The football season is officially over, and that can only mean one thing. Time for Dicky V, Digger Phelps’ highlighters, and Cinderella slipping into her ball shoes (and I do not mean like the ballroom). Yes, it is that unmistakable time of the season where Cinderella can pull up from 20 feet and drain one, boys stake their claim for athletic manhood, and featuring more fist pumping than Jersey Shore. Normally we will go through conference by conference and look at teams worth noting, but as it is our first look of the year, let’s just stick to the basics. Your ESPN/USA Today Top 25.
25. UNLV- The Running Rebels moved into the top 25 by virtue of spanking BYU at home last week. They are devoid of many really impressive wins except for the BYU game (they split with BYU), a win over New Mexico, and an utter demolishing of Pitt (91-52) in the first game of the season in a classic “what just happened?” game.
24. Vanderbilt- The Commodores are playing extremely well in the SEC, and apart from a beating from UK have been good on the road as well as at home where they have the benches on the baseline. If you know nothing else about this team, know that they have a good combination of big men and guards with a very good coach in Kevin Stallings. Beat Tennessee up pretty badly this week already.
23. Pittsburgh- I am never sure what to think of Pitt, just as I am not sure what to think of much of the Big East this year. They have flashes of brilliance followed by flashes of Pittsburgh’s current steel mills (not so good). I think they will probably float around here for the rest of the season or drop just below.
22. Cornell- Remember back earlier in the season when Big Red took Kansas to the brink at Phog Allen Fieldhouse? That was no fluke, and with the Ivy League looking like a two bid conference (Harvard and Cornell), there is no reason to doubt Cornell. They have experience, size, and a stud in Ryan Wittman. You might make them your sleeper in March, but they are hardly a Cinderella with that much talent.
21. Temple- Temple has a lot of very impressive showings this year, namely wins over Villanova, Northern Iowa, and a close loss against a streaky Georgetown team early in the year. However, they have fallen prey to teams they have not flourished in the strong A-10, and while 2 of their 4 losses are to KU and Georgetown, it is hard to make a case for the Owls unless they really step their game up in the A-10.
20. Georgia Tech- The first in a line of many ACC teams who could run you out of the building or lay a big egg on any given day. Derrick Favors will be gone but while he is around he has teamed up nicely with Gani Lawal and Iman Shumpert to make for a fairly formidable unit. They can definitely make a run in March, but only if they can find some consistency.
19. New Mexico- Steve Alford’s new boys started the season off 12-0 but have since, like most any team, hit some road bumps in conference. Despite beating BYU, they have lost to some of the other top MWC teams and have not been as solid as the Lobo faithful would hope. That being said, Alford has the program ahead of schedule and could mature nicely over the next few years.
18. Northern Iowa- The classic MVC sleeper will be Northern Iowa again by virtue of their 21-2 record, but picker beware. They have yet to really notch up any really impressive wins, and though they have the talent to make a run, I am not sold that they will get the close/tough game experience that is vital come March.
17. Brigham Young- They have struggled a little lately, but they are one of the better mid-majors out west. They have size and shooting paired with consistent role players, which is a dangerous combination. They would be much higher, but recent losses to New Mexico and UNLV have put a bit of a damper on the BYU hype machine. Keep an eye on the Cougs.
16. Ohio State- Evan Turner Evan Turner Evan Turner Evan Turner Evan Turner Evan Turner. How does 19.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2 steals and .8 blocks sound every night? On average. Not only that but he can handle the ball. His turnover numbers are a bit up, but that is mostly a result of the ball constantly being in his hands. Thad Matta has got to be thrilled. Another thing to be thrilled about: No visible side effects after Turner’s fractured vertebrae.
15. Butler- For those of you unaware, allow me to fill you in. Butler University is located in Indianapolis, Indiana and play in Hinkle Fieldhouse. You have undoubtedly seen their home court, but you probably associate it with the state finals for Milan High School in Hoosiers rather than Butler. Led by NBA prospect Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, and dragging along struggling preseason Horizon Player of the Year Matt Howard, the Bulldogs are an experienced, tough team that are extremely hard to beat when they hit their 3s. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, their shooting is not especially good this year, but they have still managed to glide to an effortless 20-4 record including no losses in conference. Their losses are to Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers (back when they were playing well) a mercurial Clemson team by 1 (who are far more athletic than they are), Georgetown by 7, and UAB. They slow the game down and defend extremely well, and that is never fun to face in March.
14. Texas- Speaking of mercurial, how about the Longhorns? From number 1 to void of fun in only a few weeks time. All of a sudden, the youngsters are looking inexperienced rather than fresh, and no one on the tam can consistently knock down an open perimeter shot for the life of them. Rick Barnes had better coach em up quickly or they will find themselves out of the tournament before it really even gets started.
13. Wisconsin- The Badgers are consistently difficult to judge because they play a style very few others play and make you play in a similar way. Bo Ryan is one of the great underappreciated coaches in basketball, and the Badgers are playing well. However, a recent loss to Illinois and some less than full throttle performances leave them both poised to make a run and poised to potentially make an early exit.
12. Tennessee- This may be Bruce Pearl’s finest year as a head coach. After losing Tyler Smith and a few others to just general tomfoolery/guns, Pearl brought his team together, took down Kansas and have been hot ever since. However, with their recent whipping at the hands of Vandy, expect them to drop to something like 16th. They are good, but not scary really.
11. Gonzaga- Is it me or do teams like Gonzaga get less likable as they get better? They used to be a team up in quiet old Spokane, but now they are perennial top 10 threats and not at all everyone’s favorite sleeper. I do not think it is just me on that one. With the exception of losing @ San Francisco, the Zags’ 3 other losses were all understandable against Michigan State, Duke, and Wake Forest. However, they do not have any especially impressive wins and the supposedly upward looking WCC has really failed to impress. After Portland started off hot, people thought it could be Portland, San Diego and Gonzaga turning the WCC into a 3 team league. Au contraire, my friends. Portland is 14-8 and USD is 9-16. Ouch, WCC, ouch.
10. Michigan State- Few can match their talent, but they just do not have the feel most teams this good should. They snooze through games, have not really racked up any impressive road wins, and seem more prone to bad shooting nights than most teams. However, if last year taught up anything, it taught us not to sleep on Sparty.
9. Kansas State- Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen have lead the high-energy Wildcats to a top 10 ranking, but I am not sure if they are entirely worthy of this ranking. They make a lot of money off other teams’ turnovers, something which is not uncommon in college basketball, but I would not have any faith in them going up against most of the rest of the top 10, although Texas might take issue with this having lost at the Octagon of Doom.
8. Georgetown- Here comes the run of Big East teams. G’town is really talented and Greg Monroe is better than his numbers suggest, but the Hoyas just do not show up sometimes. They can beat up Nova one night and lose to Old Dominion or South Florida the next night. I have zero confidence in them, but they could still make a run if they can manage to string a few really good games together. They are the kid who can hit 40 of his first 50 3s and turn around and miss 50 in a row. You know that if you put him in a contest there is only like a 20% chance he wins it because he goes cold so easily. He could win it, but you wouldn’t bet on it.
7. Duke- They are big, solid, and can play at several different speeds. Coach K has the first team in a few years that could really make an impact on the tournament, and although Jon Scheyer is not a true point guard he is more than getting the job done. However, do not mistake the fact that Duke is a big tall team for them having a serious inside game. The Plumlee brothers are pretty good, but not against elite competition.
6. Purdue– A tough defensive team that can both slow it down or speed it up with experience. However, at times E’twaun Moore is their only offensive weapon and that can be dangerous. Yet they continue to win and have shown a ton of heart at just about every moment they needed to. A definite shot at the Final 4 depending on region.
5. Villanova- Scottie Reynolds is a stud and they just have the feel of a winner. They can shoot it, wi close games, go down low a little, though not much, and consistently win close games. It sounds simplistic, but it does not take much more than that to win it all. They are just a clutch team.
4. West Virginia- Huggy Bear has the Mountaineers playing very well, and though they are a bit streaky they seem to pull it out more often than not. Da’Sean Butler is a star and they have a host of outstanding role players who would be stars on a lot of other teams. Deep, athletic, and explosive, but they do not have to play up-tempo to show off their talent. Deserving of the spot.
3. Syracuse- Boeheim’s boys are on fire and don’t seem to miss Jonny Flynn or Eric Devendorf at all. At one point they were 1st in FG% offense and 1st in FG% defense. As always, the zone is weak against offensive rebounding, but with the big men the Orange have, it has not been as big of a problem. I really like their chances to go deep in the tournament and maybe all the way to the championship game. Wesley Johnson is also in the Naismith talks but I doubt he will win it. Still an outstanding player who has all the tools to not only do it in March, but under the big lights of the NBA whenever he wants.
2. Kentucky- There is only one team in America with more raw talent than Kentucky. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe are outstanding, and oh yeah they have this kid named John Wall who is better than Derrick Rose AND Tyreke Evans were at this point in their careers. He has NBA scouts salivating, Big Blue supporters prostrating at Calipari’s feet, and doing everything he can to blow out minds at every possible instant. Oh yeah, all those guys are freshmen. However, if it were all on the freshmen they would be in trouble, but Patrick Patterson gives them valuable veteran views (go alliteration) and keeps them steady. The only question is when the wins will be voided after John Calipari is finished with his work.
1. Kansas- Rock Chalk Jayhawk. They are, in my opinion, heads and shoulders above everyone else. They are more talented than even Kentucky but that talent comes in veteran forms with consistent shooting, a big man more than capable of dominance, great guard play, hustle and just about anything else you would want in a basketball team. I will be shocked if they are not a final four team and barring some kind of injury they should expect to win a championship. I am not saying they will, but anything less for this team is frankly a failure. The best in the country.
Normally we would look at things conference by conference and get more into the bubble teams etc. but as it is our first look, it may be best to just get a lay of the land in college basketball. Enjoy a great week of hoops.
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