The Big Ten won its third straight Big Ten-ACC Challenge. While that may help the league’s overall perception, teams earn NCAA bids, not conferences. Here are a few bracket-related observations from this year’s Challenge:
Ohio State is playing like a No. 1 seed. While the Buckeyes have yet to leave Value City Arena, they dominated Duke by 22 points. This was the same Duke team which defeated Michigan and Kansas enroute to another Maui title. The Blue Devils had also compiled wins over Michigan State and Belmont. When you add in OSU’s victory over Florida on November 15, the Buckeyes begin December with eyes on a No. 1 seed. A trip to Kansas on December 10 will be OSU’s first true road test.
Indiana could be an NCAA team. The Hoosiers’ schedule hasn’t featured any heavyweights (yet), but IU has a balanced attack that creates problems for opposing defenses. Pulling out a tough road win at NC State is a promising sign for a team that didn’t win a single road game last year. The Hoosiers host Kentucky on December 10. Beating the Wildcats would likely allow IU to enter Big Ten play without a loss.
So could North Carolina State. The Wolfpack were supposed to be a year away, but as witnessed against Indiana, NC State has the talent to be an NCAA contender. They rank 18th in the nation in assists, a great sign of team play, as is a team field goal percentage of .417 - also a Top 50 stat. With non-conference games at Stanford and vs. Syracuse still on the schedule, the Wolfpack have the chance for a resume-building win ahead of ACC play.
Illinois has found a floor leader. Bradley tranfer Sam Maniscalco has given the Illini the type of leadership and mental toughness missing the past couple of seasons. The senior leads Illinois in scoring (13.3 ppg), FT percentage (88%), and 3-point percentage (41.9). He scored 24 in a comeback win at Maryland. There are a lot of new faces in Champaign, and the Illini won’t challenge for a Big Ten title, but there’s no reason to think a Top 6 finish and NCAA bid is out of reach. Read more…
With the 24-hour ESPN College Basketball Tip-Off Marathon complete, here are a few post-marathon resume notes from the season’s opening 10 days …
RESUME BUILDERS: Akron, Cleveland State and Kent State all compiled impressive road wins. It’s been a while since the Mid-American Conference put two teams in the NCAA Tournament, so the fact that Akron and Kent State both have strong out-of-conference wins this early is significant. Akron won at Mississippi State (SEC) and Kent State at West Virginia (Big East). Cleveland State owns the biggest upset to date - taking down Vanderbilt in Nashville. In other Horizon League action, Detroit missed an opportunity at Notre Dame. The good news is the Titans still have multiple chances to still make non-conference statements (@Alabama, Mississppi State most notably). CSU’s schedule doesn’t provide the same BCS resume-building opportunities, so beating Vandy was huge. On a side note: Cleveland State plays both Akron and Kent State.
In the Missouri Valley, Evansville rallied to beat Butler. If the Aces can back it up with a win over Indiana (tonight), that’s even better. Northern Iowa traveled over 3,000 miles in 60 hours – winning a big road game at Old Dominion before falling at St. Mary’s. A 50-50 split is pretty solid. MVC favorites Creighton and Wichita State haven’t been tested yet. But that changes soon – as Creighton plays UAB, Iowa, and San Diego State in its next four games. Wichita State has chances in Puerto Rico this week.
Drexel posted a solid victory (with a 6:00 a.m. tip) at Rider on Tuesday.
Belmont looked and played like an NCAA team during a brutal two-game road swing. That’s why we’ll consider the Bruins’ two losses as resume builders. One would think a single-point loss at Duke and a solid showing at Memphis would hold some weight if the Bruins falter in the Atlantic Sun Tournament. That said, Belmont’s toughest remaining non-conference opponent is probably Marshall. Beating the Herd, a potential NCAA team, would certainly be helpful. Read more…
It’s time to start tracking results: the regular season begins.
The matchup between North Carolina and Michigan State is certainly Week 1′s primo event. The Tar Heels open the season ranked No. 1 and are among the favorites to reach the Final Four in New Orleans. Michigan State has some new faces but also the talent to contend for a top four spot in the Big Ten. Both UNC and MSU open the year in our Preseason Power 24. Add in the date (11-11-11), the backdrop (aircraft carrier), and two of the nation’s best coaches (Roy Williams, Tom Izzo), and we have a March-ish game in November. See Schedule for more games.
Here are some other Week 1 Games to Watch:
Akron @ Mississippi State (Wed | November 9) – Akron is a contender to win the Mid-American crown (Kent State, Western Michigan are others). The Zips made the NCAA field in 2011 as an automatic qualifier, but will need good showings - and wins – in non-conference games for strong at-large consideration. Akron is led by 7-0 center Zeke Marshall and forward Nikola Cvetinovic. Marshall had 9 blocked shots in last year’s MAC title game. At Mississippi State, coach Rick Stansbury hopes on and off-court troubles are behind the Bulldogs. With Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney eligible for a full season, MSU has its sights on the SEC West and an NCAA bid. Other potential contributors for MSU include UTEP tranfer Arnett Moultrie and star recruit Rodney Hood.
Belmont @ Duke (Friday | November 11) - This compelling matchup follows the UNC-MSU game. Belmont raced through the Atlantic Sun en route to a 30-5 record and NCAA bid last season. The Bruins return most of their key pieces including Mick Hedgepath, Scott Saunders, and Ian Clark. Belmont faces Memphis on November 15, so two early chances await. While winning either game isn’t crucial, keeping the games manageable will be. Other than Marshall, the remaining Bruins’ schedule likely won’t provide much of a boost to their at-large profile. Read more…
March is five months away. Thousands of college basketball games will be played before Selection Sunday. Yet two things seem pretty clear in early November. North Carolina and Kentucky are loaded, and the Tar Heels and Wildcats are heavy favorites to reach the Final Four in New Orleans. So it’s no surprise that UNC and UK are the top two teams in our preseason bracket projection.
From there, it gets interesting. Debates rage across the internet and college hoops magazines about the next group of teams. Defending champion Connecticut returns a host of talent, as does 2011 top seed Ohio State. Other teams in the early running for No. 1 seeds: Syracuse and Duke. Florida and Vanderbilt both have the talent to challenge Kentucky in the SEC. Louisville and Pittsburgh are potential threats to the Orange and Huskies in the Big East. Memphis has the horses to dominate an improved Conference USA.
There are also plenty of good mid-major programs to watch. Belmont could be an at-large candidate if it navigates an opportunistic non-conference schedule. Detroit will test Butler in the Horizon League. As many as three or four teams could push for bids from the Colonial and Atlantic 10. Both the Missouri Valley and Mid-American have multiple bid options. In all, our preseason projection has two teams each from the Colonial, MVC, and Horizon. Hopefully, we’ll see that – or more – play out next Spring.
Further down the bracket, it’s educated guesswork … Last 5 teams IN: Virginia, Minnesota, Wichita State, Drexel, St. Louis. First 5 teams OUT: Notre Dame, BYU, Northwestern, Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s. The next group includes Kent State, VCU, Indiana, Old Dominion, and Central Florida. None of these would be huge surprises. That’s the beauty of college hoops. We play the games and what happens on the court matters more than public opinion.
Here’s to a great season. Let’s enjoy the ride to Selection Sunday.
With the start of college hoops season just a week away, it’s no surprise that North Carolina tops our Preseason Power 24 at Bracketville. Kentucky, Connecticut, and Ohio State are right behind.
One can debate whether UConn or Ohio State should be switched. Fair-minded people can also discuss North Carolina and Kentucky. But with a host of experience back, the Tar Heels are early favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans. UK, UConn, and Ohio State should challenge, as will a handful of others. Spots 5-10 look like this … Syracuse, Duke, Memphis, Florida, Vanderbilt, and Louisville.
Cautious optimism is always wise. If we’ve learned anything the past few years it’s that preseason expectations and on-court performance aren’t always the same. We’ve also seen talented teams struggle early as they learn to play together. Because we have no real evidence, preseason rankings are merely a starting point. Thankfully, come March, what matters is actual results. Sure, we’ll have our debates about a few teams, but the tournament will be great because we play the games.
I’m excited about another journey toward Selection Sunday. Thanks for your interest. Follow along here and at NBC Sports.com.