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...

(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.

25. George Washington (16-3, LW NR)
And may I add, this is one sweet court.

--The Atlantic 10, for my money, is the most interesting conference race in America right now because the expected contenders are actually legitimate. There aren't any Baylors or Ohio States being exposed as paper tigers (yes, OSU's still ranked this week, but they're skidding toward oblivion quickly).

For GW's part, they're 4-1 in the league, with the lone blemish being a slugfest at La Salle. The Colonials seek revenge this Wednesday. GW owns neutral wins over Creighton and Maryland and added a win over VCU a couple of weeks ago.

(Speaking of La Salle, a moment if I may to say RIP to one of the college game's all-time greats, Explorer legend Tom Gola. He passed away yesterday at the age of 81. In his four seasons, La Salle lost only 19 games, won both an NIT and NCAA title and made another NCAA title game. He's still the NCAA's all-time leading rebounder with 2,201. To break that mark, a player who competes in 140 career games would have to average 15.8 rebounds per game.)

24. St. Louis (18-2, LW 25)
--The Billikens are alone atop the A-10 at 5-0, but they've ridden the razor's edge early on. A one-point win at Rhode Island and a four-point final-minute win at Duquesne raise some concerns. UMass-killer Richmond awaits Wednesday.

23. Memphis (15-4, LW 24)
--The Tigers' week was successful with a pair of wins, but how much credit can we give for home wins over Houston and South Florida? See, the American currently ranks eighth in the BII's conference averages, and Louisville leaving next season will kill whatever power-conference cred it has. The top of the league is quite legit. The bottom half (which Memphis feasted on last week) is quite bad. Waiting to see that SMU game on Saturday to decide the Tigers' ultimate fate.

22. Ohio State (16-4, LW 19)
--Beating Illinois may have salvaged the Buckeyes' season, as they've plummeted from a Bracketometry 1-seed to a very tenuous 5. At the end of a B/R piece I published last week, I alluded to the looming threat of the NIT. I don't expect OSU falls that far, but nothing can be taken for granted right now. After all, we thought their defense could crush the souls of the Big Ten's minnows just by showing up, but Nebraska stuck a needle in that balloon. Assuming the Buckeyes handle business against Penn State, Purdue and Northwestern at home and Penn State and Illinois on the road, that gives them eight Big Ten wins. Anything less than that and the committee has a serious dilemma on its hands.

21. Virginia (15-5, LW 22)
--The Hoos missed all their significant chances in non-conference play, but they've hit the ACC hard. Virginia has won six games by double figures (including a sweep of Florida State). The only blemish involved them getting hosed by some alternate laws of physics that only apply at Cameron Indoor Stadium, watching a Rasheed Sulaimon three take an absurd bounce and drop through with 19 seconds left.

A November win over SMU--in Texas, no less--is looking better and better each week, and four of the five losses are forgivable. (35 points to Tennessee is still harsh, though.) Watch for Sunday's game against Pitt. Both teams could really use that win.

20. Pittsburgh (18-2, LW 23)
--Speaking of Pitt, they're tied with Virginia at 6-1 in conference. Their only loss was a tense five-pointer to league-leading Syracuse. Still, Stanford is the only team that Pitt's beaten who Bracketometry projects in the tournament...and the Cardinal are the last team in. The good news: Pitt still has games against all four of the ACC's other projected tourney teams (Duke, Virginia, Syracuse, Florida State) and all four are at home with no rematch. Lamar Patterson is on an All-American roll, especially in conference. If Pitt does get stuck with a 5 or 6 seed this March (Bracketometry has them down for a 2), they could screw a lot of people's brackets.

19. UMass (17-2, LW 12)
--This week's biggest nosedive belongs to the Minutemen, but a highly forgivable loss at Richmond could be exactly what UMass needed. There's a feeling of destiny that comes over a team when it survives a series of close games, and that's exactly what UMass did in its first three A-10 wins. The Chaztastics went out and demolished Fordham yesterday, but this week's itinerary (at Saints Bonaventure and Joseph's) will offer a lot more proof of where UMass' collective heads are at. A loss in one of those will put UMass firmly behind in the Atlantic 10 race.

18. Louisville (17-3, LW 18)
--Hard to yawn at a 39-point win on the road, but when it's at South Florida...

Shit, there we go again.
Seriously, USF is the BII's seventh-worst power-conference team...and three of the other six are fellow American members. The Cards can call us when (if) they knock off Cincinnati this Thursday.

17. Cincinnati (19-2, LW 17)
--Bearcat Nation has even more cause to be aggrieved than the Cardinal faithful. Two wins, one on the road, and no upward mobility? WTF, TBI?

Well, remember those other really, really crappy power conference teams? Here are the 10 worst:

Rutgers 197 200.1 American
UCF 186 185.1 American
Boston College 185 183.2 ACC
Temple 182 181.7 American
Virginia Tech 181 179.4 ACC
TCU 177 177.8 Big 12
South Florida 169 168.4 American
Washington St. 160 162.7 Pac-12
Auburn 158 158.7 SEC
South Carolina 149 149 SEC

And bear in mind, those rankings were last updated Friday, before a weekend that wasn't very kind to most of this bunch. Cincinnati beat UCF and Temple, the latter on the road but by only four points. Again, let's see the proof in Thursday's pudding before someone makes a power move.
Wolverine fans love when their boys are angry.

16. Michigan (15-4, LW 21)
--The Wolverines have just about figured out their formula, and it involves a lot of Nik Stauskas beasting on people. He smashed top-10 foes Iowa and Michigan State for a sexy 45-7-9 line with 57-percent shooting from the floor (60% from three). And yet, the Wooden Award people left this man off their midseason top 25 watch list. #epicfail

15. Wisconsin (17-3, LW 10)
--Let's call Saturday's Wisconsin-Ohio State game the "WTF Classic," because that's exactly what most of us have asked about these two teams since Big Ten play started. Still, the Badgers are a team that ran into a tough portion of the schedule and didn't handle it well. We know how they play, and we know they're good. Ohio State, we're just a bit more fuzzy on right now.

14. Duke (16-4, LW 16)
--Impressive wins over Miami and Florida State earn the Devils a two-spot jump. Like so many of our contestants, Duke has a big week ahead of it. At Pitt tonight and at Syracuse Saturday may constitute the toughest back-to-back games any team in America has faced all season. I'll be examining the Duke-Syracuse matchup in a bit more detail this week on B/R, so keep a watch out.

13. Iowa State (15-3, LW 14)
--Speaking of those tough patches of schedule, most of the Big 12 slate now looks like one for the Cyclones. At Kansas Wednesday, host Oklahoma Saturday, and at Oklahoma State next Monday will tell us where ISU really stands in its surprisingly muscular conference.

12. Kentucky (15-4, LW 13)
--UK slapped Georgia with a hefty dose of reality Saturday, in the process affirming for us just how soft the SEC truly is. A Bulldog team that won at Missouri got pounded at both Florida and Kentucky, which is what true tournament teams do. It won't shock me a bit to see UK and UF be the conference's only teams getting called out on Selection Sunday.

11. Creighton (17-3, LW 15)
Ethan Wragge made six more threes while I was writing this.

--A 21-triple game is muy impressive, but it's such an outlier that none of us should be expecting many repeats. The Bluejays can bomb on anyone, but to that degree?

All that said, never mind the rankings, the Jays are in the Big East driver's seat thanks to crushing Villanova. Both teams are sitting in cushy 2-seed spots on the current Bracketometry, and I'm not expecting either to fall very far from that. Just imagine Creighton when Grant Gibbs gets back.

10. Oklahoma State (16-3, LW 11)
--The Pokes survived a major scare against West Virginia, considering that Marcus Smart had one of the worst games of his life before fouling out. Even more alarming, however, is that Kamari Murphy's been a non-factor on the glass the last couple of games, forcing Le'Bryan Nash, Smart and even Markel Brown to handle the rebounding load. Bedlam Round 1 at Oklahoma tonight will be a must-watch affair, then it'll be interesting to see how the physically small Cowboys handle the mentally small Baylor Bears on Saturday.

9. Iowa (16-4, LW 7)
--Except for Minnesota, Iowa's largely smacked around the dregs of society at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season. That's what makes tomorrow night's battle with Michigan State so important. The Hawkeyes still don't have a signature win over Final Four-caliber opposition, and this is their first chance to get one at home.

8. Kansas (15-4, LW 9)
--We're finally getting a Kansas team as potent as we thought we'd have, but it's been Joel Embiid leading the way more than Andrew Wiggins. KU's already opened up a 1.5-game lead on the rest of the Big 12, and it's beaten all the top contenders except Texas. That game comes up Saturday, but first the Jayhawks have to host a revenge-minded Iowa State side.

7. San Diego State (18-1, LW 8)
--So, I got trolled pretty hard on B/R (I know, shocker, right?) for articulating my belief that we're all a little too heavy into the Aztecs right now. This is a team that's struggling to make baskets, getting by more on rugged defense and kamikaze drives to the basket that draw foul shots. SDSU had its best offensive game in two weeks, but still needed OT to win at Utah State. The ranking's nice and all, but don't ask me to bet too heavily on this team in March.

6. Villanova (17-2, LW 4)
--Do you consider Nova giving up an unholy three-point barrage to Creighton a function of a weak defense or an offense getting stupidly hot? At this point, I'll offer a little benefit of the doubt, but Nova will greatly need to tighten up from here on. There are a lot more land mines than gold mines left in the Big East schedule. As of Friday, every single Big East school (!!!) was projected into the CBI at least, but only Nova, Creighton, Xavier and Providence (last four in) looked like NCAA teams.

5. Michigan State (18-2, LW 3)
--With both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson down, Sparty's got a mountain to climb in going on the road against a super-deep (and healthy) Iowa team. It's a matchup of the Big Ten's two highest-scoring teams, but a lot of MSU's production has been keyed by Payne making baskets and Dawson corralling misses. Who gets those points and boards now? Kenny Kaminski and Gavin Schilling? If so, we could still see a great game. If not, look for the Spartans and Hawkeyes to trade rankings next week.

4. Florida (17-2, LW 6)
--The Gators have taken 11 in a row, including absolutely punking a Tennessee squad whose resume was getting healed enough to warrant bubble consideration. Florida's about as whole as it's been all season, with only mystery man Chris Walker still missing. Let's just assume he's not coming, shall we? Even without him, the Gators have just about everything they need to make another Elite Eight run, with only a relative proclivity toward turnovers and iffy defensive rebounding to slow them down. At this point, anyone other than Kentucky beating UF would be considered a massive upset.

Pictured left: Wichita State. Pictured right: the MVC.
3. Wichita State (21-0, LW 5)
--Speaking of monumental upsets, Wichita State going into the NCAA tournament unbeaten looks more and more plausible all the time. There's simply no one in the MVC to really push them. Even with this run going, though, remember that St. Louis is still the only firm NCAA tournament team that the Shockers have beaten. #justsayin

2. Syracuse (19-0, LW 2)
1. Arizona (20-0, LW 1)
--At this point, it's a big staring contest between the Orange and Wildcats. Both have been good enough all season that neither is dropping without losing. Unless, that is, Syracuse puts two whoopings on Duke and gets another win against Pitt. Arizona has no conference challenger as tough as either of those two teams.

Don't think this is what Bill Raftery means by "THE KISS!"

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, Monday
Duke at Pitt, Monday
Michigan State at Iowa, Tuesday
Iowa State at Kansas, Wednesday
Arizona at Stanford, Wednesday
Cincinnati at Louisville, Thursday
Kansas at Texas, Saturday
Duke at Syracuse, Saturday
Ohio State at Wisconsin, Saturday
Arizona at Cal, Saturday
Memphis at SMU, Saturday
George Washington at Dayton, Saturday
Oklahoma at Iowa State, Saturday

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for another feeding. And then more writing. And maybe I'll sleep sometime next Tuesday.

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