With thirty-one Division I conferences, following the races for the regular season crowns can be a tad harrowing. Never fear. Read on for a heads up on some interesting conferences races. But, not all races are created equal. Some are runaways, some have tremendous tales of resurrection from poor starts, and some have nip-and-tuck affairs right down to the final conference game.
As a native Kentuckian, one of the rites of spring is the Kentucky Derby. The first Saturday in May carries a mystique unlike any other sporting event. Seriously, is there any more talk, hype, or money generated by a two minute sporting event? I am not much of a horseman myself, but there are some parallels between the Derby and college basketball. Of course, we are not quite late enough in the season to shout, "And down the stretch they come!" But, teams are galloping around the turn and nearing the midpoint of the conference race. Let's have a look at some of the more interesting races.
Secretariat is widely considered the greatest horse of all time. In 1973, he set race records in winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and set a world record in the Belmont where he won by an astounding 31 lengths.
The Secretariat: Texas Longhorns. Texas is likely to win this one by 31 lengths. No other team in this normally powerful conference has even established itself as an NCAA lock. All of the other Big Six conferences can boast at least two legitimate Sweet 16 threats. The Longhorns will likely take a nice, easy romp to the wire without enduring the pain of the whip in the home stretch.
The Secretariat: Duke Blue Devils. Like Texas, Duke looks to be far and away the best team in this conference. They have already whipped the second-best team in the league by thirteen points and have built a two game lead just five games into the conference schedule. It's almost like the coronation is beginning before we reach the midway point of the ACC schedule. Too bad Georgetown does not play in the ACC.
The Secretariat: Memphis Tigers. While UAB and UTEP currently hold unblemished records in league play, Memphis is clearly the thoroughbred. Call them the Holy Bull of CUSA. Holy Bull lost the Kentucky Derby, but went on to greatness in his horseracing career. There is a slim chance that Memphis loses this race, but like Mr. Bull in the 1994 Derby, they are clearly the best horse in this race.
The Secretariat: Bucknell Bison. Bucknell is much like Memphis in the CUSA. They are clearly the best team, and they proved it last night by defeating formerly unblemished Lehigh on the road. In fact, one cannot jockey a bison; one simply avoids the stampede. That is what most Patriot teams will be doing this season: getting out of the way of Chris McNaughton and company.
The Secretariat: Gonzaga Bulldogs. Have you watched the WCC for the last few years? Lather, rinse, repeat. Since they are from the Northwest, we will call them the Seattle Slew of the WCC.
PHOTO FINISH CONFERENCES
Photo finishes are exciting and often too close to call with the naked eye. Also, there are normally two or three horses in the photo.
In the photo: Western Kentucky and South Alabama. Both have only one loss thus far and lead their respective divisions. Both clearly have the most complete teams in their divisions. However, Arkansas-Little Rock, North Texas, and Troy might get their noses in the picture if everything falls just right.
In the Photo: UCLA, Washington, and Arizona. These three have clearly separated themselves as the three most talented teams. Arizona has had their problems early though and should be wary of California and a Stanford team that played them very tough in Tucson. Washington and UCLA seem more solid and figure to stay at the front of the pack for the duration of the season.
In the Photo: Samford, Tennessee Tech, and Murray State. All three have taken turns looking like the team to beat in the Ohio Valley. All currently have two conference losses. Tennessee Tech and Murray State play tonight in Murray. Samford and Tennessee Tech have already split two games. Samford won their home game against Murray, but still must travel to play the Racers. The regular season winner is coming from one of these three.
TAKE THE FIELD CONFERENCES
It is nearly impossible to pick a winner in theses conferences. Take the field in these races.
No less than seven teams can claim good positioning for a run at the Big Ten crown. Michigan State and Illinois are the 2-1 favorites, but Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio State are certainly in the hunt. Michigan will have to come from off the pace, but currently has just two conference losses, like many of the teams listed above. Plus, the Wolverines took care of the Spartans last night in Ann Arbor.
Northern Iowa, Wichita State, Southern Illinois, and Creighton have all looked capable of winning the conference. Missouri State and Bradley are also capable teams. The best road team will win this conference.
There are currently five teams with two league losses. Fairleigh Dickinson, the preseason favorite, is one of those five, but one would be crazy to bet on any single horse in this race.
Old Dominion, George Mason, UNC-Wilmington, VCU, Drexel, Northeastern, and Hofstra all have two or three losses in conference and have been beating up on one another. ODU looks like the best team, but this conference has a lot of horses on a sloppy track. It is going to get messy.
A few days ago, Florida looked like the Affirmed of the SEC. But the Gators have lost their last two games, opening the door for any old gray mare that can mount a charge. Tennessee now leads the SEC East, and LSU does look like a contender out West, but this league looks pretty unpredictable right now. If Alabama and Kentucky continue to hold it together, this race could get five or six wide in the home stretch.
UConn and Villanova are the superhorses in this race, but they are going to lose a few along the way. I would have included West Virginia before their loss at home to Marshall (ouch!) last night, but that horse looks like it might be nervy. Luckily for the Mountaineers, that loss did not blemish their conference-leading 5-0 mark.
Of course, there are plenty of other conference races that will be fun to watch. These are the ones that caught my eye. So, go buy an outrageously expensive hat, whip up a mint julep, and dream of the twin spires of Churchill Downs. There are plenty of good races underway.