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Conference play begins in earnest as we prepare to burst through into 2015 a second past midnight on Thursday.

And there’s going to be some nifty conference openers on the final day of 2014: Penn State at Wisconsin (Big Ten); Butler at Villanova and St. John’s at Seton Hall (both Big East); UNLV at Wyoming and Boise State at Colorado State (both Mountain West).

Rank (Last week’s rank)
Record
Comment
1. Kentucky (1)
13-0
Now it’s the members of the SEC’s turn to see if a productive offensive attack can be mounted against the Wildcats. The University of Mississippi gets the first pop, on Jan. 6, in Lexington.
2. Duke (3)
10-0
It will be a busy week in Cameron Indoor Stadium with games against Toledo (Monday), Wofford (New Year’s Eve) and Boston College (Saturday/an ACC opener).
3. Virginia (4)
11-0
The sport’s other defensive juggernaut will be tested by Davidson in Charlottesville on Tuesday night and then the Cavaliers begin what will no doubt be a harrowing ACC schedule – for everyone involved – Saturday in Miami.
4. Arizona (2)
12-1
The best way to describe the Wildcats’ loss at UNLV last week? Only “stunning” will do.
5. Gonzaga (6)
12-1
Unless it’s proven otherwise in, say, Moraga, the Bulldogs may have already aced their toughest WCC contest by knocking off BYU in Provo Saturday.
6. Wisconsin (7)
12-1
The Badgers may have picked up non-conference victories against teams that will be in the NCAA tourney. Check their schedule and see if you agree.
7. Villanova (9)
12-0
The Wildcats have scored fewer than 72 points just once this season.
8. Louisville (8)
11-1
Did the Cardinals, in fact, have the sport’s last “best chance” of knocking off Kentucky Saturday?
9. Texas (5)
10-2
The Longhorns shouldn’t fret too much about that loss to Stanford in Austin. After all, Connecticut suffered a home defeat to the same program a year ago and went on to win a national title.
10. Maryland (13)
12-1
The Terps will get their “Big Ten Welcome” in East Lansing on Tuesday night.
11. Iowa State (14)
9-1
My, oh, my – no starter is shooting less than .477 from the field for the Cyclones.
12. Northern Iowa (15)
11-1
Unless (or until) it’s proved differently on Jan. 31, this – and not Wichita State – is the best team in the Missouri Valley Conference.
13. Notre Dame (NR)
12-1
One of the nation’s positive surprise teams is led by one of the country’s elite guards (Jerian Grant).
14. Wichita St. (10)
10-2
The Shockers came oh-so-close to being stunned by host Hawaii two nights before be shocked by George Washington.
15. Utah (NR)
9-2
There would seem to be reasonable expectation that the Utes will be 4-0 in the Pac 12 Conference when they play in Tucson on Jan. 17.
16. St. John’s (NR)
11-1
The only loss slips neatly into the category of “good losses” (by seven points to Gonzaga).

ON THE CUSP: Arkansas 10-2, Baylor 10-1, Cal 10-3, Colorado State 13-0, Georgetown 8-3, Kansas 9-2, LSU 9-2, North Carolina 8-3, Ohio State 11-2, Oklahoma State 9-2, Old Dominion 10-1, Providence 10-3, SMU 8-3, TCU 12-0, Washington 11-1 and West Virginia 11-1.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK (Dec. 22-28)

*Anthony Brown (Stanford): The 6-6 guard scored 25 points, while not missing on four attempts from behind the arc, and hit the go-ahead bucket in OT as the Cardinal collected the program’s first road victory over a Top 10-ranked club since 2008 by stunning Texas in Austin.

*Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin): The 7-foot senior and prohibitive Big Ten Player of the Year candidate helped the Badgers pull away from visiting Buffalo in the second half in Madison Sunday with 25 points, 11 rebounds, six blocked shots and a couple of assists.

*Sir'Dominic Pointer (St. John’s): The 6-6 senior swingman averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 blocked shots and 4.5 steals in wins over Long Beach State and Tulane.

*Tyler Ulis (Kentucky): With the Wildcats’ starting backcourt going a combined three of 16 from the field with seven turnovers, it was up to this freshman point guard to save the nation’s best team’s offensive bacon with 14 points and two assists – without a turnover – in 26 minutes of the game at previously unbeaten Louisville Saturday afternoon.

*Christian Wood (UNLV): Wood, a sophomore who didn’t turn 19 until Sept. 27, averaged 23.0 points,12.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots in wins against previously unbeaten Arizona on Tuesday and Southern Utah State on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Frank Burlison has been covering hoops for 30+ years for a variety of publications.

Follow Frank on twitter @FrankieBur. Also make sure to follow his website at www.burlisononbasketball.com. College coaching staffs interested in Burlison’s scouting service should contact him at [email protected]

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