ST. LOUIS (10--1)
Raise your hand if you picked the Billikens to fell teams from the Pac-12 (Washington), ACC (Boston College), Big East (Villanova) and Big 12 (Oklahoma). That's what Rick Majerus's team, led by forward Brian Conklin (15.3 ppg), did. St. Louis now ranks 51st and 11th in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively, heading into Atlantic 10 play.
MURRAY STATE (12--0)
December 26, 2011
No team has gone unbeaten in the regular season since UNLV in 1991, but the sharp-shooting Racers—who rank seventh nationally from behind the arc (42.6%) and 11th from the free throw line (76.7%)—are the sport's latest hope. Isaiah Canaan (19.3 ppg) and Murray State beat then No. 21 Memphis; in Ohio Valley play, the Racers will be favored in every game.
Only twice in its last seven games has the Crimson defense given up more than 52 points: in a 67--53 loss at then No. 9 UConn and an 80--70 win against Seattle. With a methodical offense, a Top 25 scalp (No. 20 Florida State) and athletes such as forward Kyle Casey (11.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Harvard enters conference play as the heavy, heavy favorite in the Ivy League.
A credible Final Four pick in the off-season, the Commodores lost to Cleveland State, Xavier, Louisville and Indiana State and generally sputtered down low without center Festus Ezeli (who's finally recovered from a right knee injury). Guard John Jenkins (20.1 ppg) and Vandy's offense (43rd in efficiency) is there; the defense (80th-most efficient) is lacking, once again.
It's hard to imagine a more dysfunctional start for a marquee program. Not only did the Bruins lose five of their first seven games, but coach Ben Howland also kicked his best player, forward Reeves Nelson, off the team because of conduct issues (e.g., feuding with teammates and coaches). Now forwards Travis Wear and his twin brother, David, must try to dig UCLA out of a deep hole.
Home losses to Presbyterian and Marshall were bad; the brawl that followed UC's 76--53 blowout loss to then No. 8 Xavier on Dec. 10 was even worse. The fight resulted in the Bearcats' imposing six-game suspensions on Yancy Gates (who slugged Muskeeters center Kenny Frease), Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis, which will make it even harder to get back on track.