The College Basketball Notebook

February 7, 2011 7:36 AM

Conference Races Take Center Stage

TexasKansas.jpgNow that the Super Bowl is over, college basketball's conference races can take center stage and there's some good ones going on. For fans who've been focused on football, here's a brief primer on the races we have ahead of us for the next four weeks before the conference tournaments...

*The Big 12, ACC and Mountain West each have two clear frontrunners locked in a tight race. Texas is unbeaten in conference play and is one game up on Kansas. The difference in the standings is a Longhorn win in Lawrence and the teams don't play each other again the rest of the way. UT seems to be getting better with each passing day, while the Jayhawks have no real weaknesses, between the Morris twins banging down low and Tyshawn Taylor and Josh Selby in the backcourt. Another team getting better with each passing day is North Carolina. They're coming off a week of taking pretty good teams in Boston College & Florida State out the woodshed and winning those games by a combined 52 points. The Tar Heels are a ½ game back of Duke, tied in the loss column and slated to go to Durham on Wednesday night. In the Mountain West, San Diego State and BYU are each having huge seasons are locked in a tie for first. BYU won their first head-to-head meeting, but gave the game back the next time out and still has to visit San Diego.

*The SEC has one of the big surprises of the year in Alabama, who's one game up on Florida. The Tide and Gators are both coming off big weekend wins, as 'Bama nipped Tennessee in overtime while Florida edged Kentucky by a bucket. The wins pushed the Vols and Wildcats two and three games out respectively and has this a two-team race for the time being. Alabama and Florida still have a head-to-head meeting in early March.

*Looking on both coasts, the Atlantic 10 and Pac-10 both have solid races. Personally I think the A-10 is the most compelling race in the country. Xavier and Duquesne are tied for first, with Richmond and Temple one game back. You can make a good case for any of the four and there's a nice mix of traditional powers (Xavier & Temple), one steady program looking to take the next step (Richmond) and an upstart (Duquesne). Out west, Washington has fallen apart the last couple weeks and fallen two games back of Arizona. Meanwhile, UCLA seems to be getting it together and is just one back of the Wildcats.

*Pitt & Ohio State have command of the Big East & Big Ten races respectively. Particularly Ohio State, who is three games up on Wisconsin and Purdue and would have to do a monumental collapse to give it away. Pitt's got the Big East at arms length, with a two-game lead, but that conference is so tough that it wouldn't take much for it to be gone within a week. The Panthers go to Villanova on Saturday night prime-time, where 'Nova joins Notre Dame and Louisville in pursuit of the leader.

One of the downsides of the greateness of March Madness is that it's taken away attention from conference races and what a good achievement it is for a team to win a title in their own backyard--not just for seeding purposes in the NCAAs, but for its own sake. The Notebook believes conference championships should get more notoriety and as the outline above shows, there's plenty of excitement to be found in February.

Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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