- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2012

The college basketball regular season is, essentially, at its midpoint. Nonconference play began roughly two months ago. Selection Sunday is exactly two months from Wednesday.

Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult to offer any sweeping analysis of any postseason resumes. What seems like a quality victory over a 13-3 team today might turn out to be a tepid triumph over a 17-13 outfit. Likewise, there are teams floating around .500 destined for a scorching second half

[NCAA hoops bracket projection]

That’s why the accompanying bracket projection is, at best, a getting-to-know-you session. It’s frankly a little too early for any such chatter, and it takes a couple of weeks (if not more) of conference play for at least some definition to come to most teams.

Still, a handful of programs (excluding preseason national favorites such as Kentucky and North Carolina) have built a broad base of victories during the first two months. They range from the unbeaten to projected midpack teams in their respective conferences.

But these half-dozen schools have something in common: For now, at least, they don’t have to worry about their out-of-league accomplishments (or lack thereof) being held against them:

*Baylor: The undefeated Bears (14-0) entered conference play with a reservoir of solid work. In addition to victories over Saint Mary’s and West Virginia on a neutral court, they also won at Brigham Young (no small feat) and Northwestern and also upended San Diego State.

There’s no telling if all those wins hold up in the long run. But chances are, the Bears will have a few top-50 wins to complement whatever they accomplish during the Big 12’s new double round-robin scheduling format.

*Duke: The Blue Devils’ point guard play is spotty, and their posse of big men is inconsistent. But, as usual, coach Mike Krzyzewski provided ample opportunities for Duke to test itself. And, as usual, the Blue Devils delivered.

Duke’s Maui Invitational title included victories over Kansas and Michigan, both of which appear headed for seasons in which they remain entrenched in the national rankings. The early defeat of Michigan State — historic since it made Coach K the career leader in wins — will pay off handsomely later. And even a home defeat of Southern Conference favorite Davidson should retain value.

*Kansas: The Jayhawks were a talented team in a bit of flux two months ago, so some setbacks were to be expected. Two games into conference play, they’re 12-3 with neutral-site losses to Duke and Kentucky and a home defeat against an exceptionally polished Davidson bunch.

Kansas’ wins, though, are stout. Bill Self’s bunch knocked off Georgetown in Maui and later nabbed Ohio State and Long Beach State in Lawrence.

*Louisville: The Cardinals might not be a top-10 team — two home losses in Big East play throw that into question — but they’ve already collected an assortment of intriguing victories. The most obvious gems: Vanderbilt and Memphis.

However, there are other likely conference contenders the Cardinals upended: College of Charleston (Southern), Lamar (Southland), Long Beach State (Big West) and Ohio (Mid-American). That doesn’t even include a defeat of two-time national runner-up Butler.

*Murray State: Yes, the Racers’ 16-0 record was built largely on the empty calories of a soft schedule, and matters aren’t likely to improve on a diet of almost exclusively Ohio Valley opponents the rest of the way. It doesn’t mean they did nothing.

Murray State knocked off Memphis on the road, beat underrated Southern Mississippi in the Great Alaska Shootout and toppled Dayton at home. It’s a valid question whether any of those victories hold up over the course of the season, but the Racers’ resume at least has some substance to it at the moment.

*UNLV: It’s no stretch to say the Rebels’ nominally neutral victory over North Carolina (played in Las Vegas but not on UNLV’s home court) will hold up quite nicely. Toss in a defeat of Illinois in Chicago, and the Rebels are among the most likely teams from outside the six power conferences (well, the five power conferences and the Pac-12) to earn a high seed.

Of course, that could change if UNLV struggles in the usually competitive Mountain West. The Rebels open league play Saturday at feisty San Diego State.

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