Sure, some teams around the country have already played conference games in yet another sign that 2020 is wacky (looking at you, Utah Utes), but in large part, conference action is now officially on the horizon with contests scheduled for this week.
With that, let’s take stock of some of the conferences and teams around the country as we get into the meat of the season schedule following Week 4.
Gonzaga could be great
Although the Gonzaga Bulldogs are a perennial powerhouse, the knock on them is always that they play a weaker schedule being in the West Coast Conference than a lot of other elite teams.
Well, the top-ranked Bulldogs have so far proven that they’re for real this year with a tough, tough nonconference slate. Yes, their much-anticipated game against No. 2 Baylor was called off a few weeks ago because of COVID-19, but they’ve beaten three top 10 teams (as of last week’s AP Top 25 rankings) in No. 3 Iowa, No. 5 Kansas and No. 8 West Virginia.
Their win over Iowa on Saturday was particularly impressive, as Gonzaga led by as many as 20 partway through the second half before Iowa made it respectable and lost by just 11.
Drew Timme and Corey Kispert are both averaging over 20 points per game, and highly touted freshman Jalen Suggs scored 27 points and added seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block on Saturday.
Is this the year the Bulldogs finally win it all?
How good is BYU?
Staying in the WCC, the Cougars certainly had the country talking last Friday, as they went into the fortress that is Viejas Arena at San Diego State and beat the 18th-ranked Aztecs.
What to make of BYU? Last week’s victory was an excellent one, but a single upset win doesn’t necessarily make a great team. The Cougars lost two higher-level nonconference games after all, falling to USC and Boise State, and ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi right now has them just barely on the outside looking in at an NCAA tournament bid, although they did receive votes in Monday’s Associated Press Top 25 poll.
BYU has two more nonconference contests this week, against Texas Southern and Weber State, before opening WCC play the last night of the year on the road against Pepperdine.
Picked to finish second in the conference behind Gonzaga, the Cougars and Bulldogs aren’t scheduled to meet until Feb. 6, and then they’ll close the regular season against each other on Feb. 27.
The Pac-12, as usual, has questions
Everybody is ripping on Pac-12 football right now because of how the conference mismanaged the season and produced no top teams once again. So far in basketball, it’s a similar story (again).
As of last week’s rankings, no team was in the Top 25, and Oregon was only the sixth-highest team among those that also received votes in the poll. Perhaps the good news for the Pac-12 is that three other squads — Arizona State, UCLA and Arizona — also got votes, meaning at least there are a couple of solid teams.
On Monday, Oregon came in at No. 25 which is a step up, but just two other teams got votes, Colorado and UCLA, which obviously is a step down.
The lack of a great team could make for a more fun conference race, too, with action set to really get going this week (the Arizona State-Utah game scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed, however, because of COVID-19 problems at Utah).
What other conferences are good?
Right now in Lunardi’s projections, nine conferences would be multibid leagues in the Big Dance. Lunardi has nine of the Big Ten’s 14 teams in the field, eight ACC teams, seven from the Big 12, six from the Big East, five from the SEC, four from the Pac-12, three from the Atlantic 10 and two each from the American and the Mountain West.
Has Southern Utah maybe turned a corner?
A bad team for many years, SUU has steadily improved in four seasons under head coach Todd Simon. Now in Simon’s fifth campaign in Cedar City, the Thunderbirds are off to a 6-1 start with one more game Monday to go before conference action starts.
Yes, conference play is where teams find their level best and SUU was picked to finish just seventh in the 11-team Big Sky, so perhaps it’s too early to heap too much praise on Simon and company, but they’re at least worth keeping an eye on.
Keyontae Johnson on the mend
The college basketball world was rocked on Dec. 12 when Florida guard Keyontae Johnson collapsed on the floor during a game against Florida State. Johnson was in critical but stable condition as doctors kept him in a medically induced coma.
By Dec. 15, Johnson was awake and talking, and on Dec. 18, he posted a video on Twitter to thank the medical personnel who cared for him and the many people around the country who prayed for him.