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5 Teams Poised To Make a Run In Conference Play

Iowa, 14-3
The Hawkeyes' performance against Ohio State convinced me that Iowa is a
Roy Devyn Marble
legitimate threat inside the tough Big Ten. Fran McCaffrey's team has depth, they can go 11 men deep, has experience and is tough and can win close games. Iowa started off the season strong, their only losses were some elite teams like, Villanova, Iowa State and a close one to Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes desperately needed a big win and they got it by beating Aaron Craft and Ohio State on the road, something that is very rare in the Big Ten. Senior guard Roy Devyn Marble has been fantastic for Iowa this year, averaging 16.4 points per game and 3.4 assists a game. Iowa has size in forward Aaron White, a disciplined big man with a good jumper and the athletic senior Melsahn Basabe. Depth is so important inside the Big Ten with how close games can be. Late in games Iowa is going to have the advantage over some of the other teams inside the conference. The Hawkeyes will have their easiest conference stretch possibly all year, at home against Minnesota and two straight road match ups against a beat-up Michigan team and a weak Northwestern team. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Illinois should all make this conference extremely difficult. But, I firmly believe this Iowa team is talented enough to win it.

VCU, 13-3
Virginia Commonwealth entered the year as the favorite in a weakened Atlantic 10 and the No. 14 team in the preseason polls. After early losses to Florida State and Georgetown people seem to have forgot about the Rams and their "Havoc" defense. Junior guard Briante Weber is one of my favorite players to watch. The athletic, on-ball defender is averaging 4 steals a game and makes this defense work. On the offensive end, VCU has relied heavily on junior guard Treveon Graham, who is putting up 15.7 points every single time he steps on the court and 6.8 rebounds. A-10 lost Butler to the Big East and Temple to the American Athletic but it has been better than expected this year. Their next opponent, George Washington is led by two talented transfers in Maurice Creek (Indiana) and Isaiah Armwood (Villanova). UMass could still be a very scary dark horse with their fantastic shooters and Saint Louis is building into quite the program inside this conference. After George Washington, the Rams will get a stretch if seven games where their toughest opponent will be Dayton. VCU always plays better at the end of the year and their "Havoc" defense, which causes turnover after turnover, has proven it can abuse the A-10.

Gonzaga, 14-3
Well, this isn't too tough of a prediction. The Gonzaga Bulldogs have dominated the West Coast Conference for years and they have the talent to continue that trend. Junior point guard Kevin Pangos has had a fantastic year, leading the 'Zags in schooling and averaging 4.2 assists a game. He is automatic from the line, shooting 92 percent from it. The loss of Kelly Olynyk to the NBA left a big hole in Gonzaga's middle but it appears that should be filled by senior center Sam Dower. Dower isn't immensely talented but he is a hard-worker who scores and gets boards with grit. The Bulldogs sharpshooting backcourt of Gary Bell and Pangos can drown teams late in games. Providence transfer Gerard Coleman has struggled from deep but still has extreme shooting potential which he proved in his two years in the Big East. The WCC has definitely improved over the years with the addition of BYU and St. Mary's turning into a perrenial tournament team. The Gaels still appear like the threat inside the conference and Gonzaga still has a tough February 8th battle with Memphis but expect the Bulldogs to win yet another West Coast Conference Championship if they stay healthy.

Creighton, 14-2
With the help of Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott, expect big things from Creighton in their first year in the Big East this year. The senior is averaging 25 points a game with 7.3 rebounds. McDermott is a dangerous shooter who has a polished inside game despite not being extremely strong. Another senior, forward Ethan Wragge is one of the best underrated players in the nation. Wragge is a lethal shooter, he is nearly 50 percent from deep this year and benefits greatly from teams crowding the middle to deal with McDermott. Senior guard Grant Gibbs is fantastic but his health is a concern after injuring his ankle. He will be key to a still pretty young Creighton backcourt. The Bluejays' non-conference schedule was relatively easy but they really proved themselves by beating the flaming hot Xavier Musketeers. Don't let the "Big East" namesake fool you: this conference is pretty weak this season. Marquette has been a disappointment, as they have really suffered from their youth. One of the other newcomers to the Big East, Butler has really struggled to finish out games without their star, Roosevelt Jones or Brad Stevens. Expect McDermott and the Bluejays to make a serious run at the conference title against Villanova and to land a good seed in the Big Dance.

Washington, 11-6
Their 17-point win over Colorado should show the rest of the Pac-12 just how dangerous the Washington Huskies are. Senior wing C.J. Wilcox has been one of the best players in the nation and could be a dark horse POY candidate. Wilcox is averaging 20.5 points per game and had 31 in their upset over the Buffaloes. Although they lost to Arizona, Wilcox and the rest of the Huskies still played well and proved they can hang with one of the better teams in the nation. Perhaps the best news for Washington is the shape of the conference. Oregon has lost 3 straight due to terrible defense, letting teams average 90 points in that span. Colorado lost their star Spencer Dinwiddie for the year in that loss to the Huskies with a torn ACL. Although 'Zona is No. 1 I'm still not entirely convinced they are that good. Much like the other teams on this list, Washington will have a favorable stretch coming up. Cal, Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon are all teams that the Huskies can beat, especially having the Ducks at home. Freshman Nigel Williams-Goss struggled early like most freshman tend to do. With more games under his belt, expect some big improvement. He is averaging 3.9 assists a game and 1.4 steals and his turnovers are going down. With the way Oregon is playing Washington could well be the 3rd or 4th team inside the Pac-12 and could sneak into the NCAA tournament.

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