O26 Storylines: Wichita Unbeaten, St. Louis, Harvard, WCC & New Mexico…Posted by Adam Stillman on January 24th, 2014
There’s been no lack of storylines in the O26 conferences this week. Let’s dive right into five of them.
1. Can Wichita State really go unbeaten?
Well, the Shockers (20-0, 7-0 MVC) passed the first of their few remaining major tests in the Missouri Valley Conference by blasting Indiana State by 20 at home Saturday. The biggest obstacle left is the February 5 rematch game in Terre Haute. Should Wichita State pick up a win there, you’d have to like the Shockers’ chances at going unbeaten in the regular season. A potential trap game pops up right after the Sycamores, as the Shockers head to Northern Iowa on February 8. Indiana State and Northern Iowa figure to duke it out for runner-up position in the MVC. Ken Pomeroy currently gives Wichita State a 33.5 percent chance at finishing the season without a blemish — the Shockers are projected as favorites in all of their remaining games, with the closest being a five-point win at ISU. Despite all of that, KenPom lists the Shockers’ projected record to be 30-1 overall and 17-1 in the MVC entering postseason play. As fun as it would be to see the Shockers run the table, I just don’t see it happening. Missouri State put quite a scare into Wichita State a couple of weekends ago, blowing a 19-point second half lead at home to lose in overtime. I still think the Shockers will slip up at some point, but, man, you’ve got to love what Gregg Marshall is doing with that program.
2. Is Saint Louis now the favorite in the Atlantic 10?
It’s hard to argue against it. Remember that the Billikens are the defending Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament champions, and right now SLU (18-2, 5-0 A-10) remains the conference’s only unbeaten team. Massachusetts, the league favorite heading into this week, suffered its first league loss Wednesday night at Richmond after a string of close calls. SLU, meanwhile, just keeps winning. Sure, it’s not pretty. The Billikens waited until the last minute to pull out a victory against cellar-dweller Duquesne on Wednesday, and also struggled with St. Bonaventure at home the week before. But SLU keeps winning. The Billikens are 26th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings and boast the top-rated defense in the nation (87.1 points allowed per 100 possessions). A home-and-home with VCU, along with road games at St. Joseph’s, La Salle and Massachusetts still loom, but for now the Billikens have to be considered the favorite until proven otherwise. SLU is projected to win every game from here on out except for those two road games to Richmond (VCU) and Amherst (UMass). KenPom projects SLU’s final A-10 record at 13-3, with UMass and VCU coming in at 11-5. A two-loss or three-loss squad seems like a pretty good bet for an Atlantic 10 champion.
3. Did Harvard’s loss end it’s at-large chances?
This one is a resounding yes. No ifs, and or buts about it. Harvard’s at-large hopes were already pretty slim after missing out on its two resume-making opportunities against Colorado in November and Connecticut earlier this month. Then the final blow came on Tuesday with a loss to Florida Atlantic and its shiny #272 RPI. Let’s face it, though, there’s no way Harvard isn’t winning the Ivy League this season. There’s just too much talent there. But for argument’s sake, let’s say Princeton finds a way to steal the league’s automatic bid. Would Harvard still have a shot? The Crimson’s RPI sits at #36 as of Thursday night’s update, although Harvard’s record hadn’t been updated to account for the loss to FAU yet. Harvard better hope it wins the league; otherwise, Tommy Amaker’s team might qualify as the O26 disappointment of the season.
4. Is the WCC really just a one-bid league?
It’s sure starting to look that way. Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1 WCC) remains its old self, just cruising through the West Coast Conference (although with a close call last night against San Diego). Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s (15-5, 5-2 WCC) already has two league losses — at Gonzaga and home to Santa Clara — matching last season’s total in the league just seven games into conference play. There’s still 11 games left! And BYU (13-8, 5-3 WCC) shot itself in the foot with a triple-overtime loss at Portland on Thursday night. The Cougars’ RPI (currently at #40) is sure to plummet, and Saint Mary’s RPI of #51 doesn’t look too impressive either. BYU does have a couple nice wins against Texas and Stanford but already has eight losses on the season. Saint Mary’s best win is either against an underachieving Boise State team or a season-opening victory against a solid Louisiana Tech team. Still, the Gaels’ resume leaves much to be desired. Unless Gonzaga fails to win the league’s automatic bid, this is a one-bid conference.
5. Can New Mexico keep up with San Diego State in the Mountain West?
Quite frankly, no. Sure, New Mexico (14-4, 5-1 MW) is probably a pretty safe bet to be the Mountain West’s second and final NCAA Tournament representative. But this looks like San Diego State’s league to lose. New Mexico already has a damaging loss at home to UNLV and still must travel to Boise State and split a home-and-home with the Aztecs. Meanwhile, San Diego State (17-1, 6-0 MWC) is rolling. No, the Aztecs haven’t faced any of the big boys on the road just yet, but I think we saw SDSU’s road capabilities at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this month. Ken Pomeroy projects San Diego State as winning the rest of its MW games, the closest being a two-point win at New Mexico in late February. Yet the Aztecs’ final conference record is projected at 16-2, a far cry from New Mexico’s projected 12-6 mark. The bigger question for Xavier Thames and the Aztecs is if they can surpass that 2011 team led by Kawhi Leonard, a squad that earned a #2 NCAA seed after finishing the regular season 29-2 and 14-2 in the conference. That should be a fun topic to discuss in the coming weeks.