What to Watch for as Conference Play Starts Up
2018 is almost over, which means that conference play is about to begin for the majority of the NCAA (the Big Ten started in November). Here’s the top 10 things to look at as conference play begins:
10. Houston or Cincinnati in the American?
The AAC is a very improved conference this season, with Houston, Cincy, UConn, Tulsa, Temple, UCF, and Memphis all seemingly in the mix. However, it’s very clear that Houston and Cincy hold just a little bit above the rest of their competition, in that both can win big games on both sides of the floor. It’ll be very interesting to see who comes out on top in the race for the American.
9. Will the Pac 12 have a team finish with at least 20 wins?
No seriously, the Pac 12 is that bad. No team has more than nine wins so far, and no one has really proven that they can get more than 10 wins in a very mediocre Pac 12 all across the board. My personal bet would be on Oregon or Arizona State, but one of them will need to show that they can win a few big games in a row if I’m supposed to believe in them.
8. Which mid-major conference has the best chance at getting two teams in March?
Every year at least one mid-major conference has an argument at getting not one, but two teams into the Big Dance. However, this year, it seems like a lot of mid-major teams have caught up to the Power Conference, giving this a realistic chance at happening. The West Coast Conference will get Gonzaga in and has San Francisco and Loyola Marymount on the bubble, while the Southern Conference looks like a very intriguing two team battle between Furman and East Tennessee State. Look out for the dark horse in the Atlantic Sun, as both NJIT and Lipscomb have very impressive resumes.
7. Will Villanova continue to retain supreme in the Big East?
Personally, that’s gonna be close. Nova certainly still have the makeup for players that have won a championship and knows how to win big games. However, it clearly isn’t the same team. Look for Marquette, Seton Hall, and St. John’s to all give the Wildcats a run for their money.
6. Packed SEC or really not that close?
On paper, the SEC looks all garbled up. Between Kentucky, Auburn, Tennessee, Mississippi State, and dark horses like LSU and Arkansas, it is a very intriguing conference. However, one team here sticks out the most, and that’s Tennessee. The Volunteers have won every single buy game they’ve played in, and has quality wins in Louisville and Gonzaga. Finally, the duo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield is easily the best in the SEC. Tennessee should win the SEC, and they might by a few games.
5. What teams will stay in the Top 25 and which ones will begin to fall?
As of now, I don’t see any teams in the top eight that will fall out of the Top 25. Barring any injuries or a total landslide, these teams all have multiple scoring options, and can play defense with the best of them. I would watch out for Florida State, UNC, Arizona State, and Indiana, who all can win very big games, but all lack something that would take them to the next level.
4. Unranked teams that will be ranked going into March Madness.
I see a few as of now, beginning with a very talented Nebraska team, who at 10-2, already hosts wins over Seton Hall, Clemson, and Creighton. I’m also very high on Villanova, Cincinnati, TCU, and Seton Hall, who I all see finishing not just in the Top 25, but in the Top 20, going into the Big Dance.
3. Is Kansas’ run of winning the Big 12 finally over?
No. Texas Tech has the best overall shot, as they proved in their loss to Duke that they can hang with the best of them. However, other than the Red Raiders, I don’t see anyone in the Big 12 with a realistic shot at taking the Jayhawks down. I see some flaws in Bill Self’s team, but TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Texas are all missing at least one piece, and no other team has enough.
2. Who wins the most competitive conferences, in the ACC and Big Ten?
The ACC and Big 10 are by far the best conferences in 2018-19. Duke and Virginia are the favorites in the ACC, but Florida State, NC State, and Virginia Tech all have VERY good teams. Syracuse, Clemson, and UNC will also win a lot of big games in this conference. In the Big 10, Michigan is the team to beat, but Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Nebraska will all be there.
1. Which teams have the best shots at getting the coveted 1 seeds?
As of now, I have Duke, Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia in my latest ‘Matty Brackets’ projection. However, there are a lot of teams with 1 seed talent, most namely in Gonzaga and Kansas. Also expect Nevada and Wisconsin to make very good runs at the ones, if all the pieces align.