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Posted: Thursday March 5, 2009 11:59AM; Updated: Thursday March 5, 2009 1:20PM
Luke Winn Luke Winn >
COLLEGE BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

UConn's No. 1; Pitt, UNC, Louisville, Memphis round out the top 5

Story Highlights

Hasheem Thabeet will adjust his defense against DeJuan Blair on Saturday

Louisville's path to a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs goes through West Virginia

These past two weeks proved Duke is the most over-analyzed team in the country

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
Got a different view than Luke?
1Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: 1
UConn coaches know it's impossible to game plan against giant-flipping, but they do have hope that Blair-'beet II won't end up like the first battle did. They concluded that Hasheem Thabeet's main problem was that he was playing body-to-body with Blair and "hugging" him, thus making the 7-foot-3 Tanzanian too susceptible to getting barreled backwards by one hard shoulder. Thabeet's shot-blocking skills are almost entirely negated if he's off-balance and stuck under the rim, which he frequently was in that loss to Pitt -- in which Blair had 22 points and 23 rebounds. What the Huskies staff wants Thabeet to do this time around is force Blair to catch the ball outside the lane and drive, rather than simply coming across the lane and receiving it on the blocks. All of this, of course, is easier said than done. It it doesn't work, Plan B is to have A.J. Price break Blair's ankles.

Next up: 3/7 at Pitt, Big East Tournament TBD
 
2Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: 2
Pitt has been the healthiest title contender this season, so much so that DeJuan Blair gets asked to lecture local schoolchildren on the importance of heart health. (Thanks to Pitt Blather for that one). But the Panthers did receive a small scare over the weekend, when Blair hyperextended his left knee against Seton Hall, and then another one on Wednesday when point guard Levance Fields took a hard spill against Marquette and bruised his tailbone. Neither player was seriously hurt, though; Blair went on to score 23 points and grab nine boards against the Golden Eagles while Fields had 17 points and 10 assists.

Next up: 3/7 vs. UConn, Big East Tournament TBD
 
3North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 3
How hard is it to be an offensive star when you're less than 6-feet tall? Well, there's only one sub-6-footer in the top 40 of kenpom.com's offensive ratings -- Carolina's Ty Lawson, who improbably leads the nation in offensive rating (at 135.3) despite being 5-11. There are only seven sub-6 guys in the entire top 100:
Rk.  Player           School          ORting   Ht. 
1 Ty Lawson UNC 135.3 5-11
42 Justin Dentmon Washington 123.4 5-11
47 Jimmy Langhurst Rob. Morris 122.7 5-11
68 Levance Fields Pittsburgh 120.6 5-10
74 Ben Woodside N. Dakota St. 120.4 5-11
75 Tweety Carter Baylor 120.4 5-11
80 Jerome Randle California 120.1 5-10

Next up: 3/8 vs. Duke, ACC Tournament TBD
 
4Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 4
With 10 days left until Selection Sunday, the Cardinals still have an outside shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but they'll need some help. This, I think, would be their path to the top line of the S-curve:

* Win at West Virginia on Saturday to go 16-2 in the Big East and earn a share of the league title.
* Have Pittsburgh, which already has three Big East losses, lose at home to UConn on Saturday, then bow out of the Big East tournament in the quarterfinals. (Some folks think the Panthers already have a No. 1 locked up, but I wouldn't be so certain about that just yet.)
* Reach the Big East tournament title game, at the very least. (If the Cards were to win the whole thing, on top of sharing the regular-season title, they'd have to be considered a No. 1 lock, right?)

Next up: 3/7 at West Virginia, Big East Tournament TBD
 
5Memphis Tigers
Last Week: 5
The Tigers have one of the biggest backcourts in the country with 6-6 Tyreke Evans at the point, 6-5 Doneal Mack at the two and 6-6 Antonio Anderson at the three. I was curious as to whether anyone had Memphis beat, size-wise, at the 1-2-3 positions, so I pored over kenpom.com's average height rankings, and found three teams ahead of the Tigers, all in or in the vicinity of Appalachia:
Team       AvgSF ht.   AvgSG ht.   AvgPG ht.   Total 
(Rank) (Rank) (Rank) Avg.
West Va. +3.0 (4) +4.3 (1) +2.7 (12) +3.3
Kentucky +3.0 (4) +2.8 (9) +3.7 (3) +3.2
Tenn. +3.0 (3) +3.5 (2) +2.7 (13) +3.1
Memphis +2.0 (17) +3.1 (5) +2.7 (10) +2.6
FSU +2.3 (10) +2.6 (11) +2.7 (17) +2.5
(All numbers in the chart are inches over national average at the position.)

Next up: 3/7 vs. Tulane, C-USA Tournament TBD
 
6Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 8
On Tuesday, I wrote that the Blue Devils might actually be bucking the trend of late-season collapses, and predictably received a barrage of e-mails accusing me of Duke-loving. This, after receiving a barrage of e-mails accusing me of Duke-hating last week, for linking up all those YouTubes of gifts from referees. The lesson: You'll get e-mails no matter what you write about Duke, because it's the most hated and over-analyzed team in the country. People even have takes on whether the Cameron Crazies have hit a slump. A recent feature in the Charlotte Observer examined the Crazies and quoted Duke alum and Washington Post columnist John Feinstein as saying, "When I was in school, the students were great and the team was bad. Now it's the other way around." His feeling is that the kids are now less interested in spontaneity than they are in dressing (or body-painting) wild enough to get their faces on national TV.

Next up: 3/8 at UNC, ACC Tournament TBD
 
7Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: 9
I lost a dinner bet with Seth Davis over who would win the Big Ten, and he hasn't taunted me about it yet, which is nice of him. I thought Purdue was going to be at least a game or two better than the Spartans, but that wasn't the case, as State clinched the regular-season title with a win at Indiana on Tuesday night, rendering Sunday's duel between the two teams in East Lansing somewhat meaningless. I'm just glad I didn't make the bet that coach Tom Izzo did with Izzone students in September, telling them he'd shave his head if State won the Big Ten title. Senior center Goran Suton told the Detroit Free Press that the team didn't plan to administer the shave immediately. "We'll probably wait until the Big Ten tournament," he said.

Next up: 3/8 vs. Purdue, Big Ten Tournament TBD
 
8Missouri Tigers
Last Week: 7
Tigers guard J.T. Tiller is Captain Glue this year, and the favorite (or at least the favorite in my mind) to win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Glue guys, it's worth noting, have much different offseason itineraries than All-Americas. While players like Hasheem Thabeet and James Harden travel around to various Nike skills academies and play pickup with LeBron James, guys like Tiller stay on campus ... and intern for AFLAC. That's right -- Tiller told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he worked for AFLAC last summer. "It was great," he said. "I started at the bottom of the barrel, you know, janitorial work, doing understudy work. ... And then I got to actually go out and make calls. So it was a very good experience." (He also added, "And they gave me cash, which is just as good as money.")

Next up: 3/7 at Texas A&M, Big 12 Tournament TBD
 
9Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: 14
I'm willing to write off the Jayhawks' mega-flop at Texas Tech as a fluke, only drop them a couple spots -- behind Missouri, which, I know, got killed by KU, but also just became the only Big 12 team to beat Oklahoma when Blake Griffin was fully available -- and move on to another topic:

Kansas folks sent plenty of well-reasoned mail about last week's rankings, in which I mentioned I was surprised that KU point guard Sherron Collins had made the Naismith Trophy's midseason 30 list while center Cole Aldrich hadn't. One was from Tim Dwyer, who writes for the Kansan, KU's student newspaper. He wrote, "To me it makes perfect sense that Collins is the finalist for player of the year awards because, especially during games like Oklahoma, it is obvious that not only is Collins the team's best player, he is the obvious captain and go-to guy in the clutch." Collins definitely looked like player of the-year candidate with the way he stepped up in recent wins over Oklahoma and Missouri. He's the leader of the team and should be on the Naismith list. But I still contend that a dominant, double-double center like Aldrich is a more valuable commodity; there may only be five big men in the country who affect games as much on the offensive and defensive end, whereas, as good as Collins is, there are still plenty of guards who can score 18 points per game with a 1.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. So while he may be the Jayhawks' MVP, if I had to pick one KU player to build a team around, it would be Aldrich.

Next up: 3/7 vs. Texas, Big 12 Tournament TBD
 
10Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 6
There's a growing feeling that Sooners freshman guard Willie Warren will be a one-and-done player. A recent Oklahoman column encouraged him to go pro, and he's been rising up draft boards with his strong play over the past month. DraftExpress now has Warren slotted as the No. 12 pick in the 2009 NBA draft, while NBADraft.net has him going 15th. Back in January, when I did a Q&A with Warren, he told me he was planning on taking Taylor Griffin's No. 32 for his sophomore season in Norman. When I asked him if that meant he was staying "for sure," he said, "Yeah, I'm staying." Who knows if he meant it then, though. "I'm staying" is what everyone says until they decide they're not staying.

Next up: 3/7 vs. Oklahoma State, Big 12 Tournament TBD
 
11Washington Huskies
Last Week: NR
A Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog post from last month furthered the Brandon Roy-James Harden comparison that Arizona State assistant Scott Pera made in SI by looking at a Stats LLC nugget that tied the two players together: Apparently only five players since '96-97 have averaged 20 points, five rebounds and four assists per game and shot at least 50 percent from the field: Marquette's Dwyane Wade and Morehead State's Ricky Minard in '02-03, Roy in '05-06, VMI's Reggie Williams in '06-07 and IUPUI's George Hill in '07-08. Harden is on the verge of joining that club, as he's averaging 20.8 points, 5.6 boards and 4.3 assists, while shooting 50.8 percent. What makes Harden even more remarkable is that he's putting up those numbers on the nation's 331st-slowest-paced team; the average Arizona State game features about 12 fewer possessions than the average Washington game did in Roy's final college season.

Next up: 3/7 vs. Washington State, Pac-10 Tournament TBD
 
12UCLA Bruins
Last Week: NR
The best senior-night story in the country might belong to Bruins forward Alfred Aboya, whose parents are coming from Yaounde, Cameroon, to see him play in person on Thursday night for the first time in his career. Aboya told the L.A. Daily News that his parents had never left Cameroon before, and "I had to explain to them how to do everything" in the visa and travel process. Apparently residents of the village where they lived helped take a collection to pay for the Aboyas' plane tickets to L.A. Perhaps when Alfred becomes president of Cameroon one day -- he has a degree in political science and intends to run for office -- he will be able to repay them. One has to wonder how long Cameroon's current president, Paul Biya, can stay in power anyway: He's 76 years old and has been in office since 1982.

Next up: 3/5 vs. Oregon State, 3/7 vs. Oregon, Pac-10 Tournament TBD
 
13Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Last Week: 16
Wake, like Duke, has righted its ship after a month-and-a-half slump, and with a win over Clemson on Sunday and a Blue Devils loss to Carolina, will finish tied for second in the ACC. Freshman forward Al-Farouq Aminu had a breakout game at Maryland on Tuesday, scoring 16 points and grabbing 14 rebounds for his first double-double since Jan. 31. If the Deacs are going to go deep in the NCAA tournament, Aminu will need to be a factor. He's been a bellwether this season; in Wake's wins he averages 13.3 points and 8.5 boards, while in losses, he averages just 9.4 points and 6.8 boards. Aminu could use another year of seasoning, to improve his long-range shot and his perimeter D, but he's already projected as the 10th pick in the next NBA draft ... which means he might just opt to get paid while he's being seasoned.

Next up: 3/8 vs. Clemson, ACC Tournament TBD
 
14Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 12
The Wildcats are the team with the most to gain from the season-ending injury suffered by Marquette's Dominic James. The Golden Eagles, who were once in the Big East lead, are now in danger of slipping out of the coveted top four slots in the standings, which come with two byes in the conference tournament. Villanova would jump in by beating Providence at home on Thursday (the Wildcats would be in a fourth-place tie with Marquette, but they would win the tiebreaker by way of having beaten one of the three teams ahead of them in the standings, Pittsburgh). Marquette is 0-3 against UConn, Louisville and Pitt. The Golden Eagles also seemed to have a bead on a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, but a three-game losing streak combined with the loss of James will likely push them off of that run in the bracket. One of the teams likely to move up in their place is -- you guessed it -- Villanova.

Next up: 3/5 vs. Providence, Big East Tournament TBD
 
15Marquette Golden Eagles
Last Week: 10
I figure it's best not to talk about Dominic James' injury or Maurice Acker's ability to replace him in this space, since that's been the topic of every Golden Eagles story for the past week. So the topic will be sophomore swingman Jimmy Butler instead. His minutes have also seen a jump since James went out, and the 6-6 Butler has responded, scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds against UConn and going for 6 and 10 against Louisville. (He had just one point against Pitt on Wednesday due to foul trouble). Butler is completely anonymous outside Milwaukee, but he's one of the most productive bench players in all of the Big East. An examination of the kenpom.com numbers on Marquette through Sunday revealed that Butler had the team's best ...

*offensive rating, at 125.7
*offensive-rebounding percentage, at 11.8
*turnover rate, at 12.4

Next up: 3/7 vs. Syracuse, Big East Tournament TBD
 
16LSU Tigers
Last Week: 15
LSU Tigers (25-5)
The much-anticipated All-Glue team was announced by Mr. Davis on Wednesday, and Tigers defensive stopper Garrett Temple made the cut -- deservedly so, given that he held Florida's Nick Calathes and Kentucky's Jodie Meeks to 2-of-14 three-point shooting in victories last week. Temple has been considered glue-like for three years now: In a 2006 postcard on the team we listed him as such, and quoted assistant coach John Treloar as saying Temple makes plays that, "underneath, make the difference between us winning and losing every night." The same thing holds true in '08-09, even if the coaching staff and cast have completely changed.

Next up: 3/7 at Auburn, SEC Tournament TBD
On The Cusp (in this order):17. Florida State. 18. Clemson. 19. Arizona State. 20. Gonzaga. 21. Xavier. 22. BYU. 23. Illinois. 24. Creighton. 25. Purdue. Then West Virginia, New Mexico, Texas, Syracuse, Utah, Arizona, Butler, Rhode Island, St. Mary's, and all the other teams whose exclusion makes you want to question my judgment. You can actually do that in person tonight, if you happen to be on the Lower East Side.
(If you'd still like to send the Power Rankings an e-mail, I'm here.)
Got a different view than Luke?

 
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