Tortoise is the Hare

Freshman Melo Trimble leads the Terrapins (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

In the Big Ten, the newest team is the fastest team and last week Wisconsin found out just how good it was. The Maryland Terrapins are blazing a trail along the midwest guns blazing.

Leading the Terps is their backcourt, specifically their freshman phenom Melo Trimble. He’s been outstanding for Maryland averaging over 16 points and 3 assists per game. Joining Trimble is senior Dez Wells who has been having an outstanding season himself scoring over 15 points per game himself.

Coach Mark Turgeon was on the hot seat before the season started, but he’s squelched any thoughts about his lack of job security. He has his backcourt to thank for that. It’s one that could take Maryland to the Final Four

Conference Tournaments start this week so here are some previews.

ATLANTIC SUN: The Atlantic Sun has gone in a different direction and is holding the entire tournament at campus sites. North Florida won the regular season title and the only team to beat the Ospreys on their homecourt is the South Carolina-Upstate Spartans. The good news for the Ospreys is the Spartans are on the other side of the bracket. I expect North Florida to ride homecourt to the NCAA tournament.

HORIZON LEAGUE: Last year, Milwaukee shocked everyone and made a run to the Big Dance. This year it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Valparaiso, Green Bay and Detroit are all capable of winning this tournament. Given the fact that the tournament will be played on Valpo’s homecourt and the format protects the higher seeds and I think we’ll see Green Bay and Valpo in the final. In that scenario I expect the Green Bay Phoenix to go dancing.

PATRIOT LEAGUE: This has been a disappointing year overall for the Patriot League. In the past, this has been a league that provided upsets in the tournament. There’s little chance of that happen as the champion will most likely have to play in the First Four. Bucknell is the best program in the league and routinely navigates this tournament. That’ll happen again and the Bison will go dancing.

OHIO VALLEY: Murray St has been the class of the OVC for decades. This year the Racers have been special. They blew through the conference finishing 16-0 in league-play. The next closest teams, Belmont and Eastern Kentucky, have five losses. That means there was no one even close. I don’t expect there to be anyone close to Murray St this week in Nashville. The Racers are going dancing.

BIG SOUTH: This should be one of the better tournaments of the early part of championship week. Charleston Southern and High Point finished atop the league with 13-5 records while Coastal Carolina, Radford and Winthrop all had 12-6 records. In total, seven teams had winning conference records. The tournament will be played at the home of defending champion Coastal Carolina so expect the South Carolina teams to have a strong presence. It will be a Coastal vs. Charleston Southern final with CSU heading back to the tournament.

NORTHEAST: If there has been any truth here its that the homecourt in this tournament has never really mattered. Teams have gone on the road and won in this tournament on a consistent basis. St. Francis (NY) won the regular season title, but I’m willing to bet the Terriers don’t want to see Mount St. Mary’s. The Mountaineers beat the Terriers at home and took them to overtime on the road. I expect the Mountaineers go dancing.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: UCLA, Texas A&M, Michigan St, Purdue

Last Four Out: BYU, Colorado St, Texas, Stanford

Good for games through 3/1.

MIDWEST

1.Kentucky16.North Florida/Bucknell Louisville

8.Ohio St9.Xavier

5.Northern Iowa12.Stephen F. Austin Columbus

4.Louisville13.Harvard

6.Georgetown11.Tulsa Seattle

3.Gonzaga14.New Mexico St

7.Iowa10.NC State Omaha

2.Kansas15.William & Mary

WEST

1.Arizona16.Sacramento St Portland

8.VCU9.Oklahoma St

5.Butler12.Michigan St/Texas A&M Jacksonville

4.North Carolina13.Bowling Green

6.SMU11.Purdue/UCLA Seattle

3.Oklahoma14.UC Davis

7.Georgia10.Indiana Pittsburgh

2.Villanova15.Georgia Southern

SOUTH

1.Virginia16.Charleston Southern Charlotte

8.St. John’s9.Temple

5.Arkansas12.Wofford Louisville

4.Iowa St13.Valparaiso

6.West Virginia11.Illinois Portland

3.Utah14.North Carolina Central

7.San Diego St10.Oregon Omaha

2.Wisconsin15.Albany

EAST

1.Duke16.St. Francis(NY)/Texas Southern Charlotte

8.LSU9.Dayton

5.Notre Dame12.Louisiana Tech Columbus

4.Wichita St13.Murray St

6.Providence11.Mississippi Jacksonville

3.Baylor14.Iona

7.Cincinnati10.Boise St Pittsburgh

2.Maryland15.South Dakota St

Razor Sharp

Arkansas guard Michael Qualls (24) scores two over Auburn guard KT Harrell (1) Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala. (Julie Bennett/ jbennett@al.com)

The college basketball world has its eyes focused on Kentucky in the SEC, but it’s another team in that league that has quietly been having an outstanding season. The Arkansas Razorbacks have begun to distance themselves from everyone in the league not named Kentucky.

With play reminiscent of the Nolan Richardson days, the Razorbacks play an exciting brand of trapping and pressing that is finally paying dividends. The “fastest 40 minutes in basketball” is forcing over 16 turnovers per game giving them 11th most possessions per game nationally.

Coach Mike Anderson is back home and it looks like he’s bringing the old days back. Mark Feb. 28 on your calendars folks. That’s the day the Hogs invade Rupp.

Stock Up: Valparaiso. This team is dangerous. While the country was expecting Green Bay to have a big season in the Horizon, it’s been 24-4 Valpo who’s running away with league title.

Stock Down: George Washington. The Colonials had a really bad week last week. Losing at Duquesne and home to Briante Weber-less VCU made GW’s RPI plummet to the 70’s. Going to be an uphill climb for the Colonials the rest of the way.

Stock Up: SMU. Last year on Selection Sunday, the committee took exception to the Mustangs strength and schedule and road record. That will not be an issue this year. SMU took care of business on paper and is now doing it on the court.

Stock Down: Old Dominion. A once promising at-large resume is faltering in the unfavorable light of being 7-5 in Conference USA.

On to the bracket.

Last Four In: Stanford, St. John’s, Colorado St, NC State

Last Four Out: Pittsburgh, Tulsa, Miami (FL), Oregon

This is good for games through 2/15

MIDWEST

1.Kentucky16.St. Francis(NY)/Bucknell Louisville

8.Dayton9.Texas

5.Northern Iowa12.Valparaiso Louisville

4.North Carolina13.Harvard

6.San Diego St11.Michigan St Seattle

3.Notre Dame14.North Carolina Central

7.VCU10.LSU Portland

2.Arizona15.Florida Gulf Coast

WEST

1.Virginia16.South Dakota St Charlotte

8.Ohio St9.Xavier

5.SMU12.Colorado St/St John’s Columbus

4.Oklahoma13.Eastern Washington

6.Oklahoma St11.NC State/Stanford Pittsburgh

3.Maryland14.Bowling Green

7.Temple10.Illinois Seattle

2.Gonzaga15.High Point

EAST

1.Duke16.Louisiana-Monroe Charlotte

8.West Virginia9.Cincinnati

5.Arkansas12.Wofford Jacksonville

4.Wichita St13.Iona

6.Butler11.Texas A&M Columbus

3.Iowa St14.UC Davis

7.Indiana10.Georgia Pittsburgh

2.Villanova15.Albany

SOUTH

1.Wisconsin16.New Mexico St/Alabama St Omaha

8.UCLA9.Mississippi

5.Baylor12.Murray St Jacksonville

4.Louisville13.Louisiana Tech

6.Providence11.Iowa Portland

3.Utah14.Stephen F. Austin

7.Georgetown10.Purdue Omaha

2.Kansas15.William & Mary

Sons of Westwood

UCLA coach Ben Howland and freshman Shabazz Muhammad. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The rumors of UCLA’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  Early in the season it looked bleak for UCLA after struggling to beat Georgia and losing to Cal Poly.  The Bruins chemistry looked shoddy and they were working to incorporate Shabazz Muhammad into the lineup.

Now the Bruins are tied for first in the Pac-12 and Muhammad, along with other freshmen Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are key contributors to the team’s success.

Those freshmen are now meshing with North Carolina transfers, David and Travis Wear and Larry Drew II, to form a team that can score and will put fear in the hearts of any team in March.

That being said; regular season success isn’t the measuring stick in Westwood.  It’s Final Fours and national championships and any season when neither happens is a disappointment.  So while I commend the Bruins for figuring it out, they have a long way to go to please their fans.

It’s March.  No stock report this week as we have conference tournament previews.

BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE: This is a league that’s grown in numbers and appears to be undergoing a changing of the guard.  UNC-Asheville and Coastal Carolina had been at or near the top of the standings lately, but this year Charleston Southern and High Point have taken over that mantle.  I like experience and until proven otherwise, I think UNC-Asheville will find itself in the NCAA tournament again.

HORIZON LEAGUE: Butler is gone, but the top of the conference looks similar to last season.  Valparaiso finished in first, the same place it finished in 2012 while Detroit finished second – one spot above where it finished last year.  In the conference tournament Detroit avenged regular season losses to Valpo to get to the dance.  I think Detroit is the more talented and more explosive team and will go dancing  again.

OHIO VALLEY: One of the more underrated moves in conference realignment was Belmont leaving the Atlantic Sun to go to the OVC.  That move has proven to be a good one for the Bruins as they won the regular season title in the league while gaining a conference mate that rivals them in quality in Murray St.  The Racers return one of the best players in the country in Isaiah Canaan, but did not finish the season well.  Watch out for Eastern Kentucky, but I think you have to go with the Bruins in this league.

ATLANTIC SUN: Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami earlier this season and looked to be in good shape.  However, Mercer walked the Eagles down even with a loss to them last week.  Mercer is hosting the conference tournament and I expect the Bears to be tough to beat on their home court.

On to the Bracket.

Last Four In: Tennessee, Saint Mary’s, Villanova, Iowa St

Last Four Out: Kentucky, Alabama, Iowa, Arizona St

This bracket is good for games thru 3/3

MIDWEST

1.Indiana16.Norfolk St/Charleston Southern Dayton, OH

8.Pittsburgh9.Creighton

5.Saint Louis12.Akron  Salt Lake City

4.Oregon13.Iowa St/Tennessee

6.Illinois11.Louisiana Tech Salt Lake City

3.New Mexico14.Princeton

7.North Carolina10.La Salle Philadelphia

2.Georgetown15.Stony Brook

EAST

1.Duke16.Robert Morris Philadelphia

8.Missouri9.Oklahoma

5.Arizona12.Belmont Dayton, OH

4.Ohio St13.Villanova/St. Mary’s

6.UNLV11.Virginia Kansas City

3.Kansas St14.Stephen F. Austin

7.VCU10.Colorado Lexington, KY

2.Louisville15.Niagara

SOUTH

1.Kansas16.Montana Kansas City

8.Memphis9.Minnesota

5.UCLA12.Boise St San Jose

4.Marquette13.Davidson

6.Syracuse11.Colorado St Auburn Hills, MI

3.Michigan St14.Valparaiso

7.Butler10.Wichita St Lexington, KY

2.Miami(FL)15.Long Beach St

WEST

1.Gonzaga16.Northeastern/Southern San Jose

8.California9.San Diego St

5.Wisconsin12.Cincinnati   Austin

4.Oklahoma St13.Bucknell

6.NC State11.Middle Tennessee St  Austin

3.Florida14.South Dakota St

7.Notre Dame10.Temple Auburn Hills, MI

2.Michigan15.Mercer

In graphical form

Made of Gold

Jae Crowder

Jim Prisching/AP Marquette's Jae Crowder (32) celebrates a basket against Cincinnati during a game on Feb. 11 in Milwaukee. Marquette won 95-78.

Marquette was expected to be among the favorites in the Big East, but I’m not sure many people thought the Golden Eagles would be this good.  Their currently second in the conference with a 13-3 league record losing just one of their last 13 games.

Marquette doesn’t have a lot of size, but have two outstanding players in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom.  These are two players that can carry the Golden Eagles in March.  Johnson-Odom, the Tobacco Road-native, is one of the best shooters in the Big East as he makes over 40 percent of his three-pointers.  Crowder is a matchup nightmare who’s physical enough to score in the paint, but can also step outside and show range on his jumper.

This team may not rebound the ball well and may be unconventional, but it’s going to play hard and defend to the best of its ability.  When you can do that with two all-Big East caliber players, you can make some noise.

No Stock Report this week as we preview some mid-major conference tournaments.

BIG SOUTH: This is pretty simple.  UNC-Asheville is the most experienced and clearly the best team in this conference.  The Bulldogs finished four games better than it’s next closest rival, Coastal Carolina.  Throw in the fact that all games would be played in Asheville and it will be extremely difficult to unseat the Bulldogs as Big South champions.

HORIZON LEAGUE: This figures to be one of the more competitive tournaments in all of college basketball.  Valparaiso won the conference outright with a 14-4 record, but showed some kinks in the armor down the stretch.  The Crusaders along with Cleveland St will be protected seeds getting byes until the semifinals, but I’m not sure that’s going to protect them.  I’m picking the Detroit Titans to find a way to dance.

OHIO VALLEY: In the games leading up to its loss to Tennessee St, Murray St did not look like an at-large candidate.  Since that loss, they’ve been playing like a team possessed.  The Racers have their mojo and motivation back and is out to prove a point.  They’ll be going dancing.

ATLANTIC SUN: At one point this season, the race for the regular season title was heated.  That was before Mercer lost three of its last four games to hand Belmont the league title.  There’s good news for Mercer though, it’s hosting the conference tournament and had Belmont on the ropes in the regular season finale.  It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season.  I don’t think Belmont can do it.  Mercer is going dancing for the first time in 27 years.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Dayton, Northwestern, Miami(FL), Texas
Last Four Out: St. Joseph’s, Colorado St, Arizona, UCF

Good for Games through 2/26

SOUTH

1.Kentucky16.Stony Brook/Savannah St Louisville

8.Memphis9.Washington

5.Indiana12.West Virginia Louisville

4.Gonzaga13.Texas/Dayton

6.Murray St11.Connecticut Albuquerque

3.Baylor14.Akron

7.Florida St10.Cincinnati Pittsburgh

2.Ohio St15.Belmont

WEST

1.Michigan St16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Columbus

8.Iowa St9.Saint Louis

5.Notre Dame12.Long Beach St Portland

4.Wichita St13.Drexel

6.Florida11.Miami(FL)/Northwestern Nashville

3.Georgetown14.Davidson

7.New Mexico10.California Omaha

2.Kansas15.Valparaiso

MIDWEST

1.Duke16.Bucknell Greensboro

8.Alabama9.Kansas St

5.Louisville12.Xavier Nashville

4.Wisconsin13.Iona

6.San Diego St11.Harvard Albuquerque

3.Marquette14.Nevada

7.St. Mary’s10.Virginia Omaha

2.Missouri15.UT-Arlington

EAST

1.Syracuse16.Long Island Pittsburgh

8.Purdue9.BYU

5.Temple12.Mississippi St Portland

4.UNLV13.Oral Roberts

6.Vanderbilt11.Seton Hall Columbus

3.Michigan14.Middle Tennessee St

7.Creighton10.Southern Mississippi Greensboro

2.North Carolina15.Weber St

In Graphical Form

Anthony Davis’ Block Party

Kentucky's Anthony Davis (23) and Kentucky's Terrence Jones (3) block a shot by South Carolina's Damien Leonard (32) during the first half of their NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, in Columbia, S.C. (Mary Ann Chastain, Associated Press)

There’s a lot people can say about the way John Calipari has built his program at Kentucky.  You can say he’s running a factory for pros.  But right now, you can say he has the No. 1 team in the nation and a large part is because of freshman Anthony Davis.

Davis, a likely first-team all-American and candidate for national player of the year is setting records for the Wildcats on the defensive end.  Davis broke Shaquille O’Neal’s record for blocks by a SEC freshman and still has plenty of ball to come.  Right now Davis has 127 blocks, which is a staggering number for anyone.

The Wildcats’ great defense doesn’t end with Davis though.  Fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may be the best overall defender on the team with other athletic guys like Terrance Jones and Doron Lamb who compete on that end of the floor as well.

This is Calipari’s best team since he’s been at Kentucky.  He may give Big Blue Nation the championship it so desperately craves.

Stock Up: Wichita St.  The entire country spent the first three months of the season praising Creighton and rightfully so.  However, if you look at the Missouri Valley Conference standings now you’d see that it’s Wichita St that has a two-game lead on the rest of league.  The Shockers went to Omaha on Saturday and dismantled the Blue Jays, sending a message to the country that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in March.

Stock Down: The leaders in the Horizon League.  Valparaiso and Cleveland St are solid teams with some big non-conference wins.  I have no faith that either one of these two will win the Horizon League tournament.  Cleveland St lost two games last week and Valparaiso, who beat Cleveland St last week, lost it’s next game to Youngstown St.  These two are showing me that they can’t handle success and with the fact that Butler is lurking doesn’t bode well for the Horizon leaders.

Stock Up: Michigan St.  Tom Izzo is at it again.  His team went into Columbus and beat Ohio St.  Izzo, in my opinion, is the best coach in the country and he has a team with chemistry this year.  An Izzo team that has talent and chemistry can do a lot of damage down the stretch.

Stock Down: Pitt.  I praised the Panthers last week, but they promptly went out and lost two games – effectively ending any hopes of an at-large bid.  They need to string a bunch of wins together and last week wasn’t just a speed bump, it was a mountain.  The Panthers will have to win the Big East tournament to get a bid.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Minnesota, Northwestern, NC State, Texas
Last Four Out: Seton Hall, UCF, Wyoming, Washington

Good for games through of 2/12

SOUTH

1.Kentucky16.Stony Brook/Norfolk St Louisville

8.Murray St9.West Virginia

5.San Diego St12.Xavier Portland

4.Michigan13.Long Beach St

6.Wichita St11.Illinois Columbus

3.Georgetown14.Valparaiso

7.Vanderbilt10.Purdue Greensboro

2.North Carolina15.Belmont

WEST

1.Ohio St16.Long Island Pittsburgh

8.Iowa St9.Southern Miss

5.St. Mary’s12.Miami(FL) Nashville

4.Louisville13.Nevada

6.Wisconsin11.Cincinnati Albuquerque

3.Baylor14.Iona

7.Mississippi St10.Saint Louis Greensboro

2.Duke15.Bucknell

MIDWEST

1.Missouri16.UNC-Asheville/Mississippi Valley St Omaha

8.California9.New Mexico

5.Notre Dame12.NC State/Minnesota Portland

4.Gonzaga13.Oral Roberts

6.Florida St11.Alabama  Louisville

3.Marquette14.Akron

7.Memphis10.Kansas St Columbus

2.Michigan St15.Weber St

EAST

1.Syracuse16.UT-Arlington Pittsburgh

8.Creighton9.BYU

5.Temple12.Texas/Northwestern  Nashville

4.Florida13.Middle Tennessee St

6.Indiana11.Connecticut Albuquerque

3.UNLV14.Davidson

7.Virginia10.Harvard Omaha

2.Kansas15.Drexel

In Graphical Form

Steamin’ towards March

Purdue F JaJuan Johnson has been outstanding this season

Last month, it looked like Ohio St was going to win the Big Ten championship in a landslide. Now the Purdue Boilermakers are making their claim for a piece of that title.

Some wrote the Boilermakers off after Robbie Hummel suffered another torn ACL. However, there was still plenty of talent left in the cupboard in West Lafayette, Ind.

JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have been outstanding for the Boilermakers averaging 20.4 and 18.5 points per game respectively. They have more than picked up the slack for Hummel and look like they’re positioning themselves for a deep run this March.

The Boilers are ending the season with two very winnable games at home against Illinois and on the road at Iowa. If Wisconsin can manage to upset Ohio St on Sunday, they can possibly claim a share of the Big Ten title and an outstanding chance for a No. 1 seed.

No Stock Report this week as we preview some mid-major conference tournaments.

BIG SOUTH: This one is hard to call. Coastal Carolina was cruising before an injury to Kierre Greenwood and a suspension to Desmond Holloway derailed its dreams. Now head coach Cliff Ellis is hiring lawyers in response to media reports about the state of his program. It doesn’t smell like a team ready to claim a NCAA bid. It’s sad to see, but I don’t see Coastal getting past the semi-finals. In the Chanticleers place will be the Liberty Flames.

OHIO VALLEY: Anybody who doesn’t want to see Murray St and Morehead St duke it out one more time doesn’t like college basketball. Murray St is a squad that I thought would be in position for an at-large bid this season, but the Racers struggled against their ramped up schedule. Meanwhile, Morehead St has one of the best players in the nation in Kenneth Faried, the NCAA all-time rebounding leader. I expect the two to meet again in the finals with Murray St coming out on top.

ATLANTIC SUN: Belmont has been in complete control of the Atlantic Sun the entire year. The Bruins have lost four games all year and only one of those came in league play. This team has been one of the dominant programs in the Atlantic Sun since it joined the league and this year reinforced that. There’s nothing indicating any team other than Belmont has a chance. The Bruins are going dancing.

HORIZON LEAGUE: This will be one of the more competitive conference tournaments in all of college basketball. Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Butler and Cleveland St tied for the league title at 13-5 with Valparaiso finishing in fourth at 12-6. In fact, only 3 games separate first and sixth place. This is pretty much a toss up, but you have to go with the experience of the underachieving Butler Bulldogs to return to the NCAA tournament.

This Week’s Bracket Projections:

Last Four In: Washington St, Baylor, Richmond, Alabama
Last Four Out: Memphis, Butler, Penn St, California

Good for Games through 2/27

SOUTHWEST
1.Kansas16.McNeese St/Texas Southern Tulsa
8.Tennessee9.Gonzaga
5.Xavier12.Missouri St Tucson
4.Connecticut13.Princeton
6.Villanova11.Washington Washington, D.C.
3.Wisconsin14.Bucknell
7.Missouri10.Virginia Tech Chicago
2.Notre Dame15.Murray St
SOUTHEAST
1.Purdue16.Long Island Chicago
8.Utah St9.Marquette
5.Georgetown12.Colorado Tampa
4.Florida13.Belmont
6.Texas A&M11.Alabama/Washington St Washington, D.C.
3.Syracuse14.Wisconsin-Milwaukee
7.UNLV10.Michigan St Charlotte
2.Duke15.Vermont
WEST
1.BYU16.Coastal Carolina Denver
8.Temple9.Old Dominion
5.Vanderbilt12.UAB Tampa
4.St. John’s13.Oakland
6.Kansas St11.St. Mary’s Charlotte
3.North Carolina14.Fairfield
7.UCLA10.Georgia Cleveland
2.Pittsburgh15.Long Beach St
EAST
1.Ohio St16.Northern Colorado/Bethune-Cookman Cleveland
8.West Virginia9.Florida St
5.Kentucky12.Richmond/Baylor Tucson
4.San Diego St13.Charleston
6.Arizona11.Illinois Denver
3.Louisville14.Kent St
7.George Mason10.Cincinnati Tulsa
2.Texas15.Florida Atlantic

In Graphical Form