Suffice to say, this past week was not a good time to be undefeated. Just ask Arizona, Wyoming, Duke and Michigan.
All four squads received their first blemish at the hands of fellow conference rivals, which somewhat muddles this exercise. After all, is it bad for the Mountain West to lose its undefeated representative or good for it to demonstrate its overall depth?
Read on to see the answer and where the various conferences stand relative to each other at Week 11.
It was not a good week for the Missouri Valley Conference contenders that are not named Creighton.
Wichita State fell to Evansville, all but assuring the Shockers fall out of the Top 25. Indiana State dropped a game at Southern Illinois and Bradley lost both of its games this week.
Of course, that doesn’t even mention the fact that Illinois State is inexplicably 0-5 in the conference after a non-league schedule that saw the Redbirds beat Dayton and almost knock off Louisville and Northwestern. So much for an NCAA tournament spot.
The shining beacon for the MVC is and will continue to be Creighton. The Bluejays dominated two more opponents this week and will keep climbing in the polls all year if nobody else in the league challenges them.
A week ago I touted the emergence of Santa Clara as a great thing for the West Coast Conference. Naturally, the Broncos came out and lost both of their games this week and are now 1-3 in league play—the BYU loss was acceptable, but the one to Loyola Marymount was not.
Perhaps San Diego can take Santa Clara’s place as that fourth challenger to the Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s triumvirate. The Toreros are 3-0 in conference play and get bonus points for having one of the best nicknames in the country.
Still, this is the Zags' league to lose, and they took a giant step forward by defending home court against Saint Mary’s. A big nonconference game against Butler looms, but Gonzaga has a realistic chance to be a mainstay in the top 10 all year.
That is unless the 4-0 Cougars of BYU knock them off the WCC perch.
Don’t buy the story of Mississippi’s emergence just yet, even though the Rebels destroyed No. 10 Missouri this weekend.
Here’s a list of their nonconference victories: Mississippi Valley State, Coastal Carolina, Arkansas-Little Rock, McNeese State, Lipscomb, Rutgers, East Tennessee State, Loyola Marymount, San Francisco, Hawaii and Fordham. Hooray.
The Rebels also lost to Indiana State and Middle Tennessee, so let’s take their SEC title hopes with a grain of salt. Mississippi beating Missouri, who was without Laurence Bowers mind you, was probably worse in the long run for the league as a whole since it is looking for its top teams to establish themselves among the nation's best.
Elsewhere, Kentucky lost again, this time to a Texas A&M squad that counts a loss to Southern and a 21-point beatdown at the hands of Saint Louis on its resume. Does anyone, outside of the referees who botched a shot clock call in the game against Vanderbilt, believe in the Wildcats at this point?
Now that nonconference play is over, I’m not sure what the SEC can do to save its reputation this year. It probably wouldn’t hurt if Florida, Missouri and Kentucky started to dominate everyone else, but after this week I don’t think that will happen either.
Wait, is Xavier back from the dead? The perennial Atlantic 10 flag bearer had a rough go of it during nonconference play, but the Musketeers are 2-0 in league play and picked up an impressive victory over Temple this week.
Elsewhere, VCU is undefeated in conference games and looks like a Top 25 squad, Butler continues to roll and Charlotte is 14-2 even though nobody really believes in the 49ers (a 31-point loss to Miami will do that to you).
If Saint Louis and Saint Joseph’s can play like they are capable of, this has a chance to be a very deep league that competes for four or five bids in the NCAA tournament. The Hawks will have a big chance this week when they go to VCU to prove that they were deserving of the preseason praise they received.
For now I expect the A-10 to get more postseason bids than the SEC, although that is obviously subject to change over the next two months.
I wanted to shake things up a bit this week, and right now I believe that there are more quality teams in the Pac-12 than the Big 12.
The terribleness that is West Virginia and Texas is a big reason why I feel that way. It’s tough for any conference to have two teams that were expected to be NCAA tournament contenders (and a Top 25 squad in Texas’ case) struggle so mightily early on.
The Big 12 was also hurt by Oklahoma State’s loss to Oklahoma because the Cowboys were once a Top 25 team but have now lost three out of four, and the Sooners have already lost to the powerhouse that is Stephen F. Austin.
If Baylor and Kansas State continue to win and provide legitimate challengers to Kansas then I will probably move the Big 12 up in the near future. Baylor has a big chance this week against the Jayhawks.
For now, as always, this conference is just there to provide Kansas with some warm up games before the tournament starts. It's up to the other teams to change that.
There are three reasons why I moved the Pac-12 up this week: Oregon, Washington and UCLA.
There is no guarantee that any of those teams will last over the course of the season, so it is a precarious promotion, but the emergence of some challengers for Arizona helps the Pac-12’s credibility.
Washington won the league last year but struggled in nonconference play. However, the Huskies are off to a 3-0 start in the conference, and all three were road games. You can’t start much better than that.
UCLA of course was a preseason Final Four contender, but the Bruins were written off after early struggles. However, they are now 4-0 in the conference, and a team led primarily by freshmen appears to be slowly improving.
The Ducks knocked off undefeated Arizona this week (who didn’t beat an undefeated team in the past few days?) and are a triple-overtime loss away from being 15-1. There may not be a better team in the Pac-12 other than the Wildcats squad that Oregon just beat.
Andy Katz effectively summed up why the Mountain West ranks above three power conferences in 140 characters on his Twitter page this week.
Great start to the MWC season, arguably the most competitive league from top to bottom.
He’s right. There may not be any national championship-quality teams in the Mountain West, but there are a lot of really good ones.
New Mexico and San Diego State are both off to 2-0 starts in league play, Wyoming was undefeated until this week and UNLV may be the most talented of the entire bunch. Throw in Colorado State’s 13-3 start, which includes a 36-point beatdown of the ACC’s Virginia Tech, and the depth begins to show itself.
Alas, Boise State was the team of the week in the MWC, as the Broncos moved to 13-2 by giving Wyoming its first loss of the season. Most impressively, Boise did so without the services of four of its players, including the team’s leading scorer, thanks to a suspension.
North Carolina State was picked to win the ACC in the preseason, but early losses to Michigan and Oklahoma State removed them from the public’s consciousness for a while.
Well, welcome back to the public eye, Wolfpack. NC State knocked off Duke this weekend in one of the most impressive showings for any team all season and left a bit of doubt in a Blue Devils squad that is suffering from injuries in the process.
If the Wolfpack play like that for the rest of the season, don’t be surprised if they ride that momentum to an ACC crown after all. Of course, Duke will have something to say about that when everyone is healthy again.
Other than those top two teams, there isn’t much left in the conference. Perhaps Miami is legitimate at 3-0 in conference play, but Maryland has fallen off the map with two straight losses and North Carolina could be battling for a mere NCAA tournament bid this year.
Welcome to the party that is Big East contention Marquette, at least for the time being. After a rough nonconference run that included an inexplicable loss to Green Bay, the Golden Eagles picked up three impressive league wins over Connecticut, Georgetown and Pittsburgh.
All three of those squads have spent time in the Top 25 this season.
Syracuse and Louisville are as good of a one-two punch as any conference has, which means winning the Big East may be out of the question for anyone else. However, where the Big East thrives that leagues like the ACC do not is in the second-tier.
Teams like Georgetown, Cincinnati, Notre Dame and even Connecticut have enough talent to knock off anyone on any given day, so the league race should be one of the more entertaining ones to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
Since we are riding Andy Katz’ Twitter page hard this week, here is what he had to say about the Big Ten this week.
The Big Ten is the best conference this season because it has the most teams capable of making the Final Four. Two of them on display at IU.
The two he was talking about were Minnesota and Indiana, who played a bizarre game that saw two blowouts occur in one contest. The Hoosiers ran the Gophers out of the building in the first half, but Tubby Smith’s squad almost completed an incredible comeback late by dominating the second half.
Elsewhere in the Big Ten Ohio State knocked Michigan from the ranks of the undefeated and went 2-0 this week, which at least temporarily puts the Buckeyes back in the Big Ten title discussion (temporarily being the key word if they cannot improve on their half-court offense).
Wisconsin also put a licking on Illinois. I’m starting to believe in the Badgers again, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they climb to their obligatory No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the tournament before ducking out in the Sweet 16 (a Wisconsin ritual).
Even though all these great teams will continue to put dents in each others’ records over the course of the year, the Big Ten is far and away the best conference right now.