Conference Call: Delving Outside the Big Six Power Conferences
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As we reach the end of January, the college basketball season is well into conference play.
Everyone is aware of the great races going on in the power conferences but what about some of the mid-major conferences around the country?
There is some good basketball being played outside the bigger conference and some interesting races developing.
Let’s take a look at five leagues that should be worth watching over the next month.
The A-10 has turned into an interesting race.
Preseason favorite Temple (13-5, 3-2) suffered its second conference loss over the weekend at Xavier and find themselves two games behind the Musketeers (13-5, 5-0); Temple’s other conference loss is to co-leader Duquesne (13-5, 5-0).
The surprising Dukes play at last place Fordham before hosting Dayton (15-5, 3-2) in a key game next weekend.
Richmond (15-5, 4-1) has two critical games this week that will go a long way in deciding the conference race. The Spiders go on the road to Dayton Tuesday, before hosting Xavier over the weekend.
Rhode Island (12-7, 3-2) figures to have some say in deciding the conference. The Rams suffered a critical loss at home to LaSalle over the weekend but have winnable road games this week at St. Louis (7-11, 2-3) and at UMass (11-7, 3-2).
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It will be interesting to see which teams emerge in the next two weeks, as well as if the A-10 will be a multiple bid conference as March approaches.
The CAA could be in position to get two teams into the tournament as long as things fall right in conference play.
However, due to the balance around the league this year, expect teams to beat up on each other as the season progresses.
Co-leaders VCU (15-5, 7-1) and Hofstra (13-6, 7-1) sit atop the conference after weekend wins over Old Dominion (14-5, 5-3) and William & Mary (6-13, 2-6), respectively. These two will square off next weekend at VCU,
George Mason (14-5, 6-2) is only a game behind the leaders after knocking off James Madison (15-5, 5-3) on Saturday. The Patriots have a crucial week playing three games in six days.
Delaware (10-8, 5-3) and Drexel (12-6, 4-4) are also in the mix but must find big wins in the next week to stay in contention.
Conference USA could be one of the more entertaining races in the country. Although the league doesn’t have the talented teams they had last year at the top of the league, it does have a lot more balance.
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To no one's surprise, UTEP (16-4, 4-1) and Memphis (15-4, 4-1) have jumped out as the early leaders. Both teams had important road wins over the weekend: The Miners disposed of Houston (11-7, 3-2) while the Tigers knocked off UAB (13-5, 3-2).
Preseason darling Central Florida (14-4, 1-4) has struggled in conference play and must go on the road to Memphis on Wednesday before they host UAB on Saturday.
East Carolina (11-8, 3-2), Tulsa (10-9, 3-2) and Southern Mississippi (14-5, 3-3) could also factor into the race but don’t appear to have enough to challenge the early frontrunners.
Not since the 2005-06 season has Butler not won or shared the Horizon league title.
That streak may be in jeopardy this year for the Bulldogs.
Butler (14-7, 6-3) trails both Cleveland St. (18-3, 7-2) and Valparaiso (15-6, 7-2) by a game. Interestingly, the Crusaders host the defending national runners-up next weekend.
Wright St. (13-8, 6-3) owns a win over Butler but must go on the road to Green Bay (11-10, 5-4) and Milwaukee (10-11, 5-5) next weekend.
Detroit (11-10, 5-4) is also still in the race but like Wright St., they must survive a road trip to Northern Wisconsin if they are to stay in contention.
Missouri Valley Conference
Can the Missouri Valley be a two bid conference when the NCAA tournament rolls around? That is the question that should be answered in the next couple of weeks.
As expected Missouri St. (16-4, 8-1) and Wichita St. (16-4, 7-2) have taken the early lead in The Valley.
However, Indiana St. (12-8, 7-2) has been the early surprise.
The Sycamores could easily be sharing the top spot with the Bears if not for falling in triple OT to the Shockers over the weekend.
Northern Iowa (15-6, 6-3) has recovered from a slow start to post five straight conference wins. The Panthers look to continue their hot streak when they host Creighton (13-8, 5-4) on Wednesday.
If Missouri St. and Wichita St. can pull away from the rest of the league and take care of business in the conference tourney, don’t be surprised if the MVC gets two into the Big Dance.
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