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Stocks for March (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday February 19, 2008 12:29PM; Updated: Wednesday February 20, 2008 10:02AM
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Kansas State: SELL

Previous rating: Sell

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Okay, so you lost a ton of faith following my advice the last time around. K-State can't possibly keep rising, can it? Yes, Michael Beasley is the real deal, and on any other team Bill Walker would be the best player (or at least the best friggin' freshman). But you need to have stellar guard play to do well in the NCAA tournament, and in that department the Wildcats simply don't measure up. I also question the emotional maturity of this team. Remember, they followed up their big upset over Kansas by losing at Missouri against a team that was depleted by suspensions. That doesn't bode well for the crucible of March.

Louisville: HOLD

Previous rating: Buy

I said last time around that the Cardinals were the easiest Buy on the board. They have vindicated my faith by winning 11 of their last 13 games. Now, however, I am dropping in a note of caution. The Cardinals have climbed back into the top 20, and though they're tied for first in the Big East, I'm not sure they'll stay there. They've vastly improved their shot selection and are doing a better job getting David Padgett his touches, but they still have too many areas of inconsistency to make me believe they're capable of making a deep run in the tourney. Witness Earl Clark's performances last week: three points against DePaul, 20 against Providence.

Marquette: HOLD

Previous rating: Hold

This is one team that hasn't been overrated or underrated all year. The Golden Eagles have five Big East losses, but there's not a bad one in the bunch. They've got road wins over Wisconsin, Seton Hall and Cincinnati, and they picked up a much-needed statement win over Pittsburgh last Friday. But the problem with Marquette -- still -- is they have not developed an inside presence to complement their perimeter talent. Ousmanne Barro, a 6-10 senior, has been a major disappointment, and Marquette's other two forwards (Lazar Hayward and Dan Fitzgerald) are basically just tall guards. The Eagles' three-point shooting remains suspect, but their occasional ability to get hot, combined with the consistent toughness on defense, gives them a chance to beat just about any team they play.

Memphis: BUY

Previous rating: Buy

Even if the Tigers lose to Tennessee on Saturday (which I predict they will do), they are still going to go into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. Though you have to be scared by their atrocious foul shooting (12 for 22 against UAB, including 1 for 8 down the stretch), that's not enough to depress their value at this point. This team has much more savvy than people give them credit for, and if Chris Douglas-Roberts isn't on your first-team All-America list then you haven't been paying attention. Yes, Memphis is susceptible against a zone defense, but so few teams play zone fulltime that if they tried to install it during the NCAA tournament, they won't execute it well.

Michigan State: SELL

Previous rating: Hold

When I rated the Spartans a Hold, they were ranked No. 6 in both polls. Since then, they've lost road games at Penn State, Iowa, Purdue and Indiana, and all of their important trend lines are headed south. Raymar Morgan had six 20-plus games before Jan. 27. He's had none since and scored just three points in the loss to Indiana last Saturday. Drew Neitzel continues to struggle at times (3 for 17 combined in those losses to Penn State and Purdue), and prized freshmen, Chris Allen and Durrell Summers, are barely getting off the bench. If the Spartans aren't committing a ton of turnovers, they're going into troubling lapses on defense. There's still plenty of time to turn things around, and you know with Tom Izzo at the helm that always remains a strong possibility. But for the time being I don't I like what I'm seeing.

North Carolina: BUY

Previous rating: Buy

While I have stepped gingerly off the Tar Heels' bandwagon for now -- they are no longer my official pick to win the national championship, and no I haven't come up with a replacement -- I continue to be impressed with their resilience. Most teams couldn't survive losing their starting point guard, much less their top two point guards, yet even without Ty Lawson and Bobby Frasor this team managed to scrape out close wins over Clemson and Virginia before blowing out Virginia Tech last Saturday. I am going to have a tough time picking between Michael Beasley and Tyler Hansbrough for national Player of the Year, but I don't know that I've ever seen a player who can impose his will on the game like Psycho T. Now that Duke stubbed its toe at Wake, the Heels, presuming they get Lawson back soon, have a chance to steal a No. 1 seed.

Oklahoma: BUY

Previous rating: Buy

You did listen to me about the Sooners last time, right? Sitting at 5-5 in the Big 12 and unranked in both polls, OU is the best Buy on the market right now. They went through a recent three-game losing streak, including an embarrassing defeat at Colorado, but they played two of those games without their starting center, 6-11 senior Longar Longar, who has since returned from a broken foot. The Sooners are in great shape for an NCAA bid with quality road wins at Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia, and nonconference home wins over Arkansas and Gonzaga. In most years, 6-10 forward Blake Griffin (14.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 56.7 field goal percentage) would be the most celebrated freshman in the Big 12. OU's guards won't win a lot of games for you, but they won't lose any for you, either. There's something to be said for that.

Purdue: HOLD

Previous rating: NR

You can't blame me for rating the Boilermakers in my last report, can you? They had just suffered a pair of embarrassing losses to Wofford and Iowa State, their one quality win came at home against a Louisville team that was racked by injuries and they were heading into the Big Ten season with a starting lineup that featured three freshmen and two sophomores. The Boilermakers have played smart, efficient basketball while putting together an 11-game winning streak, and they have climbed to No. 14 heading into Tuesday's showdown at Indiana. Still, the Boilermakers are now flying at an unfamiliar altitude. I can't help but wonder if this callow bunch might find the air a mite thin.

Tennessee: BUY

Previous rating: Buy

A radio host suggested to me the other day that the Vols were flying under the radar. That's hard to imagine given that they're ranked No. 2 with just two losses, but it does seem Tennessee isn't automatically lumped into the national championship conversation with the likes of Memphis, Kansas and UCLA. That should change regardless of whether the Vols win in Memphis on Saturday. Spurred by a rotation that can go 10 deep, the Vols are the most relentless defensive team in the country. For all of the attention that has been paid to Chris Lofton regaining his shooting touch during SEC play, his backcourtmate, 6-2 senior JaJuan Smith, is the real game-changer when he's knocking down long-range shots.

Texas: HOLD

Previous rating: Hold

This was a very close call, because the Longhorns are a very good team and have a pretty favorable Big 12 schedule down the stretch. But seeing as they are ranked No. 7 in both polls, it's hard to imagine they could ascend any higher. And while they are capable of reaching the Final Four, they are also uniquely susceptible to an early-round upset. Texas is lacking in size and depth, which leaves them vulnerable to foul problems. More worrisome is that, until exploding for 27 points in the win over Texas A&M on Monday night, D.J. Augustin had been showing signs of wearing down. In 11 Big 12 games, Augustin has been on the bench for a grand total of 11 minutes. During the six contests prior to Monday, he had shot 21 for 86 from the field, including 7 for 33 from three.

Texas A&M: SELL

Previous rating: Sell

After I rated the Aggies a Sell last month, they lost three of their next four. They did beat Texas and Oklahoma at home while winning five straight after that, but they suffered another setback last weekend by losing at home to Oklahoma State -- a team that hadn't won a road game in more than two years -- before falling at Texas on Monday night. DeAndre Jordan has quietly had a disappointing season (7.7 points, 5.4 rebounds in Big 12 play), but A&M's main concern moving forward is the schedule. The Aggies finish the regular season at Oklahoma, at Baylor and against Kansas at home. And that means they could very well be out of the Top 25 by the time the tournament begins.

UCLA: BUY

Previous rating: Hold

My only reservation about the Bruins in the past has been their health. They've had more than their share of nagging injuries this season, but aside from Michael Roll still not being available, they're as intact as they've been all year. Darren Collison has re-established himself as the best point guard in America, Kevin Love is arguably the best center in the country and the Bruins' defense is as tough as ever. And no, I am not concerned by the hiccup at Washington last week. Remember, Florida also stubbed its toe a couple of times in February last year and things turned out okay.

Wisconsin: BUY

Previous rating: Hold

In my last report, the Badgers were fresh off a stunning upset at Texas, and I wondered if they would hit a reality check in the Big Ten. Well, they're just one game behind Purdue in the conference race and still gaining steam. The thing I like about this team is they never lose games they should win. I wish they were a little more potent from three-point range, but there's also something to be said for not being overly reliant on trifectas. And just to let you know how enamored I am with this team's toughness, I am strongly considering naming my next dog Krabbenhoft.

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