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

25. North Carolina (6-2, LW NR)
--The No. 25 spot may as well be called "Probation Row." Not only do you need wins to move up from here, but they should be against opponents of some renown. Iowa was here in the preseason, but didn't have the early quality opponents to cling to the ladder. The Tar Heels are off for finals this week, but they come back on Saturday and Wednesday to Kentucky and Texas. Given UNC's form so far, expect a win over UK and a head-scratching loss to the Horns.

24. New Mexico (7-1, LW NR)
--UNM held Cincinnati to 29% shooting in a win Saturday night. It's a dominant win over a BII top-40 team, so welcome back, Lobos.

23. Colorado (9-1, LW NR)
--Askia Booker gave a brusque kiss-off to the idea of overtime Saturday night against Kansas. He wanted no more part of Andrew Wiggins, so he did this:

In addition to beating Kansas, the Buffs put a road win at Colorado State on the mantle next to their earlier defeat of Harvard. That's enough quality to crack anyone's top 25.

22. Michigan (6-3, LW 16)
--John Beilein and his charges are too good not to have a quality win in them somewhere. That's why they're still here. Saturday might end this ride, however. Top-ranked (yeah, yeah, SPOILER ALERT) Arizona comes to town. If that game goes as expected, it'll be time to cue up the Boyz II Men.

21. VCU (8-2, LW 18)
--The Rams are on a four-game tear since losing two of three in Puerto Rico, but surviving an overtime squeaker against Eastern Kentucky is a red flag for a team that aspires to lofty goals. Plus, the last-second win over Virginia is becoming increasingly devalued capital as the Hoos keep losing every important game in their path. Hence, a three-spot drop with little help in sight unless VCU absolutely eats the souls of Virginia Tech and Boston College. And even then...

20. Iowa (9-1, LW 23)
--It was a good week for the Hawkeyes. They dropped 98 on a Notre Dame team that usually prefers its games in the 70s, then smacked around in-state rival Drake, a team that's still closing in on the BII Top 50. Friday's not usually a good basketball night, but this week (Friday the 13th, no less), it's Iowa vs. Iowa State. Be there or...I dunno, eat hair?

Aw, hell no. I'm a big fan of know what, never mind. Let's just move on.

19. Baylor (8-1, LW NR)
--Now, before we get too excited, Bears fans need to remember two things: 1) Your team beat Kentucky last season, and you both ended up in the NIT; and b) Scott Drew is still your coach. The Bears will find some way to lose a game they probably shouldn't, but for now, congratulations on beating another McDonald's All-American trading card collection.

18. Memphis (6-1, LW 20)
--By now, we've all heard the statistic about Josh Pastner never beating an AP top-25 team. The win over Oklahoma State in Orlando got that monkey off his back, but it also put us all on Letdown Watch. The Tigers hung 96 on Northwestern State, which could be an NIT team if it takes the Southland regular season. So, no letdown. Now, we move to Trap Game Watch, as the Tigers play Arkansas-Little Rock Friday and travel to Madison Square Garden for Florida next Tuesday. Can you tell Memphis and Baylor have both burned us a few times?

17. Florida (6-2, LW 14)
--No, the unlucky-bounce loss to UConn does not merit a three-spot drop all on its own. Again, though, the teams coming up behind UF are picking off some good opponents. Only thing the Gators can do about it is start winning big games themselves. BTW, Middle Tennessee and Florida State are starting to count less and less. Florida needs a win tomorrow night over Kansas.
"Talk to the nipple, Chaz."

16. UMass (8-0, LW 21)
--Chaz Williams should be on your All-American checklist by now. He put down 32 points and 15 dimes against BYU, a pair of figures no one's racked in a regulation D-I game in at least 15 years. The Minutemen are proving legit, and they're not done with the solid schedule yet. A 10-day stretch starting next week sees them visit Ohio, play Florida State in the Orange Bowl Classic, then come home to play Providence. At this point, it's not "Will they make the tournament?" It's more like "Will they get sent to the NYC regional?"

15. Iowa State (7-0, LW 12)
--Yep, still undefeated. Nope, not moving up. While the Cyclones' peers are winning tournaments and making the likes of Virginia look like St. Catherine's School for the Blind, Crippled and Crazy, ISU is barely surviving Northern Iowa in overtime. And so far, this doesn't look like an Ali Farokhmanesh holy-shit-they-just-beat-Kansas Northern Iowa team either. The real in-state grudge match is on tap for Friday, and if the Cyclones lose, they'll pass Iowa on the way down.
Oregon can't legalize weed fast enough, eh, Marshall?

14. Oregon (8-0, LW 13)
--Ole Miss is the closest thing the Ducks have seen to a serious opponent since the opening victory over Georgetown. The Drinking Hendersons currently sit 45th in the BII. Still, some other teams didn't just survive, they dominated. Hence Oregon dropping down one. Next week's dates with Illinois, UC Irvine and BYU will help tremendously.

13. Wichita State (9-0, LW 11)
--Nice win over Oral Roberts, Shockers. Still, ORU ain't Virginia or Marquette. Trailing at halftime, though? Villanova crushed its opponents without such issues. Take two steps back.

12. Louisville (8-1, LW 10)
--We'll keep harping on the Cards' schedule until December 28, when they and Kentucky both take the court looking to prove something. Louisiana-Lafayette, starring last summer's Captain America Elfrid Payton, is a BII top-75 team, but so are Virginia and Marquette. Er go, Rick Pitino is eating Bo Ryan's dust. And most Bo Ryan teams don't leave dust.

11. Kansas (6-2, LW 8)
--The Colorado loss is not a bad one by any stretch. What may be even scarier for future KU opponents is that Andrew Wiggins may be figuring out that he'll have to take over more often. After early foul trouble in Boulder, he played his best game since Duke.

10. Wisconsin (10-0, LW 17)
--Strike a blow in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge? Check. Cement the in-state bragging rights by stifling Marquette's backcourt (granted, not that hard a task, but still)? Check. Still undefeated? Check. To top it off, the Badgers are up to No. 2 in the BII. Now that's a good week.
PICTURED: Beast mode.

9. Villanova (9-0, LW 15)
--No letdown from the championship in the Bahamas. Nova smashed Penn early and St. Joe's late to assert its Big 5 primacy. The Cats' defense held Penn to .73 PPP, then the offense hung 1.36 PPP on St. Joseph's. All-around dominant games over decent-if-not-elite opponents will get you a hefty jump.

8. Duke (7-2, LW 9)
--Coach K pulled out all the stops to stifle Michigan, even resorting to a little zone and some box-and-one to keep the ball away from Nik Stauskas. He hasn't won 8046 games for nothing, kids. Expect Duke to drop at least a spot next week, since it doesn't play again until next Monday.

7. Kentucky (7-2, LW 3)
--For all the prattling about how absurdly deep Kentucky is, John Calipari used his bench for all of 21 minutes against Baylor. The game-ending 26-12 run Baylor went on was not accidental. For a six-minute span in the middle of the second half, UK attempted only three shots (good for three points), committed five turnovers and was whistled for three fouls. That's no way to go through the second half, son.

6. Michigan State (7-1, LW 1)
--The Spartans had to feel they were okay with 11:54 left against North Carolina. Game was tied at 49 and Keith Appling had just hit a three that surely heralded him getting hot after a rough night. Five minutes later, Marcus Paige hit a three to cap a 14-3 run that left all of East Lansing wondering wha'hoppen. Contrary to what all the trolls were screaming at me preseason, Michigan State is not a deep team. Gary Harris' lingering ankle injury appears to be one he'll fight all season and Adreian Payne is falling more and more in love with the three-ball. The sky's not falling yet, but Sparty fans need to get their heads out of the green Kool-Aid and admit that I might have known what I was talking about. Direct all apologies to @4QuartersRadio on Twitter.

5. UConn (9-0, LW 6)
--Yes, UConn's four power-conference victims have fallen by a TOTAL of five points. But think of it this way: When the stuff hits the fan in March and games get tight, would you rather be a team that's never played a close finish and has no clue how to react? Not only do the Huskies have a tendency to win the close ones, they have a go-to guy who's proven able to make plays even when everyone knows what's coming. Take the jumper and run, Bazz.

4. Oklahoma State (8-1, LW 5)
--After the loss to Memphis, South Carolina came to Stillwater and was forced to pay penance. 10 minutes in, that game was 22-5 Pokes. Marcus Smart was no longer puking in a bucket, but the Cocks were certainly puking on their shoes.

3. Syracuse (9-0, LW 7)
--Indiana coach Tom Crean needs to be checked for Alzheimer's. Having just seen Syracuse's 2-3 zone last March, he walked face-first into it again last Tuesday. The roster's mostly new, but the coach was there and should have learned something. Right? In other news, Orange guards Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney might not be NBA lottery picks like The Hyphen, but they are playing fantastic ball to support C.J. Fair. Another Final Four trip is not a ludicrous suggestion.

2. Ohio State (8-0, LW 4)
--The Buckeyes aren't playing a deadly schedule, but right now it doesn't matter. They're simply stifling anyone in their path. Ohio is the only opponent to average a point per possession against OSU this season. Ohio State is forcing a turnover on one of every four possessions, allowing 22% three-point shooting and giving opponents only 0.27 FTA/FGA. Best defense in America right now.

1. Arizona (9-0, LW 2)
--Wins over Texas Tech and UNLV do not a great week make, but this is still one of the most complete teams in the country. The Cats are 29th in America with 55.3% effective shooting and allow their opponents only 40.9%, fourth in the nation. They're top-11 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding. If they could only hit a free throw (66.2%, 268th), we could engrave U of A on a No. 1 seed line now.
"The fish was this big." Good luck, Arizona.

Major Games to Watch:
Kansas at Florida, Tuesday
Boise State at Kentucky, Tuesday
New Mexico State at Arizona, Wednesday
Iowa at Iowa State, Friday
Arizona at Michigan, Saturday
Kentucky at North Carolina, Saturday
New Mexico vs. Kansas, Saturday (Kansas City)
Illinois vs. Oregon, Saturday (Portland)
Tennessee at Wichita State, Saturday
Syracuse at St. John's, Sunday

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