The traditional powers of College Basketball are experiencing dramatically different fortunes as major conference play gets into full swing. Al Dannity assesses the movers and shakers, including who to watch out for on the road to March Madness.
Big push by Big Ten
Yesterday may have been one to forget for Big Ten Football but NCAA Basketball betting fans know this is the premier power conference this season. The resurgence of Indiana, a year ahead of schedule, forms part of a compelling story for the Big Ten. The Ohio State Buckeyes remain the conference’s best hope of a NCAA Championship but the Buckeyes are far from the Big Ten’s sole shot at making the Final Four. If March Madness began today the conference would almost certainly send eight teams to the Big Dance, including a first ever bid for Northwestern.
Get better or go backwards
This is a good time to be one of the storied names of College Basketball, for the most part. The latest AP Poll features familiar names at the top with Syracuse, Kentucky, and North Carolina in the top three slots. Duke and UConn are progressing nicely in the Top 10 as well but these are troubling times for two historically big names.
UCLA’s malaise appeared to end with a spirited performance in March Madness last season. A mixture of departures, dismissals, and poor play has seen the Bruins regress substantially. Their only realistic way of making the dance now would be by winning the Pac-12’s automatic bid.
The Kansas Jayhawks are faring much better than UCLA but still well below the standard they set in recent years. A loss of key talents, particularly the Morris brothers, was always likely to take a toll. Wins over Georgetown and UCLA early helped confidence but the Jayhawks suffered a shocking loss last month to Davidson. Kansas should comfortably make March Madness but this is arguably the least intimidating line-up of Bill Self’s tenure.
Teams to watch
Can we call a team that made the last two NCAA title games a sleeper? Well at 8-7 the Butler Bulldogs are doing all they can to fit that billing. The current kings of the mid-major conferences should be joined by a few other unlikely partners in the Big Dance.
Harvard, who have never played in the NCAA Tournament, look certain to get at least an at-large bid and will be favored to run the table in the Ivy League. The Crimson are a great story but the two teams I advise bettors to keep an eye on are generating fewer headlines. Long Beach State and Belmont were both hotly tipped to impress before the season began. Both programs struggled with loaded schedules but they remain the class of their conferences. Come March, both will probably be double-digit seeds capable of causing big upsets.
Follow Sports Interaction on Twitter.