With the college football season in the rear-view mirror, it's now time to turn a bigger spotlight to the college basketball season.
It's already been a chaotic first few months, with five different No. 1s in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll and no clear national title favorite.
Here's a look at five major questions to be answered between now and Selection Sunday — just two months away.
1. Will the wild Big Ten send 12 teams to NCAAs? The most teams from any conference to go to the NCAA tournament was 11 in the old Big East in 2011. A stacked Big Ten boasts 12 of 14 teams at least flirting with the possibility of an at-large bid.
Placing a bet on a favored Big Ten team is hardly a smart move this season. There's been parity in a conference where 76% of teams win at home (87% excluding Nebraska and Northwestern) and where Purdue just dealt Michigan State its first conference loss Sunday with a 29-point blowout. Coach Tom Izzo said after the game: "Probably the worst beating I've taken as a coach." That was against a 10-7 Boilermakers squad when MSU entered the game as 4½-point favorites. That same Purdue team lost at Illinois by 26 the week before.
Michigan State Spartans stand at attention during the playing of the National Anthem before the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Mackey Arena. (Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA TODAY Sports)
Ohio State and Michigan were top 10 teams at one point yet have sailed to the back of the conference standings. Meanwhile, Rutgers has yet to lose on its home court this season and is in a three-way tie for second place with Wisconsin and Illinois.
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2. Can Baylor out-duel Kansas and Texas Tech to claim the Big 12? The Bears (14-1), who ascended to No. 2 in the poll this week, are no offensive juggernaut, but coach Scott Drew has this team rolling on defense — limiting opponents to 58 points a game. Baylor knocked off both Texas Tech and Kansas on the road to make a statement for Big 12 Conference supremacy. The Jayhawks were finally knocked off their perch from 14 consecutive regular-season titles last year by national runner-up Texas Tech. But the outlook this year favors the Bears, who have a dynamic playmaker in sophomore Jared Butler. Can they ride this January surge into March success and claim a Big 12 title? Another team to watch is West Virginia, which owns the country's most efficient defense, leading KenPom Ratings.
Baylor Bears guard MaCio Teague (31) celebrates with forward Freddie Gillespie (33) after scoring against the Kansas Jayhawks during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. (Photo: Jay Biggerstaff, USA TODAY Sports)
3. Which teams are surprises (good and bad)?
*North Carolina (bad). Coach Roy Williams' soundbites speak volumes, as the veteran coach has asked his athletic director to fire him and called the Tar Heels (8-8) "the least gifted team" he's ever had. Freshman standout Cole Anthony's return will determine if UNC can regroup and avoid the NCAA bubble — unfamiliar territory for the 'Heels.
*San Diego State (good). Say what you want about the Aztecs' schedule, but 18-0 is impressive and coach Brian Dutcher is making noise in the post-Steve Fisher era, recording the nation's fifth-best defense and feeding off of guard Malachi Flynn's offense.
The San Diego State Aztecs bench react during the second half against the Utah Utes at Staples Center. (Photo: Kelvin Kuo, USA TODAY Sports)
*Dayton (good). The Flyers (15-2) were expected to be challenged in the Atlantic 10. Then they hammered a top challenger in VCU on Tuesday. Dayton is one of the best offenses in the country, ranking second nationally in KenPom's offensive efficiency ratings.
*Butler (good). The Bulldogs weren't a preseason top 25 team, and they didn't even receive votes in the Coaches Poll. Now they're No. 5 behind a stout defense and Kamar Baldwin's All-American campaign. They'll be vying for the Big East title with Villanova and Seton Hall.
*Florida (bad). The Gators were the preseason No. 6 team in the Coaches Poll and a darkhorse Final Four team behind a five-star freshman class and transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. They are underachieving at 11-5 but have won four of their past five games.
*Wichita State (good). The Shockers had a rare bad season in 2018-19, finishing 19-14 and missing the postseason. Now coach Gregg Marshall has his team atop the American Athletic with a 15-2 record.Erik Stevenson leads a squad with nearly five players averaging double figures.
4. Is this Duke team better in the post-Zion era? Yes, Zion Williamson was a once-in-a-generation player who dazzled the sport with his highlight reels. But the Blue Devils (15-2)are likely better this year — as a whole. That's because Tre Jones' sophomore campaign has given coach Mike Krzyzewski a point guard reminiscent of his other five title teams (the list includes Tyus Jones, Jon Scheyer, Jay Williams and Bobby Hurley).
Big man Vernon Carey Jr. provides an interior presence that makes this Duke team tough to handle. The inside-out game of Jones and Carey had kept the Blue Devils undefeated in a chaotic ACC before Tuesday's upset loss to Clemson.
But the league has seen usual stalwarts North Carolina and Virginia struggle. The Blue Devils also host contenders Louisville and Florida State, meaning the pathway to a conference title is rather clear.
5. Who will win the Wooden Award? There's no clear-cut favorite for the award given to the player of the year. Duke (Jones and Carey), Kansas (Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike) and Kentucky (Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey) all have two candidates capable of surging to claim the award. Preseason All-American Cassius Winston could be the front-runner if he can keep Michigan State atop the Big Ten. The loss of Memphis freshman James Wiseman, a projected top-three NBA draft pick who opted to sit out the rest of 2019-20, paves the way for less of an obvious star to win it this year.
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