By Jon Rothstein
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THE SKINNY: Even despite last night’s narrow loss to Baylor, Frank Martin’s team looks full of promise. The Wildcats are getting an All Big 12 type of season from guard Rodney McGruder and have recently gotten a lift from burgeoning big man Jordan Henriquez. The key for Kansas State remains sophomore point guard Will Spradling who has struggled in both of the team’s conference losses. If Spradling minimizes his turnovers, the Wildcats will be a team no one will want to play in March.
THE SKINNY: Dr. John Giannini and the Explorers are off to a 13-4 start and look like a legitimate contender in the Atlantic-10 thanks to a skilled, four-guard lineup that’s allowed them to maximize their skill and spacing. South Carolina transfer Ramon Galloway has instantly added another perimeter threat and former Rutgers wing Earl Pettis has emerged in big moments. The Explorers are also getting terrific seasons from point guard Tyreek Duren and freshman big man Jerrell Wright, who is shining as La Salle’s sole interior presence.
THE SKINNY: After two early season losses to North Carolina and Duke, Tom Izzo’s team has rolled to 15 straight wins. Izzo thought before the season the Spartans would have tremendous chemistry and it’s really looking like this group has the potential to be the best team in the Big Ten. Sophomore point guard Keith Appling has taken a major step running the offense and really resembles former Sparty guard Charlie Bell. Draymond Green seems primed to challenge Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger for Big Ten Player of the Year honors and slimmed down big man Derrick Nix is giving Michigan State a solid big man off the bench. Don’t be surprised to see this team in New Orleans.
THE SKINNY: Who saw this one coming? After losing two prominent offensive players in Jeremy Hazell and Jeff Robinson, Kevin Willard has reconstructed the Pirates into a cohesive, unselfish team that is playing the second best basketball in the Big East behind Syracuse. Seniors Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope are having career seasons but the biggest surprise might be sophomore wing Fuquan Edwin. Even though he had moments as a freshman, the jump Edwin has taken in his second year in South Orange has been monumental. A terrific help defender and much improved three-point shooter, Edwin’s emergence could be the key to the Pirates reaching the hallowed place they haven’t been since 2006 — the NCAA Tournament.
THE SKINNY: The Mountain West Conference had two top flight teams last season in BYU and San Diego State and this group of Runnin Rebels may be more complete than both. In his first season as head coach, Dave Rice has made UNLV a more efficient offensive team and UCLA transfer Mike Moser looks like he’s a legitimate candidate for conference player of the year honors. A major key will be if sharpshooter Kendall Wallace can emerge as a consistent threat from long range to complement the dribble drive ability of guards Oscar Bellfield, Anthony Marshall, and Chace Stanback.
Which of the five has the best chance to make a splash in the NCAA tournament? Sound off below…