A quick sizeup of the 10 best RPI-rated conferences in the country and what’s ahead (number in parentheses is league RPI rating):
Atlantic Coast (4)
Miami 6-0, North Carolina State 5-2, Duke 4-2, Virginia 4-2, North Carolina 3-3, Florida State 3-3.
Outlook – Miami got everybody’s attention when it throttled No. 1 Duke by 27 last week, auguring speculation as to whether anybody will catch the Hurricanes at the top of the ACC. A game Saturday at NC State will say a lot about that. Down the road, ‘Canes have a March 2 game at Duke, but the schedule is otherwise generally favorable for Miami, which ranks a solid No. 4 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive ratings. Could Tony Bennett’s Virginia team be a factor? The real struggle there is just making the NCAA tournament; UVa’s RPI is a nondescript No. 113.
Big East (3)
Syracuse 6-1, Marquette 5-1, Pittsburgh 5-3, St. John’s 5-3, Notre Dame 4-3, Cincinnati 4-3, Louisville 4-3, Georgetown 4-3, Villanova 4-3.
Outlook – Louisville looked like a world-beater two weeks ago, but since, has dropped three straight league games. Marquette, which has sneaked quietly toward the top, is at Louisville Sunday. Syracuse, which lost in league for the first time against Villanova Saturday, looks like the clear favorite, especially if it can get by a prickly road date with Pitt Saturday. The Orange have made do nicely without suspended forward James Southerland (academics) but they’ll need him in March.
Big Ten (1)
Michigan 6-1, Indiana 6-1, Michigan State 6-2, Ohio State 5-2, Wisconsin 5-2.
Outlook – There are trip wires all over this league. Consider what faces Michigan – now ranked No. 1 for the first time since Fab Five days – in a 10-day period starting Saturday: The Wolverines must play at Indiana, host Ohio State (the only team to beat Big Blue this year), then go on the road to Wisconsin and Michigan State. This may very well come down to a March 10 finale pitting Indiana at Michigan. Meanwhile, Michigan and Michigan State still have two games left with each other.
Big 12 (5)
Kansas 6-0, Baylor 5-1, Kansas State 4-2, Iowa State 4-2, Oklahoma 4-2.
Outlook – Kansas wins this league every year, and 2013 will be no different. Baylor’s 5-1 mark is built mostly on the Big 12’s stiffs, so the season finale matching Kansas at Baylor March 9 will be more about NCAA seeding and likely, Baylor’s NCAA viability.
Oregon 7-0, UCLA 6-2, Arizona 5-2, Arizona State 5-2.
Outlook – Ducks have a primrose path to the title, because none of their remaining 11 games are with the second- and third-place teams. And they own the tiebreaker with all three pursuers, so Oregon is odds-on to grab the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. It’s going to take an unexpected slip-up by the Ducks. Could that happen this week in the Bay Area? Yes, especially with a foot injury to freshman point guard Dominic Artis. In his absence, Oregon committed 23 turnovers Saturday against Washington.
Mississippi 6-0, Florida 6-0, Missouri 4-2, Kentucky 4-2, Alabama 4-2.
Outlook – Big week for Andy Kennedy’s Ole Miss team, which hosts Kentucky Tuesday night and travels to face Florida Saturday. Gators appear to have the easier path to the title, although they yet face dangerous Kentucky twice. Florida is Pomeroy’s No. 1-rated outfit, first in adjusted defense, second in offense. That’s pretty rarefied air.
Mountain West (2)
New Mexico 4-1, San Diego State 4-2, Colorado State 3-2, UNLV 3-2, Air Force 3-2.
Outlook – This is a vastly interesting league as, not even among the aforementioned are Boise State (14-5), which has a major win at Creighton, and Wyoming (15-4), which was one of the last remaining unbeatens before falling to 2-4 in MWC play. New Mexico plays at Wyoming Wednesday night in what looks like a must win for the Cowboys. San Diego State just held New Mexico to 34 points on 11 field goals, and will be aided by the return of ex-Washington State guard Xavier Thames, who has had a bad back. Air Force has been surprisingly salty but has a tough-looking February ahead.
Missouri Valley (9)
Wichita State 8-1, Creighton 7-2, Indiana State 6-3.
Outlook – This looks destined to go down to March 2 and the regular-season finale pitting Wichita State at Creighton. State can create more distance by beating Indiana State at home Tuesday night. Shockers are being helped by ex-Oregon guard Malcolm Armstead, who had eight assists in their 73-39 blowout of Bradley. Creighton is No. 1 nationally in field goal percent (.519) and three-point percentage (.448).
Butler 4-1, Charlotte 4-2, Virginia Commonwealth 4-2, LaSalle 4-2, Xavier 4-2, George Washington 4-2, St. Louis 3-2, Massachusetts 3-2.
Outlook – The A-10 ought to belong to Butler now that leading scorer Rotnei Clarke is back from a neck sprain. But the Bulldogs have a test Thursday night at St. Louis.
West Coast (10)
Gonzaga 6-0, Saint Mary’s 6-1, Brigham Young 6-2.
Outlook – Zags, now eighth-ranked, are the best team in the WCC, but they still face hurdles Feb. 14 at a Saint Mary’s team that appears to be getting better, and Feb. 28 at BYU. Saint Mary’s gets both Gonzaga and BYU on its home floor in February, but it could get a test at Santa Clara Feb. 7.