Welcome to the VICE Sports College Basketball Grab Bag, where every week we'll round up the biggest news stories in the sport. Random stuff, too, because it's college basketball. Enjoy!
Since we're halfway through conference season, we're going to do something a little bit different for this week's grab bag. Let's take a look at the races in the six major conferences.
Favorites: North Carolina (8-1), Louisville (7-2), Virginia (7-3)
Still in it: Clemson (7-3), Pitt (6-3), Miami (6-3)
Long shots: Notre Dame (6-4), Duke (5-4)
After losing at Northern Iowa way back in November, North Carolina has gotten somewhat lost in the national shuffle: sure, the Tar Heels are still ranked in the top five, but they haven't gotten the attention of the top Big 12 teams.
Even so, UNC is the most dangerous team in the ACC, and will probably be the most dangerous team in the country come March.
Louisville has quietly come on strong, recently beating North Carolina. However, the Cardinals reportedly are self-imposing a postseason ban, which would potentially throw the rest of their season into turmoil. Meanwhile, once-shaky Virginia is back on track, having beaten Clemson, Louisville, and Syracuse after losing three of four games early in conference play. With Duke stumbling, the ACC looks like a three-team race, and the biggest games are yet to come: North Carolina and Virginia play once, while UVA plays Louisville one more time.
VICE Sports predicted winner: North Carolina
Favorites: Oklahoma (7-2), West Virginia (7-2), Kansas (6-3)
Still in it: Baylor (6-3), Texas (6-3), Iowa State (5-4)
Long shots: None
It's been a strange year in the Big 12. Kansas is trying to prolong its incredible streak of 11 straight regular season conference titles, but surges from Oklahoma and West Virginia have the Jayhawks a game back in the conference race.
The Sooners have the best player in the nation in Buddy Hield, and as a team, they play a lot like the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors. West Virginia's press, meanwhile, has stifled both Kansas and Iowa State. Still, Kansas is lurking, with opportunities to make up ground at home against West Virginia and on the road against Oklahoma.
The "still in it" crowd has both a surprise and a disappointment. Texas has surpassed expectations in Shaka Smart's first season in Austin, beating North Carolina, West Virginia, Iowa State, Vanderbilt, and Baylor, and could pull some additional upsets. By contrast, Iowa State was supposed to be Kansas's main challenger this year, but the Cyclones have four losses and need to win out to have any hope of winning the league.
It's tough to pick against Kansas, but this looks like the year to do so.
VICE Sports predicted winner: Oklahoma
Favorites: Villanova (9-1), Xavier (8-2)
Still in it: Providence (6-4)
Long shots: Seton Hall (6-4), Georgetown (6-4)
Now that Providence has dipped—somehow losing to DePaul—the Big East appears to be a two-team race between favored Villanova and upstart Xavier.
Xavier has quietly put together a very good season, and the Musketeers could even challenge for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They've beaten Dayton, USC, Michigan, Providence, and Seton Hall; their only losses have been to Villanova and Georgetown.
Villanova is still the team to beat: the Wildcats pounded Xavier by 31 points early in the conference season, and despite a loss to Providence, they're playing some of the best basketball in the country. Villanova should be at least slightly favored in its late February game at Xavier.
We have to mention Seton Hall and Georgetown, because technically they're still in it, but neither team has been consistent enough to prove it has a real shot to win the conference.
VICE Sports predicted winner: Villanova
Favorites: Iowa (9-1), Indiana (9-1), Maryland (9-2)
Still in it: Michigan State (6-4), Purdue (7-3), Michigan (7-3)
Long shots: Wisconsin (6-4)
The Big Ten has turned into yet another three-team race, crashed by a school that nobody expected just two months ago. Iowa roared through the toughest part of its schedule with one loss, picking up two wins against Michigan State, two against Purdue, and a home victory against Michigan. Barring an unexpected collapse, the Hawkeyes are the conference favorites.
Maryland and Indiana also have legitimate shots. The Terrapins have been inconsistent at times, but they beat Iowa. Indiana has played a semi-easy schedule to start the season, but the Hoosiers have a lot of talent, and they could salt away the Big Ten with victories in upcoming games against Iowa (twice), Maryland, and Michigan State.
The conference's second tier remains viable, too. Michigan State and Purdue came into Big Ten play as favorites, but they've dropped off, both losing to Iowa twice, and each dropping a game to a team they have no business losing to (Michigan State to Nebraska, Purdue to Illinois). Both have some work to do, and time is running out.
VICE Sports predicted winner: Iowa
Favorites: Oregon (8-2)
Still in it: Washington (7-3), USC (6-3), Utah (6-3), Arizona (6-4), Colorado (6-4)
Long shots: None
Earlier this year, we wrote about how the Pac-12 was cannibalizing itself, with a number of "pretty good" teams but no elite standouts. For the most part, the conference is still an unpredictable mess (in a fun way!), but one school has certainly distinguished itself.
Oregon has the best record in the conference, and the Ducks have won their last five games, including a win at home against USC and one at Arizona. With tough games ahead, they don't have a commanding lead, but they certainly have the best shot to win this unpredictable league.
If Oregon falters, the pack will pounce. Washington has been the surprise team of the conference so far, while USC looks like a young but solid NCAA Tournament team. Arizona has the most talent in the Pac-12; Utah has the talent to bounce back, too.
VICE Sports predicted winner: Oregon, we guess
Favorites: Texas A&M (7-2), LSU (7-2), Kentucky (6-3)
Still in it: Florida (6-3)
Long shots: Georgia (5-4), Vanderbilt (5-4)
Just when it looked like Texas A&M was going to run away with the SEC, the otherwise consistent Aggies stumbled, losing their last two league games to Arkansas and Vanderbilt. Worse still, there are two very talented teams right on their heels.
LSU has been a massive disappointment this season, losing to College of Charleston and Wake Forest despite having sure-fire No. 1 NBA Draft pick Ben Simmons. However, the Tigers have beaten Kentucky, and they've turned it on as of late, winning their last three SEC games and nearly knocking off Oklahoma. They have the firepower to beat Texas A&M at home and Kentucky on the road, which means they are, for now, still in the race.
Like LSU, the Wildcats have disappointed—to wit, they just lost to Tennessee. Still, John Calipari's annual collection of Green Room Guys is talented enough to beat anyone, as proved by wins over Duke and Louisville and a near-win at Kansas. If Kentucky plays to its potential at Texas A&M and against LSU at home, the Wildcats will be in position to win the SEC.
VICE Sports predicted winner: Texas A&M