College basketball’s conference races are heating up. Find out which leagues will provide the most competition down the stretch.
If you can believe it, we are now at the halfway point of the 2020-21 college basketball regular season. It’s been a wild season so far for a number of reasons, particularly with teams overcoming the obstacles made by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The on-court results have been especially intriguing as well. Monday’s AP poll marked the first time in nearly 60 years that Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina are all unranked. It’s just been that type of season for many of the typical college basketball powerhouses.
Nevertheless, league play is heating up. With just under seven weeks of regular season competition remaining, let’s take a look at the best conference races in college hoops.
Contenders: UCLA, USC, Oregon, Colorado
It’s busy at the top once again in the Pac-12. Arizona State was the highest-ranked team out of the conference in the preseason, sitting at No. 18 in AP Top 25. Instead, the Sun Devils are 4-6 (1-3 Pac-12) on the season and have struggled mightily with injuries and the departure of Romello White, who transferred to Ole Miss in the offseason.
ASU’s challenging start has paved way for a quartet of contenders in UCLA, USC, Oregon and Colorado. The Bruins are the only remaining unbeaten team in Pac-12 play at 7-0, thanks to a whopping six players averaging double-figure scoring. Andy Enfield’s Trojans are streaking behind Evan Mobley and Isaiah Mobley, who are averaging a combined 26.4 points and 15.6 rebounds per game.
The non-California teams also in the mix are Oregon and Colorado. The Ducks’ transfer-led group has yet to reach their full potential with a flurry of injuries but still remain afloat with big tests looming. Colorado is possibly the biggest surprise in the conference so far, already logging wins over USC, Oregon and Stanford. The Buffaloes don’t have any glaring weaknesses and remain fairly balanced on both ends thanks to their upperclassmen-led rotation.
Contenders: Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin,
At this point, the Big Ten feels like a “Flavor of the Week” conference, meaning there is a new favorite on a weekly basis. For the first half of last week, this team was Michigan, which dismantled a Top 10 Wisconsin squad before collapsing against Minnesota on Saturday.
Though Michigan might still be the favorite to win the league, the overall depth of the Big Ten will prevent a runaway winner. Despite question marks about its defense heading into the season, Iowa has been arguably the most steady team in the conference, consistently lighting up teams behind its top-ranked offense averaging 1.25 points per possession. Its only losses were against No. 1 Gonzaga and in overtime at a Minnesota squad that looks unbeatable at home.
The third firm contender is Wisconsin, which has certainly had its bumps en route to a 11-3 (5-2 Big Ten) record but is built for the long haul. Minus the Michigan blowout, the Badgers have endured their challenging schedule with a business-like approach. This is still a team that is capable of being upset when its perimeter shots aren’t falling, but the long-term potential for Greg Gard’s squad is still a deep March run.