My annual Stock Report: Which teams to buy, sell and keep
Once again, I have taken stock of 30 of the nation's most prominent programs
At 11-1 with a formidable frontline, Baylor earns the rare "buy-plus" rating
It's time to sell No. 6 Villanova, No. 8 West Virginia and No. 9 North Carolina
It's a new year, a new decade and a new season in college basketball.
In other words, it's time to take stock.
The best way to do just that is to read my annual Hoop Thoughts Stock Report. The purpose of this exercise is not to determine the top teams in the country; that's what the polls are for. Rather, it's to predict what the conference season will reveal over the coming weeks. With conference play officially underway, teams will no longer be able to hide their deficiencies by paying lesser squads to travel to their home gyms and play games whistled by friendly referees. Over the next few weeks, we'll learn a lot more about who is worthy of high rankings and high praise, and who deserves to be demoted and pushed off the radar. The HTSR can tell you all of that when you need to know it -- before it happens.
Once again, I have taken stock of 30 of the nation's most prominent programs and issued ratings based on where I think teams are headed relative to their current standing. I have determined that standing based on their records, their rankings in the AP poll and that all-important, hard-to-discern, ultimately subjective category called "buzz." If I think a team's metrics are higher than they should be, I've recommended you sell their stock. If they're underrated, I've told you to buy. If they're just about right, I've rated them a hold. Keep in mind that in the bizarro world of the HTSR, a team that has performed well thus far is actually more likely to warrant a sell rating than one that has underperformed. Thus, just because I rate Team A a sell and Team B a buy, that does not necessarily mean I believe Team B is better.
Since you are a devoted Hoop Thinker, you have no problem understanding such a complex concept. Here, then, are my stock ratings, followed by a short list of sleepers and stocks to dump. Happy shopping.
Baylor (11-1 record, not ranked): BUY-PLUS
The Bears have earned this rare rating because they have gotten absolutely no notice (much less respect from the pollsters) for their 11-1 start. True, their schedule hasn't exactly been a murderer's row, but they do have away-from-home wins over Xavier (neutral) and Arizona State (road), and last week they won at Arkansas and South Carolina by a combined 34 points. Just watch 'em play and you'll see why I'm so high on them. Baylor has been one of the more athletic teams in the Big 12 the last two years, but now they are also one of the biggest teams in the nation, with a formidable frontline anchored by 6-foot-10 junior forward Ekpe Udoh, who is fourth in the nation in blocks and leads the Big 12 in rebounds. Baylor will have a chance to justify my rating during a four-game stretch beginning Jan. 20 that includes road games at Kansas and Texas and a home date with Kansas State. If they win just one of those three, their stock will skyrocket.
California (9-4, NR): BUY
Talk about a discount: The Bears dropped off the radar after they got swept out of Madison Square Garden by Syracuse and Ohio State back in November, but they played without Theo Robertson, the 6-6 senior forward who was a 48.7 percent three-point shooter last year. The Bears lost three of the six games Robertson sat out because of a stress reaction in his foot, but he showed his value to the team when he had 13 points and three rebounds in the Bears' loss at Kansas last month. Cal actually hung tough in that game before the Jayhawks pulled away in the last eight minutes. With the Pac-10 being so diminished, the Bears are ready to resume their status as league favorite, so you better scoop 'em up before the word gets out.
Clemson (12-3, NR): SELL
No matter what the Tigers do this season, in my eyes they will always be the team that blew a 23-point second-half lead at home to a good-but-far-from-great Illinois team. That should raise a red flag about Clemson's mental toughness, but the pratfall also revealed that the Tigers are having a harder time replacing the perimeter players they lost from last season than many experts originally believed. I stopped putting the Tigers on my AP ballot several weeks ago, but it took my fellow pollsters a while before dropping them out of the rankings. It won't get easier for the Tigers later this month, when they play North Carolina and Duke at home and Georgia Tech on the road in a tough four-game stretch. Clemson may win some notable games this season, but in the end this team does not strike me as a threat to make noise in the NCAA tournament.
Connecticut (10-3, No. 13): SELL
Quick, what is UConn's best win? Answer: Notre Dame at home. The Huskies' ranking and reputation owes far more to the program's recent history than anything this current edition has accomplished. UConn is not getting enough scoring from its post players, and sophomore point guard Kemba Walker is having a hard time learning how to manage a game and play at different speeds. True, Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson are as good a duo as you'll find in the Big East, and the Huskies caught a break with their league schedule because they only have to play Georgetown, Syracuse and Villanova once each (though they're all on the road). They only have two nonconference games remaining on the schedule: at Michigan and a homer vs. Texas. It's hard to imagine they'll get back into the top 10 this season.
Duke (12-1, No. 5): BUY
Is it me, or is this team flying under the radar a little bit? Perhaps it's because Duke is a little bit boring compared to some of the glitzy guys in the top 10, but mostly the low buzz results from the nagging feeling that we've seen this before from Duke -- a talented but soft team whose stellar regular season will be followed by a humbling pre-Elite Eight exit. I disagree, for two reasons. First, this is a bigger, stronger, tougher team than in years past, and that is really manifesting itself at the defensive end. (They're ranked in the top 25 nationally in field goal defense and defensive efficiency.) Moreover, the ACC is not as strong as I thought it would be entering the season. Only four of the league's 12 teams are ranked in this week's top 25, and Duke is the only one that looks like a bona fide national championship contender.
Florida (11-3, NR): BUY
The Gators are not as good as many people (including myself) thought they were after they upset Michigan State in November, but this happens to be a great time to try to buy them. On Saturday they play at Vanderbilt, a team that is not as good as many people seem to think, and on Jan. 12 they get mighty Kentucky at home. That's two good chances to make waves. Tennessee's off-court woes present another opportunity in the SEC East. And you have to like this team's karma coming off that miracle win over N.C. State on Chandler Parsons' 70-foot heave. (Then again, why did they need a miracle to beat a team headed for the ACC's basement?) The ceiling is not very high for Florida because of its lack of toughness and uneven point guard play, but I think the Gators are going to have a pretty good couple of weeks.
Georgetown (11-1, No. 12): BUY
I'm still not crazy about the Hoyas' lack of a true point guard, but every team outside the top three has a major deficiency somewhere. The Hoyas have a lofty ranking, but I rated them a buy because I don't think they have generated top-10 buzz. That could change in the next couple of weeks. They play two tough but winnable road games at DePaul and Marquette, followed by a pair of home games against UConn and Seton Hall. Realistically, the Hoyas could be 5-2 in the Big East heading into their big Jan. 25 showdown at Syracuse. I know Greg Monroe will probably never get the respect he deserves as long as he's in college, but this is a very good passing team, and junior guard Chris Wright is really coming into his own as a scorer.
Gonzaga (11-3, No. 19): HOLD
Imagine if Syracuse began Big East play with consecutive road dates at UConn, Georgetown and West Virginia. Or if Kansas started off at Texas, Kansas State and Texas A&M. That's what is now facing the Zags, who in a 10-day span have to play at Portland, at Saint Mary's and at San Diego -- which, combined with their game at Illinois last weekend, puts the Zags into a stretch where they have to play six out of eight games on the road. I imagine they will win enough games to stay in the top 25, but it is treacherous terrain for a team that is getting such meager contributions from its bench. Gonzaga is not quite as talented as it has been the last few years, but it is mentally tougher. That dimension will be severely tested the next few weeks.
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