The tedious parade of bowl games is long over, the NFL season is not far from following . . . it's time to shift some focus to college basketball. All of the major conferences are duking it out and the drama — and quality of play — is good.
With that in mind, we’ll set the table for the six power conferences and also take a look at some of the little guys seeking to be this year’s Butler or VCU. All of this is leading up to the Final Four, which, after beguiling the city of Houston a year ago, makes a pit stop this year in New Orleans, where some memorable NCAA Tournament games have occurred in the past.
BIG 12: Somehow Baylor got no national love despite opening the season with 17 straights wins — and the two-straight losses since, including Saturday's 89-88 home setback to No. 5 Missouri, certainly isn't going to help.
Baylor has the tools to not just dominate the Big 12, but also to make a big splash come tourney time. I love its blend of parts.
Still, this will change, because the Bears have the tools to not just dominate the conference, but also to make a big splash come tourney time. I love their blend of parts. If Perry Jones III finds his rhythm and Baylor gets decent rebounding and defense from someone in the post, the sky is the limit.
That’s good news for the state’s hoops fans, because Texas and Texas A&M may be looking at the NCAA Tournament bubble based on lackluster non-conference performances.
ACC: The status of this conference continues to be North Carolina, Duke and pray for rain. ACC officials probably can’t wait for Syracuse and Pitt to get in there to shake things up.
In the meantime, the Tar Heels still appear to be the one to beat and a legitimate Final Four contender. Duke is lacking a point guard and still has some defensive issues with teams that can beat them off the drive, but this team is growing every game. After that, Virginia is showing a pulse, while Florida State had been disappointment before the big win over Duke.
BIG EAST: Distractions? What distractions?
Even with the Bernie Fine mess looming over it, Syracuse had disposed off all of its foes with relative ease, before falling for the first time Saturday night at Notre Dame. Still, the Orangemen are a legit No. 1 seed with a ridiculously deep and balanced team.
Georgetown, which was supposed to be rebuilding this year, has been great with a very young team. Seton Hall, a program that’s been dormant for a while, also finds itself right in the mix. On the down side, Pitt (11-9, 0-7 Big East) has dropped several head-scratchers and has fallen far, far from the Top 25, while Villanova is scuffling around at .500 (10-10).
BIG 10: Some would say that this conference can challenge the Big East for supremacy. Ohio State survived the early season injury woes of Jared Sullinger and is a legitimate national championship contender, while Tom Izzo has Michigan State humming again. The talk of the conference so far this year has been Indiana, which has risen from its doldrums and has wins over the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the country this year, even though the Hoosiers are only 3-4 in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin has slipped somewhat, losing a few games in Madison, which almost never happens. Nebraska has been predictably hopeless in its conference debut season.
PAC 10: Lacking a lot of good non-conference wins, this is looking like another mediocre campaign for this group of teams. California, Arizona and Washington should be the ones battling it out for the conference crown and tourney spots.
But Stanford (15-5, 5-3) has been moderately surprising, with coach Johnny Dawkins starting to turn things around. Weighing the conference down has been the disappointing play of UCLA, which dismissed its best player, Reeves Nelson, and is floundering around at 10-8, 3-3.
SEC: Were it not for a last second 3-pointer by Indiana’s Christian Watford in the best game of the season to date, Kentucky would be sitting unbeaten and at No. 1. And after Syracuse's loss, John Calipari's team could be moving back to the top spot.
This young team has talent at every spot on the floor and probably has five first-round NBA picks in its starting lineup.
Florida took on all comers in the non-conference and should be right there, while Mississippi State has straightened out its off-court issues and can legitimately line up with Kentucky and slug it out. Vanderbilt is also rounding into shape with center Festus Ezeli back from injury.
NON BCS SCHOOLS: As for last year’s Final Four gate-crashers, Butler’s brutal early season schedule has it barely above .500 at 12-9, while VCU had righted the ship after a slow start by winning 11 of its last 13.
Creighton and Murray State are lurking as potential tourney Cinderellas. Murray State has a deep, veteran team that has done damage in March in the past and it's now the nation's last unbeaten team at 20-0. Creighton has lost just twice, went unbeaten against three BCS schools, and has an All-America candidate in the high-scoring Doug McDermott.
That should get you up to date if you’ve been previously occupied since November. Now you can settle in front of the TV until April and watch the Madness unfold.