ESPN and the occasional network game provided a nice teaser, giving us a look at many of the nation’s best teams in nonconference situations.
Some were memorable — like Duke’s three-point win over Memphis, or Gonzaga’s triple-OT victory over Michigan State. But when you try to handicap the colleges, nothing matches the intensity of conference play.
A sample occurred this past Saturday with Arizona going to Washington and edging the Huskies 96-95 in overtime as a 4Â½- point underdog. Three of the nation’s eight Division I unbeatens are in the Big East (UConn, Pitt, Villanova).
There are some surprises like Ohio State and Texas A&M entering league play without a loss, along with Buffalo at 9-1 starting the MAC season. Of course there are the dregs like the MEAC and SWAC, which combined have seven teams without a victory.
Our vote thus far for best team with one loss goes to Memphis, which recently posted an impressive win at home against Gonzaga. Naturally, any talk of success begins with Duke. The Blue Devils are 13-0 and at the top of the charts heading to ACC play.
A conference bettors should watch closely is the Missouri Valley, with six teams ranked in the top 50, according to the Sagarin Ratings. The league boasts two legitimate top 25 teams Missouri State (aka SW Missouri St) and Wichita State, along with Northern Iowa, Bradley, Creighton and Indiana State. Southern Illinois is No. 73 in the Sagarin, but off to an 8-2 start.
Now that we set the table, here’s our first menu of games for 2006.
Mich at Indiana (Tue): The Wolverines have lost only to UCLA in 11 outings beginning the week. Indiana loss to Duke, but beat Kentucky by 26! IU.UNLV at Wyoming (Wed): The Rebels run hot and cold, but are 7-4 ATS facing a far tougher schedule than the Cowboys. Wyoming 3-7 ATS against mostly nothing. UNLV. Villanova at Louisville (Thu): This may be Villanova’s best team since that epic national title season against Georgetown. Louisville has already lost once to one set of Wildcats. NOVA. Manhattan at Iona (Fri): We love the Metro Atlantic. Visiting Jaspers have won six straight after starting 0-4. Iona has lost two in a row after beginning the season 7-0. MANHATTAN. Illinois at Iowa (Sat): Hawkeyes always tough at home (9-0 this year). However, that 3-7 ATS mark scares us. Plus Illinois is unbeaten and covering 70 percent. ILLINOIS.
LSU at Conn (Sat): The Tigers are dangerous, having beaten one Big East team already (West Virginia) by 3. The unbeaten Huskies are 3-7 ATS. LSU plays close games. LSU.Duke at Wake (Sun): The Deacons’ 10-2 record is impressive, but not that 3-7 ATS. As our favorite coach Pete Gillen once said, "Duke is Duke." Enough said. DUKE.