The biggest thing to celebrate this week is another victory for the Acc/Big Ten Challenge. Sure, the conference still trails in the long-time series by far, but for two straight seasons we have gotten just enough to win. Each year has seen dramatic clinching victories as well. Last season it was Wisconsin topping Duke in Madison with the Badgers rushing the court. This year it was Purdue's gritty overtime win in Blacksburg over Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, that win looks worse now that Virginia went in and opened conference play with a win over the Hokies in Blacksburg yesterday. At least VaTech is the only team to beat Oklahoma State.
Outside of the Big Ten's six victories for the forces of good there is not a lot to write about. As I was researching for the column last night I noticed that very few highly touted teams had suffered bad losses. In fact, Purdue's loss to Richmond (who is a very good team) is the worst loss of all. That says something for the quality of college basketball at the moment.
Right now, Duke is the clear cut #1 team in the nation with victories over two of the other preseason top four (Kansas State and Michigan State). Ohio State is probably a clear #2, then everyone else is kind of jumbled in the middle. This includes our Boilermakers, who must now navigate the next few weeks without #3 scorer John Hart.
This could be a benefit in the long run. The best team we face in the next eight games (which is the probable time that Hart is gone) is Northwestern at home on New Year's Eve. We should be heavily favored in the other seven. That means we have eight games to get someone (preferably multiple someones) else on track before Hart returns to give us a boost in the heart of Big Ten play. I still look to be 15-1 heading to Minnesota.
In the meantime, here are the few Defend That, Digger examples I could find:
Exhibit A: Illinois 79, North Carolina 67 - I am going to continue to mock the selection of Harrison Barnes as an All-American as long as North Carolina continues to struggle. If we're to believe all the stat junkies, the Tar Heels should be unbeaten and blowing everyone out. The Fighting Illini easily handled them. At best North Carolina would be fifth in the Big Ten right now. Defend That, Digger!
Exhibit B: Miami 79, West Virginia 76 - The totally awesome Big East, which is still cleaning its pants out from last year's NCAA Tournament, saw its one Final Four rep from last year lose to the team that finished last in the ACC. The Hurricanes are an up and coming team, but they lost to Rutgers already this year. This isn't a good sign for one of the Big East's best. Defend That, Digger!
Exhibit C: Central Florida 57, Florida 54 - It is no surprise that the Golden Knights pulled this one off. They only have Marcus Jordan, the son of the greatest player to ever play the game. I don't think we can declare Florida "back" just yet. Defend That, Digger!
Exhibit D: Montana 66, UCLA 57- The most storied name in all of college basketball continues to lose games it shouldn't. John Wooden would have never allowed Montana to even be close to the Bruins. So much for playing Kansas tough. Defend That, Digger!
Exhibit E: USC 73, Texas 56 - I love to see Texas fall. Gary Parrish said they were an "elite" team last eyar and better than us because they had first round NBA talent. There was no way they were missing the Final Four. Instead, they were in the 8/9 game and lost in the first round with all that talent. Losing to a USC team that wasn't bought like O.J. Mayo is not good. Defend That, Digger!