As the college basketball midpoint rapidly approaches, it’s anyone’s bet who will be battling it out in the field of 65 come March. However, one thing that we can be sure of is that the 2009 NCAA tournament will feature an overload of ACC and Big East talent.
In the eighth week of the season, both conferences placed a combined 13 teams into the Coaches Top 25 Poll. Both of these conferences have established themselves as the most powerful in the NCAA. However, the question remains—who is better?
On paper, the Big East, holding nine spots in the top 25, seems like the superior conference. Not only that, but not one of the 16 teams in the Big East has a losing record. The cellar dweller is DePaul, who currently stands at 8-8 on the year.
On the opposite end of the spectrum stands undefeated Pittsburgh (14-0). The Pittsburgh Panthers have not only established themselves as first in the Big East, but first in the country as well. Led by the strong inside presence of Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh is averaging over 77 points a game while keeping their opponents to under 60 ppg.
The Panthers have shown that they can hang with the best of them with a 16-point victory on the road against Georgetown (10-3) and an equally impressive road win over ACC title contender Florida State (10-3).
Don’t expect Pittsburgh to cruise to a Big East title though, with a team like the fifth-ranked Connecticut Huskies (13-1) close on their heels. UConn has been tested early and often in the first half of the season, coming up with big wins over Miami (11-3), Wisconsin (12-3), and an overtime win over then ranked Gonzaga (9-4). The Huskies' only loss came at the hands of No. 10 Georgetown at home.
UConn possess one of the most well-rounded offenses in college basketball, making them extremely difficult to stop. They can beat you inside with the big man play of Hasheem Thabeet (13.9 ppg, 10.7 rpg). Or if that fails, they can rely on the strong guard play of Jerome Dyson (14.2 ppg.).
If those two powerhouses don’t strike enough fear into the hearts of the opposition, then maybe the Syracuse Orange (15-1) will! Rounding out the top 10 in the ninth spot, Syracuse returns to the Big East stage with a bigger, better, and more mature roster then in years past.
Last year, suspensions and injuries crushed Syracuse’s hopes for an at-large bid to the big dance. This year, however, the Orange look to do more than just make it to the tournament. Look for Syracuse to go deep into possibly the Elite Eight.
Syracuse is led by the ferocious guard play of Jonny Flynn (16.8 ppg) and Eric Devendorf (13.9 ppg). As only a sophomore, Flynn seems poised to help Syracuse rise to the occasion on the national stage.
The Orange have already shown they can handle big-time competition with wins over Florida (13-2), Kansas (11-3), and Memphis (11-3). The only chink in their armor came at the hands of the Cleveland State Vikings (11-5). The Vikings sunk Syracuse on a 60-foot buzzer-beating three-pointer as time expired for a 72-69 win at Syracuse.
The Big East can definitely expect most of their losses to come inside the conference, with other teams like No. 10 Georgetown, No. 13 Notre Dame, No. 15 Marquette, No. 17 Villanova, No. 21 Louisville, and No. 22 West Virginia bringing fast on the heels of the leaders.
But does the quantity of Big East really match the quality of the talent in the ACC? For now, Pittsburgh holds the number one spot in the country. However, numbers two, three, and four have been taken over by the likes of the ACC.
Coming in at number two are the Duke Blue Devils (13-1). The Blue Devils have shown they can beat anyone with one of the best coaches in college basketball in Mike Krzyzewski.
Not once in my life have I ever underestimated Coach K’s ability to take one of his teams deep into NCAA tournament play. Krzyzewski has built an epic résumé with three national championships, three Final Fours, one Elite Eight, six Sweet 16s, and 24 NCAA Tournament appearances.
This year, the Blue Devils are looking to go deep into the tournament for the first time since their Sweet 16 appearance in 2006. This looks to be one of the Blue Devils' most potent offenses, with sophomore Kyle Singler (16.5 ppg) leading the way with great post play. Duke already has impressive wins over Michigan (13-2), No. 14 Purdue (11-4), and Davidson (10-2). Duke's only loss came in a road rematch against Michigan.
Sitting right beneath Duke is their conference rival, the No. 3 North Carolina Tar Heels (14-1). Backed by 2008 league MVP and All-American senior Tyler Hansbrough (22.9 ppg), the Tar Heels look poised to make an NCAA title run. North Carolina doesn’t just beat teams—they win in decisive fashion. This is a team that is truly playing like a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Hansbrough isn’t the only weapon in the UNC arsenal though. Ty Lawson (15.2 ppg) and Wayne Ellington (12.5 ppg) are currently engineering one of the best guard games in the country. This batch of superstars is dismantling their opponents by putting up over 94 points per game.
UNC has already proved they can handle the best the country has to offer with wins over Kentucky (11-4), No. 13 Notre Dame (11-3), and No. 12 Michigan State (12-2). UNC has come up short only once this season in a seven-point loss to Boston College. My only explanation for this game is that the Tar Heels played flat and deserved to lose this game. However, they do have the potential to win the National Championship.
North Carolina will face quite possibly their biggest test yet in their upcoming game against the No. 4 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (14-0).
Coming off a rebuilding year, the Demon Deacons are out to prove that they are among the best teams in the country. A win over North Carolina would go a long way for Wake Forest taking over the nation’s number two spot.
Wake Forest features one of the league's more balanced offensive fronts. All five starters are averaging nine points or better per game. Sophomore guard Jeff Teague has really raised his game from a year ago to become the go-to guy for the Demon Deacons. Teague is averaging 19.6 ppg and 4.2 apg.
Wake Forest has already bolstered their résumé with a big win over No. 23 Baylor (12-2). However, a win or a close loss to UNC is a must in order for Wake Forest to solidify themselves as a contender and not a pretender.
Rounding out the ranks of the ACC, we have No. 11 Clemson (15-0) and No. 24 Boston College (13-3). Clemson has yet to play any teams that would merit them a top 10 spot, but their undefeated record leaves them in the top 25 for the time being. Boston College recently upset UNC to join the top 25, but flopped in an embarrassing loss to Harvard and will more than likely drop out of the week nine rankings.
As for the rest of the ACC, there is not one team with a losing record among them. UVA brings up the rear at 7-5 but will most likely finish the season over .500.
It’s easy to say that the Big East is the better conference with what seems like an unending abundance of talent. I guess that would be true. However, the ACC presents three of the league's finest at the front of their roster in Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest, and teams like Clemson, Maryland (11-3), and Florida State (13-2) close on their heels.
I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that when it comes down to the Elite Eight, the ACC will overwhelm the Big East.