As the college basketball season approaches the halfway point of conference play, some teams are already creating separation and jockeying for postseason position.
Here’s our weekly look at things to buy, sell, or wait on. Last week’s edition can be found here.
Middle Tennessee: With an 8-0 start to their Conference USA schedule, Giddy Potts and Co. look poised to be dancing again. The Blue Raiders have climbed the KenPom rankings all season, and just cracked the top-50 (48th) for the first time this year. Potts, Jacorey Williams, and Reggie Upshaw form one of the country’s best trios, and are the major cogs in MTSU’s top-ranked offense in conference play. With 10 games left in the season, KenPom gives them a 13.4 percent chance of finishing undefeated in CUSA.
Bucknell: At 8-1, Bucknell has put itself in prime position to win its third consecutive Patriot League regular season title. The Bison have set themselves apart by sporting the league’s most efficient offense and defense. On offense, they get to the line more than any team in the league, and also convert the highest percentage of shots inside the arc. On the other end, they excel at keeping teams off the stripe, and lock up the perimeter to hold teams to just 30.1 percent from distance.
Georgia Southern: We went into detail about the Eagles’ success earlier this week, and for good reason. They’re undefeated in the always entertaining Sun Belt (#FunBelt), and are positioning themselves for a good run at their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1992. Ike Smith and Tookie Brown form the conference’s best 1-2 punch on offense, and the defense as a whole is ranked second in efficiency during league play. The Eagles get the honor of going on the road for two games in three days this weekend, but escaping unscathed could help stretch their two-game lead in the standings.
Monmouth: A staple of our Power Rankings has earned the highly coveted “Buy” recommendation in the Stock Watch. King Rice’s crew has won six straight, and aren’t projected to lose again until their last game of the season at Iona (KenPom gives them a 48% of victory). Their high-powered offense, fueled by the electric Justin Robinson, is running on all cylinders, and hasn’t been held under 70 points in conference play. The easiest way to avoid being snubbed on Selection Sunday (like last year) is to win the league tournament, and the Hawks look like they’re on a mission to do just that.
MVC multi-bid hopes: Despite both being among the best mid-majors in the country, it’s unlikely that Wichita State and Illinois State have the resumes to get at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. With only one top-100 KenPom win in non-conference play between the two (WSU beat Oklahoma at Chesapeake Arena), the MVC’s lone bid will have to come from Arch Madness. In a down year for the Valley, wins over each other are their only chances of adding quality wins to theresume, and that simply won’t be enough to earn an at-large bid.
Rhode Island’s at-large chances: Speaking of squandering chances of an at-large birth, Rhode Island’s are basically gone. The Rams had plenty of chances in non-conference play to pick up some big wins, but only came away with a neutral court win over Cincinnati. After a slow 4-3 start in the A-10, they’ll need to have a nearly flawless run through the rest of the schedule. Home games against Dayton and VCU are big opportunities, but it’s hard to envision a team outside the Power 5 getting an at-large with less than 20 wins.
Northeastern: To the Huskies and all of their fans, let me apologize from depths of my heart. I gave them a “Buy” rating in the Stock Watch a few weeks back, and since then they’ve gone 0-4. Despite being ranked second in offensive and defensive efficiency in the CAA, the Huskies haven’t been able to get back on track in the win column. What was once looking like a potential three-horse race for the CAA title, now has Northeastern on the outside looking in behind UNC-Wilmington and College of Charleston.
Wait on it
The MAC West: When I say anyone can win the MAC West, I mean ANYONE. Four teams are tied with a 4-3 record, Central Michigan sits at 3-4, and Western Michigan is bringing up the rear at 2-5. Akron is running away with the East, but the West is a crapshoot at this point. KenPom projects Eastern Michigan to win it at 11-7, which is probably who I’d pick at this current point in time, but that’ll all change by the end of the weekend.
Conference Unbeatens: Gonzaga (9-0), Illinois State (9-0), UNC-Wilmington (9-0), Middle Tennessee (8-0), Belmont (8-0), Akron (7-0), Vermont (7-0), Georgia Southern (7-0), New Mexico State (6-0), Princeton (3-0), Harvard (2-0). That’s your list of undefeated teams in conference play. It’s rare to see a team run the table in conference play (or the whole year in Gonzaga’s case), but there are plenty of candidates this year. My predictions: Gonzaga, New Mexico State, and Middle Tennessee run the table, while UNC-Wilmington falls just a game short of perfection.
A previous edition of this article omitted Belmont from the conference unbeatens. That error has been corrected.