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Mike Lopresti | | January 20, 2020

These 12 preseason picks are reshaping college basketball's conference races

Here's why Baylor is ranked ahead of Gonzaga in Andy Katz's latest Power 36 rankings

What was it Mark Twain said about there being three kinds of lies? Lies, damned lies, and pre-season conference forecasts. Or something like that.

About the last one. Back in October, the Pac-12 media voted on its preseason poll and decided the Stanford Cardinal were going to finish 10th. Noticed the league standings lately?

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There’s Stanford, tied for the lead.

“Which should prove to you,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said the other day after his Bruins were beaten by Stanford in Pauley Pavilion for the first time in 15 years, “that recruiting rankings are about as important as what’s in your garbage can."

And it’s a pretty full garbage can this season, where Baylor became the seventh different No. 1 team Monday in the Associated Press poll, matching the record for most in a season with almost two months still left to go. There are a whole lot of buts of there.

Rutgers was picked to finish 12th in the Big Ten. But . . .

The Scarlet Knights are tied for second in the league with a 5-2 record — the first time since 1999 that they have been three games over .500 in conference play. They’re 13-0 at home, and in the top-12 in the nation in field goal defense and rebound margin, so this is no fluke. The 14-4 overall record is Rutgers’ best start in 37 years, and Monday was the first day the Scarlet Knights have been in AP top-25 since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were on a collision course in 1979. “We are enjoying this journey,” coach Steve Pikiell said. No wonder. Rutgers was not supposed to even be on this road.

Duquesne was picked to finish eighth in the Atlantic 10. But . . .

The 15-2 start is the school’s best in 48 years, and this is only the second time ever that the Dukes have been 5-0 in the conference. They’ve done it with balance — six players average at least nine points a game and five have broken 20 at least once. And they’ve done it as vagabonds. With its arena closed for renovations, Duquesne has played in three different temporary homes and hosted another game at a high school in Akron, Ohio. For the dates at La Roche University, the Dukes had to be on the bus at 4:15 p.m. for a 7 o’clock “home” game.

Florida State was picked to finish fifth in the ACC. But . . .

The 16-2 Seminoles have nine victories in a row and share the league lead with Louisville, where they’ve already won by 13 points. Fifth is not that low, but while Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia all got first-place votes in that pre-season poll, not one went to Florida State. A bigger surprise than the Seminoles in the ACC, only on the down escalator rather than the up, is North Carolina. Picked to finish second, the Tar Heels are 15th. That’s last.

Stanford was picked to finish 10th in the Pac 12. But . . .

Had the Cardinal not blown a 21-point in the second half at Southern California Saturday, Stanford would be unbeaten in league play and alone at the top. As it is, the Cardinal are 15-3 and tied for first with USC. An interesting bunch, Stanford. The rotation includes a former Boy Scout, a violin player in elementary school, a guy who is into pottery and sculpting, and leading scorer Oscar da Silva, a junior forward and biology major who studies in a stem cell research lab and is fluent in six languages. He helped publish a research paper, “A Clearing Technique to Enhance Endogenous Fluorophores in Skin and Soft Tissue.” And you thought NET quadrants were hard to understand. Maybe this is a little clearer: He’s averaging more than 16 points and shooting better than 61 percent.

William & Mary was picked to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the Colonial Athletic Association. But . . .

The Tribe has the top of the CAA to themselves with a 6-1 league record, even though five of their seven league games have come on the road. They have already won at Hofstra (picked to finish first in the conference), Northeastern (third) and Delaware (fifth), good for only their second 6-0 start in league play in 87 years.  William & Mary, 14-6 overall, leads the nation with eight road victories, and Nathan Knight has the most double-doubles with 15. Much more of this, and the Tribe will really start hearing The Question. William & Mary is one of the last four original Division I schools to never play in the NCAA Tournament, along with Army, The Citadel and St. Francis of Brooklyn. Could it be time?

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Utah State was the unanimous choice to win the Mountain West. But . . .

The Aggies are tied for seventh place at the moment. Way up the standings is the last unbeaten Division I team in America, San Diego State, purring along at 19-0. The Aztecs have just as many defeats right now as they had first-place votes in the Mountain West poll. None They’re in rare air with their record. There are only three teams left in the nation – Baylor, Gonzaga and Liberty – with one loss.

UNDEFEATED TRACKER: Track San Diego State's run at a perfect season

Tulsa was picked 10th in the American Conference. But . . .

The Hurricane are tied for the league lead after winning three in a row. Included in the 12-6 record are 12 games when Tulsa has had a double-figure advantage in points in the paint. Wednesday will be revealing when Memphis comes to town.

Butler was picked to finish eighth in the Big East. But . . .

The Bulldogs were spotted last week in the No. 5 spot in the Associated Press poll. Now they’ve dropped to 13th after losses to Seton Hall and DePaul, but that's still a long way from eighth in the conference.

Akron was picked to finish fifth, next to last, in its division in the Mid-American Conference. But . . .

The Zips are 14-4 and share the lead in the East. Saturday’s 99-89 home loss to Toledo was something of a shocker; Akron had won its first four league games by an average of 19 points and was allowing only 62.5 points a game. The other three defeats have all been more explainable — to West Virginia, Louisville and Liberty, who are a combined 48-7.

Charlotte was picked to finish 12th in Conference USA, Arkansas 11th in the SEC,  Stephen F. Austin fourth in the Southland. But .  .  .

Charlotte is a half-game out of first, Arkansas is 14-3 and tied for fourth, and Stephen F. Austin not only leads the conference but beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Neither Mick Cronin, nor his garbage collectors, are probably surprised by any of it.

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