In the SSG College Basketball league, conference games start next week. Which teams are looking to put up a good contest for their conference title?
The Pittsburgh Panthers have got off to a bright start in their non-conference games, going 11-1 since the start of the season. The Panthers dominated the New York Classic pre-season knock-out tournament, accounting for top-ten Arkansas in the final 64-60. The Panthers have been anchored up front by Sr Glen Mayhew and Jr Charles Plummer. Both are point-scoring machines, with Mayhew also racking up 117 rebounds in 12 games so far.
Pittsburgh will be given some stiff competition from Miami Hurricanes (also 11-1) and the Louisville Cardinals, whose experienced top-5 lineup look like making a big impression in the NCAA this year. Notre Dame are also 8-1, who suffered their first loss, to Charlotte, just last week. The Fighting Irish faded in the last five minutes to allow the 49ers to edge ahead. It’s rumoured that head coach Jeff Copeland has banned his players from any Christmas turkey this year in an effort to improve fitness levels. The Duke Blue Devils look like making up the numbers in the AAC this year, with a 5-4 preseason record – although having won five of their last seven, their form may be heading in the right direction as we approach the conference games.
In the Big Ten conference, the showdown looks to be between Illinois and Michigan State on the basis of early form. The Fighting Illini have gone 9-1, dropping their only game to Notre Dame in a one-point overtime thriller. The Illinois lineup is oozing with talent, with Jr SG Blaine Gauthier particularly catching the eye of NBA scouts. Gauthier has landed 43 three-pointers in his ten games, with an accuracy of .433. Of course the Ohio Buckeyes can never be discounted, but they go into the conference games 9-2 having lost their last two games, against the Sooners, and a shock 71-64 loss to Harvard. Penn State has had a disappointing 6-4 start to the season, although the recent return of beloved former head coach Don Lookingbill might lift spirits and standings for the Nittany Lions.
In the Southeastern conference Arkansas and Florida both look to finish top-ten nationally and fight out the conference title. The Kentucky Wildcats are struggling at 5-4. The Wildcats went 12-6 in conference games in the 2015-16 season, and were looking to improve on that position, but to date have struggled.
The Big 12, not unusually, looks to be a three-way contest between Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas. The Sooners are 10-2, having dropped a couple of games in recent weeks; this may be in part due to an injury picked up by starting C Charles Batty. Together with SG Garett Toon and SF Ronald Philip, Batty has been posting big numbers so far this season. The Kansas Jayhawks are not far off the pace in this conference race, with an 8-4 preseason record. Kansas won the Charleston Classic pre-season tourney with emphatic victories over some fairly minor opposition. But the Jayhawks have got some good depth to their roster and may look to challenge this season and next.
Stanford might be a dark horse in the Pac-12 this season. The Cardinal is 9-2, dropping two games to top opposition (Louisville and Wisconsin). True freshman Kristofer Gass has impressed in the small forward role. UCLA, Arizona and Oregon are the more usual favourites here.
In this more marginal conference, Weber State (8-1) and North Dakota (7-2) have started well. Sacramento State is currently ranked third of the conference teams, as its 4-6 record belies are tough preseason schedule. The Hornets are hoping that dynamic little So PG Gerry Kinder will orchestrate some magic once the conference games begin, and against easier opposition the Hornets are hopeful of conference honors.