Let MMM staff favorite and college basketball insider Jon Rothstein remind you:
This is ONLY February.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 4, 2017
College basketball has taken center stage and it hasn’t disappointed. Close games, competitive conference races, and March Madness buzz have thrust the sport into the limelight.
Selection Sunday is less than a month away, and teams are jockeying for position heading into postseason play. Consider this time of year to be college basketball’s version of Moving Day at the Masters. Let’s get to it.
Gonzaga: I won’t go into much detail because if you aren’t on board with Gonzaga yet then I don’t know what else to tell you. Their win over Saint Mary’s all but guarantees they’ll go undefeated in the regular season, and there’s no reason to think they won’t enter the NCAA Tournament without a loss as well. Hell, they might not even lose until April. That is, if they lose at all.
Furman: The Southern Conference has a good race shaping up, and Furman sits in the driver’s seat at 11-2. The Paladins have won eight straight, and rank in the top-30 nationally in both 2-point and 3-point shooting. Combining efficient shooting with a defense that has given up under a point per possession in conference play is a recipe that gives them a good chance to claim the conference’s lone bid.
Cal St. Bakersfield: New Mexico State has received more than its fair share of praise from this site, but it’s the Roadrunners who sit atop the WAC. They picked up a 19-point win over the Aggies last week, and a convincing win over UTRGV stretched their win streak to six games. Their defense is ranked 31st nationally by KenPom, and their conference foes have only cracked 70 points in two games. Also, Damiyne Durham takes the highest percentage of his team’s shots when he’s on the floor of any player in the country. Shooters shoot.
Weber State: For Randy Rahe’s crew, the three-point line is key. The Wildcats are sixth in the country in 3-point shooting, and their opponents take the lowest percentage of their shots from three in the country. They’ve rode their perimeter prowess to a 10-2 record in the Big Sky, and are in position to make their second straight NCAA Tournament. A third appearance in four years could make Rahe a name that gets mentioned on the coaching carousel this offseason.
Green Bay: After their win against Valparaiso, the Phoenix had a chance to make their move in the Horizon League. They didn’t, losing their following two games, and they now trail the Crusaders by 2.5 games in the standings. With two road games coming, they’ll need to get back in the win column to maintain their positioning for the Horizon League tournament.
Eastern Michigan: Going into the season, Eastern Michigan was projected to be one of the best teams in the MAC. They’ve fallen short of those expectations, and losing six of their last seven has them at 5-7 in the congested MAC West. They’re only a game back of four teams, but they have to start winning games now, and their play of late doesn’t provide much reason for optimism.
Lehigh: The top of the Patriot League is as close as any race, but Lehigh is on the outside looking in. The Mountain Hawks are one of two teams (Bucknell) with a positive efficiency margin in the league, but only have an 8-6 record to show for it. They’ll need a strong finish to the year to position themselves for another run in the Patriot League tournament.
MEAC? MEAC!: The MEAC is the lowest rated conference on KenPom, but it has two of the longest winning streaks in the country. North Carolina Central sits in first at 9-1, and has won nine straight. Norfolk State trails by only a half game, and has won eight in a row. Will North Carolina Central make their second NCAA Tournament in four years, or will Norfolk State return in hopes of topping their upset of 2 seed Missouri in 2012?
Stony Brook: All the hype in the America East is focused on Vermont, and for good reason. But don’t count the Seawolves just yet. Jeff Boals has done a great job picking up where Steve Pikiell left off, and will likely get two more shots at the Catamounts. Vermont fans have every reason to be confident -- some even have their thoughts on a March Madness run -- but Stony Brook will make them work for it.