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Sully's Court: The national championship contenders are obvious

Posted by Joe Sullivan, Globe Staff  December 30, 2013 10:04 AM

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The out-of-conference season is just about over and only a handful of games remain as most conferences start play this week. Usually in the nearly two months before league play begins things change quickly. Teams emerge as national championships contenders that were considered as such before the season. This season, I think it’s pretty static. The best teams like Michigan State and Oklahoma State have solidified their positions.

Five rising:

Iowa State: The Cyclones caught a big wave in Hawaii and rode it to the Diamond Head Classic title, beating George Mason, Akron, and Boise State. Starting Jan. 11, the Cyclones play six tough Big 12 games, at Oklahoma, Kansas, at Texas, Kansas State, at Kansas and Oklahoma.

Kentucky: The Lexington, Ky. AAU Playaz beat Louisville 73-66 Saturday and a victory over the hated Cardinals counts for more than one victory. The real plus was the Playaz are showing some signs of cohesion in beating their first ranked opponent of the season. Their talent is undeniable, but to be an NCAA contender they need to show some sustained team play.

LSU: The Tigers might be a factor in the SEC. They’ve won five a row and are now 9-2. They’ll probably be 10-2 after playing Rhode Island in Baton Rouge on Jan. 4 and then they head into league play.

Minnesota: After losing twice in Maui, the Golden Gophers have won six straight and are 11-2 heading into their first Big 10 game vs. Michigan Thursday.

TCU: I can’t remember TCU ever being good in basketball, even in the old days of the Southwest Conference, and I don’t know for sure how good they are this season, but the Horned Frogs have won nine of their last 10. The one loss was to Harvard in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout. Coach Trent Johnson is in his second season after leaving LSU before he could be fired. He had great success at Stanford and Nevada before that.

Five falling:

East Carolina: The Pirates were on the verge of breakthrough when they were leading NC State on the Wolfpack’s home court eight days ago. They couldn’t sustain it and lost 90-79, but then they compounded it by losing at home to Georgia State Sunday. Georgia State’s an interesting team with a good coach, but you’ve got to defend home court.

Iona: The Gaels were last season’s mid-major darlings, receiving an NCAA at-large berth. They’re not the same team, but I thought they’d still be a contender in the MAAC. I’m not sure about that. They’ve played a challenging schedule, but after losing at Northern Iowa Saturday, they’ve dropped four in a row and are now 5-6.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels went to Hawaii with a 9-0 record and then wiped out, losing three straight to South Carolina, Hawaii, and George Mason. All three games were close and winnable, but the Gaels came up short. Very disappointing and it just might mean they won’t be considered for an NCAA at-large berth.

Tulane: The Green actually ventured to Brooklyn to play a game Saturday, a rare trip for this program. It was a disaster as they lost to Kansas State 72-41. After starting 4-0, the Wave is more like an undertow as they’ve dropped to 7-7.

Virginia Tech: Good thing the ACC is a football league or there’s no telling how bad a season this could be for the Hokies, who lost at home to UNC Greensboro Saturday 55-52, making only 18 of 50 shots. In their previous game, they lost to VCU by 30.

The week’s George Mason (best mid-major): Wichita State. It’s 13-0 and counting for the Wheat Shockers.

This week’s Final Four: Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Arizona.

This week’s national champion: Michigan State

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