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Column: Winners and losers halfway through conference play

By Mike McCurry
On January 22, 2014

Even though conference play is still stretching its arms and getting the crust out of its eyes, college basketball's Selection Sunday is less than two months away. Some teams have opened league play with a bang and are rolling at the moment, while other hopefuls have plummeted against familiar foes and find themselves at the bottom of the standings. Let's take a glance at some of the major conferences and their winners and losers so far.
WINNERS:
Creighton (6-1 Big East, 1st place): One could make a case that not only is Creighton the best shooting team in the land, but also the best offensive squad, period. A big reason why is Player of the Year frontrunner Doug McDermott (24.8 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game, 44 percent from 3), who already has scored 30 or more points on six occasions this year. At 16-3, the Bluejays have had gaudier records in the past, but moving from the subpar Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East has bulked up their resume-they now play marquee games night-in and night-out. Creighton has blown out Marquette and Butler, beaten Xavier at home, and hit 21 3-pointers in a 28-point pounding at No. 4 Villanova on Monday night. The Bluejays share the rock extremely well (their 18.8 assists per contest leads the nation), and as long as they continue to defend they have a great shot of winning the conference.
Cincinnati (6-0 American, 1st place): By all accounts, the American Athletic Conference was supposed to be a three-headed monster between Memphis, Louisville, and UConn. No one told Cincinnati that, however. The Bearcats, the AAC's lone undefeated member, have yet to play Louisville or UConn but won handily at Memphis behind leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick's 18 points. Kilpatrick, who makes over two 3-pointers per outing, pairs up with center Justin Jackson (11.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.3 blocks per game) to form arguably the most potent inside-outside duo in the league. Cincinnati should be more than battle-tested when the AAC Tournament starts, as the Bearcats must withstand an unforgiving three game stretch starting on Feb. 22: home against Louisville, at UConn and home against Memphis.
Kansas (5-0 Big-12, 1st place): Is it a total shock to me that Kansas is sitting in first place in the Big-12? No, because in what is easily the most underrated stat in sports, KU's consecutive streak of either outright or shared Big-12 regular season titles currently stands at nine. Regardless, it's amazing the Jayhawks have yet to lose in league play considering how young they are and who they've faced. Led by a core of kids such as Joel Embiid (11.1 ppg, 2.8 bpg) and Perry Ellis 13.2 ppg), Kansas has taken care of business both in hostile road environments-at Iowa State and Oklahoma-as well as in the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse (versus Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Baylor). What's frightening is KU is trending up-and-up and truly hasn't reached its full potential yet. Although it's far away, a March 1st meeting at Oklahoma State should be mighty fun.
LOSERS:
UConn (3-3 American, 6th place): UConn is obviously very much alive for an NCAA Tournament berth, aided by resume-boosting wins over Florida and at Memphis. Still, it'd be hard to imagine that the Huskies planned to lose three times in the AAC before February struck. Losing to defending champion Louisville is somewhat excusable. Losing to both Houston and SMU to open up life in a new league is not.
UNC (1-4 ACC, 13th place): Which of the following is the more perplexing resume: Beating Michigan State, Kentucky and Louisville but getting upset by UAB, Belmont and Miami (that's what UNC's resume is)? Or a kid who graduated from Harvard with a law degree but had a sub-2.0 GPA, did loads of drugs and didn't go to high school? They both could drive you crazy.
Ohio State (2-4 Big-10, 8th place): I presumed Ohio State was a bit overrated early in the season (despite what the rankings implied, there's no way OSU was the second or third-best team in the country), but I never foresaw the Buckeyes dropping four-in-a-row this soon in Big-10 play. The latest setback came at the hands of Nebraska, whom I saw OSU destroy live only two weeks prior. Ohio State is offensively challenged, undersized, and has been getting no production out of center Amir Williams of late (seven points, eight rebounds combined in the last two losses).
 


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