By: David Woeltz ~Staff Writer~
The college basketball season shifted into gear with a plethora of early upsets and surprises in holiday tournaments.
Xavier catapulted to No. 12 in the AP poll in the same tournament where Monmouth’s bench celebrations became a national story, but some teams still are not garnering the attention they deserve.
Rick Pitino believed Louisville was left out of previous polls due to its sex scandal, but the Cardinals finally entered the rankings at No. 24 in the AP poll. Louisville has looked dominant in its 5-0 start with an average margin of victory of 33.6 PPG and a 20-point win over Saint Louis. Pitino and the Cardinals will have something to prove when they take on Michigan State on Dec. 2 in a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight meeting.
With Big East members Xavier and Villanova off to fast starts, Providence’s impressive showings have been an afterthought in the conference. The Friars knocked off No. 11 Arizona in the Wooden Legacy tournament and currently sit at 6-1 with a No. 23 AP poll ranking. A loss to the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans in the championship, a game which they tied late in the second half, is the only blemish for Ed Cooley’s squad.
Providence is talented enough to make a run for a Big East title with National Player of the Year candidate Kris Dunn leading the way. The junior point guard is averaging 19 PPG, 6.7 APG, 6.1 RPG and 3.7 SPG.
Opponents will not be pleased to see Bob Huggins enter the arena this year, and this time it is because his West Virginia Mountaineers are forcing an NCAA-leading 22.2 turnovers per game. West Virginia is coming off of a championship in the Las Vegas Invitational with a 22-point victory over San Diego State. The Mountaineers returned the nucleus of last year’s Sweet Sixteen team, including Daxter Miles Jr. who made no predictions for their tournament after his prediction for last year’s NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen game against No. 1 seed Kentucky went awry. No. 20 West Virginia will be tested on Dec. 8 when it takes on No. 10 Virginia, when fans can make the convenient trip to Madison Square Garden.
The last few weeks of nonconference play, including this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, will give teams their last chance to make an impression on voters before league play begins. Unfair or not, the NCAA selection committee often judges conferences on their non-conference success, so there will be plenty of motivation in December.