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Posted: Thursday February 12, 2009 1:09PM; Updated: Thursday February 12, 2009 2:43PM
Luke Winn Luke Winn >

North Carolina on UConn's heels, Villanova and Missouri enter

Story Highlights

UConn's Hasheem Thabeet is rising up to first-team All-America status

Tyler Hansbrough's a great player, but his stats are down a little from last season

High-scoring Villanova is No. 11; Missouri is becoming a factor in the Big 12

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
Got a different view than Luke?
1Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: 1
On his way off the court following Wednesday's win over Syracuse, UConn coach Jim Calhoun proclaimed center Hasheem Thabeet -- who had just blocked seven shots, altered perhaps 15 more, and grabbed 16 rebounds -- is "the most powerful force in America." Thabeet's play of late has moved him just ahead of the Air Force, Obama's middle-class task force and even gravity. The 7-foot-3 Tanzanian has been backing up Calhoun's recent push for Big East Player of the Year votes by dominating Providence (a triple-double), Louisville, Michigan and Syracuse in succession, acting as a demoralizing defensive presence who blocks or changes every shot within his orbit and scares plenty of would-be penetrators from even entering the lane. The question now is whether Thabeet might deserve to be a first-team All-America, if UConn remains No. 1 and he keeps being so forceful. Oklahoma's Blake Griffin and Davidson's Stephen Curry are the only locks on that team, and my current five looks like this:

G: Tywon Lawson, Jr., North Carolina
G: Stephen Curry, Jr., Davidson
G/F: James Harden, Soph., Arizona State
PF: Blake Griffin, Soph., Oklahoma
C: Hasheem Thabeet, Jr., UConn
Next three: 2/14 at Seton Hall, 2/16 vs. Pitt, 2/21 vs. South Florida
2North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 2
While we're on the subject of All-Americas: I have the Heels' floor general, Lawson, on the first-team list above, but there are folks who think that last year's Wooden/Naismith winner, Tyler Hansbrough, is still UNC's best candidate. Hansbrough checked in at No. 3 in the Player of the Year Straw Poll I vote in on the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette's site, and ESPN's Mike Patrick, the play-by-play man for last night's drubbing of the Dukies, expressed incredulity that Hansbrough wasn't being spoken of, this season in the same lofty terms that were used to describe him last season, "when his numbers are nearly identical." To that I say: Hansbrough's offense has been just as good, but he's grabbing 2.4 fewer rebounds per game and his steals are down from 1.5 to 0.8 per game -- decreases that may seem small, but serve as evidence that he's less of a beast on the defensive end than he was as a junior. Hansbrough also hasn't been taking over games this season; when the Heels desperately need a lift, it's more often Lawson that provides it. Their two biggest road wins of the season -- on Jan. 28 at Florida State and Wednesday over Duke -- came courtesy of Lawson's heroics, not Hansbrough's.
Next three: 2/15 at Miami, 2/18 vs. NC State, 2/21 at Maryland
3Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 3
Most Sooner news seems to involve two guys -- Blake Griffin or Willie Warren -- but Juan Pattillo may be the difference between OU finishing the season in the Sweet 16 or the Final Four. In Monday's blog we looked two teams -- Notre Dame and Baylor -- who were collapsing in the season's backstretch, in part due to fatigue. The Irish rank 338th in bench minutes played and the Bears rank 322nd. Oklahoma happens to rank 331st, which would be a major red flag if not for the recent addition of Pattillo, a juco transfer who had planned to redshirt. The 6-6 junior forward has only been in the lineup for eight games, but has keyed the Sooners' past three wins, including a 14-point, 10-board effort at Baylor on Wednesday. All this despite admitting that he doesn't even know the team's sets yet: "When I was going to redshirt at the beginning of the year," he told the Tulsa World, "I really didn't pay any mind to the plays because I didn't think I was going to have to run the plays."
Next three: 2/14 vs. Texas Tech, 2/21 at Texas, 2/23 vs. Kansas
4Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 6
While Googling for Louisville information, I came across one of the better headlines of the year, courtesy of the Lexington Herald-Leader: "Corrections: Head shop employee, basketball player misidentified." The basketball player was Cardinals junior Earl Clark, and judging from the headline, I thought he had been misidentified as a head-shop employee, or a head-shop employee had been misidentified as Earl Clark. It turned out that the headline was for two different corrections; Clark had merely been wrongfully ID'd in a sports-page photo caption, while, the story says, "Brad Green of Lexington was not the employee of Purple Haze on Versailles Road who was interviewed by telephone for a story about the herb Salvia on page A1 Monday." Clark could not have been interviewed about questionably legal herbs on Sunday: He was busy scoring 12 points and grabbing eight boards in a win over St. John's.
Next three: 2/12 at Notre Dame, 2/15 vs. DePaul, 2/18 vs. Providence
5Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: 7
A soapbox rant that's only tangentially related to the Panthers: After losing a foul-fest to Pitt on Monday, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins began looking ahead to a Friday home date against Villanova, and opined how it would be nice if WVU students actually came to the game. "All of this stuff about us having the best crowd -- no we don't," he said. "You have the best crowd when you show up all the time. If that offends someone then so be it. They show up when they want to show up." It reminded me of a similarly angry Pat Knight comment, from January, about fairweather Texas Tech students. "I'm tired of students not showing up, I'm going to call it out now," Knight said. "I know they'll be b------- and complaining, [saying], 'Well they're not a very good team.' It doesn't matter, you go to Tech, you support your team. I don't care what sport it is."

The notion that student non-athletes are obligated to support their teams is absurd. The regular college student is paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and being forced to pay for game tickets, whereas the basketball players are on full scholarship with training tables, stipends, free apparel, and use of athletes-only tutoring services -- and their coach is collecting a million-dollar salary from the university budget. Unless you're giving students scholarships to attend games, you can't demand they show up. You have to earn their support by offering a product that enhances their college experience. It's no coincidence that the best student sections -- the Oakland Zoos and Cameron Crazies of the world -- are showing up to see top 10 teams.
Next three: 2/14 vs. Cincinnati, 2/16 at UConn, 2/21 vs. DePaul
6Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: 11
The Spartans have been a model of offensive-rebounding consistency in the Goran Suton-Raymar Morgan-Marquise Gray era, ranking in the top 10 nationally in offensive-board percentage for each of the past three seasons:
Season    OR% (Rk.)   DR% (Rk.) 
08-09 41.4 (5) 72.8 (9)
07-08 39.5 (8) 68.5 (104)
06-07 40.2 (7) 69.0 (65)
This season, though, Michigan State has become a killer defensive rebounding team as well; as the chart shows, Sparty ranks ninth in the nation in defensive-rebounding percentage. The reason for this is the addition of freshman man-child Delvon Roe into the lineup. He's taken away some of the minutes Gray used to receive, and has been pulling down 21.2 percent of available defensive boards, putting him right on par with Suton's percentage of 21.6.
Next three: 2/17 at Purdue, 2/22 vs. Wisconsin, 2/25 vs. Iowa
7Clemson Tigers
Last Week: 9
In Clemson's own version of White Men Can't Jump, pale, 6-2 guard Terrence Oglesby ended a week-long drama by proving that he actually could dunk. Oglesby missed a slam during the Tigers' blowout win over Duke on Feb. 4, causing coach Oliver Purnell to cover his eyes, and bloggers to dedicate an entire post to the clip. Against Boston College on Tuesday, in the final seconds of an 87-77 win, Oglesby found redemption, throwing down a two-handed jam. "I needed that one," he said. "It was a pride deal. You have no idea how much sh-- I was getting about that one, so I had to get a dunk. I didn't even realize it was the end of the clock -- I had to redeem myself." Oglesby's dunk -- as well as Woody's classic jam against King and Duck -- are on YouTube.
Next three: 2/15 at Virginia, 2/17 vs. Maryland, 2/22 at Georgia Tech
8Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 5
I didn't make it to Cameron last night -- that was a Seth Davis special -- but I'm willing to admit that even the intro moments on TV are enough to give me goosebumps: Carolina pulling up outside the gym, and Hansbrough exiting the bus in that jacket he always wears, with the pinstripes too widely spaced ... Later, Hansbrough breaking his stone face just slightly as he runs onto the court past the early arriving Crazies -- almost saying, You're ridiculous, and I'm going to beat you here like I do every time ... The Hi-Def framing of the tip-off scene, the backdrop of students in Duke colors hopping up and down in waves, with all the blue paint in the county used up on their faces and chests ... A media all-star team shoulder-to-shoulder in press row, the kids pressed up against their backs. Even Dick Vitale is lovable at that moment right before the tip, when the hyperbole doesn't seem overblown. Eventually it all devolved into Vitale-stew, Coach K making disgusted-with-the-refs faces, Kyle Singler elbowing Hansbrough in the face, and Duke going into the fetal position late in the second half, but for more than 30 minutes it was a damn good game.
Next three: 2/15 at Boston College, 2/19 at St. John's, 2/22 vs. Wake Forest
9UCLA Bruins
Last Week: 13
The Bruins are the classic case of a team whose stats are far better than their rep: No one seems to consider them an offensive juggernaut, but as Basketball Prospectus' John Gasaway pointed out this week, they have the most efficient Pac-10 offense in years. It can be dangerous to rely too heavily on anecdotal evidence when forming an opinion on a team, and I think too many folks -- myself included -- watched the Bruins' offensive nightmare against Arizona State on Jan. 17, in which they scored one field goal in 13 minutes and 14 seconds, and lost as a result. But in the bigger picture, UCLA is an efficient, well-balanced team with five players averaging between nine and 14 points, and is getting far more offense on the inside from Alfred Aboya than anyone expected. Only one opponent all season has been able to hold the Bruins under a point per possession. That was Michigan, three months ago.
Next three: 2/12 at Arizona State, 2/14 at Arizona, 2/19 vs. Washington
10Memphis Tigers
Last Week: 12
Memphis, like UCLA, hasn't received enough recognition for some statistical wizardry: I'm not sure if casual fans realize that the Tigers' defense, despite losing two NBA-caliber athletes in Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts, has gotten stingier. Last season the Tigers ranked fourth, at 0.839 points allowed per possession, behind only Kansas, UCLA and Wisconsin. This season Memphis has the nation's second-most efficient defense, allowing 0.819 points per possession, behind only Louisville (0.813). The Tigers' D is helped by the fact that they're probably the longest team in the country -- especially in the backcourt, where no one in or out of Conference USA can match the size of 6-6 Antonio Anderson, 6-6 Tyreke Evans, and 6-5 Doneal Mack.
Next three: 2/14 at Southern Miss, 2/18 vs. SMU, 2/21 at UTEP
11Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: NR
The most lethal scoring machine outside of Chapel Hill, N.C. ... is Villanova? In BCS-conference games, the 100-point mark has been broken just six times, and the Heels and Wildcats are the only ones to have done it twice:
Team        Opponent     Date   Pts.  
UNC Maryland 2/3 108
Missouri Colorado 1/14 107
Arizona Washington 1/29 106
Villanova Syracuse 2/7 102
Villanova Marquette 2/10 102
UNC Duke 2/11 101

Next three: 2/13 at West Virginia, 2/19 vs. Rutgers, 2/22 at Syracuse
12Marquette Golden Eagles
Last Week: 4
I took a risk by putting Marquette fourth in last week's rankings, well ahead of its standing in the AP and Coaches' polls ... and the Golden Eagles rewarded me by losing to South Florida and Villanova back-to-back. Much appreciated, guys! Jerel McNeal, the guy whom I'd pick as a first-team All-America if a certain UNC point guard weren't playing so well, didn't do anything to hurt his candidacy, though: He broke George Thompson's 40-year-old record to become Marquette's all-time leading scorer, an honor that I'm sure made McNeal's pet turtle proud. McNeal also earned a handful of points in the aforementioned Player of the Year Straw Poll, after failing to receive any votes in the first round of balloting.
Next three: 2/14 vs. St. John's, 2/17 vs. Seton Hall, 2/21 at Georgetown
13Missouri Tigers
Last Week: NR
Initially, dubbing the Tigers my "Sleeper Team" in a Jan. 26 blog post did not look like a good move: Two days later, they just looked asleep, losing at Kansas State by 16. Since then, though, they've gone and beaten Baylor, Texas, Iowa State and Kansas, jumping into the AP poll and making coach Mike Anderson look like an even more attractive candidate for the Alabama job, if he wants to jump. (His non-denial denial of interest, if you recall, went like this: "Right now, [Missouri] is the most important right now.") Mizzou, for at least a month, has been the most-efficient team in the Big 12, well ahead of Oklahoma, which is generally regarded as the league's only real hope in the NCAA tournament.
Next three: 2/14 vs. Nebraska, 2/21 at Colorado, 2/25 vs. Kansas State
14Butler Bulldogs
Last Week: 15
The Indy Star's Butler Insider blog pointed out the travel madness the Bulldogs were subjected to by the Horizon League over one six-day span, in which they had to play road games at Wisconsin-Green Bay (on Feb. 2), Detroit (Feb. 5) and Wright State (Feb. 7). This is a team that takes charter buses rather than charter planes, so flying to Green Bay, then busing to Motor City and Dayton isn't exactly the easiest thing to do for back-to-back-to-back games. Butler won the latter two contests, though, to keep its grip on the conference lead and -- as improbable as it might have seemed at the start of the season -- be ranked 11th in the RPI. Only Xavier (at sixth) and Memphis (at 10th) are higher in the standings than the Bulldogs.
Next three: 2/13 vs. Illinois-Chicago, 2/14 vs. Loyola (Ill.), 2/18 at Wisconsin-Milwaukee
15Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Last Week: 8
Three of the Deacons' four losses -- all of which have occurred in their past six games -- have coincided with off-nights (or absences) from five-star freshman Al-Farouq Aminu. He was knocked out with an injury for a portion of the Virginia Tech loss on Jan. 21, which started the skid; he had just four points in a loss to Miami on Feb. 4; and on Wednesday he fouled out of a loss to NC State with nine points. His lone starring performance in a loss -- 17 points and 11 boards vs. Georgia Tech on Jan. 31 -- came against his brother, Alade, who also had a double-double for the Yellow Jackets. This summer the brothers are actually teaming up for something: A three-day basketball and life skills camp run by the community service organization, Brotherhood of the World, that Alade founded in Atlanta. The Aminus descended from a line of Nigerian kings and, as Alade said, "As a Nigerian, we have to look out not only for ourselves but everyone around us -- the whole village."
Next three: 2/14 vs. Florida State, 2/18 vs. Georgia Tech, 2/22 at Duke
16Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 16
The Naismith Award's midseason top 30 voting closed this week, and I put the Jayhawks' Cole Aldrich on my ballot, right next to the Blake Griffin-DeJuan Blair-Luke Harangody-Tyler Hansbrough club of big men. The big Minnesotan deserves it: He happens to be the most efficient offensive player in the entire Big 12, well ahead of Griffin, and nationally, among all post players, Aldrich ranks sixth in personal efficiency (data from
Post Player,   Team                 PER       Nat'l Rk. 
Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona St. 134.4 2
DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh 130.4 7
Keith Benson, Oakland 129.1 10
Gary Wilkinson, Utah St. 127.5 19
Patrick Patterson, Kentucky 126.8 22
Cole Aldrich, Kansas 126.3 27

Next three: 2/14 at Kansas State, 2/18 vs. Iowa State, 2/21 vs. Nebraska
On The Cusp: Dayton, Xavier, Washington, Gonzaga, Cal, Purdue, Syracuse, Illinois, Texas, Utah State, Minnesota, Arizona State, LSU, San Diego State, Utah, Northeastern, LSU, West Virginia, Creighton, Florida State, and all the other teams whose exclusion has you wanting to throw a Joe Krabbenhoft screen on me.
Got a different view than Luke?

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