Each weekday, our college hoops experts discuss the biggest issues, trends and themes in college basketball.
1. Most likely to lose on Wednesday: SMU, Duke, Oklahoma or Villanova?
Andy Katz: Duke. Clemson is playing its best basketball of the season. While Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville isn't Littlejohn Coliseum (it's undergoing renovations), the Tigers will still be a tough out. A Clemson win could suddenly jump the Tigers into the NCAA bubble conversation -- something that seemed a bit farfetched in the preseason.
Eamonn Brennan: Clemson's 3-1 ACC start has been genuinely impressive; the win at Syracuse (which is struggling, sure, but the Carrier Dome is never an easy place to win) might be even more so than Sunday's home win over Louisville. SMU should handle East Carolina, and it's hard to see Villanova losing at home; Oklahoma on the road at rival OSU probably is the next-best contender.
John Gasaway: Oklahoma. The Sooners are going places this season, but this is a Bedlam game, Gallagher-Iba is a tough place to play and OU is just 2-4 in Stillwater over the past six seasons.
2. South Carolina hasn't beaten a ranked team and won't face one until Feb. 6. At what point can we declare the Gamecocks to be legit?
Katz: Now. The Gamecocks have experience, leadership, diversity of scorers and the ability to handle adversity when a game gets tight. The Gamecocks may not win the SEC, but they aren't going away.
Brennan: Yeah, we're already there. If you want to argue that the Gamecocks' unbeaten record isn't a totally accurate representation of their quality, that's probably fair because their nonconference schedule was inarguably soft, and they've yet to play the best the SEC has to offer (We're looking at you, Vanderbilt. Tsk-tsk). But the Gamecocks play great defense, make their 3s and draw more free throw chances than any other team in the country. They are, as the kids say, legit.
Gasaway: Define "legit." The Gamecocks are way better than anyone (present company included) thought they'd be, they absolutely belong in the Top 25, and they're on a trajectory to make their first NCAA tournament since 2004 with ease. Now, are Frank Martin's guys the best team in the SEC? Maybe not. But South Carolina is a great story, and Martin is a finalist for national coach of the year in my book.
3. We only ever hear about Villanova, Xavier, Providence and Butler in the Big East. Could Marquette be the sleeper?
Katz: Possibly. But don't rule out Creighton either. As for the Golden Eagles, they have one of the top frontcourts in the country with Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer. If the guards can limit turnovers, this team will be in the thick of the race for a top-three Big East finish.
Brennan: The attention-to-performance ratio is probably least favorable to Creighton right now, considering the Bluejays are 3-2 in the Big East after Tuesday's loss to Providence and have one of the league's most efficient offenses thus far. Marquette is more of a deep sleeper, let's say. If the Golden Eagles were a fantasy football player, you'd take them super late in your draft, when the stakes were low, on the off chance their talent (Ellenson, Haanif Cheatham) suddenly explodes.
Gasaway: There aren't many Big East teams that are going to pick up a road win at Providence, so my hat is definitely off to Steve Wojciechowski and the Golden Eagles. (Just don't tell them I don't actually wear a hat.) Still, Marquette has a really tough time holding on to the ball and then getting it in the basket. And while Creighton is terrific at the former it also has issues of its own with the latter. I'm not sure there is a sleeper in the Big East this season.