44 thoughts at the season's midpoint
It's only one letter. Add an "a" to Bracketologist and, just that quickly, you get "Baracketologist."
So, in honor of the nation's soon-to-be 44th president, here are that many thoughts at the season's halfway point:
2. Unbalanced conference schedules may play a greater role than usual in determining regular-season champions. Duke plays North Carolina and Wake Forest twice, for instance, while Wake and Carolina have already faced each other for the only time. In the Big East, Pitt and UConn play twice each while Louisville and Georgetown have no repeat games among this group.
3. North Carolina is still the best team in the country, but saying it doesn't make it so in terms of seeding. If the Tar Heels finish third in the ACC, they will not be a top seed in March.
4. It's possible that Kansas (not Texas) could be the Big 12 team with the best chance to finish ahead of Oklahoma. The Jayhawks have the easier Big 12 North schedule and, if they can win in Norman on Feb. 23, who knows?
5. No one in the country is playing better right now than Michigan State. I'm starting to feel better about the Spartans as one of my preseason Final Four picks.
6. Among the contenders, Louisville has the most favorable Big East schedule remaining. My preseason choice of the Cardinals as a No. 1 seed is looking better.
7. Clemson isn't a "paper" Tiger, but is nowhere near the level of Duke, Wake and Carolina in the ACC.
8. John Thompson III clearly does not share his father's scheduling philosophy. Who's next for Georgetown? The Celtics?
9. Quick: Who has the best record in the Big East? Bonus points if you knew without looking that it's Marquette.
11. Good thing the Atlantic 10 has Xavier. Both Dayton and Temple have potentially shot themselves in the foot by losing at 7-9 UMass.
12. The next real threat for Memphis in Conference USA is Feb. 26 at UAB. By then the Tigers' C-USA winning streak should be at 54 games.
13. Three teams are tied atop the Pac-10 with 4-1 records. Go to the head of the class if you thought two of them would be Cal and Washington.
14. Is Minnesota coming back to earth after Sunday's loss at Northwestern? Or are the Wildcats genuinely improved?
15. The pollsters are going to eventually regret being so down on Gonzaga. We're just not going to know it for a while.
16. If North Carolina is the best offensive team in the country, Illinois might be the best defensive team. The Illini are certainly in the conversation.
17. Look out SEC. "Big Blue" (Kentucky) has emerged as the team to beat.
18. Will the real Notre Dame ever show up away from home?
19. Baylor is better defensively than a year ago, but not enough to be a serious postseason threat.
21. Miami is "Exhibit A" in what happens when North Carolina chooses to play both ends of the floor.
22. Tennessee is playing to its true level. In other words, this is not a Sweet 16 team.
23. A few teams, like Davidson and, especially, Butler, are going to be disappointed with their seeds come Selection Sunday.
24. It's still more likely that the Big East will have eight or fewer NCAA teams than the nine or 10 people (including me) have talked about. Villanova, West Virginia, Providence and Cincinnati are the only realistic at-large candidates outside the top seven, but combined are 4-14 versus the InsideRPI Top 50.
25. I have no idea whether or not Florida is legit. We might finally get an idea with upcoming road games at South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
26. I was wrong about Wisconsin winning the Big Ten this year. When the Badgers' offense is ahead of their defense, it's not a vintage year in Madison.
27. Saint Mary's is by no means an NCAA tournament lock. The Gaels haven't played a single InsideRPI Top 50 team and, outside of BracketBusters, have all their eggs in the "beating Gonzaga" basket.
28. It's hard to believe Florida State hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1998. And that team shouldn't have been selected, after it lost eight of its last 11 games. Otherwise the drought extends to 1993.
29. Missouri puts up some incredible numbers. What the Tigers need now is for Cal to keep winning, as that is Mizzou's only incredible victory to date.
31. Travis Ford has taken his "we can outscore you" style from Massachusetts to Oklahoma State. It didn't work at UMass, despite back-to-back 20-win seasons, and the jury is out in the Big 12, where the Cowboys just dropped a 98-92 overtime decision at Baylor.
32. Illinois State is going to need more than a gaudy record to be an at-large team out of the Missouri Valley. A nonconference schedule near the bottom of Division I (No. 324) will do it every time.
33. Siena has great numbers (InsideRPI No. 29, SOS No. 34), but no signature wins. The Saints went 0-4 against Top 50 teams in their effort to build a favorable at-large profile.
34. The cluster atop the Missouri Valley Conference is really going to hurt the league's chances to return to multi-bid status.
35. George Mason's 2006 lightning is coming out of the bottle again. The Patriots are going for back-to-back NCAA bids for the first time in school history.
36. Penn and Princeton are the only non-independents in the country yet to play a conference game. And it's going to be a while (Jan. 30) for the two traditional Ivy League powers.
37. From the current bracket, Stephen F. Austin (Southland), North Dakota State (Summit) and New Hampshire (America East) would be making their first NCAA tournament appearances.
38. Talk about leaving it all on the court. Boston College was so drained by the upset win at North Carolina that the Eagles have lost four in a row, including three at home (one to Harvard).
40. We know Wake Forest is the last unbeaten team in the land. It might surprise you that only eight other teams have just one loss: Butler, Clemson, Duke, Pitt, Oklahoma, Saint Mary's, UConn and Utah State.
41. At the other end of the spectrum, NJIT (0-18) remains winless and has now lost 51 times in a row. The Highlanders last won on Feb. 19, 2007 at Longwood. Since joining Division I, NJIT is now 5-71 over two and a half seasons.
42. Furman is winless so far this season against Division I opponents (0-13).
43. Alabama A&M, Louisiana Tech, Southern and UMKC are the only four teams in the country with multiple losses to non-Division I opponents.
44. Barack Obama's brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, has already won one more Pac-10 game at Oregon State than the Beavers did all of last season (0-18).
Joe Lunardi is the resident bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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