Thursday, February 14, 2008

Surprises and Disappointments

Each basketball season there are teams that seem to come out of nowhere and teams that start with high expectations and fall apart. Looking around the major conferences to see who has pleasently surprised and who has left us wanting more...

Duke (22-1)(10-0)
- Wait, when did that happen? Duke is good again? Sure, they weren't really not good at any point over the past few seasons, but you weren't worried about them winning National Titles. We definitely didn't savor the moment, because don't look now, but Duke might be the best team in the country. A one point loss to Pittsburgh is all that is keeping this team from being unbeaten. Apparently Coach K figured out how to balance Duke and Team USA, and threw in some Phoenix D'Antoni magic for good measure. They still maybe weak inside, but no one has been able to expose it, as Singler has fans around the country sick to their stomachs with his inside and outside play. Though the most frustrating has to be the transformation of Greg Paulus. For two years you could count on Paulus shrinking from the pressure and not coming through for the Dukies, then all of a sudden he looks like one of the best shooters in the country and becoming less likeable with every dead eye three. Duke is back. Shit.

Teams not named Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, and Clemson
- The ACC might only get four teams into the Dance? Really? What happened to the premier basketball conference in America? Moved north to the Big East or west to the Pac-10, that's what happened. NC State took a major step backwards from last season along with Boston College. Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Florida State still can't escape mediocrity. Virginia Tech didn't really stand a chance thanks to recruits bailing out after the shooting, and they're still making a noble effort. And Virginia? Who knows what happened to them. Sean Singletary might as well be playing one on five. This conference is not that competitive and not that deep. It has been slowly going this direction for a number of years, and I'm not sure if I would take them over the SEC.

Baylor (17-6) (5-4)

- They have cooled off in the last week or so thanks to the fact that they don't play any defense, but the Bears have been a success story that will surely get played to death come tournament time. Scott Drew has done a noble job of turning around the Bears and giving fans of that program something to cheer about. It has been a difficult road, but Baylor now boasts one of the deepest backcourts in the country with five really talented guards. And the scary part? Outside of point guard Aaron Bruce, they will all be coming back next season.

Oklahoma State (12-12) (3-7)
- This one reeks of nepotism as 800-win club Eddie Sutton's son, Sean has quickly unraveled all that his father built. Sutton still looks for his first conference road win in two seasons, and recruiting isn't going as well either. Maybe his dad didn't tell him the secret of going after players with questionable character. Either way, the Cowboys season has been a big disappoinment thus far, and Sutton might not get to stick around to see if he can turn it around.

Big East
Notre Dame (18-5) (8-3)

- In what is the deepest and toughest conference in America, Notre Dame has proven that they are up to the challenge in an area that they have struggled in recent years. Led by sophomore forward Luke Harangody (20.8 ppg/10.4 rpg) the Fighting Irish have surprised many by sitting in a third place tie in the conference. Mike Brey's teams have always been around the bubble come NCAA tournament time, but this season, they are one of the teams that will surprise some people come March.

Villanova (14-9) (4-7)
- Expecting to build off of a successful freshman campaign by Scottie Reynolds, many expected Nova to continue to be a factor in the Big East. But conference season has been one big headache for Jay Wright's crew. A recent five game losing streak probably dashed the Wildcats tournament hopes. But if you lose to last place Rutgers and then get beat by 22 by Isaiah Thomas' other team St. John's, you don't deserve to be dancing in March.

Stanford (20-3) (9-2)
- Trent Johnson has done quite the turnaround job at Stanford as he has the program back at the top of the Pac-10 sooner than anyone expected. Sure it helps to have two 7 footers, but Johnson has the Cardinal exceeding all expectations. They have won seven straight and may be looking at an end of season trip to UCLA to decide the conference title.

Washington State (18-5) (6-5)
- Not a complete disappointment and they are starting to turn things around, but much more was expected out of the Cougars. Most thought they would be neck and neck all season with UCLA and in the top 10 in the country. But following a stretch where they lost 4 of 5, the Cougars are three games out of the race for the conference title. They still have time to turn it around, but Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver have not lived up to preseason expectations.

Mississippi State (16-7) (7-2)
- The biggest surprise for the Bulldogs is definitely the 7-2 conference record. Not much was expected out of them out of a 9-5 out of conference mark, but the Bulldogs have turned it on and were unblemished before losses to Arkansas and Tennessee. Jamont Gordon has led the way for Mississippi State averaging 18.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and 4.7 apg. But he's not alone as three other Bulldogs are scoring in double figures. Mississippi State has hit their stride and should be able to ride it into the tournament in March.

Alabama (14-11) (3-7)
- The SEC conference season has not been kind to Alabama, as things have come unraveled. The season might cost coach Mark Gottfried his job as the Tide has stumbled their way to a 3-7 conference mark. Defensively the Crimson Tide have struggled, giving up over 72 points a game. They have a talented group coming in for next season, but there's no telling whether Coach Gottfried will be around to coach them.

Big Ten
Purdue (20-5) (11-1)
- The Boilermakers have surprised everyone this season. They have won 10 straight in conference including two wins over Wisconsin and one over Michigan State. Coach Matt Painter has his team playing solid Big Ten defense and is getting contributions from his entire team on the offensive end. With Indiana, Minnesota, and Ohio State still left on the schedule, they are not in the clear yet, but they are definitely the favorite to win the Big Ten.

Illinois (11-14) (3-9)
- The Illini came into the season with many expecting them to have a down season, but I don't think anyone expected this under Bruce Webber. It has been all downhill since losing Eric Gordon and Illinois is having an extremely difficult time rebounding on the recruiting trail. Things don't appear like they are going to improve anytime soon in Champaign, and the clock might start ticking on an extremely talented coach.

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