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December 15, 2010

SCS.comThere is much talk that top-ranked Duke could possibly run the table this year. Don’t get me wrong; I think this year’s Blue Devils are even better than the team that won the National Championship back in March, but Duke will not complete a perfect season or even come close. Thus far Duke may have very well been the best team in the country. The most complete team in the country however, plays its home games in Columbus, Ohio.

Although it struggled with IUPUI last week, Ohio State is still the most complete team in the country. The Buckeyes’ most impressive wins have come against the state of Florida, but were impressive nonetheless. Ohio State scored 93 points in an 18-point-blowout of Florida in Gainesville while holding Florida State to just 44 points in a 14-point-victory in Tallahassee. Ohio State has shown it can win in a shootout or in a defensive struggle. Ohio State also notched a 40-point win over UNC-Wilmington, a team that beat Wake Forest by 12, and easily took down Miami University who won by double-digits against Xavier.

The Buckeyes are loaded with young talent, but have the veteran leadership they will need to make a deep run into the tournament. Senior forward Dallas Lauderdale is a blue-collar big man that gives Ohio State the toughness down on the block it will need to get through a physical Big Ten Conference. Guards David Lighty and Jon Diebler, both seniors, give the Buckeyes consistent play in the backcourt. Lighty seems to be the guy the Buckeyes turn to when they need a big basket and Diebler has unlimited range on the perimeter.

While Ohio State has excellent senior leadership, it’ll be the young players that put the Buckeyes over the top. Point guard Aaron Craft has proven to be an excellent decision maker and a steady floor general despite being just a freshman. Craft is also a pure shooter if left alone from beyond the arc. But the guy who will shoulder most of the burden if the Buckeyes are to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament, is freshman forward Jared Sullinger. In his first game as a collegiate, Sullinger recorded 19 points and 14 rebounds; in his second game, Sullinger recorded another double-double. In his first road game against a top-10 Florida team, Sullinger scored 26 and added 10 boards as Ohio State ran over the Gators. Against IUPUI on Thursday, the freshman went for 40 points as Sullinger willed the Buckeyes to victory. Although his career is only eight games old, Sullinger may already be the best post-player in the entire country.

Ohio State is currently ranked second in the polls and third according to the RPI, but with so many freshman, it is hard to believe that the Buckeyes have played their best ball yet. Let’s not forget that William Buford and Deshaun Thomas also give Ohio State tremendous depth that will be a huge strength down the stretch. The Buckeyes also rank in the top-25 in assists and field goal percentage along with holding half of their opponents below 50 points in their first eight games.

Ohio State will benefit from playing in the Big Ten as well. The conference is deep, but not very top-heavy. Michigan State, who began the season ranked second and was picked as the pre-season favorite to win the conference, has went just 1-3 against big-name-programs. The Spartans narrowly escaped Oakland in a game played in Detroit on Saturday. Minnesota began the year with a bang, but played a dismal second half in a home-loss to Virginia. Purdue and Illinois appear to be solid teams while Northwestern has the look of a program on the rise. When all is said, the Big Ten has been perhaps the most impressive conference early into the College Basketball season. Although the Buckeyes open conference play on the road against Indiana and Iowa, Ohio State should easily be 15-0 heading into its Big Ten home-opener with Minnesota.

Great Week for Atlantic 10

If you ignore the dunk and lay-up contest that was the Duke-Saint Louis game, last week was a great week for the Atlantic 10 Conference. Temple and Xavier struggled early in the year, but the A-10 is starting to look like a conference that could receive multiple, maybe even four, bids. The week was highlighted by Temple’s upset of 10th ranked Georgetown in Philadelphia.

The Atlantic 10 currently has only two schools in the RPI top-50, but have four in the top-70. Temple’s win over Georgetown on Thursday night was not only a huge win for the Temple program, but a big win for the conference. The Owls never trailed and used 30 points from Ramone Moore to beat the Hoyas 68-65. That same night, Xavier was the beneficiary of missed free throws and untimely fouls as the Musketeers pulled out a 51-49 home-victory against Butler. Thursday caught the most media attention, but there were other A-10 programs that notched key victories last week.

Both St. Bonaventure and Fordham won against St. John’s while Richmond went on the road and pulled off an impressive win at Arizona State. Even though Temple’s win over Georgetown got the most national exposure, the Owls also were able to beat Maryland last Sunday. On Saturday, Richmond, who may be the class of the conference, jumped out to a 23-point-lead en route to an easy victory over Virginia Commonwealth. Sunday didn’t result in any eye-popping wins for the conference, but it sure came close as Duquesne blew a double-digit lead in a tough loss to West Virginia. La Salle nearly shocked the College Basketball world, but came up just shy in a three-point-home-loss to Villanova.

A solid week for the Atlantic 10 should help the conference when the NCAA Tournament comes, but Temple and Richmond seem to be the two schools that will receive notoriety for the A-10. There doesn’t appear to be any marquee match-ups for the Atlantic 10 during the week, but Saturday will present an opportunity to knock off ACC schools as Xavier hosts Wake Forest and Richmond will take on Georgia Tech in the Bahamas. Charlotte could pull off a monumental win for the conference if it were able to win at home against Tennessee on Friday, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Nevertheless, the Atlantic 10 has quite a few teams to keep a close eye on.

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