Blog Entry

The tightest league races right now

Posted on: January 24, 2012 1:09 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 7:12 pm
 
Drexel and George Mason are two of five teams chasing down the CAA crown. Many conference races remain four-team-or-more chases nearly halfway through league play. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

We’re now more than halfway through the college basketball season (blink long enough and conference tournaments will be there before your eyes as you open them), and what intrigues me is the number of conferences with good races/clogs at the top. I wanted to see which leagues had the best tussles for supremacy right now, so I’ve laid them out on the table, so to speak. In three weeks, separation will become natural and many of the conferences featured below will either see the top of its respective mountains less crowded — or perhaps find a late bloomer making a spirited run.

For now, these are among the tightest, densest races and chases going in college hoops right now. Yes, there had to be some ground rules. First of all, you couldn’t be from the Pac-12. Secondly, you couldn’t be from any of the major conferences, because we’re all very aware of those marathons. Plus, those leagues are covered in a column I wrote today. To be fair to sample size, I set a bar: each team had to have played a minimum of seven conference games, eliminating C-USA for now, which could become really enrapturing, and the Atlantic 10 which, as of this post, had teams 1 through 12 with one to three losses. No one knows what’s going to happen in that league. As Tony Horton would say, “I hate it, but I love it.” Both of those conferences will get standalone posts on their prospects near the end of the month.

Lastly, conferences that qualified for this post needed at least four teams within two games of each other in the loss column in the top of the standings. You’ll notice I use points per possession and points per possession allowed in addition to league/overall marks. The format is similar to John Gasaway’s super Tuesday Truths, only I’m not using efficiency margins as means of ranking, and the PPP metrics are for all games, not in-conference, which John uses.

Here they are, college basketball’s six closest non-Big Six conference chases.

CAA

Team                     League   Overall      PPP     PPPA

George Mason          8-1       16-5         1.04    0.92
VCU                            7-2       16-5         1.04    0.90
Drexel                         7-2       15-5         1.03    0.89
Old Dominion            7-2       12-9         0.96    0.92
Georgia State            6-3       14-6         1.02    0.86

Prior to the start of the weekend, the Colonial was the only conference with a viable six-team quest. Since then, Northeastern fell out of favor. How about Mason, eh? That’s my preseason CAA pick. And it doesn’t play any of the top six teams again until Feb. 4, when it gets ODU. Speaking of the Monarchs, Old Dominion challenged itself greatly in the non-con, so the overall record doesn’t do justice to the ceiling that team has. Drexel, by the way, was the coaches’ pick for conference winner back in October. But it ain’t October no mo’.

Few leagues have been as defensively stout as the CAA. Its collective .97 points-per-possession-allowed is the best of any conference listed here. Georgia State still leads the league in efficiency margin — something to keep an eye on.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Georgia State at Drexel, Wednesday
VCU at Georgia State, Saturday

NEC

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Long Island             8-0       14-6         1.06    1.01
Wagner                     6-2       15-4         1.08    0.94
Central Conn.          6-2        9-9          1.02    1.00
Robert Morris           5-2       15-6         1.05    0.96
St. Francis (NY)       6-2       9-10         0.98    0.98

The Northeast Conference’s chase has been a long time coming. Four of the five teams fared well in the non-con, even CCSU, which is treading water overall. But Central Connecticut also could have the league’s best player, Ken Horton, and the best freshman, Kyle Vinales. Plenty’s already been written about Wagner (which could easily be 14-5, not 15-4), but now that LIU is still undefeated, the defending NEC champs should see an uptick in pub, including on this here blog.

It must be noted, again, that Robert Morris is playing so well despite suspending its best player, Karon Abraham, for the season. How many teams could duplicate that?

Upcoming games between top teams:

Long Island at Robert Morris, Thursday
St. Francis (NY) at Robert Morris, Saturday

Big South

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

UNC-Asheville           9-1       14-7         1.15    1.02
Campbell                    8-2       14-8         1.08    1.03
Coastal Carolina       7-2       14-5         1.09    0.94
Charleston Southern 7-3       13-7         1.1     1.01

The Big South is the best league you don’t’ know anything about. Yeah, defense isn’t the motto — but the teams can score! And they can win out of conference, too; Charleston Southern is graded out to a top-20 non-con strength of schedule, according to KenPom.com.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Campbell at Asheville, Saturday

Rob Jones and the Gaels are off to the best start in league play since 1959. (AP)

WCC

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Saint Mary’s              8-0       19-2         1.17    0.91
Gonzaga                    6-1       16-3         1.1     0.94
Brigham Young         6-2       17-5         1.11    0.90
Loyola Marymount    5-2       12-8         1.01    0.96

Who knew Saint Mary’s would be THIS good? Tough games are upcoming, but still, the Gaels haven’t ever started West Coast Conference play 8-0 before. They started 8-0 in ’58-’59, back when they were a part of the West Coast Athletic Conference, which became the WCC. Kudos to them. What I love about this race is how each team can score — and isn’t allowing more than a point per possession. Some good old fashioned domination going on. I like Gonzaga to ultimately win the league in the regular season. Marymount’s going to remain to be a problem for everyone, though.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Saint Mary’s at Marymount, Thursday
Saint Mary’s at BYU, Saturday

Horizon

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Cleveland State       7-2       17-4         1.04    0.92
Valparaiso                7-2       14-7         1.08    1.01
UW-Milwaukee        6-3       13-8         0.98    0.93
Butler                         6-3       12-9         0.97    0.95
Youngstown State    6-3       11-8         1.03    1.00

Look at cute little Butler, just hiding in the weeds at 12-9 and tied for second. It’s no secret this Bulldogs team has had trouble scoring, but at least they’re still, just barely, better on O than D. Cleveland State has done very well for itself, but I think the Horizon, which ends league play Feb. 25, before most other leagues, will see four teams own the top spot before the season ends. I don’t think Youngstown State is worth taking seriously, but they met the qualifications and are playing better than Milwaukee. Then again, the Penguins have had a much easier schedule than the Panthers.  

Upcoming games between top teams:

Butler at Milwaukee, Thursday
Cleveland State at Youngstown State, Saturday
Valpo at Milwaukee, Saturday

MAAC

Team                   League    Overall     PPP     PPPA

Iona                        7-2       15-5         1.14    1.00
Manhattan             7-2       14-7         1.01    0.93
Loyola                    7-2       14-5         1.01    0.96
Fairfield                 5-3       10-9         1.00    0.96

In the preseason I expected Fairfield to narrow past Iona for the league title. Then it became clear the Gaels were far superior to the Stags, who are enduring one of the most disappointing seasons of any team in the country. They’re barely keeping chase to make this feature. Now Iona’s staggered after blowing an 18-point lead to Siena Monday night. Siena, as you can see, is not even in position to win the MAAC right now. The Gaels are still the best team this league has by a wide margin, but now they’re not to be trusted, despite having three all league-level players in Scott Machado, Mike Glover and MoMo Jones.

Manhattan has transformed itself in the first year under Steve Masiello. What a job. And talking to some in the league in the preseason, they expected Loyola to be a top-three team. That’s true so far.

Upcoming games between top teams:

Iona at Fairfield, Friday
Comments

Since: Oct 29, 2006
Posted on: January 25, 2012 4:27 pm
 

The tightest league races right now

Those are some tight races.  Thanks for this update...good tournament bracket info. 



Since: Oct 8, 2011
Posted on: January 25, 2012 3:20 pm
 

The tightest league races right now

The battle between Wichita State and Creighton in the Missouri Valley will be epic this year, even though both are probably at-large teams anyway.



Since: Feb 9, 2007
Posted on: January 25, 2012 1:20 pm
 

The tightest league races right now

Funny coming from an IU fan.  Until this year your teams been irrelevant for the better part of a decade.... Some people who enjoy the sport like checking out the smaller school.  You have some teams with potential for tourney upsets in this group.  Do you realize Loyola Marymount has as many sweet 16 appearance as IU does in the last 16 years?? Not even gonna touch BYU, Saint Marys, or Gonzaga.  Call us when IU accomplishes something again



Since: Feb 6, 2010
Posted on: January 25, 2012 1:16 pm
 

The tightest league races right now

Thanks for continuing to educate us about teams we don't hear as much about. You were kind to IU the past years even though they were loosing. I don't know what the fan is complaing about?


asdfjkl
Since: Sep 10, 2006
Posted on: January 25, 2012 12:21 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator



The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com