The Newnan Times-Herald


College hoops: conference battles begin

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Jan. 05, 2017 - 1:42 AM

The college basketball season is about halfway complete, and there has already been no shortage of surprises. Perhaps the most stunning collection of upsets occurred last Saturday when the top three preseason picks in the ACC (i.e., Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia) all lost, and only the FSU victory in Charlottesville was close. Though UVA lost that game, we should acknowledge that the Cavaliers triumphed in their ACC opener at highly rated Louisville.

Duke, the preseason choice to win the national championship, continues to face ongoing chaos. Initially, the issue was injuries to the Blue Devil freshmen frontcourt, but then came an indefinite suspension for star guard Grayson Allen. Now Coach K will miss at least four weeks following back surgery. Duke's dilemma could worsen, in that their mid-January schedule includes road games at FSU (Jan. 10) and Louisville (Jan. 14).

In the SEC, the Florida Gators are off to an excellent start. They meet Georgia at home on the 14th, and they host Kentucky on Feb. 4.

The Wildcats, who outlasted North Carolina 103-100 in, perhaps, the game of the year so far, meet highly ranked Kansas in Lexington on Jan. 28. With the first Florida game the following weekend, Georgia may catch UK emotionally flat when the Bulldogs visit Rupp Arena on the 31st.

Defending champion Villanova faces two especially tough games this month, but both are at home. Xavier visits on the 10th and Virginia goes to Philadelphia on the 29th.

The KU-UK battle is the second of three crucial contests facing Kansas at the end of the month. First, they visit West Virginia on the 24th, then they meet Kentucky on the road, and finally return home for the first of two highly anticipated clashes with Baylor on Feb. 1. The Bears will have already visited West Virginia on the 10th.

In early December I recognized Indiana as deserving a top seed, primarily because of their victories over Kansas and North Carolina. Now, however, the Hoosier world has turned upside down. IU has lost home games to surprising Nebraska and co-favorite Wisconsin (and to Louisville at a neutral site), and expectations of a high seed are currently on hold.

Michigan State's young team was victimized by significant injuries and a very demanding schedule. They have improved their record to 10-5 by winning their first two conference games, and the Spartans are a team to watch as the season progresses. MSU plays key games at home this month when Indiana and Purdue come to town on the 21st and 24th.

Before we turn to the PAC-12, let us note that Gonzaga is undefeated so far and quite possibly may stay that way during the regular season. The Bulldogs have flirted with the Final Four in the past, only to come up short. This may be their year.

Oregon served notice they were healthy enough to compete with the best when they defeated the two unbeaten teams from Los Angeles (UCLA and USC). There will be California rematches with those schools in February, but Oregon only meets Arizona once this season, and that's a home game for the Ducks. Arizona and UCLA, on the other hand, play twice, the first of which taking place in LA on the 21st.

In early February we'll take our first look at a possible sweet sixteen of seeds for March Madness. Until then, happy hoops.   

(Chuck Cleveland is a guest columnist for The Newnan Times-Herald. He writes about his love for college basketball.)