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.

25. Dayton (6-1, LW NR)
PICTURED: A grown-ass man who goes by "Scoochie."

--The Flyers were one point out of the Maui title game against Syracuse. That after a game where it owned Gonzaga on the glass and stopped the threes from falling. Now, here's the problem: Iona and Ole Miss are the only solid opponents left on UD's non-con schedule. Expect to see Dayton slide off and on the ballot at least once between now and the Atlantic 10 schedule.

24. Pittsburgh (7-0, LW NR)
--Pitt's up to fourth in this week's BII, with not much to its credit outside of a win over Stanford. If UCLA fans are aggrieved that their win over Drexel doesn't hold more water than Pitt's Stanford, you're probably right. But Steve Alford's a douche, and that's about the biggest decider I got. Sometimes we have to split hairs in Poll Dancing. (And that sentence sounds just a bit gross when said out loud.)

23. Iowa (7-1, LW NR)
--The Hawkeyes' pre-Atlantis schedule was pure dreck. Nebraska-Omaha was their best win. Then, Iowa survives in overtime over Xavier while never leading in regulation, swallows UTEP whole and hangs in for 44 minutes against Jayhawk-killers Villanova. A much more legitimate idea of what we're looking at in Iowa City. Now, on to Notre Dame and in-state rivals Drake and Iowa State.

22. Creighton (5-2, LW 18)
--The Bluejays' defense isn't as terrible as we're being told. It can't be if they're slowing down Jahiisus the way they did in the win over Arizona State. The losses to San Diego State and George Washington tell us more about those two teams' quality than about any lack thereof from Creighton. The one disturbing point is GW proving that slowing Dougie McBuckets renders the Jays impotent.

21. UMass (6-0, LW 21)
--The Minutemen took the whole week off. Well-deserved, considering the start they've already had. Right now, their victims are in TBI Bracketometry's first NCAA play-in game (Clemson/LSU), the No. 1 seed in our NIT (New Mexico) and the last team out of our CBI (Boston College). Quality. Still to come: BYU, at Ohio, Florida State and Providence.

20. Virginia (7-1, LW 17)
--The SMU win was decent, but there's still not a lot of separation between the Hoos and VCU. And VCU won head-to-head. UVa can make the major statement Wednesday against Wisconsin.

19. VCU (6-2, LW 16)
Yeah, we want you, too, Uncle beat more decent teams.

--Winning at Belmont looks hard to do, primarily because no top programs are willing to take the chance to play there. VCU went, saw and conquered by forcing turnovers and making free throws. The A-10, though, is looking much more potent than we thought last month. The Rams will have to earn a title there.

18. Memphis (5-1, LW 22)
--Credit to Josh Pastner for figuring out that his Tigers couldn't run with Oklahoma State. The veteran guards who were so lost in Stillwater showed up and showed out in the rematch. Memphis has never been able to win games like this under Pastner, and they're the kind that will crop up in March. The non-league schedule doesn't afford many more chances to follow up, but the American schedule will say a lot. UConn, Cincinnati and Louisville are a far cry from Marshall, UTEP and UAB.

17. Wisconsin (8-0, LW 20)
--Sorry, Virginia teams, but UW's win over Saint Louis > Virginia over SMU or VCU over Belmont. Unless you're a big team that can beat the Badgers on the glass (Marquette?), UW's got all the answers so far.

16. Michigan (5-2, LW 14)
--Beating Coppin State won't keep your ranking if there are any other worthy candidates. UM-Duke may be the biggest glamour game of the entire ACC-Big Ten Challenge. (Speaking of things college football programs don't have the stones to implement...)

But you can see a man whip his Cock out on national TV.

15. Villanova (7-0, LW NR)
--Nobody had a better Thanksgiving weekend than the Wildcats, knocking off Kansas and Iowa. Even in lineups with five perimeter players on the court, VU still beat both bigger teams on the glass (36.2 combined OR%) and forced a total of 33 turnovers. While the KU win may say more about Kansas' growing pains than Villanova's true talent level, the Iowa win was a sheer gut-check.

14. Florida (6-1, LW 15)
--A win over Florida State was exactly what the Gators needed. It wasn't terribly convincing, but it was a win over a good team. It is a win, however, that may lose some luster once the Seminoles start the ACC schedule. As for UF, it's time to nut up, as the next two weeks throw UConn, Kansas and Memphis into the Gators' path. Lose all three, and there's no way UF remains in anyone's Top 25.

13. Oregon (7-0, LW 12)
--The Ducks have coasted on the glory from beating Georgetown in South Korea. To their credit, they've handled the cupcakes with ease. A 3-1 or 4-0 record between now and Christmas (at Ole Miss, Illinois, UC Irvine, BYU) would legitimize Oregon as a Top-10 team. 

12. Iowa State (5-0, LW 11)
--Follow up Michigan and BYU with UMKC and tonight's game against Auburn? Yawn. Take a step back, Cyclones.

11. Wichita State (8-0, LW 13)
The Big Show (ex-Shocker center) approves this ranking.

--Beating BYU and St. Louis gives Wichita the best week of the week, non-Villanova division. WSU held the Cougars to 32% shooting and beat the Billikens on an evening honoring the late Rick Majerus. The Shockers have the guts to win just about anywhere. The rest of the MVC isn't looking so hot right now, so the question isn't whether Wichita will win the league, more like by how much.

10. Louisville (6-1, LW 9)
--The Cards choked out Southern Miss, but the Golden Eagles are kind of like those other ones who play in Milwaukee: Neither one is much known for its offense. There won't be much else to say about UL until the Kentucky game in four weeks.

9. Duke (6-2, LW 6)
--Coach K is scrambling right now. Starting Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston smacks of desperation to find a lineup that can play defense. The question becomes: Is he selling out what will really win games for this team (scoring and lots of it) for something that simply may not exist on the current roster (a cohesive defensive unit that can stop opponents everywhere, including the paint)? Translation: free Sulaimon, Dawkins and Jones and channel some inner Loyola Marymount.

8. Kansas (6-1, LW 3)
"Can I blame it on the water?" "Naw, man, this ain't Mexico."

--The question is shifting for KU. We've wondered if the Jayhawks are actually the best team in the Big 12, and if Oklahoma State had taken a second win over Memphis, there would be no question. Now, we need to wonder if the Jayhawks are the best team in their own state. Jesus Wiggins only put up 11 PPG in the Bahamas, but we'll see how he does with the rest of that loaded non-conference schedule.

7. Syracuse (7-0, LW 10)
--Minnesota + Cal + Baylor = a hellacious run through Maui. There are still flaws in the Orange, but the cracks in Duke, Virginia and Pitt are just as apparent. The ACC won't be the dominant conference we thought it would be, but it'll still be a fantastic race. Syracuse vs. Indiana is a major ACC/Big Ten Challenge swing game Tuesday.

6. UConn (7-0, LW 8)
--We're still not 100% sure what we've got in the Huskies. Their three power-conference wins have come by a total of four points. Tonight's game against Florida will need to be convincing, because UConn's only other game in the next 18 days comes Friday against Maine.

5. Oklahoma State (7-1, LW 3)
--Remember, Memphis was a preseason Top-10 team. OSU had a rough time overall in Orlando, nearly spitting the bit against Purdue and surviving Butler by two before that loss. Don't expect too many rough nights like the Memphis rematch (4-13, five turnovers) from Marcus Smart this season.

This week's sign the Apocalypse is upon us: Amir Williams ballin'.

4. Ohio State (6-0, LW 7)
--OSU's not even trying to outscore anyone, focusing more on choking opponents out. Ideally, LaQuinton Ross has more games like the one against North Florida (17 points, eight boards in 24 minutes) and Amir Williams keeps putting up double figures (four of six games so far).

3. Kentucky (7-1, LW 4)
--Willie. Cauley. Stein. Beasted. A 15-point, eight-rebound, nine-block game last night against Providence should cement his primary role on that team from here on. In addition, Aaron Harrison demonstrated the ability to play either backcourt spot, subbing for his foul-ridden brother. Freshmen should look a lot different in March than they do in November, and if UK's rookies actually get better over the next three months, look out.

2. Arizona (7-0, LW 2)
--Five Arizona players scored in double figures against Duke. This will not be the last time that happens. I would have had no qualms about elevating the Cats if Michigan State had struggled with Mt. St. Mary's. All that said, watch for the game against New Mexico State on the 11th. The Aggies have the size to keep UA out of the lane and make the Cats hit threes.

1. Michigan State (7-0, LW 1)
--If Belmont and UAB can take out North Carolina, Michigan State should too. Gary Harris' ankle kept him out of the Mt. St. Mary's game because, yeah, it was Mt. St. Mary's. Still, Tom Izzo is "99% sure" that Harris will play against UNC. Will he be Gary Harris?
Patric Young: Better bodybuilder than scorer.

Major Games This Week:
Florida at UConn, Monday
Michigan at Duke, Tuesday
Notre Dame at Iowa, Tuesday
Wisconsin at Virginia, Wednesday
North Carolina at Michigan State, Wednesday
Maryland at Ohio State, Wednesday
Kentucky vs. Baylor (Dallas), Friday
Kansas at Colorado, Saturday
BYU vs. UMass (Springfield), Saturday
Marquette at Wisconsin, Saturday

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