Just When You Thought It was Safe to Go to the Desert

The Arizona Wildcats and Arizona St Sun Devils are staking claim to being two of the best teams in the West.  This is shaping to be the best year of college basketball in that state since 1995 when Arizona St earned a #5 seed and made it to the Sweet 16 and Arizona received a #4.

The Sun Devils, led by James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph, have only lost only once this season and despite a lackluster performance Sunday against IUPUI, has looked very impressive in the early-going. Harden and Pendergraph are the kinds of players that can take this team on a long tournament run.

I didn’t expect much out of the Wildcats after the retirement of long-time coach, Lute Olson, but they have really impressed me. Their two losses are by a total of two points and they have some serious firepower on that team in Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, and Jordan Hill.  While Sunday’s win versus Gonzaga is considered an upset, there was nothing fluke about it.  This Arizona team has the chops to play with anybody.

Stock Up: Niagara.  I watched much of the Purple Eagles 15-point win over South Florida on Sunday.  Here we had a mid-major taking on a Big East school on said school’s homecourt and that Big East school did not belong on the court with the Purple Eagles.  They have the atheticism to just lock teams down.  I expect to see this team in March.

Stock Down: Pennsylvania and Prinecton.  For twenty years, these two schools held the Ivy League in a chokehold.  It now seems as if both programs have fallen on hardtimes due to the departures of former head coaches, Fran Dunphy (Temple) and John Thompson III (Georgetown).  These were two teams that not only dominated Ivy League competition, they also won their fare share of non-conference games as well.  Now they can’t beat Maine.

Stock Up: Xavier.  This is the most underrated program in the country.  There aren’t many teams that share the success that the Musketeers have recently.  After pushing Ohio St to the brink in the second round in 2007, Xavier made it all the way to the Elite 8 last year.  The Musketeers are loaded again and is a legitimate Final Four contender.

Stock Down: DePaul.  God Bless Jerry Wainwright, but that seat is warming up.  Losing to a 4-6 Morgan St team at home is unacceptable.  The Blue Demons have lost four in a row and have Seth Curry coming to town tomorrow.  With the Big East being the monster of a conference it is, it could be a long season in Chicago.

Stock Up: Horizon League.  Currently ranked in the top half of Division I conferences ahead of the WAC and MAC, the Horizon League is currently making a play to be a three-bid league.  Yes, that’s right, THREE.  Butler, Illinois-Chicago, and Cleveland St are winning big-time games on the road.  It will be a great year for the Horizon League.

Stock Down: Kansas.  The defending National Champions losing to UMass is shameful.  They have one solid win versus Washington, but they better fix whatever’s ailing them in hurry.  Four of their next six are against Temple, Arizona, Tennessee, and Michigan St.  Ouch.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

SOUTH

1.North Carolina16.Quinnipiac Greensboro, NC

8.Villanova9.Illinois

5.Bayor12.West Virginia Boise, ID

4.Tennessee13.Niagara

6.Florida St11.Missouri Minneapolis, MN

3.Purdue14.Eastern Washington

7.Arizona St10.Dayton Kansas City, MO

2.Louisville15.Mercer

WEST

1.Oklahoma16.Hampton Kansas City, MO

8.Wisconsin9.BYU

5.Wake Forest12.Miami(OH) Miami, FL

4.Georgetown13.Western Kentucky

6.Michigan11.Texas A&M Philadelphia, PA

3.Syracuse14.VMI

7.Arizona10.Florida Portland, OR

2.Gonzaga15.UC-Santa Barbara

MIDWEST

1.Pittsburgh16.ND St/Ark-Pine Bluff Dayton, OH

8.Northwestern9.St. Mary’s

5.Clemson12.Illinois St Boise, ID

4.UCLA13.Jacksonville St

6.Memphis11.Temple Minneapolis, MN

3.Notre Dame14.Utah St

7.Michigan St10.Seton Hall Greensboro, NC

2.Duke15.Navy

EAST

1.Connecticut16.Cornell Philadelphia, PA

8.Kansas9.California

5.Davidson12.Maryland Portland, OR

4.Ohio St13.George Mason

6.Marquette11.Butler Miami, FL

3.Texas14.Lamar

7.Miami(FL)10.Minnesota Dayton, OH

2.Xavier15.Vermont

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