We're officially halfway through the season now. (Yes, Selection Sunday, March 15, is less than two months away.) That means things are going to start ramping up significantly. Before I jump into my viewing picks for what will be a very busy Saturday and relatively quiet Sunday, thanks to the NFL Conference Championship games, it's time for a reader question!
The question for this post comes from Dan O'Connor in Pennsylvania, via the Bracketdobber Facebook group.
I'm going there: What probability do you give the ACC of getting three number one seeds? Would that make them a better conference than the Big East?
Well, Dan, scheduling is going to play a big role in this. The number of top seeds the Big East gets is going to depend on the number of teams in the conference that can separate themselves from the rest of their league brethren. Early in the season, it looks like the Big East is going to have more than two teams battling for the regular season crown. That means more teams will be beating up on one another, making the records at the end of the season less attractive. However, you only have to go back to 2007 to see a 6-loss team (UNC) who got onto the top line. It simply is going to depend on who loses to whom and by how much at the end of the year.
In the case of the ACC, things are a bit more cut and dried. Duke. North Carolina, and Wake Forest appear to be the class of the league, even with UNC dropping their first two in the league. Their body of work outside of the league is the source for this separation. It's very possible that these three teams can build up a conference record that will give them a great winning percentage at the end of the year. Clemson is close behind, but they have to prove that they can play at a high-level consistently. The three frontrunners have to be nearly perfect against the other 9 teams in the league to make the case for three one seeds. UNC is already a game down in this department, thanks to the loss to BC. If these three teams can be nearly flawless against teams 4 through 12, they'll have to split with each other to have any legitimate shot at the trifecta. Duke plays both UNC and Wake twice, while UNC and Wake have already played their only meeting. And, the ACC tournament will be a big part of the equation, as it usually is.
In short, if the three teams keep winning and split with each other. Three number one seeds is definitely possible, especially considering the lack of a clear #1 for the West region and the fact the Big East's leaders will beat each other up. Right now, I'd put the odds, statistically, at 33%. But we both know the real answer, with apologies to Tony Kornheiser, is 50/50. It will either happen or it won't. (Buy 50/50 stuff from Dan Levy here. All proceeds go to DC CAP.)
In terms of who's the better conference, I think right now you can argue that from top-to-bottom, the ACC IS better. The bottom four/five teams in the Big East, St. John's, Seton Hall, DePaul, Rutgers, and, especially, USF, are varying degrees of awful. There's a bit more talent at the bottom of the ACC, which I'd define as Georgia Tech, NC State, and Virginia. That means you could argue there are fewer nights off in the ACC than in the Big East. (Though don't tell that to Syracuse, who struggled at USF, or Notre Dame, who had a battle with Seton Hall at the Joyce Center last Saturday.) You also have to remember that one of the bottom three (NC State) is a big rival of each of the three frontrunners. That means Duke, UNC, and Wake will all have a big target on their back throughout the season.
However, in the long run, tournament performance, both the percentage of teams that make it to March and how far they go, is really going to be the final determination as to which of these conferences is better.
Now onto my viewing picks for this week. I'm including ESPNU picks, as I'm making sure I'm at an establishment that has it for a good chunk of Saturday, and possibly Sunday evening. As always, TV picks are from Matt's College Sports on TV site.
Notre Dame @ Syracuse (ESPN, noon EST) - The Orange try to recover from an all-around bad performance at Georgetown Wednesday night. Onuaku/Jackson vs. Harangody and Rautins vs. McAlarney are two big battles to watch.
Northern Iowa @ Drake (ESPN2, noon EST) - The Panthers are the surprise co-leaders in the Valley (alongside Bradley). They head to Des Moines to take on last year's great story, the Bulldogs, who are only a game behind.
Holy Cross @ Bucknell (ESPNU, noon EST) - The Crusaders try to keep pace with American and Navy at the top of the Patriot League.
Northeastern @ Hofstra (MSG+/FCS Atlantic, noon EST) and James Madison @ George Mason (Comcast Network - Now, with sound! and CSS, 2 EST) and Old Dominion @ VCU (CSN Mid-Atl/NE/Phi, 4 EST) - Huskies and Patriots need wins to stay perfect in the league ahead of their first meeting of the year in Boston Wednesday night. Rams are a game back, waiting for the leaders to slip. Note: VCU only Northeastern and GMU once each.
Miami U @ Kent State (MAC TV/FS Ohio, noon EST) - The preseason favorite and last year's champ are both a game behind Ohio in the MAC East.
Maryland @ Florida State (Raycom/Full Court, noon EST) - Terps can't afford to be swept on their Florida road trip.
Georgetown @ Duke (CBS, 1:30 EST) - You can't really say the Hoyas are getting much of a "break" from the Big East with this matchup.
Oklahoma State @ Baylor (Big 12/Full Court, 1:30 EST) - Bears need to recover from their loss to A&M on Wednesday night. Cowboys, who already own a win over those same Aggies, would like this win for their profile.
Oklahoma @ Texas A&M (ESPN, 2 EST) - Chinemelu Elonu, fresh off a 17-point, 16-board performance against Baylor, looks for his fourth double-double in a row. He'll have to do it against Blake Griffin, though.
Arkansas @ Florida (Raycom/Full Court, 2 EST) - The Razorbacks are one of the most inconsistent teams out there, following up a sweep of the Big 12 frontrunners with two straight losses to the Mississippi schools. Going to the O'Dome may not be the best remedy for their problems, but the Gators are also a maddening team to watch.
American @ Colgate (TW-New York/MASN, 2 EST) - A rematch of last year's Patriot League final. Raiders are a game behind the lead group in the standings.
Wake Forest @ Clemson (ABC/Full Court, 3:30 EST) - The pool of unbeatens will fall to two. Like I said above, Clemson really needs to prove they belong in the class of ACC favorites. A win here would be a big help.
Arizona State @ UCLA (CBS, 3:45 EST) and Arizona @ USC (FSN Regional, 8 EST) - LA schools look to sweep the Arizona schools. UCLA is trying to prove they're still the Pac-10 favorites against the team that has stolen a lot of their thunder, while USC is attempting to live up to the preseason hype.
Illinois @ Michigan State (ESPN, 4 EST) - At the start of the season, did you think the Illini had a shot at playing for first place in the Big Ten at this point?
BYU @ New Mexico (Versus, 4 EST) - The Mountain West leading Cougars travel to the one arena in the conference that has as fearsome a reputation as the Marriott Center. Lobos are a game back of the league lead.
Boston College @ Virginia Tech (ESPNU, 4 EST) - Eagles are sliding after beating UNC. They cannot afford a loss in Blacksburg.
Texas Tech @ Texas (Big 12/Full Court/MASN/Altitude, 4 EST) - Longhorns look to recover from their Monday loss to the Sooners.
LSU @ Ole Miss (Raycom/Full Court, 4 EST) - The Tigers and Rebels try to keep pace with Mississippi State in the SEC West.
Pittsburgh @ Louisville (ESPN, 6 EST) - Huge test for the unbeaten Panthers, as the Cardinals seek to supplant them at the top of the Big East.
UAB @ Memphis (CBS CS, 8 EST) - The Blazers could challenge the Tigers, but they'll have a better shot at home on February 26.
Ohio State @ Michigan (Big Ten, 8 EST) - This game is relevant again. Maybe the football version will regain its relevance soon.
California @ Stanford (CSN Bay Area/FSN Pacific, 8 EST) - Mike Montgomery returns to Stanford. I wonder how the crowd will respond. Did I mention the Bears are tied with UCLA for the Pac-10 lead?
Miami @ North Carolina (ESPN, 9 EST) - The Heels cannot afford to come out flat against a team that has a chip on their shoulder as big as the Canes do.
Marquette @ Providence (ESPN2, 9 EST) - Don't look now, but the Friars are only a game behind the Big East leaders, a group that happens to include the Golden Eagles.
Iowa @ Purdue (Big Ten, noon EST) - Boilermakers seem to be back on track with the return of Chris Kramer and Robbie Hummel. A win at home over a plucky Iowa squad will get them over .500 in the League That Can't Count.
Minnesota @ Northwestern (Big Ten, 2 EST) - The Wildcats blew a golden chance at their first conference win Thursday night against the Boilers. A visit from Minnesota gives them another chance.
Bradley @ Southern Illinois (ESPNU, 7 EST) - At 2-4, it's not a vintage year for the Salukis. Beating league co-leader Bradley would certainly help them move closer to relevance.