The Hype Machine: Believe it or not?

The Hype Machine is pumped for conference play.

One team will just be happy to have every player available once its conference's schedule begins, in hopes of separating itself from an unfortunate incident that rocked the program.

Another squad opened up its league slate with a strong message to the favorites. "Yeah, we're coming for you," their dominant performance said.

And one player could change the entire race for a conference title on the West Coast.

The Past: The Crosstown Brawl will disrupt Xavier's entire season

The resulting suspensions from the game-ending brawl that capped the Crosstown Shootout preceded a three-game losing skid for the Musketeers.

Tu Holloway missed the team's loss to Oral Roberts. Mark Lyons, another starter, was available when Xavier lost to Hawaii in the Diamond Head Classic. Starter Dez Wells will be back for Saturday's matchup against Gonzaga.

Xavier dropped out of this week's rankings following its recent slide. And head coach Chris Mack recently suggested that his program needed to make some immediate adjustments to avoid more damage.
"The only thing we can worry about is fixing us," Mack told the Cincinnati Enquirer last week. "All the other stuff -- the rankings, the RPI -- is meaningless if we don't come together and fix us right now."

The drama that followed the fight with Cincinnati was a major challenge for the entire program. There was a negative spotlight on Xavier basketball that the team hadn't previously encountered. It rattled the squad.

But by the time Atlantic 10 competition begins, Xavier should be at full strength again. And when the Musketeers are at 100 percent, they're one of America's best teams.

Chemistry and personnel challenges were big factors in their recent losing skid. But once the Musketeers regroup, they'll return to the Top 25 rankings. and they'll regain the moxie that buttressed their 8-0 start.

By the end of the season, this rough stretch will be a hiccup, not the devastating blow it appears to be right now. The Musketeers are still the Atlantic 10's best squad. And once the full team gets back into a rhythm, that'll be clear again.

Remember, it's a long season. It's far too early to assume that the unfortunate fight that stained the program will minimize its potential.

The Present: Tom Izzo's Spartans are Big Ten's best bet to challenge Ohio State for conference title


The Buckeyes, as their lopsided conference-opening win against Northwestern on Wednesday proved, are still the favorites in the Big Ten.

But Tom Izzo's squad has put together an impressive run that suggests it could pose problems for every team in the league, even Ohio State. The Spartans have won 12 straight, including victories over Gonzaga and Indiana.

They're the sixth-best rebounding team in the country. Beyond the numbers, however, the Spartans are back to playing Izzo's physical style of basketball. During their 80-65 win over the No. 15-ranked Hoosiers on Wednesday, the No. 17 Spartans launched a 20-0 second-half blitz that stunned their opponents. They were aggressive and relentless, two key components of Izzo's philosophy.

They lost that edginess last season. A squad that had been to back-to-back Final Fours lacked that fire.
But it looks like the Spartans have regained that bravado.

The Big Ten title is Ohio State's to lose. But the Buckeyes will have their share of challenges, too.
Based on what Michigan State has done since losing its first two games of the season, the Spartans have emerged as Ohio State's greatest threat in league play.

The Future: Matt Carlino will change the entire West Coast Conference race

There's parity in the West Coast Conference.

Gonzaga, St. Mary's and BYU are all capable of snatching the conference title.

The Bulldogs possess a talented trio in Robert Sacre, Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos. The Cougars, who play at Saint Mary's on Thursday, put up a commendable fight in their 86-83 loss to No. 7 Baylor on Dec. 17. And the Gaels, ranked 27th in Pomeroy's ratings, possess the league's top scoring defense (allowing 56.9 points per game).

That's why BYU's Carlino is so important. The point guard sat out for the first 10 games of the season after transferring from UCLA. He was worth the wait. Carlino is averaging 17.3 points in the four games he's played.

The new addition will change the WCC race. With him in the lineup, BYU nearly knocked off Baylor, a squad that's top-three nationally in terms of talent. Carlino had 18 points in that game.

BYU is a WCC contender without him. But Carlino could be the game-changer that ultimately leads the Cougars to a conference title in their first season as a member of the WCC.

The talented freshman hoped to make an impact on one team when he made the decision to leave UCLA. Well, he's poised to shake up an entire league at this pace.

The Hoopla: The best young big man in the Big Ten (not named Jared Sullinger) plays in Champaign, Ill., (Meyers Leonard), not Bloomington, Ind. (Cody Zeller) (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … If Mississippi State can find a way to get Renardo Sidney's motor going and keep him out of foul trouble, it will make a push for the SEC title (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE). … Marshall, not Memphis, is the best team in Conference USA (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … With Alex Len, who scored 14 points in his debut against Albany on Wednesday, Maryland could climb the ACC standings and make a push for an NCAA tourney bid (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … Seton Hall, which suffered a 75-49 loss to Syracuse on Wednesday, isn't bad, but the Orange's 26-point victory proved that it's several levels above most of the league (BELIEVE THE HYPE). … Indiana's loss to Michigan State proves that its win over No. 1 Kentucky was a fluke (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE). … No. 19 Creighton, which has lost to Saint Joe's and Missouri State, is overrated (DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE).

Myron Medcalf covers college basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mmedcalf3030@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MedcalfbyESPN