The Big Ten race has taken shape, as most teams have four league games under their belt. Michigan State is the clear frontrunner right now. It's chaotic below, with a number of teams hoping to angle into position as the best challenger. Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota have started out well enough to be considered contenders, and Purdue may work its way back to that level, particularly after its impressive home win over the Badgers on Sunday. Penn State isn't going to challenge for the championship, but if the backcourt of Talor Battle and Stanley Pringle builds off its early success, trips to Happy Valley will certainly be a big part of determining which contenders survive and which ones fall by the wayside. Ohio State is another contender for an NCAA bid, but not for a conference crown.
How do the races for league championships look around the country? Here's a brief national overview:
Big East: This conference is historically strong this season. Pitt is ranked #1 in the country, and heads up a list of five teams in the Top 14 and seven in the Top 25. Syracuse, Marquette and Louisville join the Panthers in being undefeated in conference play, and we haven't yet included UConn, or discussed Notre Dame and its Player of the Year candidate Luke Harangody, or Georgetown who won up in Storrs. ESPN's Monday 7 PM EST slot is always a Big East game and there's going to be more good games there than was possible on Monday Night Football all year long.
ACC: Just as the Red Sox-Yankees dominance of the AL East was finally challenged and broken by the Rays, the Carolina-Duke ownership of the ACC has been challenged this year. The Tar Heels showed vulnerability in an upset loss to Boston College, and then Wake Forest knocked them again last Sunday. Wake, Duke and UNC are all in the top five, and don't overlook Clemson. The Tigers are undefeated and own an impressive road win at Illinois. They aren't getting the ink as a contender for ACC honors, but their next two games are against Wake and North Carolina.
SEC: If you wonder at whose expense the Big East's dominance is coming from, look no further than the SEC. Tennessee is the only ranked team in the league and they are at #24. Arkansas and Florida are lurking on the edge of the rankings, and Kentucky is still struggling. It has to be satisfying to sane sports fans everywhere that the maniacs of Lexington who ran Tubby Smith out of town get to watch him doing better in Minnesota then his successor is doing at UK.
Big 12: If you thought the Oklahoma-Texas wars stop at the gridiron's edge, think again. The Sooners beat up on Texas last night and both teams figure to lead up the Big 12 all year long. Baylor is a dark horse contender at #23. Bob Knight's son Pat is having a tough go of it in Lubbock, as Texas Tech is currently at 10-6 with the snakepit of conference play ahead. Big Ten Country wishes the son of the General good luck, as he tries to build an enduring power in a place that's miles from everywhere and very difficult to recruit in.
Pac-10: UCLA hasn't gone away after three straight Final Four appearances. Arizona State is also a contender in a league that doesn't look as strong as it has in recent years.
Mid-Majors: The Midwest is home to two of the best mid-majors, as Xavier, based in Cincinnati and playing in the Atlantic 10 is a threat to make some noise. Butler is enjoying another strong year. And out west, keep an eye on the Gonzaga-St. Mary's rivalry in the West Coast Conference