13) Southern Conference— Fastest rising league in country; three years ago, they were #30, two years ago #25, LY #19, now they’re 13.
Furman (11-2) leads East Tennessee State by a game right now, but Chattanooga, NC-Greensboro and Wofford could all win conference tourney too. Their games are well worth watching on ESPN3.com.
12) Colonial— NC-Wilmington and Charleston are on top of league, but have both struggled the last few games. Towson State has been surging but one of their better players was shot in the leg in a drive-by shooting in Philly Saturday night. Not sure when he will play again.
11) West Coast— Gonzaga and St Mary’s and……no one else. BYU is very young this year, so they have taken a step back. Four first-year coaches in this league but the WCC is a lot like the Big West when UNLV ruled it during Jerry Tarkanian’s heyday.
10) Missouri Valley— Wichita State is tied with Illinois State for first place, despite losing Baker and Van Vleet from LY’s team; Redbirds lost star F McIntosh, a big loss for a team that is 21-5 and was headed for a showdown with the Shockers in Arch Madness. Northern Iowa has won eight of last nine games, after a 5-11 start.
9) Mountain West— Totally wide open this year, with San Diego State having a down year. Colorado State/Nevada are two of best teams, but both have zero depth, so winning three days in a row in conference tourney will be dicey. Does that open the door for Boise State?
8) Atlantic 14— League that should get more games on TV. VCU, Dayton, Richmond are all very good; Rhode Island always seems to be a half-step behind the top teams. Davidson is having a disappointing season. St Bonaventure is tough place to play, unless the students storm the court before the game is over.
7) American— SMU-Cincinnati will get in NCAA’s. Bearcats shoot it better than they usually do, could be sleeper in March. Houston/Memphis will try to steal a bid at the conference tourney. UConn has been racked by injury this season.
6) Pac-12— Conference of Champions has Arizona-Oregon-UCLA, fun teams to watch. Knocking on NCAA’s door are USC, Cal and Utah. Trojans’ non-conference schedule was #263, which could haunt them on Selection Sunday.
5) SEC— Kentucky rules this league, obviously, but I like Florida as a sleeper in March; South Carolina will get in tourney this year, but after that, NIT it is. Florida’s Canyon Barry, Rick’s son, has now made 39 foul shots in a row— he shoots underhanded like his dad.
4) Big 14— Committee didn’t have any of these teams in top 16 seeds for NCAA’s, then Wisconsin lost at home to Northwestern, which drops them more. Purdue is probably the best team in league, Maryland is strong but VERY young. Rest of the league is mediocre, but Izzo’s Spartans can’t be ignored, because Izzo is a Hall of Famer. Northwestern is going to make the tournament for the first time ever- -good for them.
3) Big East— Villanova is defending national champ, but Xavier/Creighton both lost their PG for the season with injuries, so they’ll be wounded targets in March. Butler looks like a tourney team, but they’ve lost three of last four games.
2) ACC— TV types keep saying they’re getting ten teams in tournament; I’m not seeing it. Think nine is most they’ll get. Fifteen teams is too many for a league, but they care more about football so they let Notre Dame play basketball here. Irish have been in Elite 8 the last two years; not this season. As I type this, Louisville is in a tie game in last minute at Syracuse and they have a walk-on playing. Did every ESPN play-by-play guy go to Syracuse?
Louisville’s walk-on, by the way, is from Sarasota, FL– Dick Vitale recommended him to Rick Pitino.
1— Big X— No easy outs here, now that TCU has become a good team; Texas/Oklahoma are two worst teams in league this year. Kansas has off-court issues; they’ve looked shaky of late. Baylor looks very strong, but they lost in first round the last two years, as a 5-seed and a 3-seed. Oy.