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Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Contenders or pretenders?

By Dick Vitale

I break down the college basketball season into four parts: the pre-conference schedule, league play, conference tournament time and the postseason. Now that the majority of the pre-conference schedule has been completed, it is time to find out which teams are contenders in their respective conferences and which ones are pretenders.

There are schools that have padded their records on bargain-basement goodies, enjoying cupcake city. They may have a W or two worth noting, but can they hold up in league action night in and night out? How will they fare on the road in a hostile environment?

Here are 10 teams that have started off well. We will find out if they are for real when league action begins.

(All records are as of Dec. 26.)

Wyoming Cowboys (12-0)
Larry Shyatt's team has been a pleasant surprise. The win over Colorado was a big one and a major confidence-booster. Can the Cowboys keep things going against the likes of Mountain West favorites UNLV, San Diego State and New Mexico?

Kansas State Wildcats (9-2)
The win over Florida gave Bruce Weber's team a real lift. The Big 12 has been up and down with the exception of Kansas and Oklahoma State. Rodney McGruder can carry the Wildcats to the winner's circle.

Larry Shyatt
Larry Shyatt has Wyoming off to a 12-0 start, but challenges loom in MWC play.

Maryland Terrapins (10-1)
The Terps lost the season opener to Kentucky and then ran off 10 straight wins. Alex Len is a PTP'er and Mark Turgeon's team should finish in the upper echelon of the ACC. Can Maryland challenge Duke in the league? Don't count Turgeon's squad out.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-2)
Tech won only 11 games a season ago. Picked ninth in the ACC preseason poll, Brian Gregory's team has received little publicity. The Yellow Jackets beat St. Mary's, and the two losses came against quality foes (Illinois and California).

Charlotte 49ers (11-2)
After opening the season 9-0 (including a win over Davidson), Alan Major's team is 2-2 in its past four outings. The losses came against Miami-Florida and Florida State. The A-10 is a solid league, so there will be many challenges ahead.

Seton Hall Pirates (10-2)
The Pirates have been overshadowed by a number of very good Big East teams. Kevin Willard's club has lost to Washington in overtime and at LSU.

Iowa Hawkeyes (11-2)
Sophomore Aaron White has stepped up this season, but the Big Ten is the best league in America. The Hawkeyes lost to Wichita State and at Virginia Tech. They did beat rival Iowa State.

Oregon State Beavers (9-2)
Coach Craig Robinson knows he will have support from the White House as his sister, Michelle Obama, roots for the Beavers. Oregon State has wins over Purdue and New Mexico State, plus close calls in losses to Kansas by six and Alabama by three. Can this team make noise in the Pac-12?

LSU Tigers (7-2)
Johnny Jones has this team playing well and several SEC schools have been erratic. The two losses came by four against Marquette and at Boise State. It is always tough to play down there.

Santa Clara Broncos (11-2)
In a league dominated by Gonzaga and St. Mary's, this could be a dangerous contender. The two losses were both overtime thrillers -- against Utah State and UC-Santa Barbara. A reality check could come this weekend at No. 1 Duke.