Conference standings take shape
Notes: Stanford favored to win Pac-12; SEC still wide open
Fresh off the recent elections, most are familiar with ”early returns” and the information they provide in helping to predict the outcome of a given race. Though not always accurate, they provide, at minimum, a conceivable forecast for the future. With only a few precincts reporting in early January, there have been several early returns over the last week that have helped to provide early indicators in regard to several of the conference races.
Atlantic Coast Conference. With Connecticut, Colorado and Oklahoma State falling from the ranks of the unbeaten during the last week, 13-0 Duke now stands alone as the only team with a chance to run the table in 2012-13. Duke’s primary challengers for the ACC crown will come from a group that includes North Carolina, Miami (Fla.), Florida State and Maryland. Circle the calendar for Jan. 21 when the Blue Devils play a non-conference heavyweight game at Connecticut. After a strong non-conference start, North Carolina is again part of the contender conversation following conference opening wins against Clemson, Maryland and Virginia Tech. More will be known about Miami’s contender status this week after the Canes play at Maryland on Thursday and Florida State on Sunday.
Big East Conference. Notre Dame sent out the loudest early return in its 73-72 win at then-No. 1 Connecticut last week. By defeating Connecticut for the fourth time in five meetings over the past two seasons, the defending Big East Conference regular season champion gave notice of its intent to repeat. The Fighting Irish and Huskies will meet again in the final regular season game on March 4 in South Bend. While much jockeying remains for the 15 conference members throughout the coming weeks, DePaul was another team making statement over the weekend with an 86-80 home win against Louisville. Winners of six in a row, the Blue Demons will host Connecticut on Feb. 10 and play at Notre Dame on Feb. 24.
Big Ten Conference. Purdue is off to a good early start with road wins at Illinois and Nebraska to start conference play and is currently 2-0 atop the conference standings along with Michigan and Penn State. Two teams going in seemingly different directions will meet on Jan. 14 in West Lafayette, Ind. when 0-2 Ohio State comes to town. Penn State’s 76-55 win on last week at Michigan State was also an early return worth noting. Purdue and Penn State will have their only regular season meeting on Feb. 4 in University Park, Penn.
Big 12 Conference. Four teams are out to 2-0 conference starts, with defending national champion Baylor joined by Iowa State, Oklahoma and Kansas after the first week of conference play. Baylor will get tested this week, hosting Iowa State on Wednesday and then playing at Kansas on Sunday. The two Baylor upcoming opponents have combined to go 22-3 this season.
Pac-12 Conference. The perennial conference favorite, Stanford sent out an early return with consecutive road wins last week against upstart Colorado and Utah. Colorado had come into last week's game undefeated before the Cardinal prevailed 57-40 in Boulder. Two nights later, Stanford won 70-56 in Salt Lake City against a Utah team that came into the game with a 9-3 record. The latest challenger to Stanford’s crown is Cal. Winners of six in a row, the 12-1 Golden Bears will find out quickly enough as they face off with their Bay Area rivals in the next two games, Wednesday at home in Berkeley and Sunday in Palo Alto. With only a 77-63 loss to undefeated Duke back on Dec. 2, Cal has been fueled by an all-around team performance, with different players sharing the scoring load. A perfect example is during the last three victories as different players have led the Golden Bears in scoring. Brittany Boyd led the way in last week's win versus Colorado, Layshia Clarendon was top scorer in a five-point win at Utah, while Talia Caldwell did the honors in a win against George Washington. Tuesday's meeting marks the first “Battle of the Bay” with both teams nationally ranked since the 2008-09 season when the two teams split the series with wins on their home courts. Stanford is ranked No. 5, while Cal is No. 7.
Southeastern Conference. Certainly no stranger to the top of the conference standings, Tennessee scored impressive early season conference victories at South Carolina and at home against Georgia in the first week of conference action to establish themselves again as a contender for the SEC crown. Tennessee is tied atop the SEC standings with preseason favorite Kentucky, along with Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, all at 2-0. Those anxiously awaiting the Tennessee-Kentucky game will have to be patient as the two schools will meet only once this season, on the final day of the regular season -- March 4 in Kentucky. Tennessee will face a challenge when it travels to Florida on Sunday. Texas A&M is back in conference title contention behind the strong play of junior center Kelsey Bone, who was named SEC Player of the Week last week when she scored 55 points and pulled down 42 rebounds in three Aggie victories. Next up for Texas A&M is a Thursday game at No. 6 Kentucky.
Sun Belt Conference. Florida Atlantic has flown out to a 5-0 conference record and are winners of three in a row. Head coach Kellie Lewis-Jay and the Owls will learn more about their conference title hopes this week when they play at Middle Tennessee State on Wednesday and Western Kentucky on Friday.
Western Athletic Conference. In its first season as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, Seattle is atop the league standings with a 3-0 record that includes wins against Idaho, Utah State and San Jose State. Next two for the Redhawks could be telling as they go on the road to face New Mexico State on Thursday and Denver on Sunday. Both New Mexico State and Denver are 3-1 so far this season.