Most of the 256 Division I schools have played at least 10 games, but the first week in January really begins the college basketball season.
It’s the time when the conference season begins in earnest. Everything learned from elite cross-country matchups or cupcake scheduling begins to surface in two months of neighborly hardcourt wars leading up to March Madness.
Georgia Tech won the Big Apple NIT and was 12-0 prior to a double-overtime loss at Georgia. Still there are 10 unbeaten teams entering the weekend, including SEC upstart Vanderbilt.
Three lower level teams begin conference play winless and lightweight Chicago State opened 1-12. Clemson is the "worst" team in the ACC at 7-5. You think anyone is getting through that group unscathed?
Here are some of the surprises, plus and minus, we have noticed over the first part of the college hoops season.
ACC: After a few down years in terms of overall excellence, the Atlantic Coast Conference is back with a vengeance. As Virginia coach Pete Gillen says "Duke is Duke." The Blue Devils, however, have plenty to worry about. Roy Williams has done a nice job of utilizing the talent at North Carolina. Wake Forest could be the best of the bunch. Florida State is the most improved. Heck, even Clemson is above .500 ATS.
Indiana: The Hoosiers have to be concerned with their poor record against quality opponents. Coach Mike Davis saw his bunch lose to Temple on Saturday at home as a nine-point favorite, 59-50. Two weeks earlier, Kentucky embarrassed IU by 39! In December, the Hoosiers fell at Wake Forest by 33. Losing is one thing, but blowouts are unacceptable in Hoosier Nation.
Fairfield: The Stags have scored at least 60 points in all but one game, that a 50-49 loss at Hawaii as a 7Â½-point underdog. The Metro Atlantic Conference member has covered in its last six games, including outright wins against George Washington and Pepperdine. Fairfield’s most significant performance was the 64-59 upset of St. John’s as a 12-point underdog in November.
South Carolina: Yes, there have been a host of pansies on this schedule. But, the Gamecocks at 13-1 can list among their victims two ACC teams (NC State, Clemson) and Richmond -- one of the better "dog" plays in the country. Pundits can harp on the 71-61 loss at Temple and that pitiful schedule featuring such "standouts" as Gardner Webb, Campbell, Citadel, Charleston and S.C. State. Carolina is just 1-3 ATS in the last four line games, but the SEC grind should offer more value.
Pepperdine: Wave goodbye, at least for the nonconference season. Gonzaga’s prime competition in the West Coast Conference was just 2-6 ATS as a favorite, including a 78-74 home loss to Cal-Fullerton as a 15-point chalk. No disgrace to lose at Maryland, but the 24-point blowout was as a 14-point dog. With Loyola-Marymount, St. Mary’s and Santa Clara rising, the "Maliboo-birds" may be out in force.
FYI: Make some mental notes on these teams, which may be better or worse than their record. Oklahoma, though 10-0, is just 1-4 ATS including a three-point escape against Princeton...St. Joseph’s is perfect, but only 4-6 ATS...Michigan State did play an extremely tough schedule, but a 2-7 ATS mark may have us betting the opponent a lot in Big Ten play.