First Take: How Do They Compare?
An early looks at how the conferences line up…
Boy talk about your slow nights, but I can’t really fault the thousands of students taking their final exams right now – I know my younger brother is in the midst of his as I write this.
Only ten games on the docket for Monday evening, with Georgia Tech the only ranked squad in action. The 21st-ranked Yellow Jackets had little trouble dispensing of Chattanooga 95-64 while shooting a scintillating 61 percent from the floor. Junior forward Gani Lawal was a MAN, scoring a season best 29 points on 8-8 shooting from the floor and 13-19 shooting from the line. These were the types of games that were characteristic of the big man early last season when he first exploded onto the scene, but opposing defenses have been keying in on him more this season. He’s already notched a few double-doubles in Tech’s first eight games, but with Derrick Favors and Mfon Udofia along for the ride this year, the upperclassman hasn’t needed to be as much of a producer.
In a Bayou battle, LSU cruised past Southeastern Louisiana 77-60 thanks to a monster showing from forward Tasmin Mitchell. The senior is a great player who has never quite gotten his due because he was always stuck behind a bigger name (most recently Marcus Thornton) but now he is getting the chance to be the focal point of the Tigers attack. An athletic 6-7 forward, there was never a question about his ability to score and we knew he was a solid attacker on the glass, but 24 points and 18 rebounds is just well beyond what Mitchell generally produces. Granted, when it comes against lesser competition there is always reason for pause, but with three straight games of 24+ points and three double digit rebound games this season, SEC teams have been warned.
In a game that few people saw and probably less even cared about, Florida Gulf Coast held off South Carolina Upstate 86-82. You can thank USC Upstate junior guard Josh Chavis for putting together arguably the most noteworthy performance of the night. The Greensboro native entered the night averaging a modest 7.1 points per game and had made exactly 1-of-16 shot attempts from beyond the arc. In the loss to FGC though, the diminutive guard scored 34 points while connecting on 10-of-14 three-pointers. How’s that for overachieving?
With not much to recap from last night I though today would be a good time to look at how the conferences are stacking up with conference play just a couple of weeks away from getting completely underway.
A week ago I would have said the Big Ten was the best conference in the country top to bottom; then Evan Turner got hurt. With Ohio State suddenly a middle of the pack kind of squad, the conference loses one of its marquee powers which allows – believe it or not – the Big East to leapfrog to the top of the pile. Syracuse, West Virginia and Villanova are all elite level teams, I don’t care if the Wildcats lost to Temple. The Orange have already made plenty of noise this season while the Mountaineers continue to just roll along, they won’t really impress until they start taking down some conference opponents. Add in a Georgetown team which has yet to lose, Connecticut who has proven to be very good even in defeat and an overachieving Cincinnati team and you have as strong of a top six as anyone in the country. The early success of perennial basement dwellers Seton Hall and St. John’s is reason to take the Big East seriously as well.
The Big 12 is almost in a dead heat for first right now, thanks in large part to Kansas and Texas who stand at one and two respectively in the polls. The surprise early success of Texas Tech and Kansas State is what propels the conference so high up though, few people expected the Red Raiders or Wildcats to get out of the gate as quickly as they did. Texas A&M is ranked, while Oklahoma looks like they are starting to right the ship a little bit after a sluggish start. Don’t forget a dangerous Baylor team that has already taken down Xavier, with their lone loss coming to a pesky Alabama team that had Purdue on the ropes a few days ago.
The ACC and Big Ten fall into place after that, but both appear to be top heavy at this point in time. Duke and North Carolina are clearly leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of their conference foes, though the Tar Heels are going to be a much better team in a couple of months than they are right now. After that it becomes a bit of a logjam with Georgia Tech, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest all in the mix. Florida State and Maryland have been hit or miss so far this season, but both certainly have the personnel to make a run.
Further west, the Big Ten is all about Purdue and Michigan State right now. The Boilermakers are a legitimate top ten team right now and the Spartans can’t really take too much criticism when their only losses are to Carolina and a strong Florida team. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State all fall into that second tier, with a slight edge going to the Badgers for their win over Duke earlier in the season. From there, it’s anyone’s guess with Michigan underachieving thus far and Penn State and Illinois having more questions than answers right now.
The SEC can be thrown in with those two conferences as well as the “oh so close” group thanks to the strength of the teams on top. Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi are all ranked with the Wildcats looking like a potential national title contender and the Gators having proven they belong high up on most boards. The Vols don’t have a signature win yet, but it’s hard to deny their talent and depth at every position. Ole Miss has crashed the polls as well thanks to the stellar duo of Chris Warren and Terrico White. Alabama and Mississippi State have had their moments but I’m not completely sold on them yet, still, they are strong teams for the middle of the pack right now.
How far has the Pac-10 fallen this season? So much so that I would put both the Atlantic-10 and the Mountain West Conference ahead of them at this point. Not one of the top Pac-10′s top four teams has a signature win of any kind right now – while the latter two leagues have been picking them up left and right. Xavier and Temple have both beaten ranked teams, Rhode Island has taken down schools from the Big East and ACC while Charlotte put a beat down on Louisville not that long ago. This isn’t even including a Dayton team that started the season ranked and whose only two losses are to Kansas State and Villanova.
In the MWC, New Mexico has cruised to a 10-0 start and a #19 ranking in the latest polls. BYU is solid and UNLV has been a BCS slayer, taking down Pittsburgh, Louisville and Arizona so far this season. The Wildcats have been a conference whipping post this season having been romped by San Diego State 63-46 over the weekend as well.
So there you go, an early, early shakedown of some of the top conferences right now. I’m sure this will spark some debate so feel free to have at it and keep enjoying the hoops.