Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten on top, but here comes the MWC
Conference Power Rankings (Cont.)
We're back with your monthly dose of conference comparisons, and while the top two remain intact, there's an upstart from out (semi) West which is not out of its depth thanks to its depth. No blueblood favoritism in these rankings. You get the position you're earning on the floor.
Remember, the rankings are based both on top-end quality in the league and quality of competitive depth. The balance and weightings are entirely subjective, so they can't be wrong. They can just be different from what you think they should be.
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December conventional wisdom (DCW): May have the nation's No. 1 team and a group of six strong NCAA candidates. Illinois is better than expected, and the loss of Josh Gasser has hurt Wisconsin. Minnesota looks solid. There are still very few soft spots in conference play.
Current conventional wisdom (CCW): Conference RPI rankings have innate flaws, but when the gap between league No. 1 and No. 2 is the same as that between No. 2 and No. 6, there's a reason for it. Not a ton has changed at the top of the league since last month. Illinois is fading a bit while Wisconsin is surging, but the Big Ten still looks a pretty good bet for seven NCAA bids. Squeezing out one more than that isn't impossible, either.
DCW: Love Syracuse as a Final Four pick right now. Marquette's weaker than forecast, but the top five or six teams in the league look very good. The bottom of the league remains soft.
CCW: Love Syracuse a lot less if James Southerland isn't coming back. Marquette keeps finding ways to win and suddenly has a much stronger profile for the NCAAs. Overall, the top of the league has dipped a little, but this is still the second-best league until further notice.
DCW: League is insane, top to bottom. Neither co-favorite has lived up to billing yet, but New Mexico's unbeaten. So is Colorado State. So is Wyoming! Air Force is much improved. And that doesn't even mention Boise State, which nearly won at Michigan State and then rolled Creighton in Omaha.
CCW: An amazingly competitive league that's served up large doses of Wednesday and Saturday drama. New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State have taken turns impressing. Colorado State is a major sleeper. Boise State is very good. Wyoming may fade if Luke Martinez is out for awhile. They can't score enough. The league, based on the developing landscape, looks like a very strong possibility for five NCAA bids.
DCW: The Jayhawks are my national title pick and still look strong. Beyond KU, there are teams that can beat or lose to almost anyone. If Texas doesn't get Myck Kabongo back soon, trouble is coming.
CCW: Kansas is easily the best team in the league. A few more teams will make the NCAAs. Nobody looks all that inspiring at this point. West Virginia is struggling more than expected. Kabongo is coming back for the final eight games of the regular season, but is it too late for Texas?
DCW: Duke and NC State have flipped favorite roles. North Carolina still has major question marks. Florida State looks really light on scoring options. Miami with Durand Scott has things going a little bit. Maryland looks like an NCAA tournament team at this point. Virginia Tech at 7-0 is one of the huge surprise stories of the season.
CCW: Duke losing Ryan Kelly, for an indeterminate amount of time and possibly for the season, changes the picture once again. NC State handled the Blue Devils to stake a claim. Miami does look good. UNC does have questions. Maryland got a hugely needed win over the Wolfpack Wednesday night. The bottom half of the conference is not good.
DCW: VCU is still figuring things out a bit. Same with Butler, who is inordinately dependent upon Rotnei Clarke. Saint Louis is not as good defensively and now has Rick Majerus' passing to cope with, too. UMass has been exposed. Saint Joe's, too. I whiffed on Temple. Xavier is the huge upside surprise.
CCW: Butler and VCU are blossoming into legit national contenders. Saint Louis has found itself defensively and will be a major factor. Temple remains Temple. A few other teams are OK.
DCW: Arizona's question mark (Mark Lyons) has scored well, but been suspect with distribution. UCLA's question marks (many) remain somewhat unanswered as the Bruins morph by necessity into a small-ball team. Colorado is trending well. Stanford's been OK. Cal's been better than expected. The bottom of the league has improved a bit, for whatever that's worth.
CCW: Arizona remains very good. UCLA is surging. Colorado is fading badly. Washington has emerged ahead of the Bay Area teams as a possible dark horse contender. Arizona State is better than expected. The rest of the league is still not very good.
DCW: Kentucky's definitely not as good as '11-'12 ... or '09-'10 ... can we see a growth curve like '10-'11, which went 10-6 SEC but made the Final Four? Florida is making things work and looks like the league's best team. Missouri is going to miss Michael Dixon. Alabama has potential. The bottom looks soft.
CCW: Kentucky likely would sign for 10-6 and an NCAA bid, and take its chances. Florida's the league's best team. Missouri is pretty good but beatable. And, ummm, errrrr, yeah. Not a good league this year.
DCW: I got the quality of depth right, but perhaps the Creighton challenger wrong. Rebuilt and unbeaten Wichita State has been a pleasant surprise. Illinois State looks tough despite recent late fades at Louisville and home to Wyoming. Overall, the league looks very solid.
CCW: The league is morphing into a 2.5-team race, with Creighton likely getting a strong challenge and either Evansville or Indiana State maybe making half a run. Creighton is an absurdly good shooting team, with five players at 43 percent or better from three-point range.
DCW: Gonzaga is the best team in the league by far. Saint Mary's and BYU aren't quite as good as expected at this point. Santa Clara definitely is much better.
CCW: That's pretty close to correct. Saint Mary's made a great run at Gonzaga and then won at BYU on Matthew Dellavedova's 35-foot runner at the buzzer, so they may end up as the primary challenger. BYU losing that game pushes the Cougars' profile down another notch and makes this potentially closer to a 1-bid league. And what about (4-0) San Diego eating up wins at the Slim Gym?
DCW: Still like Valpo as the league favorite, but can Illinois-Chicago provide a surprise challenge? The Flames have wins over Iona, Mercer and Northwestern already. Cleveland State should also be right there as Gary Waters has another good club. Detroit has disappointed thus far.
CCW: Wright State is the sole unbeaten, with Valpo, Detroit and Cleveland State in hot pursuit. Tough, competitive league. The conference tournament should be crazy.
DCW: Confirmed: This is not a good year for the league. Memphis clanged its opportunity at Battle 4 Atlantis and appears in some disarray. Marshall and UTEP have disappointed. SMU is 8-1 with a couple of not-entirely-bad wins! Southern Miss is also better than expected, for whatever it's worth.
CCW: Mehhhhhhh. Memphis, flawed or not, is going to crush most of this league. They have a couple semi-tests late in their schedule. Not good times.
DCW: The pecking order looks solidly intact. Murray State and Belmont are both solid, if not great. Murray State hosts the Bruins in the only regular-season meeting, so advantage Racers. Tennessee State has been a little disappointing thus far, albeit against a very challenging schedule.
CCW: Belmont is unbeaten. But so are Tennessee State and Eastern Kentucky, both of which are in Belmont's division, so they'll all play home-and-home. Belmont hosts both this weekend (Thursday and Saturday). Murray State lurks on the other side of the league at 3-1.
DCW: Ohio is very solid (despite a home loss to Robert Morris). Akron's also pretty good. Kent State's OK. The rest of the league is ... not great, despite a couple teams with decent records.
CCW: Nailed it in December. Those are your three contenders. If form holds, the team that avoids the semifinal against one of the other two will have a huge leg up for the auto bid.
DCW: Loyola and Iona have lived up to billing. Manhattan, Siena and Niagara have not. Still should be a competitive league season and exciting conference tournament. Maybe the best of the 1-bid leagues.
CCW: Maybe I spoke too soon? Niagara shares the league lead at 5-1 with Iona. Loyola (and Rider) is a game back. Conference tourney will be really fun and hotly contested, despite its Springfield, Mass., location that annoys everyone.
DCW: The Zombie Conference is trying to stay alive by grabbing every piece of flotsam it can find, including inviting for-profit Division II Grand Canyon University. New Mexico State and (especially) Denver have underachieved. Utah State looks like the clear favorite.
CCW: Utah State is finding itself and remains the clear favorite. Denver is playing much better and may be the prime challenger after all. The Pioneers host the Aggies this weekend. Louisiana Tech is raising its hand, too, at 5-0 so far.
DCW: Nothing's changed, other than maybe Bucknell is now a slight favorite over Lehigh. The battle for league POY between C.J. McCollum and Mike Muscala should also be sensational.
CCW: Uggggggggh. C.J. McCollum's broken foot is cheating us out of a season-long battle. He may make it back in time for the conference tourney, which potentially would give him and the Mountain Hawks one final shot at silencing the Sojka Psychos. It hurts Bucknell's at-large hopes, too. No one else in the league is in the RPI top 200.
DCW: As long as Nate Wolters is healthy, the Jackrabbits are a strong favorite. NDSU probably is the best bet to unseat them.
CCW: North Dakota State looked like the best bet. They already beat South Dakota State and stand 6-0, but lost leading scorer Taylor Braun for awhile to injury. Western Illinois, also 6-0, has a chance to stake a claim. They host the Bison and the Jackrabbits this weekend. The Jackrabbits have lost twice already.
DCW: MTSU remains the clear best team in the league. Western Kentucky has looked OK. North Texas has been disappointing. South Alabama is out to a 2-0 league start along with the Blue Raiders.
CCW: Carry on. The Blue Raiders should win the regular-season title but they'll need to take care of business in the tourney to make the NCAAs.
DCW: Princeton is still probably the favorite, but Harvard has looked pretty strong, led by freshman point guard Siyani Chambers. Columbia (won by 18 at Villanova) lurks as a legitimate title dark horse.
CCW: Harvard may be the nominal favorite at this point, but the title will go to either the Crimson or Princeton, with Columbia having an outside shot at a run.
DCW: The whole league has started off slower than expected, but the best teams still look like they will be the best teams and Monmouth definitely is making some noise. Robert Morris, with a strong win at Ohio, may be the slight favorite at this stage.
CCW: Who's the only undefeated team? Bryant, with former Ohio head man Tim O'Shea at the helm. The Bulldogs are in their first season of postseason eligibility and would make a great story. Wagner's figuring things out. Robert Morris is surprisingly 2-2. LIU, the preseason pick, has been derailed by injury and subpar play.
DCW: If you ignore touting Georgia Southern, the October assessment was correct. The Wildcats are easily the best team in the league. The bottom half of the league looks really weak.
CCW: Charleston and Davidson remain the best teams by a significant margin. This isn't a vintage year for this conference, though.
DCW: The Blue Hens did win the Virginia subregional and almost took out Kansas State at the Garden. Everything else has pretty much been a disaster. Drexel is one of the biggest disappointments in the nation. This was clearly a one-bid league three weeks into the season. That's really bad.
CCW: The league is awful by its normal standards. The champion may very well end up in Dayton. One of the best teams may be ineligible Towson. Drexel, somehow, is 5-11. Old Dominion is 2-15!
DCW: Vermont's been as advertised. Stony Brook has been better than advertised. Albany (a win at Washington) has been much better than advertised. It could be a much more interesting league season than expected.
CCW: How 'bout them Seawolves? The league's only unbeaten sits a game in the loss column ahead of both Albany and Vermont. This is another league that looks like a three-team race, meaning winning the regular-season crown will have huge bracket advantage (along with the NIT parachute).
DCW: I still like Mercer as the slight favorite, although KenPom picks Upstate at this stage.
CCW: Six teams are tied with two losses just four to six games into the league season. Florida Gulf Coast joins Mercer and USC Upstate as the presumptive favorites.
DCW: If you believe KenPom, I had the four contenders correct, but the magnitude of Oral Roberts' favorite status has dwindled significantly. Unbeaten (only three D-I wins, but still), defensively stingy Stephen F. Austin is making an early statement of intent. I'd still take the Golden Eagles.
CCW: Three of the contenders -- SFA, Oral Roberts and Northwestern State -- remain intact. The Lumberjacks lead the league at 5-0 and are 14-1 overall. Did someone say Southland at-large? Nah.
DCW: Montana and Weber State look like the two best teams and it's impossible to know the size of the gap between the two until Will Cherry comes back from injury and plays a few games.
CCW: Cherry is back and the Grizzlies are 6-0, but so are the Wildcats. No one else is better than .500. The two meet for the first time, at Montana, on Jan. 26.
DCW: It's hard to tell what Long Beach State will end up being until they get several transfers eligible in a couple of weeks, but they should win the league. Irvine and Fullerton have lived up to billing and Pacific is looking friskier than expected in Bob Thomason's final season on the bench.
CCW: Pretty much the same story. Long Beach should eventually emerge as the class of the conference in a somewhat down year.
DCW: Slow and stingy Savannah State still looks like the best team in the league. They were very competitive against solid nonconference foes and sport an extremely rare offensive (horrible)/defensive (excellent) points-per-possession split.
CCW: Norfolk State, NC Central, Hampton and Delaware State all are unbeaten (although at 4-0, 3-0, 2-0 and 1-0 respectively). Savannah State is 2-1 with a loss to Delaware State. If the right champ emerges, the MEAC could avoid the play-in round in the NCAAs. If it's NC Central, they could land a matchup with intra-city foe Duke.
DCW: The league will be a mess. KenPom has seven teams projected between 9-7 and 12-4. So far, this has been an awful league offensively. Only Charleston Southern is even at one point per possession for the season.
CCW: The cluster continues. Three teams are 3-0. Three others are 2-1. The South division looks to be the stronger of the two, for whatever it's worth.
DCW: Prairie View has played decently and picked up two legitimate D-I wins, including one against Houston. Texas Southern has shown some potential, especially in the double OT loss at Colorado.
CCW: Southern has emerged as the league favorite. Grambling has emerged as possibly the worst Division I team in the last several decades. Sad state of affairs in northern Louisiana.
DCW: NJIT is staking a claim to nominal league favorite, but KenPom has all five league members finishing between 3-5 and 5-3 at this point. More important is finding greener (auto-bid) pastures for next season. Utah Valley and UTPA (WAC), and Houston Baptist (Southland) are already on their way.
CCW: NJIT does appear to be the best team. The champ lands in the postseason CIT.