Conference play closely follows Christmas during the college basketball season. That's when games really start to matter and things really start to get interesting. It's also when bettors start to pay more attention. The premise here today is simple - we are going to look at the major conference and a few others of note, and we are going to pick out one team in each conference that has a real possibility to disappoint. It could be that they will disappoint based on sky-high expectations, or it could be that the nonconference schedule has made them look like something they aren't. Either way, there is a fairly good chance that what they have done until now, and what they will do going forward, will be two different things:
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A-10: Dayton Flyers. The Flyers have made the tournament the last three years under Archie Miller, and they had that Elite Eight run three years back, so we just assume they are always going to be in the mix. They sit at 7-2 this year, so it would be easy to expect big things. They are still very much capable of winning the conference, but their losses are concerning - back-to-back to St. Mary's and Nebraska. The Huskers in particular is a concern. It wouldn't be surprising to see the team falter somewhat when things really start to matter.
AAC: SMU is at 8-3 and they have a whole lot of athleticism. After the drama of their coaching situation this offseason, though, things could easily go awry. The losses have been ugly. The day after manhandling a solid Pitt team they were completely humiliated by what has been a wildly-inconsistent Michigan team. Then they beat up on UC Santa Barbara before losing at USC and, somehow, Boise State. This team has real focus issues, and in a fairly tough AAC that could be a problem.
ACC: There are seven teams with just one loss in this conference, so the choices are many. I have to go with Virginia, though. They have been strong for a couple of years, and it would be easy to assume the same this season. I hated their loss, though - they were favored by eight against West Virginia and came out flat. It was eerily reminiscent to the tourney loss to Syracuse last year. They are just 5-4 ATS, so they aren't meeting expectations consistently, and in the tough ACC they could have issues.
Big 12: Kansas. They are 9-1, and seem elite, but they look like they could disappoint. They lost to Indiana to open the season then bounced back to beat a Duke team that could easily have taken Virginia's spot on this list. Then they haven't played anyone since. The talent is there, but they are just 4-5 ATS so they have really struggled to meet expectations and could hit a rough spot or two - especially with potentially a bit stronger competition in the Big 12 than they are used to.
Big East: It has to be Villanova. I don't necessarily think they will struggle, but after winning it all last year, returning the core of the team, and rolling out of the gate this year, the expectations are sky high for this squad. Bettors struggle to show restraint when faced with a good thing, and they could easily drive the lines too high for this squad in what is a very tough conference.
Big Ten: The obvious choice would be Rutgers, which has gone 10-1 by compiling the easiest schedule possible and will come crashing to earth when the reality of conference play hits. No one in the world is stupid enough to have ever taken them seriously, though. Instead, I take Wisconsin. They are ranked and have mostly looked good, but their one loss to North Carolina was very emphatic. It wasn't a bad day - they just weren't good enough. There is some strength in this conference, and they may again prove not to be quite good enough when it really matters.
Pac-12: It's clearly USC. They are out to a 9-0 start - matching the unbeaten start of the vastly-superior Bruins across town. They are fun to watch this year, but their big wins are against teams like Texas A&M, SMU and BYU. Shifting into facing teams like UCLA, Arizona and Oregon is going to be a different and far less successful experience.
SEC: The question is as it always is - can any team in this conference come close to hanging with Kentucky. And again the answer is "no". South Carolina is off to an 8-1 start and making some noise. What it most concerning, though, is not that they lost by three to Seton Hall last time out but that the result didn't even sort of raise an eyebrow. This is a fine enough team but not one worthy of a record like this.
WCC: I really like this Gonzaga squad, and I see St. Mary's as a clear and legitimate second-best team in the conference - and quite likely a tournament team. That leaves us with San Francisco. The Dons are 7-1, and casual viewers might view them as a threat to the big two in this conference. They aren't. Not even sort of. They have played no one, and their loss was to Eastern Washington - a squad that lost to a pretty underwhelming Texas team by 33.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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