Originally Published: January 20, 2013

Early conference pulse from around the nation

ESPN.com staff

Kansas erased a double-digit hole on the road to remain the best of the Big 12. Florida asserted itself with a 31-point win over Missouri and now looks like the team to beat in the SEC.

Oregon snapped UCLA's 10-game winning streak and appears to be a bona fide contender in the Pac-12. North Carolina pushed itself back to .500 in the ever-shuffling ACC standings. The Big Ten is loaded with contenders. And for the second straight weekend, another No. 1 team went down -- this time, Louisville in the Big East.

It's still early -- very early -- in league play, but after a frenetic Saturday filled with blowouts and rallies, our writers break down who stands where in various conferences.

ACC

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Maryland, with its deep bench, the addition of transfer Dez Wells and a 13-game winning streak to end the nonconference season, wasn't expected to have three losses this early in conference play. Then again, who would have projected that once-ranked North Carolina would be 2-2?

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Mark Goldman/Icon SMIMark Turgeon's Terps have been inconsistent so far in the ACC.

If you're looking for clarity in the ACC race, you didn't find much Saturday. But here are a few things (we think) we know (for now):

While the Terps (2-3) are capable of toppling a league favorite (as they did earlier this week against No. 14 NC State), they can still fall flat (and by double digits) to a still-learning Tar Heels squad that played great for one half, mediocre for another. Virginia Tech's Erick Green, who had another 20-plus-point outing during his team's victory over Wake Forest, is a heckuva scorer. And if you were at all tempted to write off Virginia when it followed a win against UNC with inexplicable losses to Wake Forest and Clemson, don't; the defensive-minded Cavs held Florida State to 36 points in a 20-point win.

The league's top three teams didn't play Saturday, but if you are looking for a maybe/possibly telling game this week, tune in Wednesday when third-ranked Duke travels to Miami. The Hurricanes are 4-0 in ACC play despite being without big man Reggie Johnson.

Are they for real?

-- Robbi Pickeral

SEC

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The showdown of the top two teams in the Southeastern Conference turned out to be a dud, and now it's clear that 10th-ranked Florida is the class of the 14-team league.

The Gators (14-2, 4-0 SEC) routed 17th-ranked Missouri 83-52 the same way they have won nearly all their games this season: by using a smothering defense. UF hasn't allowed a conference opponent to score more than 52 points or shoot better than 38.9 percent from the field. The Gators have held eight opponents to fewer than 50 points and 12 to fewer than 60.

Florida's next three games are against Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina, who were a combined 24-23 heading into this weekend, and then a Feb. 2 showdown against Ole Miss (15-2, 4-0) awaits. The Gators and Rebels are tied for the best record in the league and are the only teams unbeaten in SEC play.

Clearly it's a down year in the SEC when Kentucky isn't ranked and has already lost twice at Rupp Arena, including a 12-point setback against Texas A&M in a game in which Aggies guard Elston Turner scored 40 points.

Texas A&M and Ole Miss have been perhaps the league's biggest surprises. Those two teams, Missouri and Florida are the upper echelon of the conference. Florida sits on top -- and not because this is a weak season for the league.

UF entered the weekend ranked third nationally in scoring defense (51.7 PPG), second nationally in scoring margin (21.5) and sixth nationally in field goal defense (36.3 percent). The Gators have done that against a schedule that ranks in the top 10 nationally and included nonconference games against Marquette, Kansas State, Wisconsin and Arizona.

-- Michael DiRocco

Big 12

AUSTIN, Texas -- Once again, the Big 12 looks like Kansas' to lose. But in the past two games, the Jayhawks have been suspect on offense. After shooting 38 percent against Baylor in a win earlier this week, KU had to shoot 50 percent in the second half against Texas to overcome a 28 percent shooting first half and 11-point deficit.

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John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsWant to win the Big 12? You must get by Jeff Withey and Kansas.

"We are in a little funk," said center Jeff Withey. "We need to get in the gym and shoot more I guess. We can get out of it. It is nothing too serious, because we are still winning. We have a good defense, thankfully."

The defense will be put to the test in what should be the top game of the week for the Big 12, as No. 4 Kansas heads to No. 16 Kansas State on Tuesday.

The other team to watch is Iowa State. The Cyclones are a desperation shot from being undefeated in conference play. Melvin Ejim posted his 12th double-double in their win over TCU on Saturday. Seven of those double-doubles have come in the past eight games. After a game at rebuilding Texas Tech, ISU returns home, where it will play KSU on Jan. 26. The Cyclones have won 17 straight at home.

At the bottom of the conference, Texas and TCU are still looking for their first wins. Texas, which is off to its worst start in conference play in Rick Barnes' 15 years, has lost three of its four conference games in overtime or, as was the case against KU, in the final minutes.

The Horned Frogs and first-year coach Trent Johnson have averaged just 50 points per game in the Big 12. Their best shot at a win may come in two weeks at Texas.

-- Carter Strickland

Big East

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The final season of the "true" Big East that we've all come to love is shaping up to be rather anticlimactic -- at least when it comes to the quest for the league crown. The race, it appears, will be a two-team affair between Louisville and Syracuse, as there seems to be a considerable drop-off between those two schools and the rest of the conference. Syracuse seized the upper hand by upsetting No. 1 Louisville 70-68 at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday, but the teams will meet again March 2 at the Carrier Dome, so this thing is far from over.

No. 25 Marquette is off to a solid start in league play with a 4-1 record, but it's hard to see Buzz Williams' squad winning the trophy. As tough as they are and as hard as they play, the Golden Eagles are limited offensively and lack star power. Two of Marquette's victories came in overtime and another was by one point. Eventually a few of those close scores will go the other way, which is what happened on Saturday in an overtime loss at Cincinnati.

The win was huge for the Bearcats, but Cincinnati has already dropped two home games and isn't dependable. No. 20 Notre Dame turned some heads early in the season by defeating Kentucky, but that hardly seems like a big deal these days. Recent losses to St. John's and Connecticut, and a narrow win over Rutgers, have squelched some of the enthusiasm in South Bend. Georgetown appears out of the mix now that second-leading scorer and rebounder Greg Whittington is academically ineligible.

That leaves Louisville and Syracuse as the clear-cut favorites. The suspension of James Southerland (13.6 points, 5.2 rebounds) is a dagger for Syracuse, but players such as Jerami Grant are filling in nicely. Louisville boasts a Wooden Award candidate in Russ Smith, a Cousy Award finalist in Peyton Siva and one of the country's top interior defenders in Gorgui Dieng. Louisville's depth and experience provide an edge in close games, and having one of college basketball's best coaches on the sideline certainly doesn't hurt, either. Even though it lost Saturday, I'm still predicting Louisville will win the Big East title.

-- Jason King

Pac-12

LOS ANGELES -- Oregon's 76-67 victory over UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday clearly established the Ducks (16-2, 5-0) as the team to beat in the conference.

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireDana Altman has turned Oregon into a legit Pac-12 title contender.

Oregon now holds victories over Arizona and UCLA, the two preseason favorites for the league title, and also won at UNLV earlier this season for a nice out-of-conference victory.

Saturday's win was no fluke. This came against a hot UCLA team that had won its previous 10 games, including a victory over Missouri. Oregon has size with 6-foot-11 center Tony Woods and 6-7 rebounding machine Arsalan Kazemi and plenty of speed and athleticism in guards Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. The Ducks also have balance with five players averaging double figures in scoring.

"They're a really good team," UCLA forward Travis Wear said after the loss. "They've got all the pieces of a championship-level team. I'd say everyone is probably chasing them right now."

Everyone is. UCLA (15-3, 5-1) could have been that team but has flaws that became exposed Saturday -- namely in rebounding. Arizona (16-1, 4-1) is also in the mix, but Oregon already has a victory in the only head-to-head matchup between the teams this season.

Washington (12-6, 4-1) is the X factor. The Huskies won their first four conference games -- including their first three on the road -- before losing to Utah on Saturday, and they've yet to play one of the league's upper-echelon teams. We'll quickly find out whether they are a contender as they play Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State (14-4, 3-2) and UCLA in consecutive games from Jan. 26 through Feb. 7.

-- Peter Yoon

Big Ten

On a day when Syracuse's win at Louisville and Butler's Hinkle miracle dominated the college hoops consciousness, the country's best conference had plenty of its own drama. This was especially true of the day's marquee matchup, Ohio State at Michigan State, where the Buckeyes accomplished a few things.

For one, their leading scorer, Deshaun Thomas, put up 28 points while no other Buckeye scored more than six. For another, guard Shannon Scott hoisted one of the most baffling final-possession jumpers in the recorded history of the game. As such, Michigan State held on for a two-point win at home, a huge victory for a team that is just now beginning to reduce its turnovers -- the final piece in the winning puzzle.

Iowa had an emotional day of its own: It honored the 20th anniversary of the death of former player (and victim of a tragic car accident) Chris Street, a player near and dear to every Iowa fan's heart. Even better, the Hawkeyes got a four-point win over Wisconsin, the same team that toppled IU in Bloomington on Wednesday.

That had to be the win of the week, but Michigan's win at Minnesota on Thursday can't be far off. The Wolverines, who wield the nation's most efficient offense, moved to 5-1 in league play.

-- Eamonn Brennan

Missouri Valley

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Jeff Curry/US PRESSWIREDoug McDermott and Creighton aren't going to simply roll to a MVC title.

A thumb injury sidelined Wichita State's Carl Hall for seven games. He made a cautious return (two points, 10 rebounds), however, in a win over Illinois State on Wednesday. But he was not as reserved in Saturday's 67-64 home win over No. 12 Creighton. He recorded 17 points and 13 rebounds, and he was the heart of a Shockers program that certainly wasn't flawless in victory (27-for-71 from the field, 4-for-23 beyond the arc, 9-for-19 on free throws).

Clutch free throws put the Shockers ahead by three points in the last 15 seconds of the game. Ethan Wragge missed a pair of 3s down the stretch. But why didn't Doug McDermott (25 points, 4-for-5 from 3-point line) take those shots?

That was the Missouri Valley's best game. But it wasn't the best finish of the day. That honor goes to Missouri State-Bradley. The Bears were down by 15 points at halftime but closed the gap in the second half. Anthony Downing scored on a layup with 4.3 seconds to go and tied the game at 66. And then ... magic. Bradley's Walt Lemon Jr. raced up the floor and launched a 3-pointer that kissed the glass. Ballgame, 69-66. Great ending.

Manny Arop helped Indiana State maintain a place in the MVC title conversation by scoring 19 points in the Sycamores' 72-62 win over Evansville. Indiana State outscored the Aces 46-30 in the second half.

I think the Missouri Valley Conference will come down to a battle between Creighton and Wichita State. The Shockers are the favorites after Saturday's win, but Creighton is still the most versatile and stacked squad in the league. With Doug McDermott in charge, the Bluejays are right there with Wichita State on top of the MVC. Perhaps a team such as Indiana State will sneak into the mix, but the MVC appears to be a two-team race right now.

-- Myron Medcalf

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