Just because the first round of the NCAA Tournament will be winding down doesn’t mean the chaos of March will be any less. In fact, by the time that the 8-9 matchup between UCF and VCU tips off on Friday night, the madness will be in full force.
The list of star players not present in East Lansing was staggering Saturday: Branden Dawson, Mitch McGary and Adreian Payne all were out for two teams that have been the walking wounded for most of the season.
Spartans point guard Keith Appling played, but his wrist was in such bad shape he could barely shoot.
That left Nik Stauskas and Gary Harris with the opportunity to fill the void.
The Atlantic 10 was one of the biggest losers in conference realignment. Losing Xavier, Temple and Butler robbed the league of three of its most high-profile and well-respected programs.
The A-10 may not have the stature it once did, but not all is lost at the top of the conference.
Thanks to surprising starts for Dayton and George Washington, the Atlantic 10 has scored early season wins over Gonzaga, New Mexico, Creighton and Virginia. At least five teams will enter conference play with hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
After Florida Gulf Coast reached the Sweet 16 and Wichita State reached the Final Four, teams outside of the college basketball power structure are starting to reach even footing. At least on the court.
Beyond the major surprises in the NCAA Tournament, this is an interesting time for mid-major programs. The Mountain West showed surprising depth last season, a trend that should continue as the league expands. Even though Creighton left the Missouri Valley and Temple, Xavier and Butler left the Atlantic 10, there’s plenty to watch in both leagues.
The NBA’s early entry draft deadline has come and gone, creating enough movement to make us re-evaluate our early rankings for 2013-14.
Chief among them, we re-visited Oklahoma State after the Cowboys returned point guard Marcus Smart. Originally, we did not rank Oklahoma State under the assumption Smart, projected to be a top-three pick, would leave for the draft. His return makes Oklahoma State the early Big 12 favorite.