The Big East, SEC and Big Ten basketball races look different today than they did in October.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Say goodbye to Missouri-Kansas City, Samford and Coppin State. Say hello to Syracuse, Florida and Michigan.
The junior-varsity portion of the college basketball season is over. No more scheduling for success. It's time for conference play, which started today with Cincinnati-Pittsburgh in the Big East and Michigan State-Minnesota and Indiana-Iowa in the Big Ten.
No more 99-47s and 101-53s. No more ability to duck road games. No more wondering if a team is good at defending the pick-and-roll or simply good at lining up a string of pushovers.
Before the season began, Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana were the picks to win their leagues. Take a recount today and only the Cardinals would still be considered a solid favorite. So to celebrate the end of the exhibition season, let's take a fresh look at how the Big East, Southeastern and Big Ten conference races figure to shake out.
Top Three Then: 1. Louisville; 2. Syracuse; 3. Notre Dame
Top Three Now: 1. Louisville; 2. Syracuse; 3. Notre Dame
It's risky to identify NCAA Tournament teams after one league game has been played, but let's live dangerously.
The Big East isn't the monster it was four years ago, but it's still no worse than the second-best league in the nation, capable of putting at least seven teams into the NCAA field.
The return of Gorgui Dieng and emergence of Wayne Blackshear gives Rick Pitino a team that can get double figures from all five starters. The Orange haven't played Louisville's schedule and could be short one three-point shooter. But guard Michael Carter-Williams is a pro. Pitt isn't fun to watch – or play against, but I still prefer Notre Dame over the Panthers. Mike Brey does good work.
Player of the Year Then: Peyton Siva, Louisville
Player of the Year Now: Russ Smith, Louisville
It's easy to forget that less than three months ago Smith was still considered a novelty act. League coaches didn't vote him one of the top 15 players in the league. Smith improved his shot selection and shooting percentage while ranking second in the league in steals. He's a force on both ends of the court.
Best Newcomer Then: Steven Adams, Pittsburgh.
Best Newcomer Now: JaKarr Sampson, St. John's.
Sampson, a 6-foot-8 forward, has been voted Big East rookie of the week three times while posting double-doubles in three of his last five games. Adams is a big kid from New Zealand who is going to need time.
Top Three Then: Kentucky, Florida, Missouri
Top Three Now: Florida, Kentucky, Missouri
Word is that SEC commissioner Mike Slive got so upset when the league lost half of its 14 non-league games a couple of weekends ago, that Slive ordered every league school to hire another football strength coach.
Vanderbilt, Georgia, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Auburn are not Top 125 teams.
Most of the computer rankings have the SEC no better than the nation's seventh best league. Four teams have scheduled their way to losing records – and that's not easy to do. UK, Florida, Missouri and Mississippi look like the only NCAA possibilities.
Player of the Year Then: Phil Pressey, Missouri
Player of the Year Now: Murphy Holloway, Mississippi
Pressey is a tremendous player, but don't overlook what Holloway is doing for the Rebels. He's averaging a double-double while making nearly 60 percent of his shots. The Rebels have feasted on seven teams ranked 200 or worse, but Holloway is a senior with an NBA body.
Best Newcomer Then: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Best Newcomer Now: Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
Noel will be the first or second pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Teams won't be able to resist the way he blocks shots and defends. He's getting better on offense. But Goodwin is the guy who will carry Kentucky through any potholes because there isn't anybody in the league who can stop him from getting to the rim. He's capable of 25 points any night.
Top Three Then: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State
Top Three Now: Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota
The Hoosiers have gone to overtime twice, and they lost one of those games to Butler. The Wolverines have flattened everybody in their path, looking like a team that has it all. Tubby Smith has his best team in Minneapolis. The Big Ten champ will lose at least four times – and Pomeroy and Sagarin rank half of its dozen teams in the Top 25. It's the ultimate meat grinder.
Player of the Year Then: Cody Zeller, Indiana
Player of the Year Now: Trey Burke, Michigan
As good as Burke was as a freshman, he's better as a sophomore, ranking third in the Big Ten in scoring and third in assists, while improving his field goal percentage to 53.6 from 43. 3. Consider that as confirmation that he's playing smarter and under control.
Best Newcomer Then: Gary Harris, Michigan State
Best Newcomer Now: Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Stauskas is a frightening weapon in the hands of Michigan coach John Beilein. He's a 6-6 wing who has made at least half of his three-point attempts in 10 of the Wolverines' 13 games – and has gone 5 for 8 in his last two games. Better guard him.