Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ACC-Big East Challenge

An interesting question was posed the other day on the message board, which made it to the "Question of the Day" feature on the CHN front page: "Can a team from outside the ACC or Big East win the national championship?" At first glance, you might think the question is slightly absurd; how can you narrow a national champion of 344 teams and 31 conferences to a single-digit number of teams from two conferences? Look at it again, though.

10 of the top 12 teams in the AP poll reside in either the Big East or ACC, while six of the top seven teams in Ken Pomeroy's rankings are from those two conferences. Think about it in terms of Elite Eight contenders: the ACC has North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and Clemson, while the Big East has Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Georgetown, Syracuse, Marquette and even Notre Dame. Narrow it down to title contenders, and I can count UNC, Duke, Wake, UConn, Pitt, Louisville and maybe Georgetown if they develop some depth.

Outside of those two conferences, how many elite teams are there? Two? I'll give you Oklahoma and Michigan State -- and that's it. The SEC has no one, the Big Ten and Big 12 have a host of good but not great teams and the Pac-10 is wide-open this year. As for non-BCS teams, Memphis is down, Gonzaga has been relatively inconsistent, and Xavier and Butler don't have the talent to win a title.

Furthermore, look at Oklahoma and Michigan State. The Sooners aren't great defensively, and barely beat Nebraska at home today. Their guards need to become more consistent if they want to make a deep run. Michigan State was on a roll and seemed to be picking up steam -- until its loss at home to Northwestern tonight. Northwestern? At home? Sure, MSU has plenty of talent and depth, but their defense is average and they have put forth some very mediocre efforts this year. Sorry, I don't know if the Spartans or Sooners have what it takes to win the title come March and April.

Take out those two, and I'm not really sure anyone outside the Big East or ACC is capable of cutting down the nets in Detroit. It will likely be North Carolina, Connecticut or maybe Pittsburgh -- and the second tier would have to include Duke, Louisville and Wake Forest. Yup, all Big East and ACC teams. Expect that to be a common theme as we get deeper into the NCAA Tournamet in March.

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