14 non-power conference squads to fear
Throughout the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, I said many times (to some criticism) that there were no "great teams" in college basketball, and that the quality of play across the college basketball landscape was down.
Prior to this season, I fooled myself into believing that greatness would return to college basketball. I think I fooled myself because I wanted it so badly, and because star performers like Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III turned down a weak NBA draft, and because we had a really good crop of freshmen coming into the game. Channeling my inner Arthur Fonzarelli, I was wrrrrrrr ... I was wrrrrrroooo ... I was less than correct.
Take it league by league. While there are some terrific teams and outstanding players and prospects, the overall quality of play across college basketball is simply down. The Big East is not as strong as it has been. The Pac-12 is way down. The Big 12 is very good, but not as good as it has been. The ACC is down relative to past seasons. One could argue persuasively that the SEC is down from its normal level of play, as well.
What does all of this mean? It means that, if some of the top seeded teams are knocked out in or before the Sweet 16, the NCAA tournament can be a fun and wild roller-coaster ride. And some teams outside of the power conferences can take advantage. Among teams not residing in power conferences or the Atlantic 10, here are the prime suspects to be lethal in March (and perhaps April):
UNLV Rebels: The Rebels are the highest rated non-BCS team in the Bilas Index, which is the planet's most reliable measure of quality. UNLV has some good shooters in Chace Stanback, Oscar Bellfield, Anthony Marshall and Kendall Wallace, and interchangeable defenders in Marshall, Bellfield and Justin Hawkins (the Rebels' best on-ball defender). UCLA transfer Mike Moser is an outstanding rebounder and a versatile scorer, but he has been keyed upon since his hot start. UNLV is capable of beating almost anyone, but the issue is high-level consistency. Can the Rebels play with the same intensity at the end of the season as they have thus far?
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