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

Oregon Comes Back To Beat Cal

Written by Austin Meek at Register Guard.com

A bad trip to the Bay Area served as the springboard for Oregon’s run to the Pac-12 basketball title last season.

A similar result this week could be the death knell for Oregon’s chances of a repeat. The No. 6 Ducks (24-4, 13-2 Pac-12) trail Arizona by one game with three remaining in the regular season, leaving little margin for error when Oregon faces California at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.

“If we want to continue to try to accomplish some things we set out early to do, we’re going to have to play well and take care of business,” coach Dana Altman said. “Cal is fighting for an NCAA berth and they’ll give us everything. Their physicality is a tough matchup for us.”

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Cal as a No. 10 seed in his latest mock bracket, one of five Pac-12 teams projected in the field. At 18-8 and 9-5 in conference play, the Bears will be looking to snag a marquee victory after stumbling Friday at Stanford.

Playing at home should give the Bears a boost. Cal is 32-2 at Haas Pavilion over the past two seasons, including an 83-63 drubbing of the Ducks last February.

“They punched us in the mouth early and we didn’t really respond,” guard Casey Benson said. “We can’t let that happen this year. We’ve got to come out with energy, come out with focus and be ready to go from the tip.”

Oregon got the better of Cal earlier this season, beating the Bears 86-63 at Matthew Knight Arena. Forward Ivan Rabb, a projected first-round pick in many mock drafts, went 2-for-10 from the floor and scored six points, well below his season average of 14.8.

 “We don’t want him to get going,” forward Chris Boucher said. “We need to play hard from the first minute. Every time there’s a sub, every guy that goes on him, we try to make it hard for him. We try to jump on him first so he can’t have a good start.”

Cal has one of the Pac-12’s most imposing front lines with the 6-foot-11 Rabb, 7-0 Kingsley Okoroh and 7-1 Kameron Rooks. Boucher said he and Jordan Bell are looking forward to the challenge.

“Me and Jordan, whoever we play, we play hard,” Boucher said. “We’re trying to show that we’re the best. Me and Jordan take that really personally. We want to show that we’re capable of guarding anybody in the league.”

The Ducks can expect a grind-it-out game plan from the Bears, who lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense. Cal also leads the league in offensive rebounding, which could expose an issue Altman has been harping on the Ducks to correct.

“Cal killed us with offensive rebounds last time,” Altman said, referencing the Bears’ 19 offensive boards in the first meeting. “We’re going to have to do a much better job than we did the first time.”

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UCLA Comebacks to Beat #5 Oregon

Written by Kyle Boone at CBSSports.com

Coming off a stunning 27-point throttling of Arizona on Saturday, No. 5 Oregon wanted to establish a similar dominance again on the road vs. No. 10 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday.

The Ducks did just that for a while, but squandered a 19-point lead in a 82-79 loss to the Bruins.

With a red-hot start from Dillon Brooks, who finished with 19 points, Oregon silenced the home crowd in the first half. The stingy Ducks defense stifled the high-flying UCLA offense as the Bruins’ rhythm was amiss offensively, scrounging up just 39 points and notching zero fast-break points before halftime.

But the second half was a completely different story. The shots came pouring in as the friendly rims favored the home team, and Lonzo Ball came alive down the stretch to lead the team to a thrilling comeback victory.

Ball finished with 15 points and led the team in rebounding with 11 but only had one assist.

Here are four takeaways from the Bruins’ toppling of the Ducks:

1. UCLA proved it can overcome bad defense with good offense

This game wasn’t one where the Bruins turned on the defensive motor and got after Oregon to play catch-up. It was one where UCLA finally got its best player in Ball playing up to his potential and making everyone around him better when he caught fire.

Against a team like Oregon, which boasts the 16th most efficient adjusted defense in the country, the Ducks had no answer for UCLA’s spread attack in the second half. Five players scored in double figures to cap the night, so there wasn’t any one particular player to hone in on.

When Ball and Bryce Alford started stroking it from long-range, it opened up opportunities elsewhere when the defense keyed in on them. The quiet MVP of the night off the bench, Aaron Holiday, hit shot after shot down the stretch, including one that gave UCLA its first lead.

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Oregon Loses Star Dillon Brooks


Written by Matt Norlander

Oregon, which tied a school record for most consecutive wins at 15 on Thursday night, may have taken on a Pyrrhic victory in the process.

The 11th-ranked, 17-2 Ducks cruised past Cal, 86-63, but lost star player and preseason All-American Dillon Brooks in the process. After putting 10 points to his name and looking en route to one of his stronger games of the season, Brooks suffered an injury to his lower left leg in the first half. That’s all that was disclosed as of late Thursday/early Friday morning. In Oregon’s postgame press conference, Ducks coach Dana Altman added just this information on Brooks’ injury.

So it’s a wait-and-see. This comes three days removed from Creighton losing its best player for the season, and one day removed from Indiana watching its best pro prospect go down for an undetermined amount of time. Like Oregon, Creighton and Indiana can threaten just about anyone in the country when their offense is fully healthy. Let this Brooks scare be the last one we see this season in college hoops, m’kay?

Brooks was averaging 13.6 points heading into Thursday’s game. He’s the guy who hit the winning shot earlier this season to give UCLA its only loss. And yes, perhaps you recognize the name because Brooks was the player involved in a 48-hour media frenzy last March, after Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski lectured him after Brooks knocked Duke out of the tournament.

Without Brooks, Oregon’s Final Four hopes would take a huge hit, and the Pac-12 title would seemingly be bequeathed to UCLA. But perhaps this injury won’t be so severe. What’s key to remember is that Brooks missed the first four games of this season after surgery on his left foot over the summer. So if it’s a foot injury again — on the same foot — Ducks fans will be pearl-clutching. If it’s a leg issue, maybe Brooks isn’t sitting for a long time.

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Coach K with Egg on his Face


Written by Mark Cannizzaro at New York Post.com

The postgame handshake was slightly protracted.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski held onto the hand of Oregon star sophomore Dillon Brooks for just a little bit longer than the customary congratulatory pat-and-go after the Ducks dominated his Blue Devils in Thursday night’s West Region semifinal at the Honda Center.

Brooks, who had gone off for 22 points, five rebounds and six assists, had just launched a rainbow 3-pointer as an exclamation point to the Oregon rout before preening to the Duke bench and to the crowd.

Given that the Ducks were up by 11 points, the clock was bleeding toward 10 seconds and the Duke defenders had backed off in conceded defeat, you could make the argument those histrionics were unnecessary.

During their exchange on the sideline, Krzyzewski praised Brooks for being a great player, but also lectured him about showboating, according to Brooks — though the Duke coach denied doing so.

On Friday, in advance of Oregon’s showdown against Oklahoma for a Final Four berth, the Brooks-Coach K incident remained the topic of conversation, with Brooks and Oregon coach Dana Altman defusing it, putting forth their best Bill Belichick “we’re on to Oklahoma.’’

Altman said he instructed Brooks to take that last shot.

“At the end of the game there was a difference in the shot clock and the game clock and I told Dillon to shoot it,’’ Altman said. “So if anybody’s got a problem with it — it should be directed at me. He was acting on my orders. I didn’t think he’d make it. It was a 30-footer.

“Dillon is a competitor and he’s been fun to work with. It’s a dead issue as far as we’re concerned. We’re moving on to Oklahoma. I hope it’s a dead issue for everybody else.’’

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Oregon Beats Former Champs in Duke, Makes Elite Eight


Written by Bill Reiter at CBSSports.com

The Oregon locker room was frenetic with the kind of joy that is earned but in no way surprising. The Duke locker room was a muted, antiseptic space where seasons go to end. And the difference between them after the Ducks’ 82-68 dismantling of the Blue Devils was as much a reality correction as a runaway victory.

This was real: Oregon, the most underrated and under-appreciated powerhouse in college hoops, doesn’t need believers to power its way to the top of the NCAA hierarchy. It proved that. It can win, Major League-style, the whole damn thing with or without the kind of belief and respect we too often bestow on Duke simply because it is Duke.

And this was an illusion: The 2015-16 Duke Blue Devils. They were never last season’s team, and they were never going to be next season’s group. All they shared with last season’s champion and next season’s youth-infused, one-and-done-powered contender was that all-powerful name.

Thursday’s West Region semifinal wasn’t just an entry to the Elite Eight, or even a sliver of respectability for the Pac-12, which could claim little after the first two rounds of the tournament. What happened was a reminder that brands and impressions may rule most days, but all of that goes in the trash heap when the game is played.

The gulf between how these two teams were viewed was as stark and inverted as what happened at the Honda Center.

Duke was the No. 5 team in the preseason poll. Oregon didn’t crack the Top 25.

Duke was the team to fear, the team that knew how to win, the team with Coach K. Oregon was that West Coast team that would get a lesson in greatness from a real program, with a head coach who had never been to an Elite Eight, from a conference that was a joke.

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NCAA West Region Preview


Written by Ken Bikoff at CampusInsiders.com

Oregon was somewhat surprising as a No. 1 seed, but the Ducks obviously impressed the selection committee enough to pull it down. Now the challenge becomes living up to the label.

The Pac-12 got a lot of love on Selection Sunday, and for the Ducks to win the regular-season league title and the Pac-12 Tournament title in such convincing fashion was something to behold. Their 31-point demolition of Utah in the championship game certainly showed what the Ducks are capable of.

The fact that there has been so much surprise over their landing a top seed could help Oregon. This has been an under-the-radar team all year, and with the clamor that they aren’t deserving of the honor, the Ducks could pull together and make a run.

Toughest call

The bracket is filled with intriguing games, from No. 8 Saint Joseph’s taking on No. 9 Cincinnati to No. 7 Oregon State battling No. 10 VCU. But for our money, we’re fascinated by the No. 6 Texas Longhorns taking on No. 11 Northern Iowa.

The Panthers have experience after playing in the NCAA Tournament last season, and they beat then-No. 1 North Carolina back in November. They also knocked off then-No. 5 Iowa State and beat Wichita State twice this season. UNI suffered a hiccup during conference play and were inconsistent for a stretch, but they closed the year on a 12-1 run and feature good balance.

Texas, meanwhile, has been through the wringer in the Big 12 and might take the Panthers a bit lightly. The Longhorns also have looked fatigued down the stretch, which could make them ripe for the picking.

Best possible second-round matchup

If No. 4 Duke and No. 5 Baylor both get through their first-round games, they’ll have a fantastic battle in Providence. Duke has been vulnerable this season, and although Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram have been great, they have been bothered by teams with good length. That’s exactly what Baylor brings to the floor, and the Bears are battle hardened after the tough Big 12 race. BU has been on the losing end of some games of late, but their competition has been top notch, and Baylor could be looking at pulling an upset.

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QB Transfer Chaos: How Russell Wilson Changed NCAAF

Written by Chantel Jennings at ESPN.com

In December, college football fans were stunned when a flurry of transfers — many of them quarterbacks who were eligible to play immediately — took over the news cycle.

Trevor Knight was going from Oklahoma to Texas A&M, where he could play right away. And Oregon, for a second straight year, locked up an FCS star, Montana State’s Dakota Prukop, who’s the favorite to take over the Ducks’ high-powered offense.

Such moves have created a tension between recruiting for the long-term (blue-chip high school quarterbacks) and looking for the quick fix (fifth-year grad transfers). So where do we go from here?

Let’s start at the beginning and look at the future NFL star responsible for shaking up the idea of where schools could look to find a starting quarterback.

THE RUSSELL WILSON EFFECT

Though it’s former NC State and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson who often gets the credit for bringing the graduate transfer rule to the forefront of college football players, coaches and fans’ minds, the credit might be due elsewhere.

After all, it was Mike Glennon who got the job that forced Wilson out and made him look at other options on the college football landscape. Without Glennon, maybe there would be no Wilson Effect.

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