January 13, 2007

The Official Beginning of College Basketball

Eventually life goes on and while college football has closed its book for the 2006 season, we now set our sights on the 2006-2007 college basketball slate. We've only been in conference play for two weeks, but already teams are aligning themselves into contenders and pretenders, underrated and overrated.

First, lets begin with the "Super Seven" schools who have their alumni booking hotels in Atlanta.

The Florida Gators are the champions until they are eliminated in March/April by any other team. So far this season, the Gators have fallen to Kansas in Las Vegas and Florida State on the road. Wins for the Gators have only come inside the state of Florida, 13 at home, two on netural courts within the state. The win that showed their rightful place as defenders of the crown was an 86-60 win over Ohio State at home. Florida will still be a tough one-game out. I don't think they'll navigate the SEC undefeated - but they will win the conference with only one or two losses. They'll win the SEC Tournament and enter the NCAAs as a #1 seed.

Next in line are the North Carolina Tarheels. Forget about what you think you know about the ACC. Clemson is undefeated for the moment but faces games at Maryland and home against North Carolina. Duke has started the conference slate 0-2 and plays a deliberate slowdown game in order to hide their weaknesses (point guard, swingman, true center). North Carolina will continue to run roughshod over the conference. They are like Florida - they won't go unscathed, but they will secure the ACC Tournament and the second #1 seed.

This is a bit of a trendy pick amongst my workplace, but in my opinion the Wisconsin Badgers are next. They have the player of the year to date in Alando Tucker. They have also secured a win over Ohio State at home with the return trip coming later in the year. Wins over Pittsburgh, Florida State, and Marquette on the road bolster the Wisconsin resume. Their only setback is a two point loss in South Padre, Texas against Missouri State on November 24th. This is a team that will win all games at home in conference. They face five away games that could set them back: Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State, and Ohio State. They'll go 2-3 in those five at worst. I can't say they'll win their conference tournament with 100 percent surety, but I would tag them the favorites. Doing so puts them as the third #1 seed.

Defense wins championships is the adage, but my Kentucky faithful sure don't believe. However, if offense is the order of the day, then the UCLA Bruins play enough to get past a few shootouts. The Bruins won Maui, blew out Washington at home, and secured a "neutral" win over Texas A&M in Anaheim. Their only loss was a two-pointer at Oregon. The Bruins still face Arizona, the Washington schools, and a return trip to West Virginia (after playing in Pauley last year) on the road. The Pac-10 is better than you think and their tournament will be a war, but I think UCLA will be rewarded for the conference title and seeded as the final #1 seed.

Their losses look shaky, but a win over Florida and a 30-point blowout of a solid Oklahoma State team puts the Kansas Jayhawks back on the map. The rest of their slate is winnable. The teams they get at home they need while the road trips are against opponents who don't have the same talent. Bill Self is under a magnifying glass after back-to-back first round losses, so the faithful might not be booking hotel rooms just yet. Have some faith, KU fans, you're good.

Arizona waltzed into Seattle and put down the Huskies, 96-87. They have a lineup that I don't know without studying, but what I do know is that the Cats are 4-1, 13-2 overall in a tough conference. They own a win over Memphis at home, and a win over Illinois in Phoenix in which they trailed by 12 early and won by 12. The Cats could make a real statement on back-to-back weekends, playing at UCLA (Jan. 20th) then hosting North Carolina (Jan. 27th).

Greg Oden's presence simply puts the Ohio State Buckeyes amongst the elite, however the Buckeyes have crushed smaller competition but have yet to secure a win against anyone of note. So why are they here? They suffered possibly their only loss in conference against Wisconsin in Madison. If I am right about that, it would make them co-champions of the Big Ten headed into the conference tournament. Their first big chance comes today against Tennessee at home to prove they belong. They lose that, and I will be down to a Super Six list.

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Heavenly time period: College football season until the championship game of March Madness.