As we approach the halfway point of most conference seasons, there are numerous storylines to touch upon. The unexpected rise of Virginia has yet to slow as the Cavaliers sit at 8-0 in the ACC. Duke will attempt to unravel the stellar Virginia defense tomorrow when they host a top-4 matchup at Cameron Indoor. The Blue Devils, despite head-scratching losses to Boston College and NC State, still have possibly the most explosive offense in college basketball. This matchup of sometimes-unstoppable offense and elite defense should make for an unbelievable game. Elsewhere in the ACC, Clemson and Louisville continue their unexpectedly solid seasons while North Carolina, Miami, and Florida State remain contenders.
Alongside Duke and Virginia on the 1-line, Purdue has sprinted through their first 9 games in the Big 10. A bit undervalued by many, Purdue has possibly the best all-around team in college basketball and should ease through the rest of conference play in an underwhelming Big 10. Villanova, the current number one overall seed, has bounced back from their lone loss at Butler and is back at the top of the Big East standings – followed by an underrated and talented Xavier team. One of the deepest leagues in basketball, the Big East has a chance at securing 7 bids come March, a possible 70% of the league. Seton Hall and Creighton have shown signs of deficiency at times, but both remain viable, experienced teams that nobody wants to face come tournament time.
The Big 12 is as muddled as expected, with Kansas leading the pack once again. Trae Young and Oklahoma follow, with West Virginia and Texas Tech not far behind. TCU has become a major talking point in the Big 12 of late, coming into conference play 12-0 but losing 5 of their first 8 in the league. The loss of Jaylen Fisher is going to hurt…badly. With 10 conference tilts remaining, TCU must find a way to win games. Despite a stellar non-conference, if the Frogs’ final resume features only a 5-7 win conference season, it may not be enough to get them in.
Elsewhere in the SEC, Auburn continues their unbelievable climb from mediocrity to the top of brackets everywhere. An underwhelming Kentucky continues to falter in conference play as others have emerged as contenders. In a huge twist, the SEC has a solid chance to feature the most teams of any conference in the Tournament. However, with 5-7 teams on the bubble as of today, it’s safe to say that the large number featured right now will not hold up later in the season. Texas A&M continues to surprise us in a negative way, sitting at 2-6 in SEC play. Similar to TCU, if the Aggies can’t improve that conference record, they’ll be enjoying the NIT come March. Out west, Arizona has continued their major run since the infamous 3-loss performance at the Battle 4 Atlantis, rattling off 14 wins in their last 15 contests. Meanwhile, the Pac 12 as a whole has been very down, with just 3-4 teams expected to participate in March. After an underwhelming start, USC has fought back into the field but still lacks a signature win.
Now to our favorite – the mid-majors. Unfortunately for mid-major fans, there won’t be too many at-large opportunities this year. The Atlantic 10 has been downright awful this year but is headlined by a sleeping giant in Rhode Island. The Rams are currently seeded on the 8-line in our projection. Despite a stellar non-conference resume and a perfect conference season thus far, their lack of challenge in conference play will spur the committee to underside the Rams. Whether this is the way it should be or not, unfortunately, it’s the way it likely will be. Nevada, despite losing earlier this week in Wyoming, is still an elite-level mid-major. Wins over Rhode Island and Boise State are complimented with a top-20 RPI for the Wolfpack. Speaking of Boise State, Chandler Hutchison has emerged as an absolute beast in the Mountain West and has soared up NBA Draft boards. The Broncos currently sit as one of the most bubbly teams in the country, lacking big wins but carrying a solid RPI and a low, respectable loss profile. A win over Nevada to compliment the road win over Oregon could be enough to get Boise over the line as an at-large team for the 3rd time under Leon Rice.
In Conference USA, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky continue to slug it out atop the standings. The Blue Raiders recently defeated the Hilltoppers in Kentucky, giving them the current edge. Both will have small, but possible chances for an at-large bid. Don’t sleep on Old Dominion either who are sitting at 15-4 and could steal a spot from both teams come conference tournament time. Moving to the WCC, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga have all but locked up spots in March barring unforeseen losses to conference foes. Perhaps the most unusual and unknown story is New Mexico State. The Aggies have several very solid wins, including a neutral court victory over Miami. Should they run the table but lose in the WAC final, NMSU would have a chance at a bid. Others among the mid-major ranks with virtually no chance at an at-large but can do serious damage in March include Buffalo, East Tennessee State, Louisiana, Belmont, and Montana.
To end this Friday discussion, listed below will be some awards and projections for the end of the season. Check back soon for more content!
RSN Projected National Champion: Purdue
RSN Projected NCAA Player of the Year: Trae Young
RSN Coach of the Year: Chris Holtmann
RSN Mid-Major Team of the Year: Rhode Island
RSN Mid-Major Player of the Year: Chandler Hutchison