Well, despite this not being posted until after the end of the year, it’s still part of that series… and hey, it’s only about a day late. And it’s not updated with any of 2013’s games yet! So, read on for the final installment of the DPI Conference Spotlight special, and check back throughout the week for updated standings and projections. (note: The rankings in the Conference Spotlight reflect rankings through Sunday’s games.)
The Best Team So Far: (#12) Florida (9-2, 0-0) – The Gators started out a perfect 7-0, before dropping games to (#4) Arizona and (#29) Kansas State in December. Florida is led by a solid group of players, starting with Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario, as well as Erik Murphy, Patric Young, and Scottie Wilbekin. This team has wins over (#50) Wisconsin, (#32) Middle Tennessee, (#99) UCF, (#72) Marquette, (#63) Florida State, and (#92) Air Force, making them 6-2 against teams currently in the Top 100 of the DPI. Billy Donovan has the Gators poised to make a run for an SEC title come March, but they will get a big challenge from (#22) Missouri and (#33) Kentucky.
The Next Best Team: (#22) Missouri (10-2, 0-0) – Missouri looked to be riding high after their win over (#13) Illinois, but stumbled in Pauley Pavilion, losing to (#35) UCLA, 97-94 in overtime, on Friday. This was only the Tigers’ second loss of the season, falling in November to (#8) Louisville in the Bahamas. (#59) Stanford and (#16) VCU are the other two impressive victories for Missouri, both also coming on Paradise Island. The rest of the schedule has been mostly cupcakes, but they have one last chance for a great nonconference win when (#54) Bucknell comes to town. The Tigers lead the nation in rebounding behind Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi, while Phil Pressey leads the SEC in assists per game by a large margin.
The Best Player So Far: Laurence Bowers/F, (#22) Missouri – Though you won’t find Bowers in any of the Top 5 lists in the major statistical categories, Bowers has put together a special season in the early going. Bowers’ worst game came in Missouri’s biggest test, when foul trouble limited him to 22 minutes and he only scored 6 points and grabbed one board. Other than that, though, Bowers has been excellent, recording double-doubles against Stanford, VCU, and Illinois, the latter being his best performance on the season with 23 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. He was one rebound shy of a double-double against UCLA, too. He has been consistent in both scoring and rebounding while shooting over 57% on the year, and the 6’8” senior is even hitting some threes this year.
The Best Team So Far: (#112) Davidson (7-5, 2-0) – The Wildcats have played a pretty tough schedule this season, and they’ve already amassed a few impressive victories. Teams such as (#172) Vanderbilt, (#83) West Virginia, and (#104) Richmond have lost to Davidson already. Losses to (#17) New Mexico, (#6) Gonzaga, and (#62) Charlotte don’t look too bad for the Cats, but the ones to (#319) Milwaukee and (#236) Drexel are a little harder to swallow. They have one more nonconference challenge remaining when they play (#1) Duke on Wednesday. Led by De’Mon Brooks and Jake Cohen, Davidson will look to return to the NCAA Tournament in March, and they’re a good bet to do just that.
The Next Best Team: (#126) Charleston (9-5, 1-0) – Probably the biggest challenger to Davidson for the SoCon crown, Charleston is led by the trio of Andrew Lawrence, Anthony Stitt, and Adjehi Baru. Lawrence, a guard hailing from London, leads the team in scoring and assists, while Baru, the big man from the Ivory Coast, leads the Southern Conference in rebounds at nine per game. The Cougars inexplicably lost to Division II Anderson at home, but also have wins over (#136) Boston College and (#46) Baylor. The Cougars and Davidson clash for the first time on January 19th and their second matchup comes on Valentine’s Day.
The Best Player So Far: Trey Sumler/G, (#243) Western Carolina – In a conference lacking a true star, such as Stephen Curry or Andrew Goudelock were in years past, Trey Sumler has perhaps been the most consistently good against tough competition. While Western Carolina hasn’t recorded any big wins yet, Sumler put up big games against (#14) Wichita State, (#76) Western Kentucky, and (#66) Tennessee, averaging 22 points per game in those contests. He was less effective against Illinois and (#24) Georgetown, but Sumler is third in the SoCon in scoring, fourth in assists, and second in steals per game. He put up 24 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists in the Catamounts’ SoCon opener against (#331) Furman, as well.
The Best Team So Far: (#85) Stephen F. Austin (10-1, 1-0) – The Lumberjacks are off to a very hot start this year and they are currently the Southland’s only Top 100 team. Their only loss came to (#55) Texas A&M in College Station, and only by eight points. Four of their wins, however, are over non-Division I teams, a fact that hurts their résumé quite a bit. They do have wins over (#144) Tulsa and (#43) Oklahoma, though, and they’ve won five straight as they continue Southland play. The Lumberjacks are led by Taylor Smith and Hal Bateman, and they seem to be the clear choice to win the Southland title this year.
The Next Best Team: (#117) Northwestern State (6-4, 0-0) – Creeping their way up the standings, however, are the Demons of Northwestern State. The Demons are second in the nation in scoring and are eighth in rebounding, while placing in the Top 50 for assists and field goal percentage. Those are pretty impressive numbers for a team sitting at 6-4. The four losses, however, have all come to Top 70 opponents: (#70) LSU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and (#51) Arkansas. Dequan Hicks and Jalen West lead the way for the Demons, who beat (#58) Louisiana Tech earlier this year. They have, like Stephen F. Austin, beaten four non-Division I schools, so that would explain their ranking in the Index, despite their respectable set of losses, and also their statistical dominance (which can, itself, be explained by four non-DI romps).
The Best Player So Far: Taylor Smith/F, (#85) Stephen F. Austin – Smith is fourth in the Southland in scoring at 15.7 points per game, while his 8.3 rebounds nightly rank him third in the conference. He leads the Southland with 2.6 blocks per game, as well. In the Lumberjacks’ road upset of Oklahoma, Smith had 14 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals. His best game of the season was the team’s Southland opener against (#279) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, in which he went off for 25 points and 14 rebounds, season-highs in both categories. The 6’6” senior has recorded double-doubles in two straight games going into Thursday’s meeting with (#344) Lamar.
The Best Team So Far: (#179) Southern University (6-6, 0-0) – The Jaguars are the only team in the SWAC with a .500 record and are the only squad in the DPI Top 200. Southern has won five of their last six games, including a road upset of Texas A&M. They start their SWAC schedule this week, facing (#246) Texas Southern on Wednesday and (#234) Prairie View A&M on Friday. All of Southern’s losses have come to teams in the DPI Top 150, except for (#162) North Carolina Central. Derick Beltran and Malcolm Miller have been the statistical leaders for the Jaguars thus far, with Beltran ranking fourth in the conference in scoring with 16 points per game.
The Next Best Team: (#233) Prairie View A&M (5-8, 0-0) – Prairie View has three wins over non-Division I opponents, which makes their early-season performance all the less impressive, but there’s really not a lot of teams to choose from in the SWAC. The Panthers have beaten (#135) Houston on the season, but they lost in the rematch on Saturday. Jourdan DeMuynck and Carl Blair have led the Panthers this season, and their losses have come to Top 150 teams, except (#164) Texas Tech and (#282) Fairleigh Dickinson. Given the nonconference schedules of many of these SWAC teams, it’s hard to know just how they’ll fare against each other, but my guess is that Prairie View will perform well this season.
The Best Player So Far: Demarquelle Tabb/G-F, (#296) Alabama A&M – Tabb leads the conference in rebounding by two full boards, pulling down 9.5 per game. He is also second in blocked shots in the SWAC, and scores 12.6 points every night. He has five double-doubles on the year, and he led the Bulldogs to their ‘upset’ of (#259) Mississippi State this weekend. In that game, Tabb recorded team-highs of 14 points and seven rebounds, while adding three blocks – including one against Jalen Steele which would have given MSU the lead in the final seconds of the game. Tabb, a 6’5” junior swingman, has some big-man stats for a player of his stature.
The Best Team So Far: (#41) North Dakota State (11-3, 2-0) – While they lack any big-time wins over top competition, the Bison of NDSU have been very solid this year. They have no wins over anyone in the Top 150, but they have beaten (#156) Duquesne and (#165) Youngstown State, as well as rival (#155) South Dakota State in their most recent game. What has the Bison floating so high in the standings is that two of their three losses have come to Top 5 teams in (#3) Indiana and (#5) Minnesota, and their only other loss is to (#180) Green Bay. With Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund leading the way, NDSU is also one of two Summit League teams that are still undefeated in conference play, along with (#106) Western Illinois.
The Next Best Team: (#106) Western Illinois (10-3, 4-0) – The Leathernecks are quickly jumping up the Index, thanks to winning their first four conference games and seven straight overall. This stretch includes their best victory, a win over Horizon League leader (#89) Illinois-Chicago. Terell Parks leads Western Illinois in scoring and is the Summit League leader in rebounding and blocks, to boot. Ceola Clark III is second on the team in scoring and leads the Leathernecks in assists and steals. The Leathernecks host South Dakota State and North Dakota State on the 17th and 19th of this month, respectively, in what will be the first real tests in conference play for WIU.
The Best Player So Far: Nate Wolters/G, (#155) South Dakota State – There aren’t a lot of people who can take over a game the way Nate Wolters can. Just ask New Mexico, who suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of Wolters and the Jackrabbits. He went off for 28 points, seven assists, and five rebounds in that game – just one of eight 20-point games for Wolters so far. He had a season-high 30 against (#82) Alabama in the team’s opener, a three-point loss to the Tide. He has played 38 or more minutes nine times this season, including 40 minutes in the loss to NDSU on Saturday, when he scored 26 points. He leads the conference in scoring at 20.5 PPG, and is pulling down six rebounds and dishing out five and a half assists, as well.
The Best Team So Far: (#32) Middle Tennessee (11-3, 3-0) – The Blue Raiders have been the class of the Sun Belt so far, with wins over (#123) UAB, (#27) Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt so far on the season. All three of their losses have come on the road to Top 100 teams in Florida, (#81) Akron (in overtime), and (#71) Belmont. Middle Tennessee has won their first three Sun Belt games and four straight overall heading into their matchups this weekend with (#197) Arkansas State and (#225) South Alabama, two of the better teams in the conference. Marcos Knight and Shawn Jones have been the keys to success for the Blue Raiders this season, and they will look to bring the Sun Belt title to Murfreesboro in 2013.
The Next Best Team: (#76) Western Kentucky (10-5, 4-0) – All of the Hilltoppers’ losses have come to Top 100 opponents, in (#65) Southern Miss, (#40) Iowa, (#78) Murray State, VCU, and Louisville, but they’ve yet to score a marquee victory on the year. Their best win is over (#88) DePaul, but their chances to gain at at-large berth took a huge hit when they were unable to register wins in either of their mid-major matchups with VCU and Murray State. This means that they will have to go toe-to-toe with Middle Tennessee and get into the Big Dance the hard way, by winning their conference tournament. T.J. Price, George Fant, and Teeng Akol will try to get them there, and this team will receive a boost when Jamal Crook returns to action.
The Best Player So Far: Augustine Rubit/F, (#225) South Alabama – Rubit has been pretty consistent this year, scoring in double figures in all but one game and recording seven double-doubles in 12 games, including in four straight contests. His performance against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was perhaps his most dominant, putting up 23 and 19 on the Islanders. Rubit scored a season-high 31 points earlier this year in a game against (#235) Georgia State, and has three games of over 15 rebounds. He also recorded five blocks against (#267) Monmouth. The 6’7” forward is leading the Sun Belt in rebounding (10.8 RPG), is second in scoring (19.0 PPG), and is fifth in blocks (1.5 BPG).
The Best Team So Far: (#6) Gonzaga (13-1, 0-0) – Just when it was looking like it was time to start writing off this year’s Gonzaga squad after they barely eked out a victory over (#95) Washington State before dropping their first (and only) game of the season to Illinois, the Zags have kicked it into overdrive. They have faced three Top 50 teams from the Big 12 in (#29) Kansas State, Baylor, and (#21) Oklahoma State, and they have beaten them all. The Bulldogs also beat West Virginia by 34 points earlier this year, as well as (#91) Clemson, Oklahoma, and Davidson. Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris have been the stars of this team, but Kevin Pangos and Gary Hall, Jr. have had some big moments, as well. Gonzaga faces their toughest portion of their remaining schedule in the next weeks, when they play (#79) Saint Mary’s, (#28) Butler and (#53) BYU in a two-week span.
The Next Best Team: (#56) BYU (10-4, 0-0) – The Cougars are off to a good start this year, thanks to the efforts of Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws. Their best wins are over (#94) Utah and (#102) Virginia Tech, but BYU is helped by the fact that all of their losses have come to teams ranked between 45 and 63 in the DPI. Two of these losses, to (#63) Florida State and (#45) Notre Dame, came on a neutral court in the Coaches v. Cancer tournament. The other losses came on the road, in defeats to (#48) Iowa State and Baylor. The Cougars, who are ranked in the Top 50 nationally in points, rebounds, and assists per game, begin their WCC schedule on Thursday when they host (#217) Loyola Marymount.
The Best Player So Far: Brandon Davies/F, (#56) BYU – Davies is third in the West Coast Conference in scoring (20.1 PPG), rebounding (7.9 RPG), and blocks (1.6 BPG), fifth in field goal percentage (.571), and eighth in steals (1.5 SPG). He has been the Cougars’ most consistent player on the season, scoring in double figures every game and recording at least five rebounds in all but their most recent game against Virginia Tech. Davies’ best game of the year came in the team’s loss to Baylor, when his 26 and 17 were not enough to push BYU past the Bears. The 6’9” senior has improved in just about every statistical category this year, despite playing fewer minutes.
The Best Team So Far: (#53) Utah State (11-1, 1-0) – Led by Preston Medlin, Jarred Shaw, and Kyisean Reed, the Aggies are playing some good basketball at the moment. They have won ten straight games after losing to Saint Mary’s, including a win over in-state rival (#67) Weber State and an overtime victory against (#57) Santa Clara. The big knock on the Aggies is that they have not played a very good schedule outside of the three games I’ve mentioned. The nice thing about this team, however, is that they are 15th in the nation in assists, as well as fourth-best in field goal percentage, shooting 51% on the year. Fans in Logan have the 26th of January circled on their schedules, when Louisiana Tech comes to play for the first time.
The Next Best Team: (#58) Louisiana Tech (11-3, 2-0) – Right behind the Aggies are the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech, who are off to wonderful start to the season. Raheem Appleby is the leading scorer for Tech and has two 30-point games already for the Bulldogs this season, against (#245) Chattanooga and Georgia State. Despite Appleby’s inefficiency against Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech still managed to pull off the win at home behind a season-high 18 points in as many minutes for reserve guard Kenyon McNeail. Cordarius Johnson and Kenneth Smith have also been bright spots for the Bulldogs. Smith leads the WAC in steals at 2.5 per game, while big man Michale Kyser leads the conference in blocks with over three per contest.
The Best Player So Far: Kyle Barone/F, (#189) Idaho – Even though his team is sitting at a mediocre 5-7 on the year, Idaho’s Kyle Barone is separating himself a bit from the rest of the players in the WAC. His 16.4 points per game rank him fourth in the conference, while his 8.1 rebounds per night are good for fifth. He is also second in the WAC in shooting percentage, making his shots at a 61% clip on the year. Barone has four double-doubles on the year, including one against (#44) Boise State a few weeks ago. In a win over (#280) Eastern Washington, Barone went off for 20 and 11, plus five blocks and five assists. The 6’10” senior center scored 25 and grabbed 11 boards in Idaho’s WAC opener against (#257) Seattle on Saturday.
Alright, so that wraps up the Conference Spotlight Special! Hopefully you gained a little bit of knowledge about some teams and players you might not have ever heard about, and now you can wow your colleagues and friends with your vast amount of trivial knowledge about college basketball… which should come in handy in March. I’ll leave you now with Wednesday’s predictions.
(#109) Providence @ (#8) Louisville
(#167) Eastern Michigan @ (#33) Kentucky
(#93) Nebraska @ (#20) Ohio State
(#73) Rutgers @ (#11) Syracuse
(#327) Pennsylvania @ (#28) Butler
(#63) Florida State @ (#196) Auburn
(#332) Binghamton @ (#60) Georgia Tech
(#54) Bucknell @ (#258) Cornell
(#90) Massachusetts @ (#194) Miami (OH)
(#92) Air Force @ (#104) Richmond
(#305) Coppin State @ (#81) Akron
(#16) Virginia Commonwealth @ (#276) East Tennessee State
(#204) UNC Asheville @ (#62) Charlotte
(#10) Creighton @ (#61) Illinois State
(#100) St. John’s @ (#105) Villanova
(#44) Boise State @ (#185) Texas-Arlington
(#87) South Florida @ (#99) Central Florida
(#86) Indiana State @ (#113) Northern Iowa
(#26) Wyoming @ (#151) Southern Methodist
(#14) Wichita State @ Drake
(#13) Illinois @ (#119) Purdue
(#64) Seton Hall @ (#88) DePaul
(#80) La Salle @ (#37) Miami (FL)
(#289) Cal State Bakersfield @ (#25) San Diego State
(#94) Utah @ (#30) Arizona State
(#129) UTEP @ (#38) Colorado State
(#170) San Francisco @ (#57) Santa Clara
So there you have all the games involving Top 100 teams in them for tomorrow. Now go check out the Tournament Projections and Complete Standings, updated through games played on New Year’s Eve.