It has been an interesting two months of college basketball that fans have witnessed so far this season. Duke and Arizona started the season as the consensus favorites; then defending champion ichigan State stepped into the spotlight and the No. 1 ranking followed by Stanford and their impressive 20-0 start to the season; and finally, North Carolina took over the mantle after taking down Duke.

And that’s just the action that has taken place atop the polls. As February rolls around and conference play enters the stretch, the tournament locks pull away, the `bubble’ boys walk the fine and treacherous line between NCAA and NIT and the pretenders start to crash and burn.

At this point, there are five elite teams that have ascended to the top of the college hoops world. North Carolina, Stanford, Duke, ichigan State and Kansas occupy the top five positions in the basketball polls this week, racking up victories and surviving brutal conference schedules, hoping to lock up one of the four precious No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Nevertheless, most of the top teams have done very little to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. North Carolina and its 16-game winning streak excepted, almost every other top team has lost in recent weeks, with six of this week’s top-10 teams losing this past week and three of those losses coming from unranked teams.

Georgetown has mirrored this trend, losing three of its last five conference games yet more or less retaining its spot in the rankings, rising to the No. 15 spot despite losing to No. 9 Syracuse last week. For the Hoyas, the upcoming stretch could provide a major swing in one direction or the other. A pair of wins would push Georgetown past the 20-win plateau, whereas another losing streak would drop the Hoyas to .500 in Big East play and bury them in the middle of the pack in the West division.

The rest of the Big East is entering an equally important stretch, as Syracuse and Boston College look to grab the reins of their respective divisions, while Notre Dame and Providence look to establish themselves as legitimate contenders. At the same time, a number of middle-of-the-pack teams (St. John’s, Villanova, Pittsburgh) are looking for resume-building wins that will get them invites to the big dance.

The pretenders of the Big East have also reared their ugly heads, and it is not looking pretty for early-season favorites Seton Hall and Connecticut right now. Seton Hall has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the nation, starting the season 10-2 before arriving in Georgetown on Jan. 6 and losing six of eight games from that day forward. Their only wins during this tough stretch have come against two ranked teams, Syracuse and Notre Dame, while ugly back-to-back losses to Miami and Rutgers have taken the shine off the Pirates’ ship.

Connecticut is in the same boat as Seton Hall, having lost six of nine games, including five in a row during one stretch, after starting the season 10-1. Wins over Arizona and St. John’s have given way to losses against Miami and Villanova. And yet both Big East pretenders continue to get votes in the polls!

All of a sudden Georgetown’s midseason skid doesn’t seem so bad.

Even the dominant ACC, with five of its nine teams ranked in the top 15, has seen its fabulous five dropping games left and right as they pound away at one another. These teams all have at least three games apiece against one another plus the ACC tournament, which will mean the losses will continue to pile up among the conference leaders.

The only definite conclusion that can be made at this point is that there are no locks, and the next month will go a long way toward determining the fates of numerous teams. Conference tournaments start up about one month from now, and the landscape of college basketball will likely look a whole lot different by then.

Arizona has an opportunity to reestablish itself as a favorite after all the turmoil that has surrounded the team and the resulting struggles the Wildcats have endured on the court.

Connecticut has a chance to remember that they’re not supposed to be a Big East cellar-dweller, and maybe the Huskies will win a game or two.

Stanford can either return to the No. 1 spot in the land when North Carolina loses, which the Tar Heels will do at some point in the brutal stretch they have ahead, or the Cardinal may lose focus and drop a few games. Not the end of the world, but they don’t have the benefit of a conference tournament to provide momentum rolling into the postseason.

Duke can keep losing, which will make everyone but Dick Vitale happy.

Boston College can keep rolling despite the lack of respect that has been given to the Eagles. BC could also revert to its play of recent seasons and stumble into New York for the Big East tournament.

Syracuse can pull away from the pack in a Big East that has plenty of good teams but presently lacks that one star. Georgetown even has the chance to establish itself as the team to beat entering the Big East tournament if the Hoyas go on a run over the next couple weeks. This is a very real possibility, considering that Georgetown does not play a top-25 team again until Syracuse visits Washington, D.C. on Feb. 24.

One can only hope that the next two months prove to be as interesting as the past two, and the Hoyas recover that paranoia and become an integral piece of the postseason equation.

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