That’s Debatable: Most Exciting Conference RacePosted by rtmsf on January 12th, 2012
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 rest of the season. Feel free to leave your takes below in the comments section.
This Week’s Topic: With conference play heating up, what conference race are you most excited about this year and why?
Danny Spewak, Big 12 Microsite Correspondent
A one-bid conference since 2007, the Missouri Valley may finally regain its status this winter as college basketball’s premiere non-BCS league. And that’s not just because of Doug McDermott and his ranked Creighton Bluejays. This league has more substance than that. Only 0-5 Bradley is more than two games out of first place right now, where Wichita State, Missouri State and Creighton each sit at 4-1. Indiana State, which won at Vanderbilt earlier this season and represented the MVC in the NCAAs a year ago, will also surely recover from a disappointing 2-3 start in conference play. Same goes for Northern Iowa, which rolled through its non-conference schedule before losing four of its last six. That’s five teams right there with a shot to win this whole thing, and Evansville, Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Drake aren’t going away without a fight either. If you’re still not convinced that somebody could knock off CU, consider that reigning POY Kyle Weems already outplayed McDermott in Omaha in a 77-65 victory on December 28. And you wonder why we’re all so fascinated by the Missouri Valley Conference on a yearly basis.
Brian Otskey, Big East Correspondent
When I first thought about this question, the Big 12, Pac-12 and Missouri Valley came to mind. Then I took a closer look at the Big Ten. Preseason favorite Ohio State has two losses already and Michigan State sits atop the league at 4-0. That two game lead over the Buckeyes in the loss column is significant and Ohio State’s loss at Illinois on Tuesday night officially opened the door. The Big Ten has five teams that can contend (six if you include a good Purdue team). With home court advantage being historically more significant in this league than others, anything can happen. There seems to be something missing from this Ohio State team. The easy answer is it doesn’t have Jon Diebler anymore but there may be something deeper. With the Buckeyes losing two of their first five league games, this conference is up for grabs and may be the best race.
I. Renko, Columnist
West Coast Conference — Gonzaga and St. Mary’s now have some company atop the WCC, with BYU having joined the conference and showing very little letdown after the departure of The Jimmer. All three teams are in the Pomeroy top 25, and a true round-robin schedule — something only one power conference can boast — ensures that they play each other twice, home and away. Four of those five remaining games are on ESPN2 on late night Thursdays, where they will have little competition for the eyeballs of college hoops fans. While there isn’t the star power of an Adam Morrison, Patty Mills, or Jimmer Fredette, it’s fun to watch each team work to be more than the sums of their parts. Plus, there’s just enough depth in this league for one of the big three to suffer an upset loss and add more intrigue to the race for the top.
Evan Jacoby, Columnist
The Big Ten will be the most interesting conference race this season, because it’s the one power league with an elite team (Ohio State) that has competition for the regular season title. I don’t think we’re going to see Kentucky, North Carolina, or Syracuse challenged as much in their respective conferences for the top spot. But in the Big Ten, Michigan State and Indiana are legitimate contenders, and Michigan is lurking as well. We’ve already seen Ohio State lose at Indiana, as well as Indiana lose at Michigan State. Expect these top teams to hold serve at home, and who wins the league could come down to whichever team avoids road losses to an Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern, etc. As of now, I think it’s a three-horse race without a clear favorite.
Brian Goodman, Editor
I’m most excited to see how the Big 12 pans out. Not only does the race look to be very close, but the four best teams (Missouri, Baylor, Kansas and Kansas State, in no particular order) are very exciting to watch and each have outperformed expectations in their own way. The college basketball landscape thought highly of the Tigers and Bears, but a combined record of 56-7 into the second week in January probably wasn’t what they had in mind. Kansas and Kansas State seemed poised for down years, but Bill Self and Frank Martin have proven why they’re the league’s best coaches by squeezing the most out of what they have. Also, the race has a new wrinkle to it, brought on by the exodus of Colorado and Nebraska to the Pac-12 and Big Ten, respectively. Realignment led to the Big 12 switching from a 16-game unbalanced schedule to an 18-game slate with a full round-robin format. The symmetry of the schedule should make the process of evaluating the teams much easier – it was always a sort of necessary evil to have to qualify records by considering the unbalanced schedules – and the extended format will put all 10 teams to the test, but especially the four contenders.
Kenny Ocker, Correspondent
I’m most excited to watch the Pac-12 race, but it’s in the car crash sort of way. It’s going to be interesting to see which team can go the longest without shooting itself in the foot, or to see which team can win more than just a couple conference road games. I think California is the closest team to putting something together in the conference, but Washington has the most talent. Regardless, it’s going to be fun to watch a storied conference compete for what’s likely to be two NCAA Tournament bids at most.
Walker Carey, Correspondent
I think the Big 12 race is superbly intriguing. At the beginning of the season, I thought the league only had two contenders in Baylor and Kansas. While undefeated Baylor and solid Kansas are certainly contenders, Kansas State and Missouri have emerged as strong teams that could most definitely take the league crown. Kansas has dominated this conference for many years and I think that this could be the year that its stronghold on the league may come to an end. The Big 12 race is undoubtedly a four-team race and I believe the key to capturing the title will be avoiding any slip-ups against inferior conference foes.
Connor Pelton, Pac-12 Microsite Correspondent
The conference race I am most excited for is the WCC. The main reason this conference has been as an “entertaining” league so early is because Gonzaga and BYU are in a “rebuilding” phase. But in my opinion, that makes it even better. Each late night left coast battle is crucial as all nine teams battle for prime seeding in their conference tournament. That’s why you will see upsets such as San Francisco over Gonzaga or Portland over Saint Mary’s. Each team is desperate to put themselves in position to make a run come March, which means fans are treated to great basketball in January and February as well. Another thing that makes this league so great is at this point in the season, no team is a lock to go dancing. The Gaels, Cougars, and Bulldogs will most likely be in, but the overall uncertainty adds pressure that once again gives us tremendous basketball over this wonderful three-month stretch.
Jesse Baumgartner, Columnist
Big Ten — I’ll admit that no conference has me mesmerized at this point, and I’d be surprised if that changes. The Big Ten is fun, though. You have a national title contender in Ohio State, a complete shocker in Indiana, a red-hot team in Michigan State, and a bunch of very-solid-could-make-a-run squads in Michigan and Purdue. That kind of balance makes for a fun conference battle.