Notes and observations ahead of our first in-season bracket projection
Our first in-season bracket projection is due out Monday evening (Dec. 6). With it will come a lot of debate (and some complaints). Time to fire away with some notes and observations from a great first month of college hoops.
The first note is to remind ourselves that a lot of meaningful basketball remains. Things don’t necessarily end like they start. Flashback: Georgetown opened the ’08-’09 season 11-1, including a win at Connecticut – an eventual No. 1 seed. From there, the Hoyas stumbled through the Big East – finishing 7-11 in conference play and 16-14 overall – missing the NCAAs. With that, here we go …
- San Diego State and UNLV lead a quadrant of teams (BYU and New Mexico) from the Mountain West that could impact our final bracket in March. SDSU opened with three true road games and two neutral-court affairs – including a win at Gonzaga. It’s the type of schedule that should pay big dividends. UNLV has already beaten Wisconsin (home) and Virginia Tech (neutral court). BYU has victories over WAC-favorite Utah State and St. Mary’s. If there’s a bubble team, it’s likely New Mexico. The Lobos beat Arizona State, but lost a lopsided tilt at Cal.
- If Connecticut continues to get production from Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier, and others, the Huskies are in line for a very good season. Kemba Walker is a front-runner for Player-of-the-Year, and UConn already has three wins over NCAA-level teams: Wichita State, Michigan State, and Kentucky (Maui Invitational).
- Who thought Notre Dame would win the Old Spice Classic in Orlando? While beating Georgia, California, and Wisconsin isn’t quite like UConn’s feat in Maui, the Irish have certainly improved expectations – at least outside South Bend.
- Georgetown is also off to a great start. The Hoyas 111-102 OT win over Missouri ranks as the season’s best game to date. The season-opening road win at Old Dominion is looking better all the time.
- Pittsburgh is solid again – beating Maryland and Texas in New York. A No. 1-seed hopeful, the Panthers’ real questions won’t begin until March. Can they reach a Final Four?
- Overall, the Big East is 17-6 vs. fellow BCS teams.
- The Big Ten – fresh off its second straight ACC-Big Ten title – is 14-10 vs. BCS teams and 9-5 vs. the ACC overall. In our preseason Power 24, we suggested that Ohio State would challenge Michigan State for league supremacy. No team has two bigger true road wins (Florida, Florida State) than the Buckeyes. That said, MSU was 4-2 at this juncture last season and the Spartans ended up in the Final Four. Don’t quit on Tom Izzo’s bunch just because they lost to UConn and at Duke.
- Will Duke lose to anyone? That will be the question given the Blue Devils’ talent, depth, and incredible start. Duke powered through Marquette and Kansas State in Kansas City before wiping out Oregon on the West Coast and the above-mentioned Spartans in Durham. Even so, an undefeated regular-season is unlikely. Trips to Maryland and North Carolina are always tricky – even if the Tar Heels have spun their wheels a bit.
- Hard to imagine North Carolina having another down year from start to finish. The Tar Heels are loaded with talent and you have to figure they’ll figure it out at some point. A Top 10 preseason ranking simply wasn’t justified - then again, preseason rankings mean nothing anyway. An exercise in fun (futility) nothing else.
- Overall the ACC is just 14-18 vs. BCS teams.
- Virginia Tech could be one team that wishes it had a first-month do-over. While the Hokies have played a much better non-conference slate, they are 0-3 in big-win games – falling at Kansas State, to UNLV on a neutral floor, and dropping a home game to Purdue in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Could be another testy Selection Sunday if the Hokies stumble in the ACC.
- What’s going on the Atlantic 10? Richmond has the best win (Purdue) while Temple has struggled more than expected. The Owls were favored to win the Old Spice Classic but lost to California and Texas A&M. Hampered by injuries, Xavier has been mostly unimpressive and Dayton was blown out by Cincinnati and lost at home to East Tennessee State.
- The Pac-10 isn’t much better – thus far. Washington is the league’s best, yet the Huskies missed chances with both Kentucky and Michigan State in Maui. Neither is a bad loss, but outside a trip to Texas A&M (Dec. 11), UW now has little chance to make a non-conference impression. A Top 4 seed will be hard to achieve. Ironically, California has the league’s best wins (New Mexico and Temple) even though they lost games to Notre Dame and Boston College in Orlando. The good news is that Arizona and UCLA seem on track to be in the NCAA discussion, along with Washington State. Better quality wins should be available in conference play.
- As noted in an earlier Bracket Bits column, the Missouri Valley will be challenged by another poor start. Wichita State really hurt its opportunities in Maui by giving up a second-half lead to Connecticut. Missouri State lost at Tennessee and Tulsa in its two best non-league tilts to date.
- By comparison, Colonial teams Old Dominion and VCU would both be in the NCAA discussion today – with ODU pushing for a single-digit seed. The Monarchs gave Georgetown a great battle and have beaten Clemson, Xavier, and Richmond. A win at Missouri on Dec. 30 would really leave a good impression.
- Kansas State will battle Kansas for supremacy in the Big 12. The Jayhawks know that Josh Selby will be eligible this month (Dec. 18) – another piece to an already good puzzle. If Selby plays anywhere near the level of Kyrie Irving at Duke, KU will be in play for a No. 1 seed.
- Not sure what to make of Missouri. An NCAA team for sure, but the Tigers lost a virtual home game in Kansas City to their only quality opponent to date (G’Town). They also struggled with several mid-range teams in Cancun and nearly coughed up a big lead at Oregon before winning.
- Texas was impressive in New York, beating Illinois in OT and losing a tight game to Pittsburgh. The Longhorns appear well on their way to a turn-around type season.
- Gonzaga has played well, but not great. The health of Elias Harris will be a determining factor for the Zags. St. Mary’s is probably a bubble team – the one-point loss to BYU on a neutral court is encouraging.
- So far, Tennessee isn’t letting all the off-court Bruce Pearl distractions effect its on-court performance. How long will that continue, and what lies ahead for the Vols? Pearl says his eight-game SEC suspension won’t matter – we’ll see. Kentucky is loaded, but dealing with severe youth – as witnessed by a lopsided loss to UConn in Maui. Still, I’ll take UK to win the SEC in March – especially if Enes Kanter wins his appeal/resubmission regarding NCAA eligibility.
- Paging Florida. Who are the real Gators? Nice win at Florida State. Bad loss to Central Florida. Okay first half against Ohio State at home. That’s the type of formula that earns you a 7-10 seed in the NCAAs.
- The SEC West is working hard for the NIT. Favorite Mississippi State lost at home to Florida Atlantic and scheduled its first 11 games at home. Sounds like a recipe for a very poor non-conference SOS – same as last year.
- Minnesota looked very good in Puerto Rico – beating North Carolina and West Virginia. Not sure what happened in the second half against Virgina, but the Gophers are well on their way to wearing a home jersey in the NCAA’s first round (Top 8 seed). Wisconsin is, well, Wisconsin. The Badgers aren’t likely to win the Big 10, but they are likely to make another trip to the NCAAs.
- Illinois has avoided the bad losses it had last year. Thus, an NCAA trip looks promising. If the Illini improve rebounding and free-throw performance, they could prove dangerous. They have good wins over Maryland and North Carolina, and an OT loss to Texas.
I’m sure there’s numerous notes and observations we’ve missed. We can’t go through every team. Can’t wait to get the first real bracket together. If you have thoughts, please send a rebound. Comment below or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m also on Twitter: BracketguyDave.