Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Ready for conference play in college hoops

Wichita State's coach Gregg Marshall calls a play in the second half against Seton Hall on Dec. 9 at Koch Arena.
Wichita State's coach Gregg Marshall calls a play in the second half against Seton Hall on Dec. 9 at Koch Arena. The Wichita Eagle

Count me among those ready to move past non-conference basketball and into conference play.

That’s when we really start to know something.

Teams are still trying to found into shape in November and December. It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not.

So while I’m looking forward to seeing some of the remaining non-conference games, it’ll be nice to see how some of these conferences shake out. For now, it’s too early to tell.

Will the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference, for instance, be able to compete with Wichita State. The Shockers went unscathed through the Valley last season, finishing 18-0 with just a handful of close calls.

Northern Iowa looks strong, though. the Panthers won their first nine games before losing in double-overtime at VCU (7-3) recently.

Evansville? Illinois State? Missouri State? Anyone?

What would the over/under be for Wichita State’s wins in the Valley? If I said 16, would you take the under? Not to promote gambling here, but doesn’t it feel like the Shockers are a lock for at least 16-2, given that the conference doesn’t appear to be significantly stronger than it was in 2013-14?

Every time I look at the Mountain West standings, or see a Mountain West game, or think about mountains, I imagine how Wichita State would fit into that conference as a basketball-only member.

There are currently 11 basketball-playing schools in the Mountain West – Hawaii is an MWC member for football only.

Basketball schools in the Mountain West play two games against eight conference opponents and one game against the other two. Undefeated Colorado State, for instance, has a home-and-home this season with Boise State, New Mexico, Wyoming, Air Force, Nevada, San Jose State, San Diego State and Fresno State with single games against UNLV and Utah State.

It’s kind of a crazy way to do things, but so far the Mountain West hasn’t seemed to budge on changing its basketball structure. I still think it’s something worth keeping an eye on, though.

What about the Big 12?

Kansas might have been a strong favorite to win its 11th consecutive conference title going into the season, but it doesn’t feel that way now. Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma – and maybe even West Virginia and Baylor – look like strong potential challengers.

What about 10-0 TCU? Really, did you just ask me that question?

The Horned Frogs have beaten up on patsies. They’re a better team than they have been, no doubt, but that’s it.

Kansas State, meanwhile, has been a disappointing team so far. The Wildcats, 6-4, have struggled in all facets. I had K-State making the Sweet 16 before the season started. I’m revising that to the Sweet 16 of the CIT. Get it going, Kansas State. You’re making me look bad.

Some other college basketball observations:

▪ Can Alabama threaten Wichita State tonight at Koch Arena? Perhaps, but probably not for long. The Tide will be athletic and quick, but the difference is likely to be in skill level and basketball aptitude. I like the Shockers to win by double digits and for Dick Vitale to lose his voice by early in the second half. We can hope, right? Actually, it’s cool that Vitale will be ESPN2’s analyst for the game tonight. The WSU students will get a big kick out of this. Should be a fun atmosphere.

▪ The Big 12 is 78-13 so far in non-conference games. And four of those losses belong to Kansas State. They’re coming for you, Kansas.

▪ It’s good to see Mark Turgeon and 17th-ranked Maryland off to a hot 10-1 start in the Terps’ first season in the Big Ten. Maryland’s only loss was to former ACC rival Virginia and the Terps have a win over Iowa State. They’ll play an interesting non-conference game Sunday in Stillwater against 8-1 Oklahoma State.

▪ Pity the poor SWAC, whose 10 teams are 14-73 so far in non-conference play. Alabama State (3-4) has the best record in the SWAC, which includes seven teams with just one win each.