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.

25. SMU (22-6, LW: NR)
Whoops, wrong ponies.

--All right, Ponies, we'll try this again. The sweep over UConn makes SMU the first top-half American team with four wins over the others. Now, they just need a win over Louisville in Dallas on Mar. 5 to pull a win over each of the other four. The best news of all: SMU's done with Temple.

24. UMass (21-5, LW: NR)
--The Minutemen have taken four of their last five, but the one loss was a land mine against George Mason. Wins at George Washington and home against VCU are as good as a recovery gets in the A-10, though, and now we await that Mar. 8 collision between UMass and Saint Louis. Watch out for Dayton on Mar. 1, though.

23. Texas (20-7, LW: 19)
--Ouch. The Longhorns got sliced up and grilled at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. It's hard to hammer them too severely for losing in Ames and Lawrence. Tricky encounters vs. Baylor and at Oklahoma await.

22. New Mexico (21-5, LW: NR)
--It's easy to sleep on a Mountain West team unless it beats San Diego State. Well, the Lobos did just that, and they didn't just defeat the Aztecs. It was a crushing from halftime on. Cameron Bairstow should have played himself onto everybody's All-American ballot with his 26 points and nine boards. In the big picture, UNM's tied with SDSU at 12-2 in conference after winning nine of its last 10.

21. Ohio State (22-6, LW: 23)
--OSU's starting to figure out how to close games, and it's helped them take six of their last seven. It's still not a potent scoring team and probably never will be, but when the defense is working as hard as it did against Minnesota, everyone's okay with it.

20. Michigan State (22-6, LW: 11)
Last time I made that face, it involved a kick to the nuts.

--It's time to stop with the "when they're healthy" spin on the Spartans, because it's becoming obvious that they never will be. Keith Appling appeared to re-injure his wrist on a lob attempt against Michigan and was never the same afterward. If this injury lingers, Tom Izzo will need to weigh whether it's worth keeping his point guard on the floor for 30 minutes a game. If that happens, look for more March minutes for Travis Trice.

19. North Carolina (20-7, LW: NR)
--The streak is up to nine in a row, impressive in any conference, let alone the ACC. However, if we can offer one quibble: Duke and Pitt are the only ones of the nine expected to have their names called on Selection Sunday. And Duke is the only expected tournament team left on the schedule, too.

18. Michigan (19-7, LW: 22)
--The win over Michigan State was one where it felt like UM was fully clicking behind its two best players: Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. Usually, when LeVert has a big game, it's because everyone else is struggling and he becomes the last resort. When he has support from Stauskas or Glenn Robinson III, Michigan's hard to stop.

17. Cincinnati (24-4, LW: 15)
--Cincy missed a sweep of Louisville by about two seconds, but the game exposed an uncomfortable home truth for the Bearcats: If Sean Kilpatrick's not hitting, there aren't many candidates to take up the offensive slack. UC is the only one of the American's top five (i.e. the good teams) with a win over each of the other four.

16. Kentucky (21-6, LW: 17)
"You want us to PASS?!?!? BWAHAHAHAHA!!!"

--LSU's Anthony Hickey was one brainfart away from finishing off a Tiger sweep over the Wildcats. UK won't ever really blow out quality opponents until John Calipari can drum it through the Harrison twins' skulls that the offense needs to run through Julius Randle. Randle gets only eight shots in 37 minutes while the twins and James Young take 45? The whole offense gets only five assists on 28 baskets? Yeah, that won't fly in March.

15. Iowa (19-7, LW: 12)
--Iowa can relate to the 4-game, 8-day gauntlet that Duke is finishing up, because the Hawkeyes are about to start a similar run, thanks to the Indiana Hosers' crappy building falling apart. The Wisconsin game isn't a good start, and they still have to travel to The Barn and the decaying remains of Assembly Hall. These are the games Iowa must win to preserve a top-four seed.

14. Louisville (23-4, LW: 18)
--Good to see the Cards finally picking up some of those quality-win things everyone's always on about. Surviving a slugfest against Cincy is tougher than we would have ever thought coming into the season. Don't forget Russtacular (TAFKA Russdiculous) when it's time for All-American voting. He's becoming the complete point guard Peyton Siva never was.

13. Iowa State (21-5, LW: 16)
--Two questions regarding the Cyclones: 1) If ISU wins out and then makes a deep run in the Big 12 tournament...No. 2 seed? b) Is this the only team in America that could boast two All-Americans? Only other ones that leap to mind may be Kansas and Syracuse, and that's if voters haven't quite gotten over their Joel Embiid man-crushes.

12. Saint Louis (25-2, LW: 14)
--The Billikens are only four games away from running the table in the A-10, but the last three are doozies: at VCU, vs. Dayton, at UMass. But if Jordair Jett keeps dropping 18 PPG like he has since conference play started, SLU's chances look pretty good.

11. Virginia (23-5, LW: 13)
Only slightly stranger than UT over UVa.

--Only four of UVa's 14 ACC wins have been by single-digit margins. In a related note, the Cavs' offense has only been held below 1.000 PPP once since Jan. 8. In that span, only three opponents (Duke, Boston College, Clemson) have cracked 1.000 against the pack-line defense. Still don't understand how this group got torched by 35 against Tennessee, but such is life.

10. San Diego State (23-3, LW: 7)
--The AP voters hammered State with a seven-spot drop after the loss to New Mexico. Yeah, it was a punishing defeat, but bear in mind that this is the New Mexico team we thought we had at the start of the season. What may be more concerning to those voters (the ones who stay up to watch SDSU play, that is) is that the Aztecs' games are slowing down. Five of the last six have featured fewer than 60 possessions after only one of the first 20 were that slow. Put voters to sleep late at night and they'll make you pay for it if you lose.

9. Villanova (24-3, LW: 6)
--Nova had a two-win week, but both were squeakers over teams that may not get on the NCAA bus. It's the Wildcats' misfortune to get lapped by a team that accomplished the difficult road double over Michigan and Iowa.

8. Wisconsin (22-5, LW: 10)
--The top 10 is a crowded place, otherwise, UW would probably be pushing the top 5 after those two big road wins. Now, I'm not about to go as far off the deep end as Doug Gottlieb goes here... that I'm not calling for the Badgers to top a region unless they win the Big Ten Tournament. Still no denying that they've excelled against an insane schedule.

7. Creighton (23-4, LW: 9)
--Hoo boy, a one-point escape against Seton Hall is scary, looking like a complete letdown game after big wins against Villanova and at Marquette. Here's one point of concern, though: Normally a good defensive rebounding club, the Jays have surrendered 30+-percent offensive boards to Big East bottom-feeders DePaul, Butler and Seton Hall in recent games. Get into the tournament against teams with beef who eat offensive glass on the regular, and Creighton's in trouble.

6. Kansas (21-6, LW: 8)
--The Jayhawks barely surviving Texas Tech made fans say, "Uh-oh." The subsequent mauling of Texas made supporters and skeptics alike say, "Whoa." KU's defense was fiercer against UT than it had been in either meeting with TCU. Just sayin'.

5. Syracuse (25-2, LW: 1)
--These sum up the week for the Orange:

And there are countless others. Boeheim won't admit that his dyspeptic fit blew any chance his team had to win, but we can all do basic math, Jim. In on-court news, the Orange look like they're running out of gas because C.J. Fair plays 126 minutes per game and that slacker Tyler Ennis only logs about 114. Of our prospective No. 1 seeds, Syracuse is the only one that I absolutely CANNOT pick to reach the Final Four.

4. Duke (22-6, LW: 5)
--Jabari Parker is averaging almost 19 points and 11 rebounds in his last 11 games. The freshman wall that appears to be pummeling Tyler Ennis these days is officially Parker's bitch. If Duke lands in a bracket that lacks ginormous frontcourts like North Carolina's, Parker's odds of pulling a Melo actually look pretty good.

3. Arizona (25-2, LW: 4)
I think that's Colorado on the right.

--Huh. Who knew that Arizona had this kind of offensive potency in them against a good team in the post-Brandon Ashley era? And on the road, no less? The Cats' 132.6 offensive efficiency in blowing out Colorado was their third-highest of the season, after their wins over...wait for it...Northern Arizona and Fairleigh Dickinson?

2. Florida (25-2, LW: 2)
--Florida had waaaaaay too difficult a time against Auburn and Ole Miss. The Gators have beaten Kentucky and Missouri by 10, but couldn't do the same to Alabama, Auburn or Ole Miss. I like a No. 1 team that goes out and crushes the teams it's supposed to crush. And that segues beautifully into...

1. Wichita State (29-0, LW: 3)
--The last time a team went 29-0 was Illinois in 2005. That Illini club had a dangerous backcourt of Luther Head, Dee Brown and Deron Williams. Wichita's backcourt of Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton may not all be future pros, but they're working together as well as any backcourt in America. Illinois, though, didn't have a Clee Early for those guards to pass to. In essence, Wichita's legit.

If I may indulge in a second paragraph here, let me say this: Games like Florida v. Auburn and Syracuse v. BC are precisely why we need to appreciate what the Shockers are doing. Not only are they chasing an unbeaten season farther than anyone's done it in a long time, but they're carrying a lofty national ranking into games that would make other teams yawn and sleepwalk through. Wichita is the kind of motivated that no other team in the nation has been able to sustain every single night. So why not hand the team that shows up to work every night a No. 1 vote? It doesn't decide how the tournament's set up, and the championship will come out in the wash. It's not Wichita State's fault that no non-conference team of substance save Saint Louis and BYU wanted any part of the Shockers coming off a Final Four.
Pictured: every coach that turned down Gregg Marshall's requests for a game.

Oklahoma at Kansas, Monday
Iowa at Minnesota, Tuesday
Cal at Arizona, Wednesday
Iowa at Indiana, Thursday
Arkansas at Kentucky, Thursday
Kansas at Oklahoma State, Saturday
Louisville at Memphis, Saturday
Saint Louis at VCU, Saturday
Creighton at Xavier, Saturday
Iowa State at Kansas State, Saturday
Syracuse at Virginia, Saturday
Cincinnati at UConn, Saturday
Texas at Oklahoma, Saturday
UMass at Dayton, Saturday
Stanford at Arizona, Sunday

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