College Basketball Week in Review: The Battle for Conference Supremacy

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IJanuary 12, 2009

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What We Learned This Week

The ACC is loaded this year. But are they better than the Big East? Depth wise, not a chance. The Big East has nine teams that are legitimately NCAA worthy this year, while there are still a few that have a shot of playing their way in. Outside of the top four in the ACC, there are about four or five teams that can make a run at a bid, but I doubt the ACC gets more than five.

But it is the top four teams are the story of the ACC. Those four teams boast two of the three undefeated teams left in the country and three of the top four teams in the country in both polls.

The best of the bunch is Wake Forest (more on them in a bit), which is a bit of a surprise. A lot of people expected them to be good, but this? Duke and Clemson are also both better than expected.

The common thread between all three teams? Defense. While all three play different styles, it is the defensive side of the game where they hang their hat, which is why all three pose a threat to UNC.

Is there a conference that is more balanced, more competitive, or more topsy-turvy than the Missouri Valley? Just a week ago, people were talking about Illinois State as a possible top 25 team. Now? The Redbirds have two losses in conference. Just five games in, and there are six teams within a game of first place, no undefeated teams left in conference play, and the two league favorites (ISU, Creighton) are a game off the lead.

The Valley will probably end up with two or three teams good enough to make the tourney, but given how much these teams beat up on each other in conference play, I'd be amazed if more than one made it.


Cal 88, Washington 85 3OT

Washington looked to have this one wrapped up in regulation. The Huskies were up by as much as 11 in the second half and had an eight-point lead with three minutes to go. But Cal would score the last eight points, including a three by Patrick Christopher with 45 seconds left, to force the first OT at 58-58. Christopher hit another three to tie it up at 64 with 2:16 remaining in the first OT, but no one would score the rest of the period.

The second OT had some fireworks. Cal was down 75-70 after a Justin Dentmon three-point play, but Jerome Randle would score on Cal's next two possessions, with Dentmon going 1-2 from the line twice. After Dentmon missed a free throw with nine seconds left, Cal pushed the ball up the floor. Christopher missed a jumper, but D.J. Seeley got the rebound, scored, and was fouled. He hit the free throw to send it to a third OT.

In that third OT, Cal was down two with 15 seconds left when Theo Robertson completed a three-point play to give the Bears their first lead since 1-0 (how often do you see an overtime game, let alone a three overtime game, where one team essentially did not lead the entire game until the very end?). Christopher would hit two free throws with under a second left for the final margin.

Christopher finished the game with 27 points and 11 rebounds, while Randle added 23 and Robertson 18 for the Bears. Dentmon led the Huskies with 24, while Isaiah Thomas added 22 and Jon Brockman had 16 and 18 boards.


Kalin Lucas, Michigan State

Michigan State has regained their status among the elite teams in the country after impressive wins over Ohio State and Kansas. A big reason for that resurgence has been the play of Kalin Lucas (and not just this week—he has been fantastic in the last five games). This week, he averaged 21 ppg in the two games, but more importantly, he managed the games.

Lucas showed flashes of his potential last season, but playing alongside a guy like Drew Neitzel in a slow down offense is not what Lucas is going to excel at. The Spartans are pushing the ball much more this season, and Lucas is flourishing. It isn't just his speed and quickness that makes him so good playing this style—it is his decision making. You sag off of him defensively, he'll knock down a jumper. You crowd him, and he's going to the rim.

Most importantly, he doesn't turn the ball over. Only three times in 15 games has Lucas turned the ball over more than once. On the season, he has 85 assists and 18 turnovers. That's a 4.6:1 ratio.


Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons have a gaudy record and a top five ranking, but coming into this week they had yet to really prove themselves as a legitimate contender. They had many doubters, including me, when it came to whether they would be able to knock off UNC. They proved a lot of people wrong on Sunday night when they held off a late UNC rally to beat the Heels 92-89 in Winston-Salem.

What made the win all the more impressive is that neither James Johnson nor Al-Farouq Aminu really got it going. Jeff Teague went for 34 points, six boards, and four assists, while Chas McFarland added 20 with nine boards and two blocks.

Is there any team in the country with more NBA talent than the Deacs? Al-Farouq Aminu is a future lottery pick. James Johnson is a polished Aminu. Jeff Teague looked like a first team All-America last night and the second coming of Monta Ellis.

I knew Wake was going to be really good this year, but I don't think anyone could have predicted this. They are so long and athletic, it causes all kinds of problems defensively. UNC shot 35 percent from the field on Sunday and had at least two perimeter jump shots blocked.

The best part about this team is that they are so young. Teague and Johnson are sophomores, and Aminu is a freshman. If this team stays together for one more year, they could be scary.


Jan. 12—Texas @ Oklahoma: The Red River Rivalry, hardcourt edition.

Jan. 12—Notre Dame @ Louisville: Watching Samardo Samuels and Luke Harangody square off should be fun.

Jan. 13—Kentucky @ Tennessee: Battle between two of the favorites in the SEC East.

Jan. 14—Syracuse @ Georgetown: Who is going to match up with Greg Monroe?

Look at this Saturday schedule of games.

  • Notre Dame @ Syracuse: Can Tory Jackson slow down Jonny Flynn?
  • Georgetown @ Duke: Greg Monroe originally committed to Duke. Imagine the Blue Devils with him on their roster.
  • Wake Forest @ Clemson: There is going to be an absurd amount of athleticism on the floor for this one.
  • Arizona State @ UCLA: The two best teams in the Pac-10 square off.
  • Illinois @ Michigan State: Can the Illini handle the Michigan State athletes?
  • South Carolina @ Tennessee: We will get to find out if the Gamecocks are real.
  • Pitt @ Louisville: The Panthers get their first real test as No. 1.
  • Miami FL @ UNC: Can UNC win one in league play?
  • Arkansas @ Florida: Not sure anyone on Arkansas can stop Nick Calathes.