Annual Stock Report (cont.)
TEXAS (11-2, No. 12): BUY
You'll notice a pattern: I love buying young teams in early January. The Longhorns are even younger than they look on paper because their three most important players (Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton) are freshmen and sophomores. In some ways this is a risky buy because beginning Jan. 19, they have a brutal five-game stretch in the league that includes two games against Texas A&M and a road date at Kansas. Texas might lose a game or two there, but it will only toughen this team for the stretch run.
TEXAS A&M (13-1, No. 16): HOLD
The Aggies are one of those teams with a low ceiling but a high floor. They don't create a lot of points off their defense, but they do a great job of slowing the tempo and preventing their opponents from scoring. You have to play well to beat them -- but if you play well, you can beat them. Their signature wins came over Temple and Washington by a combined four points, but they also have lost to Boston College. More than any other team in the Big 12, Texas A&M has a favorable unbalanced schedule. The Aggies play Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State once each.
UCF (13-0, No. 19): BUY
It's amazing to me that a mid-major team could be undefeated, ranked and have Michael Jordan's son on the roster -- yet very few people (outside of geeks like us) are talking about them. The ranking might not get much higher, but there's plenty of upside in the buzz department. The Knights have at least as many signature wins (over Florida and Miami) as San Diego State. They go a legit 10 deep, they're ranked in the top five nationally in both offensive and defensive field-goal percentage, and thanks largely to 7-foot senior center Tom Herzog, a transfer from Michigan State, they're ranked third in the nation in blocks.
UCLA (9-5, NR): BUY
I've never done a Futures Stock Report, but if I did this team would be at the top of my list. It looks like the Bruins may finally be rebounding from their multiyear string of defections (assuming Tyler Honeycutt isn't stupid enough to go pro). They show a maddening tendency to play up or down to their competition (beating BYU and almost beating Kansas; losing to Montana and almost losing to UC Irvine), but that's what young teams do. I'm not sure the Bruins will be ready for their close up come March, but by the start of next season they should be ranked in the preseason top five. In the short term, a lingering concern will be junior point guard Lazeric Jones, who injured a finger in Friday's loss to Washington and will probably have to wear a splint for at least the next month.
USC (9-6, NR): BUY
A lot of people have compared the addition of point guard Jio Fontan to last year's midseason transfer, Mike Gerrity, but I think Fontan is much better. The Fordham transfer's first game didn't get as much pub as Josh Selby's did at Kansas, but in his first game Fontan almost spoiled Selby's debut by scoring 15 points in the close loss in Lawrence. Fontan will speed up USC's offense, and on the other end of the floor the Trojans will play the kind of in-your-shorts defense we've come to expect from Kevin O'Neill's teams. Clearly I think more highly of the Pac-10 than most people (not saying much), and I think USC is the second-best team in the league. That means they're going to make the tournament, which would make this stock a steal.
VANDERBILT (10-2, No. 22): HOLD
Here's another one of those high-floor-low-ceiling teams. The Commodores are smart enough not to lose to teams they should beat, but are they talented enough to consistently beat teams they shouldn't? Not sure. I think Festus Ezeli is giving Vandy a toughness and defensive presence it has lacked in the past, but the league will not give them many opportunities for real eyebrow-raising wins. Outside of an upset of Kentucky and maybe a couple of tough road wins, Vandy will have a hard time breaking into the top 15.
VILLANOVA (12-1, No. 7): HOLD
It's very hard to be ranked in the top 10 and warrant a Buy rating, so the Wildcats should consider this a backhanded compliment. I was leaning toward rating them a Sell until they survived a tough test last week against Temple even though Corey Fisher was limited because of foul trouble. I like the steady (but a little too slow) improvement of sophomore center Mouphtaou Yarou, though I can't help but wonder what might have been if freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston hadn't been suspended for the season following a fight at a fraternity party. Nova's Big East schedule is a little soft the next couple of weeks before heating up with consecutive road games at UConn, Syracuse and Providence, followed by a date at home with Georgetown. We'll know a lot more about them after they've passed through that gauntlet.
WASHINGTON (10-3, No. 23): BUY
For almost two months I've been the only guy buying Washington. I might be able to retire on this stock alone. Somehow the Huskies fell off everybody's radar after they committed the unpardonable sin of losing at Texas A&M by a point. The Huskies got the toughest part of their Pac-10 schedule behind them when they won at USC and UCLA last week. They are ranked fifth overall in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings, and for the first time in a while they have some legitimate post defenders in Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Aziz N'Diaye. Last year this team flew under the radar all the way until mid-March, when they were the surprise winners of the Pac-10 tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16. You can overlook them again if you like, but I'm locking in.
WISCONSIN (11-3, NR): HOLD
The Badgers may not be ranked, but they're fourth in others receiving votes. That means most people think they'll be ranked at some point this season. Count me as one of those people. There's a lot to like about this stock. Wisconsin rarely loses to teams it should beat, especially in Madison, and the Big Ten is not as strong as many anticipated. The Badgers also have one of the truly underrated players in the country in junior guard Jordan Taylor. Even so, do you envision this team leapfrogging Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue or Minnesota in the league standings? Neither do I. This stock is unlikely to go significantly up or down over the next three months.
Iowa State (13-2): Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones' have not exactly faced a murderer's row of opponents, but they did earn road wins at Iowa and Virginia and also beat Creighton at home. Of course, they were 11-4 this time last year and still finished 4-12 in the Big 12, so be forewarned.
Jacksonville (9-3): No, Artis Gilmore isn't coming through the door, but the Dolphins turned some heads with that upset win in Gainesville. Circle your calendar for their game Jan. 10 at Belmont, which nearly won at Tennessee.
Richmond (11-4): Sunday's upset loss to Bucknell aside, the Spiders brought back three starters from the team that made the NCAA tournament last season, and their 11-point win over Purdue is looking better by the day.
Wichita State (11-2): The Shockers played UConn tougher than anyone else did at the Maui Invitational. Clearly the team to beat in the Missouri Valley.
Utah State (13-2): The Aggies are the sixth-most experienced team in the country, and in 6-7 senior Tai Wesley they have an undersized but effective power forward, much like San Diego State has in Kawhi Leonard.
Cornell (3-9): You think Steve Donahue got out at the right time?
DePaul (6-8): The Blue Demons' losses include a 22-point drubbing at Indiana State (sans Larry Bird).
George Washington (7-6): Where have you gone, Pops Mensah-Bonsu? The Colonials lost at UAB last week by 55 points.
Holy Cross (1-12): Good thing this school fired Sean Kearney last spring after just one season. As you can see, it was all his fault, right?
Wake Forest (6-8): When you're in the ACC and you enter January with losses to Stetson, Winthrop, UNC-Wilmington and Presbyterian, you don't have a whole lot to look forward to.
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