January will be coming to an end soon, and by now we have a pretty good idea of who will contend for conference titles.
Once February hits, the real excitement begins. NCAA tournament chatter will really pick up, and every game could have seeding implications for conference tournaments.
League titles aren’t won in January, but they certainly can be lost. This week’s stock watch takes a look at teams that have jumped out to hot starts in their respective leagues.
If you’re inclined to do so, you can check out last week’s jinx-filled Stock Watch here.
Teams to Buy
Belmont: The Bruins own an eight-game win streak that includes the first six games of OVC play. They boast the league’s most efficient offense and the second-most efficient defense, which certainly bodes well moving forward. Evan Bradds appears poised to repeat as OVC POY, and is the key cog in Belmont’s offense. With a two-game lead in the East division, the Bruins are likely to roll into the conference tournament as a top seed.
Winthrop: The Eagles picked up a massive win against UNC-Asheville Thursday night, and are tied atop the Big South with a 6-1 record. Their game with Liberty on Saturday will decide who gets sole possession of first-place, and the Eagles will have the upper hand on their home court. Keon Johnson remains one of the most exciting players in the country, and has been the most dynamic offensive force in the conference.
Florida Gulf Coast: Well, would you look at that. Our good friends at Dunk City are at the top of the Atlantic Sun once again. A loss to USC Upstate snapped a seven-game win streak, but KenPom still projects the Eagles to win their conference by two games. They’ve yet to find their mark from deep in league play as they’re shooting just 30.3 percent, but they’re track record this year overall (37.8 percent) suggests an improvement is possible. And if they do, the Atlantic Sun could be in trouble.
Princeton: A three-game win streak to start Ivy League play has the Tigers sitting pretty in first place. Granted, they’ve played two more games than almost every other team, and won’t play again until Feb. 3rd because they have finals next week (I know, it’s weird). Devin Cannady has developed into a go-to guy, and is scoring 17.3 points per game in league play. They’ll have their work cut out for them with three straight road games after finals week, but their recent play shows that they’ve got the chops to continue winning.
Teams to Sell
Little Rock: Wes Flanagan’s first year hasn’t carried the momentum over from last year’s upset over Purdue in the NCAA tournament. The Trojans have already lost more games this year than all of last season, and are off to a 2-4 start in #FunBelt play. The biggest difference? Their defensive performance. The Trojans finished last year with a defensive efficiency of 95.0, good for 34th in the KenPom rankings. This year that rating has ballooned 104.5, which is 180th.
Ohio: The loss of Antonio Campbell is an absolute back-breaker for the Bobcats. We covered it at length here, but it goes without saying that Ohio won’t be the same without him. The Bobcats dropped their last two games (both without Campbell), and averaged only 58.5 points in the process. Ohio is good enough to still have a decent finish in the MAC, but the ceiling is certainly much lower without the reigning MAC POY.
UMass: The Minutemen opened up A-10 play without about as tough a schedule as possible. A home win against Dayton is great, but they missed some major opportunities for road wins against VCU and Rhode Island. Now sporting a 2-4 record in conference play, they’re caught up in the logjam that is the A-10. Despite playing at one of the fastest paces in the country, the Minutemen haven’t been able to translate that into efficiency. Having a top-50 defense doesn’t mean much when you can’t score.
Teams to Hold Steady
La Salle: Speaking of the confusing A-10, La Salle is part of a three-way tie for first place at 5-1. After dropping their opener to Dayton, the Explorers have reeled off five-straight victories behind the conference’s best offense. A major opportunity awaits this weekend as they venture to the life-altering Siegel Center for a chance to extend the winning streak.
Stephen F. Austin: Thomas Walkup and the Lumberjacks captured the country’s hearts in March Madness last year. But Kyle Keller has struggled in his first year at the helm in Nacogdoches. A disappointing 5-7 non-conference record left a lot of concern, some of which remains. They’re brutal offensively, but they’ve played well of late by winning three straight. They’re only one game back in the Southland, so keep an eye on the Lumberjacks for now.