Friday, October 24, 2014

TBI's Conference Calling 2014-15 College Basketball Conference Rankings (Part 1)

Oh, hai. Been a long time.

Normally around this time of year, I'm trying furiously to churn out a full-on conference preview for every league in America. And normally by opening day, I haven't even covered more than a dozen of the 32 conferences. If I were Joe Blow Single Guy writing in his underwear with Cheeto stains on his fingertips, I'd have a lot more time to finish these things, but kids and a wife have this annoying habit of asking for a little time with Daddy. And since none of you are paying any of my bills, the writing is usually let to slide.

Still, I'm always interested in how the conferences stack up at this time of year, which is why TBI is still going to turn out a full set of conference rankings. We all know who the worst league in America is (hint: it's one letter away from being SWAG, something that the conference in question almost totally lacks), and everybody's got their own perspective on who's the best. (Sit down, SEC fan. That ridiculous all-conference second-team ballot says it all.)

But now, here comes The Back Iron to settle it all. Strap in, kids, and prepare to bitch as we unveil the bottom half of the nation's leagues.

Below, you'll find TBI's picks for conference regular-season (and we'll presume tournament) champions, along with each league's expected Player of the Year and a potential Game Changer selection. The Game Changer may be a newcomer or returnee, but he'll certainly be a player who's not getting the publicity he deserves for his ability to shift the balance of power in his league.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Poll Dancing: TBI's Official Top 25 College Basketball Rankings (Feb. 24 Edition)

Jim Boeheim went thermo-f'ing-nuclear. That's about all we need to know about this week.

The stress of the season is getting to everybody, it seems.

But seriously, how surprising is it that ANY coach made it as long as Boeheim has without ever being ejected?

After Boeheim going insane, the top 25 almost seems like an afterthought, but let's take a look at how far the Orange slipped after two losses, one of which is in the running for WTF Moment of the Year.

Faceplants: No. 20 UConn, No. 21 Arizona State, No. 24 UCLA, No. 25 Memphis
--13 teams have made one-week cameos on Poll Dancing, then suffered losses that sent them tumbling right back out again. UConn, ASU and UCLA are the newest members of that club, with the Sun Devils having a particularly rough week. Road losses to Utah and Colorado aren't surprising, but a bit disappointing.
--UCLA can relate to that Utah loss. Meanwhile, a loss at Maples Pavilion isn't a crusher, but it'll remove you from a poll when other candidates post strong victories.
--The Huskies can't solve a bulkier, more athletic SMU team. Keep that in mind when forecasting UConn in your brackets. Connecticut's sweep over Memphis are its only wins against its fellow top-half American sides.
--Speaking of Memphis, they didn't read last week's Poll Dancing, and therefore came in unaware that screwing around against Temple is not good for your national standing. A narrow win at Rutgers + overtime at home against Temple = terrible week. UM joins Gonzaga as our only three-time Faceplants.

Bubbling Under: All the Usual Suspects
--Gonzaga, Memphis, UCLA, VCU, Oklahoma, yada yada yada...they are what they are at this point. All are capable of a good win to break into the ballot and just as capable of a WTF loss to tumble out. It's pretty late in the game to be discovering someone new at this point.

The top 25 after the jump.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Poll Dancing: TBI's Official College Basketball Rankings (Feb. 17 Edition)

It's a weird season in college basketball, to be sure.

We all know there's no superteam out there, but did you know that a couple of weeks ago, 16 of the AP's Top 25 teams took a loss?

This past week was similarly rough, as 12 of the 25 went down at some point during the week, and one (Pitt) likely forfeited any chance of returning to the rankings by missing out on its last potential signature wins.

The bubble is shaky, and the lower reaches of the Poll Dancing Top 25 aren't exactly stable either. For Exhibit A, check out...

Faceplants: No. 22 Pitt, No. 24 SMU, No. 25 George Washington
--Of Pitt's last five games, only Florida State is projected as a tournament team according to TBI's Bracketometry. A strong ACC tournament run may be the only thing that saves the Panthers from the dreaded 8-9 seed line.
--SMU was riding high with four straight double-digit wins, including decisions over Memphis and Cincinnati. Then it lost to Temple Sunday. And this ain't a John Chaney Temple team, to be sure, still ranking among the 10 worst major-conference teams in America.
--Meanwhile, I gave GW a pass for losing to a solid Dayton team while dealing with a ton of backcourt injuries. The Colonials couldn't survive the VCU-UMass double, however, and may have put themselves back in the bubble conversation.

Bubbling Under: North Carolina, Gonzaga, New Mexico, SMU
--The Heels are on a tear, but their six-game win streak was largely against the ACC's cream-filled center until they beat Pitt. Gonzaga is becoming the old standby, good to slot into the last couple of spots if no one else looks worthy, but incapable of adding any more signature moments of its own. New Mexico can make a return to the ballot if it takes down UNLV and San Diego State this week. And SMU gets shoved back to the waiting room after apparently swallowing too much of its own hype. Seriously? Temple?

The actual Poll Dancing Top 25 after the jump.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Poll Dancing: TBI's Top 25 College Basketball Rankings (Jan. 27 Edition)

Yeah, it's been four weeks since we published an edition of Poll Dancing. It's going to sound mean, but I blame the new baby that arrived the day after Christmas.

Between radio work, the paid writing gig for Bleacher Report and the new baby, time's at a premium and I've gotten little enough sleep that I've occasionally found myself hallucinating. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must take this upstairs to hide from the angry purple jelly-spitting dragons.

[...]

All right, now that I've safely relocated to the upstairs closet, let's talk some ball before I doze...

Zzzzzzzzzzz...
(snort) Eh? What? Oh, hai. Wow, that's embarrassing. Ahem. Where were we?

I've managed to compile each week's Top 25, just haven't found the time to publish. So, the last week numbers are actually based on where I ranked teams last week, not on Dec. 31. Likewise with our lone Faceplant.

Faceplants: No. 20 Baylor
--Remember when Gary Parrish was reaming people out for slow-rolling Baylor? Yeah, neither does he. Gary wanted evidence as to why observers doubt the abilities of Scott Drew. This 1-5 start in the Big 12 doesn't help the coach's cause, does it? And other than TCU, there aren't any conference games that look like gimmes.

The Bears have plummeted down the BII, sitting at No. 44 BEFORE the latest loss to Texas. At one time, GP was trying to argue that there was no way the Bears could be ranked behind Kentucky. Now, there's not much of a case to claim Baylor should even reach the NCAA tournament.

Bubbling Under: UCLA, Gonzaga, Oklahoma, SMU, Texas
--The Longhorns are the poster children for the Big 12's mad resurgence this season. A conference that we predicted would send only three teams to the Dance this season is now the No. 2 league in America according to the BII average (and less than a quarter-point behind the Big Ten, to boot). The Big 12 has SEVEN of its 10 teams in the latest Bracketometry tournament, at least until Baylor finishes its collapse.

Texas has three straight wins over "ranked" teams (again, one is Baylor and the other is the inexplicably overrated Kansas State), with a home game against Kansas looming Saturday. I expect UT will be in today's AP rankings (UPDATE: it is), but I still need to see that win over KU before I pull the trigger.

Oh, and SMU hosts Memphis Saturday, too. A win there, and I'll gladly rank Larry Brown's collection of mercenaries.

The top 25 after the jump.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's Top 25 College Basketball Rankings (Dec. 31 Edition)

Not much movement on this week's top 25, since we only saw about 150 games all week. Hopefully, everyone got good Christmas presents, because Louisville fans only ended up with lumps of coal.

Worst week, however, had to go to St. Mary's. A trip to Hawaii seemed like it was set to be a pleasure cruise in which the Gaels would prove themselves top-25 worthy in an expected championship meeting with Iowa State. Three losses later, SMC ends up in last place behind luminaries like Oregon State and South Carolina. Hardly the mark of a team that will crack the rankings again...ever.

Speaking of teams that weren't expected to make the top 25, let's examine a totally puzzled pair of Faceplants.

Faceplants: Minnesota (No. 24), Florida State (No. 25)
--The Gophers blew out Corpus Christi, and their prior win over Nebraska-Omaha keeps looking better as the Mavericks climb to No. 101 in the new Back Iron Index. However, what did them in was the slow ascent of a team that owns a head-to-head victory over Minnesota. More on them at No. 25.

And of course, it's hard to rank Florida State just ahead of Minnesota when the Gophers own the head-to-head win.

Bubbling Under: Pitt, Missouri, Harvard, Gonzaga, Illinois
 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's Official Top 25 College Basketball Rankings (Dec. 23 Edition)

NOTE: The rankings are presented without comment this week, thanks to Christmas, the birth of my second daughter and a couple of days of single parenting of my first daughter. Normal programming should resume next week. Hit me up on Twitter if you have comments or complaints.

It was a really rough week for the bottom end of the Dec. 16 Poll Dancing ballot. This week's Faceplants really earned it, putting up results about as ugly as the picture to the left. (Hey, you know you've wondered what Santa does with himself the other 11 months of the year. Sorry for the disillusionment.)

Just before I began writing this post, St. Mary's punched their ticket to the gutter by losing an ugly game to South Carolina in Honolulu. The Gaels spent 40 minutes producing the kind of sloppy execution rarely seen unless some schmuck explodes in the electric chair.

Missouri's loss to Illinois wasn't terribly shameful, but when you're No. 25, there's no margin for error. Someone's always charging up from behind.

As for Gonzaga, it lost to Kansas State, which lost to Northern Colorado to start the season. If you want to get transitive, that's pretty ugly, even though UNC has been better than expected (No. 154 on this week's BII). GU will perpetually hang around in this grey area all season, winning enough to stay on the radar, but never getting the kind of sexy wins that will move it up and out of harm's way.

Read on after the jump to see who's replacing these three at our exclusive 25-guest party.

Bubbling Under: LSU, Harvard, Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma


Monday, December 16, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's Top 25 College Basketball Rankings (Dec. 16 Edition)

Finals week is always a tough one for college athletes, although it does constitute a bit of a breather for college sportswriters. Only 96 games were played between Dec. 8 and 13, compared to the 202 that are coming between yesterday and this Friday.

That academia-induced inertia struck a few of TBI's top 25 teams, and it's very rare that taking a whole week off will aid a school's ballot ranking. So, if your favorite team dropped a couple of spots (SPOILER ALERT: UConn/UMass) or stayed stagnant (SPOILER ALERT II: Baylor), blame the coaches for taking a whole week off.

It's refreshing to see programs taking a pause to make their players take exams, but by week's end, we're a little bored out here. At least schedule a SWAC team, wouldja?

Faceplants: No. 21 VCU, No. 22 Michigan, No. 24 New Mexico
--The first two teams to knock off VCU are at least still in the Back Iron Index Fantasy Bracket, meaning Georgetown and Florida State are among the 68 best teams in America. Northern Iowa? Not so much.

The Wolverines were hanging on like that kitten over there, needing to pull out a win over Arizona to stay on the ballot. And they damn near got it. However, it's time to consult the Index again, and the fact is that right now, Michigan projects as a low-seeded NIT team, largely due to brutal RPI numbers. There's some rehab that needs to be done here.

New Mexico could have stayed in with a tight loss to Kansas, but getting blown off the court while Alex Kirk was made to look mortal? Eh, no. Try back later.

Bubbling Under:
San Diego State--Would have cracked the rankings if they'd played someone this week.
UCLA--Meeting with Duke Thursday offers a golden opportunity.
George Washington--May stay here for a couple of weeks until Kansas State and Georgia games around New Year's.
Pittsburgh--Penn State win keeps looking better. Just beat down Cincinnati tomorrow and you're in, Panthers.

The best of the best after the jump.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's Top 25 College Basketball Rankings: Dec. 9 Edition

Another week, another "WTF?" North Carolina victory. The Tar Heels are the only BII tournament team to lose to Belmont or UAB, but their wins over Louisville and Michigan State remind us just how good we thought they could be.

And still no sign of P.J. Hairston. At this point, it's getting close to cut-bait time for ol' Roy. Re-introduce Hairston and Les McDonald now, and you risk screwing up what chemistry the team's building.

In other news, Arizona's really good, Marcus Smart is done throwing up, Tom Crean is a dufus and the scoreboard will be able to take the night off when Ohio State and Wisconsin play this season.

But first, we must bid adieu to a few temporary friends.

Faceplants: Virginia, Creighton, Pitt, Dayton
--Virginia's learning the same hard lesson Marquette did: Score in the 30s and you're more than likely not Poll Dancing the following week.

Creighton did nothing wrong this past week, beating Long Beach State and Nebraska. However, the new teams all notched some quality victories that mandated their inclusion.

Pitt and Dayton benefited last week from a lack of verified candidates in the 25-35 range, but they got no such break this week. Pitt is still undefeated, but against a highly suspect schedule. Dayton's stumble against Illinois State hurt not only them, but the Gonzaga team the Flyers upset in Maui.

Bubbling Under: Missouri, Pitt, Gonzaga, St. Mary's, San Diego State

Monday, December 2, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's College Basketball Top 25 Rankings (Dec. 2 Edition)

Thanksgiving weekend is always a watershed part of the college basketball season, because we get a horde of matchups with the kind of quality that turns SEC football coaches' hair white.

A group of people who deify Nick Saban for scheduling Chattanooga in the penultimate game of his season won't understand the beauty of Memphis-Oklahoma State or Arizona-Duke. Being undefeated in football is all that matters, at least in the BCS era. Maybe the selection committee approach will change that in football, maybe not. Still, basketball gives us the games we're dying to see, even if sometimes the tournaments don't fall right and give us more of a "what-if" feel.

(USC-UTEP would have skipped overtime in favor of Enfield v. Floyd in the Octagon. A rack on Floyd in the third round by rear naked choke. He's a vet and he fights dirty. Just ask USC fans.)

Those sexy tournament matchups gave us a little fluctuation in the Poll Dancing rankings, but not as much as might be expected for those who lost to the quality opposition.

As always, let's start by spit-roasting those who nosedove completely off the ballot.

Faceplants: No. 19 North Carolina, No. 23 Gonzaga, No. 24 Tennessee, No. 25 BYU
--Marcus Paige has been a revelation for UNC, but big men Kennedy Meeks, Joel James and Isaiah Hicks are averaging a total of 12 points and 12 boards per game. If none of them becomes "The Man" by season's end, UNC's going to bob along and end up in an 8-9 game. Again.

BYU has hunted some big game, but the results have varied. Stanford and Utah State to the good, Iowa State and Wichita State to the bad. And it still has UMass and Oregon to come. Respect, but No. 25 leaves no room to slip.

Gonzaga would still be hanging in if not for the fact that Dayton was already on the come-up when it beat the Zags in Maui. 

As for Tennessee...
When you're trying to gloat about a win over Wake Forest, you're obviously bringing a slingshot to a nuclear war. Right now, Wake's clinging to one of the last four spots in my NIT bracket, with USC being its best win. UTEP's one of the last four into the CBI. Someone from UT needs to prove he can shoot straight before the Vols start winning those games. If not, it's another NIT and possibly a pink slip for Cuonzo. And that would make me a sad panda.

Bubbling Under: UCLA, Baylor, St. Mary's, San Diego State

The actual top 25 after the jump.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Poll Dancing: TBI's College Basketball Top 25 Rankings (Nov. 25 edition)

Every now and then, people surprise you with a depth of knowledge and insight that simply blows your mind. Those who agree with what I write often fall into this category. There should be more of these people.

The other 97.7% of the population acts like total cretins, and sometimes that includes people that you know should know better.

Last week's edition of Poll Dancing became more like Troll Dancing, with some complaints lodged on Facebook (er go by someone I know and actually like; and trust me, there aren't many such people) about one team's precipitous drop after a loss.

Well, guess what? Another team took a major dive this week, and it makes last week's big plummet look like stepping off a Manhattan curb.

Let's start with the ones who fell completely off the ballot. Those usually hurt the most.

Faceplants: No. 22 New Mexico, No. 23 Harvard
--We had a deal, Hahvahd. You were here on the condition that you actually win the few big games you saw fit to schedule. Colorado's a far cry from the MIT's and Bryants of the world, and the loss means you're not likely to get past this velvet rope again unless you run the table the rest of the year, including Boston College and UConn. Best of luck, but I don't get the feeling we'll be on speaking terms again until March.

As for New Mexico, they took too long (double OT) to finish off UAB in Charleston, and it bit the Lobos in the ass against a pushy tempo team like UMass. Alex Kirk was the only guy prepped to get off the bus against the Minutemen, putting up a 32-11 game with five blocks. He needed 26 shots to get the 32 points, though, and that's a bad look. So, not only did UMass eat UNM's lunch in the final minutes, but it also took New Mexico's top 25 spot. Not to worry, though, the Lobos have a great run in December that can earn them a lot of ground back.

Bubbling Under: St. Louis, Iowa, St. Mary's, Baylor, Arizona State