Early Favorites To Win College Basketball’s Power Conferences

Everything in college basketball changes when conference play begins.

Those in power have done wonders to drum up interest in early-season action, with big name teams being featured in tournaments and showcases for the first few months of the season. But blowout wins over cupcake opponents and sloppy early-season play are littered throughout that part of the schedule.

Conference play brings rivalries, road games with student-sections, and a landslide of upsets. In short, it’s the reason we love college basketball. On top of that, succeeding in one of America’s toughest conferences is the best way to prove yourself before March Madness tips off.

With that in mind, here are the early favorites to win the six biggest conferences in college hoops.

ACC – Duke

The Blue Devils might be the boring and obvious pick, but at this point in the season, they are also the most qualified. Duke’s overtime home loss to Stephen F. Austin was a bad mishap, but it’s their only blemish so far. Aside from that slip-up, Duke has impressed with wins over Michigan State, Kansas, Georgetown and Miami.

The ACC’s other top contender, Louisville, lost at home to Florida State this weekend and only gets to play Duke once this season — a road game at Cameron Indoor. Advantage to the Blue Devils.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Big East – Butler

It’s always somewhat shocking to pencil anyone into a Big East title that is not Villanova, yet Butler’s play so far this season has been eye-popping enough to earn this level of respect. The Bulldogs have just one loss, by one point at 4th-ranked Baylor.

Head coach LaVall Jordan has Butler winning games on the defensive end of the floor. The Bulldogs rank fourth in defensive efficiency, per KenPom, thanks to top-ten performances in 3-point percentage allowed, effective field goal percentage allowed and defensive rebounding rate. Butler fights to get stops and follows them with rebounds.

Offensively, everything churns through senior guard Kamar Baldwin. His 14.7 point per game average doesn’t fully explain how capable he is of taking over a game in crunch time.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten – Michigan State

A few weeks ago, when Ohio State was 9-0 and ranked in the top three in the AP Poll, this answer would have been different. Back then, Michigan State was just 6-3 and clearly had some issues on the offensive end.

Since December 8, Ohio State has lost three of its last five games, while Michigan State has sparked a six-game winning streak. The Spartans are now two games ahead of the Buckeyes in the loss column in Big Ten play and sit a full 1.5 games ahead of the rest of the conference in the standings.

Make no mistake — the Big Ten is college basketball’s toughest conference and will be an absolute battle all season long. Even so, any team eager to compete for the title will need to go into the Breslin Center in East Lansing and win. With Tom Izzo on the sidelines and Cassius Winston patrolling the court for Sparty, that’s not likely to happen much, if at all, this season.

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Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports
By Shane McNichol  |  Last updated 1/7/20

Kentucky Barely Misses Chance To Beat Kansas

Written by Myron Medcalf at ESPN.com

The national preseason hype centered on Duke’s Marvin Bagley IIIand Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., a pair of freshmen who will fight for the No. 1 spot in next summer’s NBA draft.

DeAndre Ayton’s arrival at Arizona made Sean Miller’s first trip to the Final Four seem possible and perhaps likely come April. Grayson Allen and Miles Bridges had returned to torch the field anew. Kansas and Villanova entered the season stacked with the talent to reach the last weekend again.

But where was the perennial, they-could-win-it-all buzz for the Kentucky Wildcats?

John Calipari had assembled another flock of five-stars — per the norm — but Kevin Knox and P.J. Washington hadn’t been welcomed by the masses with the adoration that typically accompanies Kentucky freshman classes.

Tuesday’s Champions Classic offered the Wildcats a chance to prove they can dance with the best, even though they lack showstoppers like De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, last season’s phone-a-friend heroes who always seemed to bail the squad out.

Instead, the Wildcats emerged as a young team with potential but no proven catalyst. No John Wall or Karl-Anthony Towns or Devin Booker. No give-him-the-ball-and-we’re-good player they could find in a tight game.

Kentucky’s 65-61 loss to Kansas featured a 3-for-13 effort from the 3-point line, a 12-for-18 clip from the free throw line and 18 turnovers.

This is probably not the 2012-13 Kentucky team that stumbled into the NIT and lost in the first round. But keep dreaming if you think this is anything close to the 2014-15 team that won 38 of 39 games.

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Oregon Shocks Kansas, Makes First Final Four Since 1939

Written by Marc Tracy at New York Times.com

For all of the storied history they can boast, the Kansas Jayhawks were not in the very first Final Four. The Oregon Ducks were.

As their drought approaches eight decades, the Ducks will make their triumphant return.

“Since 1939,” Ducks Coach Dana Altman said. “We waited a long time.”

In what was for all practical purposes a home game for top-seeded Kansas, Oregon delivered a 74-60 stunner on Saturday night, putting down speed bumps in front of the Jayhawks’ ordinarily turbocharged offense and displaying remarkable marksmanship to pull off an upset that has brought them closer to their second national championship than they have ever been.

The third-seeded Ducks enter their second Final Four assured that they will face another blue-blood opponent. Next Saturday, in the national semifinals in Glendale, Ariz., they will play the winner of Sunday’s game between North Carolina and Kentucky.

Had Oregon (33-5) written a checklist for everything that needed to happen for them to advance, it is difficult to think of a single box they could not check off after the game.

Jordan Bell being a monster down-low? Check.

Bell, a 6-foot-9 junior, showed why he was named the Pacific-12 defensive player of the year. He had assumed the role of top shot-blocker from Chris Boucher, who was lost to injury during the conference tournament, and was a force against the Jayhawks. Bell was a force against the Jayhawks, blocking eight shots and extending possessions, with 7 of his 13 rebounds coming on offense. He even found ways to create his own shots, chipping in 11 points.

Do the math: He was two blocks from a triple-double, still a rarity in the college game.

Altman said he had never seen Bell play so well.

“He was Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher together,” Altman said.

Tremendous shooting? Check.

In the first half, Oregon made 60 percent of its shots — 58.3 percent from behind the arc, with seven 3-pointers. At the first-half buzzer, the sophomore Tyler Dorsey banked in his fourth 3-pointer — from nearly 30 feet away — to give the Ducks a 44-33 lead. By the end of the night, he had sunk six of 10 3-point shots en route to a game-high 27 points.

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Kansas Just Dominated Purdue

Written by George Schroder at USAToday.com

The evolution of this Kansas team might be nearing completion. All season, as the Jayhawks racked up victories, the story line was how they were clutch, and kept winning close games in a very tough Big 12. And while it was true enough, it also led to this question:

Could they keep doing it in the NCAA Tournament? Or could it be that one night the late shots wouldn’t go down, or an opponents’ would. Kansas wouldn’t make the critical steal or defensive stop. The other guys would. Life on a knife’s edge would finally cut at the worst possible time.

Instead, Kansas has found a new way to win: By overwhelming opponents, then annihilating them.

For a team with sights set on winning a national title, it’s a scary good development.

“We’re coming together,” sophomore forward Carlton Bragg said. “We’re getting tougher.”

They’re getting better.

Thursday night, playing on a virtual home court at the Sprint Center, the Jayhawks turned a grinder into a laugher, pulling away from Purdue during an impressive second-half stretch to win 98-66.

Kansas (31-4) will face No. 3 Oregon (32-5) on Sunday for a berth in the Final Four. Its performance against Purdue was reminiscent of one a few days earlier, in Tulsa in the Round of 32, against another Big Ten opponent. But Purdue was better than Michigan State. The Boilermakers, who won the Big Ten’s regular-season crown, seemingly had the strengths to exploit Kansas’ weaknesses, such as they are — the lack of interior size and especially depth.

Uh, nope.

The Boilermakers led by as many as eight points in the first half. And five minutes into the second half, they were down by only 58-54. But then Kansas just ran away.

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Previewing the Sweet 16 Matchups

Re-Seeding the Sweet 16

Written by Matt Norlander at CBSSports.com

From 68 to 16, let’s get down to re-seeding this field. It’s one of the strongest second-weekend groups ever, even with No. 1 overall Villanova out and odds-on title favorite Duke now gone as well.

Twelve of the top 16 teams seeded by the committee made the Sweet 16. That’s the second most in the past 20 years, per the NCAA.

Quick look at the regions: The East, almost always a top-two appealing regional, is a distant No. 4 this year. The South has three blue bloods, plus Butler, which knocked off Villanova twice this season, swept Xavier and beat Arizona. You’ll notice those latter two schools are still in the field. The West has Zaga-Zona, and yet West Virginia is the most intriguing dark horse left in the field. The Midwest has the Michigan factor, a Purdue team with a National Player of the Year candidate and a Kansas team that stormed through the first weekend.

In re-seeding the field, I look at how teams played in their past two games but also factor in what they did in the regular season. I’m also not abiding by the committee’s seed decisions. These are how I would power-rank/seed the 16 remaining teams based on résumé, how they’re playing now and who I think is best overall.

Let’s rock.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

With No. 1 overall seed Villanova out, Gonzaga is the easy choice here. The Bulldogs are the No. 1-ranked team in multiple metrics, and oh yeah, have lost only one freaking time this season. That’s three times fewer then the next-closest teams in college basketball. This also ranks as the best per-possession defense in college hoops. GU got a push, then a controversial break, against Northwestern, but this is the best Bulldogs team in program history. They got through the first part, now comes the hard part. Nigel Williams-Goss will have to re-establish himself as one of the top 10 players in America when he goes up against West Virginia’s dogged press. No one left in the field can match Gonzaga’s talented bigs: Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins, Killian Tillie.

2. Kansas Jayhawks

No team looked better the first weekend than Kansas, which breezed past UC Davis and then got some challenge from Michigan State before pulling away in the final six minutes. The 30-4 Jayhawks aren’t deep but their trio of Josh Jackson/Frank Mason/Devonte’ Graham looks as capable and dangerous now as it has all season. KU won the Big 12 by four games, Bill Self got past the Tom Izzo trap, and with Kansas getting its regional in Kansas City, this is setting up as a huge homecourt advantage situation. In talent and résumé, KU is a firm No. 2.

3. Arizona Wildcats

The Wildcats are 32-4! I think the bigness of their record is far overlooked. With Lauri Markkanen, Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen and Rawle Alkins, that quartet can go up against any other team’s best four in this tournament. The Wildcats won the Pac-12 tournament, had no problems with North Dakota, then looked good in beating Saint Mary’s in what was as competitive a game as I expected. Sean Miller’s team can win the national title this season. Markkanen has no match in this field.

4. UCLA Bruins

UCLA won at Kentucky, has a better offense and looked better in its two games than the Wildcats. I have to put the Bruins at No. 4 here. Great news is we get a DYNAMITE Sweet 16 matchup on Friday night in Memphis with these two teams. Lonzo Ball was spectacular in the second half of UCLA’s victory against Cincinnati, the final game of the second round. With the Bruins’ weapons, in addition to their road victories against Kentucky and Arizona, a fitting No. 4.

5. Kentucky Wildcats

Wildcats have won 13 straight. Feels like only UK fans realize that. John Calipari’s team got a tussle and a close call from Wichita State (loved that game), but with Bam Adebayo playing the way he is, it’s really tempting to say Kentucky’s a top-three team. It’s hard to mend that with the whole résumé, though. Interesting factor for me is Malik Monk. He has been quiet. Will the UCLA game bring out the best in him? I think so. And we get another round of De’Aaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball. Somebody pinch me!

6. West Virginia Mountaineers

The Mountaineers, which got past Bucknell and then did what they wanted against Notre Dame, rank sixth in KenPom. Won at Virginia, defeated Kansas, and now present a tantalizing challenge for Gonzaga. That game is the second best of the Sweet 16 matchups. WVU’s pressing style and Bob Huggins’ coaching, in my estimation, make this the sixth best team left in the field in terms of accomplishment, ability and résumé.

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Kansas And Frank Mason Have A Comeback For The Ages Against WVU

Written by Chip Patterson at CBSSports.com

Bill Self and his staff haven’t lost back-to-back games at Allen Fieldhouse since arriving at Kansas in 2003. He reminded the Jayhawks of that at halftime of Monday night’s 84-80 overtime win against West Virginia — when KU was trailing by seven, a deficit that would double with mere minutes to play — and the team responded with an effort down the stretch that was as crazy as it was clutch to cap one of the most memorable nights in the history of that storied building.

There’s a lot to unpack here, including Kansas’ almost miraculous rally, how West Virginia let it happen, and what it ultimately means for both teams. Let’s start with the victors, and the moment that things turned in Lawrence: when Kansas started to make its move from being down 64-50 with 2:45 to go to sending this game into overtime.

When Kansas started to have hope

West Virginia played as well as it could’ve played for about 30 minutes. Bob Huggins had a solid game plan (likely thanks to the win in Morgantown earlier this season) and stunned the home crowd with an early double-digit lead. As mentioned, the Mountaineers led by seven at halftime and every time Kansas threatened to make a run, there was an answer from Tarik Phillipor Elijah Macon.

That is, until Frank Mason went into takeover mode.

Mason didn’t shoot the ball well most of the night and did most of his damage at the free throw line, but he had some huge three-pointers to spark the comeback. Landen Lucas was a monster on the offensive boards, and by securing the rebound from a Devonte Graham missed three-pointer he kept the possession alive for Mason, who buried a triple with 2:21 remaining.

Timeout Kansas, and suddenly it’s a nine-point game. Two missed WVU free throws and a Devonte Graham three-pointer, and suddenly its a six-point game. The fans who had previously left Allen Fieldhouse thinking Kansas was about to be swept by West Virginia were pushing their way back into aisles from the section exits and the place was rocking.

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College Basketball Preview For Week of 2/13/17

Written by Eddie Timanus at USAToday.com

We’re now officially less than a month away from Selection Sunday.

As one might expect, college basketball fans around the country are experiencing the full range of emotions, from supreme confidence or cautious optimism to out-and-out panic. The top games on the upcoming weeknight slate will feature all of the above and then some.

Game of the week: No. 14 West Virginia at No. 3 Kansas, Monday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN — The host Jayhawks, seeking their 13th consecutive Big 12 title in the regular season, remain well-positioned for a No. 1 seed. This isn’t a free ticket to the Final Four to be sure, but generally speaking it offers an easier path than No. 2 seeds or lower would have to negotiate. Nevertheless, KU has endured more than a few close encounters of late in its Big 12 journey, not all of which have resulted in Jayhawks’ victories.

WVU, in fact, is one of the two squads owning a conference win against Bill Self’s team. A regular-season sweep won’t come easily, but the Mountaineers do have a deep bench that allows them to maintain the pressing style that coach Bob Huggins prefers. The field-goal accuracy isn’t always there for West Virginia, and a slow start in the hostile environs of Allen Fieldhouse could spell trouble.
Player to watch: Luke Kennard, Duke — The No. 19 Blue Devils are finally getting all their parts in working order, resulting in their current five-game winning streak. But Kennard has been the most consistent producer all season, and he’s kept the Duke ship afloat as his teammates worked their way back from injuries or suspensions. He carries an even 20-point scoring average into Wednesday’s major showdown at No. 13 Virginia (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
Conference to watch: Big Ten — The B1G usually arrives at the Big Dance with both quality and quantity. The league is conspicuously short on the former this year, as was made all too plain by its absence from the committee’s preliminary top 16 seeds released over the weekend. Several of the conference’s front-runners could still get there, of course. But they’ll face stiff challenges from the mid-tier league members that will have the equally urgent need to take advantage of dwindling opportunities to add heft to their body of work.
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Kansas Beats Kentucky 79-73

Written by Matt Norlander at CBSSports.com

College basketball’s main event this weekend ended in upset.

Kansas and Kentucky, the two winningest programs in college hoops history, put on a pretty good game in Rupp Arena. But the Wildcats, a flawed-but-dangerous team, one ranked fourth in the country but sure to take a steep drop in Monday’s polls, were upset 79-73 by the second-ranked Jayhawks (19-2) as freshman Josh Jacksonrecorded 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Kentucky has lost two straight; the Wildcats fell at Tennessee on Tuesday. The win will stabilize Kansas come Monday’s poll updates. KU was coming off a loss to West Virginia.

Kansas had 17 second-chance points, a zone defense that flummoxed the Wildcats (17-4) and a stabilizing presence in Jackson. He was the best player in the game, and he played 39 minutes. He looked more like a senior than freshman, and played like he was trying to earn a starting spot. Another typical development: Frank Mason IIIled Kansas in scoring (21 points).

Takeaways

1. No. 1 seed implications

I know you’re probably up to speed on your bracketology, but just in case here was the situation heading into Saturday’s game: Our Jerry Palm had Kansas as a No. 1 seed, the weakest of the four 1s. If you were thinking Kentucky was right there in the mix for a No. 1, you were mistaken. Kentucky was the strongest of the 3s, though.

This game and resume value for both teams meant a lot, of course. Kentucky needed it more, and had more to lose, because it was hosting and it plays in a far inferior conference and it lacked/still lacks top 40-type wins in comparison to Kansas. So this outcome will certainly have tangible effects come Selection Sunday, barring a double-digit winning streak.

The Wildcats have no chance of leapfrogging the Jayhawks for a No. 1 this season. KU is still in the driver’s seat to land on the top line. Kentucky’s 1-seed hopes aren’t totally gone, but with a 1-3 record against the four toughest opponents they’ve faced (UCLA, North Carolina,Louisville, Kansas), and with only one of those games being on the road, it likely means Kentucky will need to run the table in order to have a valid resume to contend for a No. 1 seed. Even, then, I could see it not being enough.

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Baylor Moves Into Top Spot of College Basketball Poll


Written by Gary Parrish at CBS Sports.com

It was August 2003 when Baylor introduced Scott Drew as its new men’s basketball coach. He was 32 years old and inheriting a program about to be placed on probation, hit with scholarship reductions and banned from playing non-league games in a season because of NCAA violations uncovered after one player (Carlton Dotson) murdered another player (Patrick Dennehy).

No coach has ever taken over more of a mess.

Predictably, Drew missed the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons and finished 11th or 12th in the Big 12 every time. But he broke through in 2008, made the NCAA Tournament after finishing fourth in the league, and that ended up being the first of six trips to the Big Dance in a nine-year span that includes two Elite Eights.

And now there’s this: Baylor is the new No. 1 in the CBS Sports Top 25 (and one).

That’s the result of the Bears improving to 14-0 Wednesday via a 65-63 victory over Iowa State while former No. 1, Villanova, lost 66-58 at Butler. Is Baylor really the nation’s best? I don’t know. But what I do know is that the Bears are one of only two undefeated teams remaining, and that they own wins over six top-55 KenPom schools – specifically Louisville, Xavier, Oregon, Iowa State, Michigan State and VCU.

Nobody can match that resume.

In other words, Baylor has earned this No. 1 ranking.

Villanova is now No. 2.

The complete Top 25 (and one) is below.

 

1

Baylor

The Bears are undefeated with six top-55 KenPom wins on their resume. No other team in the country has more than five top-55 KenPom wins. 1 14-0
2

Villanova

The Wildcats suffered their first loss since last March Wednesday at Butler. Their resume still features four top-55 KenPom wins – including victories at Purdue and at Creighton. 1 14-1
3

UCLA

Lonzo Ball got 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds in Friday’s win at Oregon State. The freshman point guard is averaging 14.3 points, 8.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds. 15-1
4

Kansas

The Jayhawks extended their home winning streak to 50 games via Tuesday’s victory over Kansas State. Josh Jackson had 22 points and nine rebounds against the Wildcats. 13-1
5

Kentucky

Malik Monk scored 26 points on 11 shots in Tuesday’s blowout of Texas A&M. The Wildcats have scored at least 100 points in five different games. 12-2

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