @ Oregon and @ Wazzu — while UCLA has wins at both Oregon schools.  Wazzu only has a win at Stanford, while USC has yet to win away from the Galen Center.  In other words, the only true quality road win belongs to Arizona from its trip to Pullman last weekend.  As such, we still think that Sean Miller’s team is #2 in this league.  The Wildcats host UCLA and USC this weekend, so two more wins would put UA at 7-2 at the halfway mark.
  • UCLA, on the other hand, is getting some buzz for winning four games in a row, but let’s withhold judgment on a Bruin renaissance until they sweep the Arizona schools this coming weekend.  The unreliable backcourt of Malcolm Lee and Lazeric Jones remains a worrisome concern, but the UCLA front line of Reeves Nelson, Tyler Honeycutt and Joshua Smith are a bruising trio that are surprisingly productive.  Assuming each player sticks around a couple more seasons and Ben Howland finds some elite guards to play around them, UCLA could be back in a big way the next couple of years. 

6.  SEC.

  •  Alabama at 4-1 is slowly creeping into the conversation about an SEC West team that matters.  Somebody has to win this division, and Anthony Grant’s team with two home games against LSU and Mississippi State coming up could be poised to run away with it.  The Tide has already beaten Kentucky at home and will have road games (and likely losses) against Tennessee, Vandy and Florida, but if they can hold their own against the West, they should be in position to make a run at the NCAA bubble and a definite NIT bid.  Considering the season began with a thud that included three straight losses to Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peter’s, Bama fans should be pleased.
  • How much better is the SEC East than the SEC West?  So far the six eastern teams have gone 9-3 against the six western teams, with Kentucky and South Carolina losing at Alabama and Tennessee losing at Arkansas.  This is not to say that the SEC East is all that good, though.  Relative to the west, it looks like the NBA Western Conference, but with six weeks left in the regular season, you’ll excuse us if we see one, maybe two, Sweet Sixteen caliber teams among the group (Kentucky, Vanderbilt).  And those two are iffy. 
  • Ole Miss’ 1-4 start is a big deceiving.  The Rebels had to play three of the better SEC East teams in its first four games, and will face Tennessee and Kentucky next.  After that, if Andy Kennedy’s team doesn’t implode due to all the early losses, it’s smooth sailing: eight games against SEC West opponents and the only other one is South Carolina.  If Alabama begins to falter, Ole Miss should be the team ready to take its place at the top of the SEC West standings.
rtmsf (3998 Posts)

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One response to “All in the Family: Episode 2”

  1. Shocktopus says:

    Ah yes, the PAC-10 and the SEC. Look at the “power” in these nearly irrelevant basketball conferences!

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