Roundtable: Four burning questions

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
10:48
AM ET
Editor’s note: ESPN.com writers Myron Medcalf and Dana O'Neil are joined by ESPN Insider John Gasaway to discuss several burning questions in college basketball. Chief among them: Which conference is the best?

The Big Ten has had a crazy start. Do you still consider it America’s best conference?

John Gasaway: Yes, the Big Ten's still No. 1, even if its teams continue to beat up on each other. There's a good chance the league will put eight teams into the NCAA tournament, and I still think Ohio State is a threat to win it all (as long as the Buckeyes don't run into Brandon Paul in the field of 68). The Big Ten is tops in the nation.

Myron Medcalf: Nope. And I thought that before Nebraska beat Indiana on Wednesday night. The Big East might be deeper. And who cares how "deep" a league is in March anyway? It's all about the contenders. And right now, I'm not convinced that this league's top teams are better than the Big 12's or the Big East's. Tied for second at best. Possibly third.

Dana O’Neil: I do, and the crazy start only reaffirmed it. When conferences go bonkers, either you’ve got average teams beating average teams or good teams finding their footing. In my opinion, this was good wackiness. Michigan, Northwestern and Minnesota are good teams. They aren’t the league’s best, but they are teams that ought to be in the NCAA tournament conversation and are proving that with the “upsets” they chalked up this week. My guess is that come Selection Sunday, the committee will see it the same way and reward a good league for real depth.

More disappointing preseason top-20 team: Arizona or Texas A&M?

[+] EnlargeBilly Kennedy
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireBilly Kennedy's Aggies have gotten off to a disappointing 10-7 start, including 1-4 in Big 12 play.
Gasaway: Definitely the Aggies. Losing Khris Middleton to a knee injury for seven games didn't help, certainly, but even taking that into account, I'm shocked that this team hasn't been able to put even a midlevel Big 12 offense on the floor. To this point in the conference season, A&M's tied with Texas Tech for last place in the league in points per possession. Very disappointing.

Medcalf: Texas A&M. The Aggies survived their nonconference slate and then collapsed in the Big 12. Florida beat them by 20. Iowa State crushed them by 24 on their home floor. Huge disappointment. And I still can't understand why this team can't score. Isn't that the goal?

O’Neil: That’s almost a coin toss, but I’ll lean toward A&M, and the reason is, unlike Arizona, they had the guts of the team back. The Aggies have had horrible and unfortunate issues -- Middleton’s injury, and worse, coach Billy Kennedy’s illness -- but this remains a team with proven starters who should be better than one win in the Big 12. Arizona, on the other hand, lost its heart (Derrick Williams) and its point guard (MoMo Jones), leaving Sean Miller with talented but unproven players.

Will either Villanova or Pitt (or both) return to respectability in the final two months?

Gasaway: If by "respectability" you mean "NCAA tournament," no. Villanova did beat Seton Hall this week, but think of the point Jay Wright's team has reached when we're touting a win at home over the Pirates as a bullet point on its résumé. And while both Nova and Pitt have struggled mightily on D, the Panthers additionally have issues on offense. I'm afraid this will be remembered as a down season for two teams that met in a memorable 2009 regional final.

Medcalf: I don't think so. I think a couple of teams are going to make the Big East interesting in the coming months (see Cincy, West Virginia). But Villanova and Pitt aren't on that list. Bad season for both squads. And I just don't see how either will right the ship before season's end … unless they trade for Dwight Howard.

O’Neil: It depends on how you define respectability. Respectable as compared to what the Wildcats and Panthers are accustomed to? That ship sailed somewhere around the time the Wildcats lost to South Florida and Pitt scored 39 against Rutgers. Respectable as in not in the Big East basement? Maybe. The Big East is not the beast it typically is -- it's more wildly unpredictable than a murderers' row. That works in the favor of both teams, which still have the talent to beat almost anyone in the conference. Added bonus for the Panthers: if and when point guard Travon Woodall returns.

Is this finally the season Memphis and/or Gonzaga finally loses its league stranglehold? If so, which is more vulnerable?

Gasaway: Gonzaga is definitely more vulnerable, because it has two teams as good as Saint Mary's and BYU in the West Coast Conference. Memphis, on the other hand, should actually have a much easier time of it in Conference USA this season than it did last season, when the Tigers had to win the conference tournament to go dancing. The Tigers are the clear favorites to win a regular-season title in their league in 2012. Can't say the same for the Zags.

Medcalf: I still think Memphis will snatch the Conference USA crown, despite the Adonis Thomas injury. But this could be the end for Gonzaga. The Zags have struggled on the road. And Saint Mary's bullied the Bulldogs in their first meeting. Plus, BYU is going to make a run, too. Gonzaga is certainly more vulnerable in the WCC than Memphis is in C-USA.

O’Neil: Tricky question. Gonzaga clearly has a tougher conference to survive, with not just Saint Mary’s but BYU to contend with. Memphis, on the other hand, has to regroup without Adonis Thomas. I’m still not giving up the ship on Gonzaga just yet. The Zags get Saint Mary’s at home and have BYU at their place as well as the Marriott Center. And that, obviously, answers the second question.

Memphis would have seemed more vulnerable to me last week, but now with the news that Thomas is done for the season, Josh Pastner has to make do without his third-leading scorer, and more troublesome, he must rely heavily on the enigmatic Wesley Witherspoon.

Dana O'Neil | email

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