The nonconference portion of the college basketball schedule is a funny thing. You’re never really sure what to expect on any given night.
One really good team—such as Purdue—might be able to run past another really good team from another conference—such as West Virginia—simply because Team B isn’t very familiar with Team A’s style of play. And that’s why, on Jan. 1 in West Lafayette, Ind., Purdue was 15 points better than a West Virginia team that will challenge for the Big East title.
But conference play is the great equalizer. Conference teams know each other’s styles and tendencies; they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Talk to any college basketball coach, and you’ll hear all about how winning conference games is twice as hard as winning a non-league contest. That’s one reason Purdue, which entered Big Ten conference play undefeated, lost three of its first four league games.
It’s the same way with just about every conference in the country. As Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert said after his Yellow Jackets held off a frantic charge from North Carolina on Saturday, “All games are within 10 points in the ACC.”
The best teams, the NCAA Tournament-bound teams such as Georgia Tech, will find a way to end up on top more often than not. That’s why we’re starting the Field of 65 projections now, a couple of weeks into conference schedules. The cream is starting to rise to the top.