We are well into conference races now, and it’s time to take a look at the often wacky and unpredictable world of college basketball.
America East: Stony Brook and Boston University were the preseason choices, and Stony Brook and BU are the leaders. Since the conference tournament final is played on the home court of the highest seed, tomorrow night’s game at Stony Brook could be BU’s most important game of the season.
Atlantic 10: Six teams have two conference losses. Only Charlotte, Fordham, and Rhode Island are out of the race. We think Xavier or Dayton will emerge, but the conference is truly wide open.
Atlantic Coast: Duke and North Carolina are still the class of the field. But Florida State, with wins over the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, has an edge right now. But will the Seminoles stumble, as they did earlier against Clemson?
Atlantic Sun: Belmont was the preseason favorite, but Mercer has been the surprise team thus far.
Big 12: Kansas was the favorite and has not disappointed. Missouri, Baylor, and Kansas State are all dangerous and capable of pulling off upsets.
Big East: Syracuse and Georgetown are still the front-runners. Biggest surprise/disappointment/shock has been Pittsburgh (12-9, 1-7).
Big Sky: It was Weber State and Montana in preseason, and Weber State and Montana are the leaders.
Big South: North Carolina-Asheville and Coastal Carolina are among the leaders, as expected. Campbell, right with them, is a minor surprise.
Big Ten: Ohio State and Michigan State remain the bluebloods of what may be the deepest conference this season.
Big West: Long Beach State is the class of the field. No surprise.
Colonial Athletic Association: George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Drexel, and Old Dominion are the front-runners. Drexel could be the best team, but it will be tough for the Dragons to get out of Virginia in March with the tournament title.
Conference USA: Memphis was the preseason pick, but Southern Mississippi (18-3, 5-1) has been a surprise.
Horizon: Detroit has been a disappointment. Cleveland State and Valparaiso have been pleasant surprises. Butler is average at best, which is still a surprise to many.
Ivy: Harvard, Harvard, Harvard. The Crimson must still deal with Yale, Penn, and Princeton on the road.
Metro Atlantic: Iona was a solid choice, but the Gaels have shown some soft spots. Fairfield (10-9, 5-3) has been a disappointment.
Mid-American: No major stunners here, although Ohio’s 16-4 record is a bit of a surprise.
Mid-Eastern Athletic: Norfolk State is the best of a bad conference.
Missouri Valley: Creighton could be capable of an Elite Eight/Sweet 16 run. Wichita State is always dangerous.
Mountain West: San Diego State has done more than expected. UNLV is in the same category. With New Mexico, three NCAA bids are possible.
Northeast: LIU remains the best of the group. Wagner, under the guidance of Danny Hurley, is dangerous (ask Pittsburgh).
Ohio Valley: Murray State (20-0, 8-0) is this year’s Cinderella.
Pac-12: Bad basketball. Only two NCAA bids likely. Cal, Oregon, and Stanford are the most likely. UCLA and USC are average at best.
Patriot League: Bucknell is the leader. More was expected of Holy Cross.
Southeastern: Kentucky is the true blueblood. Vanderbilt, Florida, Mississippi State, and Arkansas are capable of surprises.
Southern: Davidson is in the mix, as usual.
Southland: Texas-Arlington and Texas-San Antonio are the best of the bunch.
Southwestern Athletic: No teams in the conference are above .500 overall, although Mississippi Valley State (8-11, 7-0) is undefeated in conference play.
Summit: Oral Roberts is the leader, and it is no miracle.
Sun Belt: Middle Tennessee could be a sleeper in the NCAA Tournament.
West Coast: Saint Mary’s looks like the best, but still has to prove it can win on the road.
Western Athletic: Nevada and New Mexico State are in a shootout, as expected.
Figure it out
If anything says how crazy this season has been, it is Florida State. The Seminoles have wins over North Carolina and Duke on their résumé, but are 0-2 against the Ivy League (losing to Princeton and Harvard) and lost by 20 to Clemson, which lost to Boston College . . . How crazy is the landscape of college basketball with all the expansion and reconfiguration? Consider this. New Jersey Tech had a conference game against Texas-Pan American last week. Both are members of the Great West Conference, which also includes Chicago State, Houston Baptist, Utah Valley, and North Dakota. The Great West is in a transitional stage as far as getting an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. It was not scheduled to happen until 2020, but it is being reviewed by the NCAA . . . San Diego State wasn’t supposed to be leading the Mountain West, as coach Steve Fisher lost four starters from last season’s amazing 34-3 team. But Fisher knows how to rebuild on the fly. The Aztecs (18-2, 4-0) have an 11-game winning streak and are right there with UNLV (19-3, 3-1). UNLV, under former players Dave Rice and Stacey Augmon, has made a nice return to the upper tier.
Some remarkable stats to ponder: Kentucky has yet to lose at Rupp Arena in the 2 1/2 years John Calipari has been running the show. Kansas has not lost two in row in its last 223 games (Duke is next at 110 games, then Temple at 93) . . . Boston University’s run of seven straight wins is proof that you can get experience playing nonconference big boys (Texas, BC, Saint Joseph’s, Villanova), then settle into conference play and make a serious run at an NCAA bid. The Terriers are only 11-11 overall, but they are 7-1 in America East. No America East team is likely to ever get an NCAA at-large bid, so it makes sense to schedule games for big paydays, then try to grab the automatic NCAA bid with a good run in the conference.