Boeheim Green about Taking Orange on the Road
Fact: Syracuse's first game outside the state of New York is a January 10 contest at Notre Dame, just under two months into the season. I understand the desire with a young, minimally-talented team to stay close to home until some chemistry develops, but this is (supposed to be) a marquee program, a consistent top-10 team, loaded with veterans Hakim Warrick, Gerry McNamara, and Craig Forth. Granted, three of the Orange's eight opponents to date have been Mississippi State, Memphis, and Oklahoma State, but playing Binghamton, Drexel, Cornell, Rice, Albany, and Hofstra (all home games) for the next three weeks isn't going to help Syracuse prepare for the Big East season. And it's not going to win them any points with the Selection Committee either.
Cavs on Track
It looks like the ACC will deserve 7 teams this year, as Virginia has developed into a force to be reckoned with, winning at home against Arizona, Richmond, and Auburn. Look for the Cavs to pad their conference record with two games against ACC newcomer Virginia Tech, reducing the chance of a lackluster last 10. And they'll certainly upset one or two of the big boys along the way. Dick Vitale may finally be right this year: the ACC is the best conference in basketball. Miami fans, don't get me wrong--the win in Gainesville was great, but I don't think it will be enough to get you in the Dance without a .500 conference record.
Have the Gators Lost Their Bite?
Gone are the cocky facial expressions and swaggering strides of Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh, and David Lee, as Florida has stumbled out of the blocks this year. The damage done by the two home losses (Louisville and Miami) to the Gators' NCAA resume isn't irreparable, but quite simply, the team needs to start playing better basketball. The sooner Florida can forget about the turmoil of last year and the expectations of this year, the sooner they will again start to look like a conference-title contender, albeit in a somewhat down year for the SEC.
Super 6 Minus 1
Game to watch: NC State at Washington, December 19. With a win, the Huskies would greatly increase their chances at picking up a protected seed, and earning Boise as a first-round site. Winning this marquee game without Brandon Roy would all but make up for the loss to Gonzaga. The Huskies really need this game, given the pathetic state of the Pac-10 this year. At this point, it looks like a potential two-team season (Washington and Arizona) for this supposedly "Super Six" conference, although Oregon still has a chance to become a third selection. Perhaps the damage to recruiting done by the conference's limited TV contract with Fox Sports is finally starting to show.
"The New MAC"
As bad as the non-conference season has been for the Pac-10, it's been that good for the WCC. St. Mary's has beaten Cal and UNLV on their respective home courts. Pepperdine defeated a Wisconsin Badgers team picked by some writers to win the Big Ten and followed it up with a victory over UNLV. Perhaps most surprising has been Santa Clara, which defeated North Carolina at the Pete Newell Challenge in Oakland (in front of a large contingent of Tarheel fans), and followed it up with a home win over Stanford. With a strong (11-3 or better) conference record, all three of these teams have the resume to dance in March. Oh, and did I mention Gonzaga? The 'Zags have wins over Washington and UMass, and will get the chance to add to their non-conference resume with games against Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, and Missouri upcoming.
Flyin' Illini Redux
Bruce Weber has gotten Illinois to buy in to his Motion Offense this year (or at any rate, the players have finally figured it out) as the Illini have taken over the #1 ranking mid-season for the first time since 1989. The Illini have been sensational this year, shellacking Gonzaga, Wake Forest, Oregon, and everyone else on their schedule. Roger Powell and Luther Head have dramatically improved in the offseason, helping the team to an 83 PPG statistic that includes three "slow-down" opponents out of nine. With (likely) three of the starting five departing after this season, the #1 slot couldn't have come at a better time for recruiting.
Alford's Seat Cooling Down
My choice for surprise-team-to-date (as picked before the season began by CollegeHoopsNet contributor Bret Unruh) has to be the Iowa. The Hawkeyes are 8-1, picking up neutral court wins over Louisville and Texas in Maui, and a key home win over Iowa State. It's going to be hard to finish ahead of Wisconsin and Illinois in Big Ten play, but Steve Alford's team would have to suffer a total collapse not to earn an NCAA bid at this point. Things will be heated when The General visits with his band of Red Raiders later this month, as Texas Tech needs a marquee non-conference scalp to get into the Tournament at this point.
Will KU K-O the Rest of the Big XII?
No disrespect to Illinois, Georgia Tech, or North Carolina, but Bill Self may have the nation's most talented team. The Jayhawks are a star-studded group playing good team basketball. Unlike some of the later years in Roy Williams' tenure, when Kansas was consistently overrated, this year's team has oodles of potential. Road tests will come soon enough--games in Rupp Arena and the Lloyd Noble Center await Wayne Simien and friends in 2005, though the late-season showdown with fellow potential-No.-1 Oklahoma State will be played in Lawrence, not Stillwater. Jayhawk fans, consider yourselves fortunate: not only will the Kansas team enjoy homecourt advantage, but you may be treated to the nation's most exciting game this year.