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Monday, January 30, 2012
Seven hot topics for the final month

By Dick Vitale
ESPN.com

As we head into the final month or so of the regular season, there are a number of topics on my mind.

Here are the super seven things that hoop junkies are thinking about and discussing these days.

1. Which conference is the best in college basketball?
Last year at this time, I would have gone with the Big East. This time around, I feel the Big Ten, from top to bottom, has been numero uno. I know that the SEC and Big 12 have quality teams that can state their case. I am sticking with the Big Ten, led by Ohio State.

Thomas Robinson
Baylor's focus in its rematch with Kansas -- stopping Thomas Robinson, who had 27 points and 14 rebounds in their game in January.

2. Who is the Player of the Year right now?
After he averaged just 14 minutes per game last season, I believe Thomas Robinson of Kansas remains the front-runner. Doug McDermott of Creighton has been extremely valuable and deserves consideration as well. You will hear names like Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and Anthony Davis, the diaper dandy down in Bluegrass Country, mentioned as well. Robinson has a big game this weekend as the Jayhawks visit Missouri. I cannot wait to call that one with my buddy Dan Shulman!

3. Will another mid-major crash the party down in New Orleans?
Butler has been in the title game the last two years and many believe that another one of the so-called mid-majors could make a serious run. The prominent names this season have been Murray State, Creighton and Saint Mary's. The Golaiths are going to have a hard time come tournament time this season.

4. Which other mid-majors could surprise come tournament time?
Here are three that have received limited ink this season. Middle Tennessee is 20-3 out of the Sun Belt. The Blue Raiders beat UCLA and Ole Miss while giving Vanderbilt a scare last weekend. Nevada is 18-3 and winners of 15 straight. The WAC leader has several underrated players led by Malik Story and Deonte Burton. Horizon League's Cleveland State is 18-4 and beat the Commodores.

5. Which coach in his first season at the helm has had the greatest impact?
Two stand out to me. Steve Prohm at Murray State has the lone unbeaten team in Division I. Dave Rice has done an incredible job at UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels got a big win over North Carolina in non-conference play. Recent road wins over Boise State and Air Force, both in overtime, showed the team's determination and guts in pulling through in a hostile environment.

6. Who is the premier diaper dandy in America?
My vote goes to Anthony Davis of Kentucky. He has such an impact on a game with his defensive presence in the lane. There have been a lot of impact diaper dandies this season, like Cody Zeller of Indiana, Tony Wroten at Washington, Brad Beal of Florida, Moe Harkless of St. John's, B.J. Young of Arkansas, Trey Burke of Michigan, Austin Rivers of Duke and Davis' teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. There have been lots of others, and it is great to know there is so much young talent in college basketball.

7. Which is the most surprising conference race right now?
There are a few that stand out entering play Monday. Xavier and Temple were the two favorites in the A-10 preseason poll, yet the current co-leaders are Massachusetts, La Salle and St. Bonaventure. Memphis was the prohibitive favorite in Conference USA, but the Tigers are currently tied with Larry Eustachy's hot Southern Miss squad. Iona was the big favorite in the MAAC, but the Gaels are currently tied with Loyola-Maryland and surprising Manhattan. Steve Masiello has done a super job in his first season there. The Pac-12 is wide open as one of the surprises is Oregon, just one-half game back in the standings as Dana Altman's team could pull this off.

March Madness is right around the corner, baby! The VBDI will be working overtime as terms like the bubble, strength of schedule and who's in and who's out take over the hoop happenings!