It’s been an enlightening season in college basketball. The blinders appear to have come off a vast majority and respect is being shown to some lesser lights that deserve it, from major schools to smaller ones.
Still, it seems a little extra insight might be in order … or at least a tweaking of respective grading systems such as the RPI and BPI – when it comes to conferences.
Sure, a mid-major circuit seems worthy of top-five acclaim – but the Mountain West, at No. 2, right behind the Big Ten?
No offense, but it doesn’t really compute, not when you compare the MWC to the Atlantic 10. Neither outfit needs to bow down to the big boys anymore. They’ve proven to be worthy opposition for any level. But if you stack up the resumes thus far in 2012-13, how does the A-10 stand behind the MWC at all, never mind five spots?
Think about it. New Mexico is the standard for the latter’s excellence. It leads the MWC with 22 wins, it has a victory over a top-10 team out of conference, and it ranks third in the RPI, behind only Duke and Miami (really?). It also got smoked by Saint Louis, which has been far down the recognized pecking order in the A-10 all season, on New Year’s Eve.
The only other matchup between the league occurred between two middle-of-the-pack programs, Air Force and Richmond. The Spiders, representing the A-10, rolled to a 91-68 victory.
New Mexico’s win at No. 8 Cincinnati is the signature victory for the MWC this season. Butler, meanwhile, beat No. 1 Indiana and Temple topped No. 3 Syracuse while carrying the A-10 banner.
Considering Butler (twice) and Virginia Commonwealth are recent Final Four entrants, it’s amazing to think that neither is as high as New Mexico or Colorado State in either the RPI or BPI.
Of course, Saint Louis is the ultimate example of the Dangerfield Complex. The Billikens not only get no respect nationally, but none in the A-10, either. They are, mostly, an afterthought when top teams in the conference are mentioned, trailing Butler, VCU, Temple and, this season, La Salle, on the accolades meter, and, yet, they stand atop the conference standings and have manhandled both Butler and VCU head-to-head.
Having lost their head coach, Rick Majerus, for the season due to illness and then for good to death, they are an amazing amalgamation of anonymous performers that seems to drain foes game after game in total nondescript fashion. The one 1,000-point scorer on the roster, guard Kwamain Mitchell, no longer puts up shots, but creates them for others. Saint Louis has one starter from Australia, another from New Zealand and its top player, Dwayne Ellis (11.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg), is built more like a defensive end than a forward.
No matter. The Billikens just win, and they’re the best in the conference thus far whether anyone cares to notice or not.
Just like their conference is the best among the non-BCS lot.
Miami, 22-3. ’Canes have calmed down on the annihilating opposition front, but they remain unbeaten in the ACC and appear to have all the pieces to contend for a national title. They’re balanced – Durand Scott, Shane Larkin and Kenny Kadji – all average 13 ppg or better, they’re deep and they can play big or small. Are they unbeatable? No. But neither is any other team this season.
Indiana, 24-3. Huge win at Michigan State Tuesday, but, holy smokes, Dickie V and Magic, slow your roll on the Hoosiers’ Victor Olidapo. MJ and D-Wade comparisons? The dude isn’t even the dominant player on IU’s roster – yet. Cody Zeller still is.
Gonzaga, 25-2. Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris give the Bulldogs as good an inside 1-2 punch as there is in the country. Still, they can’t afford to fall asleep tonight against 19-win Santa Clara and 2,000-point scorer Kevin Foster.
Duke, 22-3. Thank you, Florida. With the Gators getting upset at Missouri, there really is no justification to keep the Blue Devils out of the mix here. They’re annoying, they’re boring, they’re “classic Duke” – capable of winning it all, or at least having most fans convinced they are.
Michigan State, 22-5. The only thing losing to IU did was confirm the Spartans deserve to be here. They are right there, a typical Tom Izzo team – tough, physical, able to wear down the opposition. With Keith Appling leading the way, they’ll be a brutal “out” in the NCAA tournament.
Teams to watch: Florida 21-4, Syracuse 21-4, Michigan 22-4.
Gonzaga, 25-2. As if Olynyk and Harris aren’t enough to handle, the Zag most likely to go off roams along the perimeter: Kevin Pangos, who blistered Baylor for 31 earlier this season. He also has no fear of driving the lane and creating some kind of kooky shot … that usually goes in.
Saint Louis, 20-5. The Billikens – not Butler, not VCU – sit atop the A-10 standings, and after Tuesday night’s 14-point trouncing of the Rams, they’ve now embarrassed both of their more ballyhooed conference rivals.
Butler, 22-5. The Bulldogs have been leaking a little oil, winning just six of the last nine, but they have a chance to make a statement in the A-10 stretch run, beginning with Friday’s game vs. Saint Louis.
Virginia Commonwealth, 21-6. The Rams’ feverish pressure didn’t even get a rise out of Saint Louis, but they remain on track for an NCAA bid, regardless of what happens in the A-10 tournament.
New Mexico, 22-4. The Lobos have a MWC showdown at 21-win Colorado State on Saturday.
Teams to watch: Memphis 22-3; Colorado State 21-4; Saint Louis 19-5; Saint Mary’s 22-5.
Khalif Wyatt, Temple, senior G. With apologies to Olidapo crushers Dickie V, Magic and Philly media who somehow seem to think others are in the running for Big Five player of the year, Wyatt is the best, most clutch player in the country these eyes have witnessed this season. The Owls remain in the running for an NCAA bid at this point; they’d have a losing record without this guy. Numbers: 19.8 ppg, 4.0 apg, never-ending display of facial expressions to reveal elation, exasperation, acceptance and disdain.
Doug McDermott, Creighton, junior F. The 2012 All-American’s game seemed to go the same as his Bluejays’ season during a recent three-game losing streak: down. He’s still in the running, but he’s not the front-runner anymore. Numbers: 22.5 pgg, 7.8 rpg.
Nate Wolters, South Dakota State, senior G. Too hard to ignore what this guy has done anymore. He posted 30 against Alabama, 28 vs. New Mexico and tallied an NCAA season high of 53 in another game. Numbers: 22.8, 5.6 rpg, 5.4 apg.
Mike Muscala, Bucknell, senior C. The big fella returns to the list after an abbreviated departure, kinda like his Bison’s chances for the Patriot League’s automatic NCAA bid. Numbers: 19.1 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 2.6 apg.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga, junior C. The Ted Nugent lookalike is quite the story, coming off a redshirt year to spark the Zags’ rise in national circles. Numbers: 18.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg., .649 FG.
Players to watch: Mason Plumlee, Duke; Trey Burke, Michigan.