As the new year gets off to a start, the college basketball schedule will be shifting toward conference play. That means it’s time for any team that has designs on making it to the Big Dance in March to find out exactly where they stand with the competition.

At this still early juncture in the season, there seems to be a lot of parity throughout college basketball. This is supported by the fact there have already been in excess of six teams to be ranked #1 in the country. Furthermore, there is not a single undefeated team remaining with New Mexico finally succumbing to Fresno State on January 4, 2023.

Let’s take a look at the college basketball scene heading toward March Madness.

Where is the Strength?

It’s been an interesting start to the season as a number of top teams have already squared off against each other in holiday tournaments. Gonzaga offers a very good case in point of how such competition can effect early season rankings.

Early on, the Zags were the #1 ranked team in the nation. Now they sit with a modest record of 14-3. However, a closer look tells the tale. While they do have three losses, they all came against highly ranked opponents: Texas, Purdue, and Baylor.

The Boilermakers themselves held the #1 ranking longer that any other #1 ranked team until they were upset by an average Rutgers team. They have since rallied and are once again number 1.

A quick look at the top 10 ranked teams reveals there is a power shortage in the ACC. Not one team from that historic basketball powerhouse conference is ranked in the top 10 for what must be the first time in years. With a record of 11-3, the Virginia Cavaliers are the only ACC team in the top 15. Where are Duke and North Carolina? It’s that word again: parity.

To help identify where the nation’s strength might lie, here are the top conferences to date inside the top 15:

Big Ten (3 teams)
SEC (3 teams)
Pac 12 (2 teams)
SWV (2 teams)
ACC (2 teams)

The Surprises

If NCAA men’s basketball is missing a dominant force so far, it has made up for it with upsets. The biggest surprise must be the Houston Cougars (16-1), currently ranked #2 in the country. Some might argue their competition has been suspect, but their only loss came by 6 points to a very good Alabama team.

The other big surprise finds the College of Charleston ranked #23 on the basis of a 16-1 record. That’s the joint-best record in the country, though no doubt accumulated vs a lower average level of opponent.

Betting Perspective

Looking ahead, what teams pass the all important eye test for sports bettors?

Despite those three losses to top competition, Gonzaga look like a complete team. They will no doubt cruise through the WCC conference. In doing so, they might rise back up to the coveted number #1 ranking and #1 tournament seed as teams in the big conferences beat up on each other. It’s an attrition prediction.

The other teams that look really strong heading into conference play include #3 Kansas (14-1), #5 Arizona (14-2), and #10 UCLA (14-2). Indeed, there could be a real battle for the Pac 12 conference title between the latter two.

There are still around 10 weeks until the invites get sent for March Madness. The early part of the season reaffirms that anything can still happen in college basketball.