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NCAA Basketball: Houston, Gonzaga, and UConn headlines Sunday Mailbag

Conference season is here and that means it is time for the return of the NCAA Basketball Sunday Mailbag. Here's a look at the first edition.

Dec 30, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA;  Houston Cougars guard L.J. Cryer (4) drives to the basket during
Dec 30, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars guard L.J. Cryer (4) drives to the basket during / Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
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In my opinion which conferences and schools have impressed the most so far this season - Ed Helinski @MrEd315

I loved this question when I got it and after thinking about it for a few days I like it even more. There are so many possibilities for this question because there are a lot of conferences who have been great overall. There are also a lot of teams who have impressed me as well. However, for the sake of the question I had to hone in on one conference that has impressed me and that conference is the Atlantic 10. 

Through December the Atlantic 10 has been far better than most thought they would be. They are currently the 8th ranked conference in average NET ranking and have many teams who have shown very well in the non conference. Everyone knew Dayton would be good and they have proven they are great. The Flyers are currently top 25 in the NET, hold neutral court wins over LSU, Saint John’s and Cincinnati and won on the road at SMU. The Flyers are a team who should be a lock into the NCAA tournament barring a disaster.

Saint Bonaventure and Duquesne were teams I was high on heading into the season and neither of those teams have disappointed either. The Bonnies won a neutral site game against Oklahoma State and are currently the only team to beat Longwood. The Dukes just took a bad loss to Santa Clara before the break but Duquesne performed very well before that. They have wins over Charleston, Cleveland State, Bradley, and UC Irvine. They performed well against Nebraska and played well against Princeton before losing both of those games.

Saint Joseph’s would be in the NCAA tournament if it started today. The Hawks have wins over Villanova and Princeton and find themselves in the top 75 of the NET. George Mason and UMass are also in the top 80 of the NET. Neither of those teams have a great win yet but appear to be competitive and will provide the Atlantic 10 with a ton of depth for this year. In all the Atlantic 10 heads to 2024 with 8 teams in the top 100 of the NET and they have a chance to have multiple bids if some of those teams can beat Dayton in the regular season. It has been a nice resurgence for the Atlantic 10 conference and I did not expect that this year.

Which team has impressed me the most?  That is a hard question because there are a lot of them but thinking about this further in depth that team has to be James Madison. I would think that is the answer for a lot of us college basketball sickos. The Dukes were another team I thought was going to be very good but it now looks like they may be a lot more than that. James Madison has a chance to go undefeated and will likely be favored in every single game from here on out.

I started to realize that the Dukes may be capable of a different season when they were able to finish off the game on opening night at the Breslin Center against Michigan State. That game proved that the Dukes and head coach Mark Byington may be the team of destiny this year. They are led by a trio of players led by Terrence Edwards and his 18 points per game. The Dukes enter conference play leading the country in scoring at 93 a game, they are one of the fastest teams in the country, and James Madison plays in a conference in which they are better than every team they are going to play.

It is very much like Florida Atlantic from a season ago. The Dukes would be the first team since Gonzaga in 2021 to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. The Dukes had their first 20 win season in 10 years last year, and this year they are looking for their first NCAA tournament appearance in 10 years. They won’t need the auto-bid.