Annual Stock Report: Buy UNC and Kentucky, sell UConn and Purdue
More buys: Baylor, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Pittsburgh
More sells: BYU, Kansas State, Louisville, Memphis, Purdue, San Diego State
Plus five sleeper stocks and five stocks to dump (if you haven't already)
The holidays may be over, but that doesn't mean you have to stop unwrapping presents. And there's no better way to ring in the New Year than by reading the annual Hoop Thoughts Stock Report. Who's headed up? Who's headed down? Everything you need to know about where (and where not) to invest is right here.
Longtime readers of this space know all about the HTSR -- indeed, you've probably been waiting breathlessly for it for weeks -- but for the uninitiated, allow me to explain. The ratings below are meant to assess where a team's stock is headed relative to where it is today. The "price" is measured by records and rankings, which are provided below, as well as that hard-to-measure-but-you-know-it-when-you-see-it factor called buzz. This year, I assigned ratings to a record 40 teams, and I've added my usual five sleepers and five duds to dump. That means a total of 50 "stocks" have been assessed.
Though I like to think of myself as being a discriminating shopper, it turns out I'm in a spending kind of mood. Of the 40 teams listed below, I've rated 18 as Buys (including one Buy-Plus), 10 as Sells and 12 as Holds. This may not be quite a booming bull market, but there's still plenty of room for growth.
Because the purpose of this exercise is to predict direction, it yields a twisted logic. The higher a team is ranked, the less likely I am to rate it a Buy, because it doesn't have as much potential to move up. If a team is ranked low, or not ranked at all, I'm more likely to rate it a Buy, because even if it doesn't appreciate you haven't lost much "money" by purchasing it. In other words, just because I rate one team a Buy and another a Sell, it doesn't necessarily mean I think the first team is better. Got it?
Of course you do. You are a devoted hoophead. You get me. And your loyalty is about to yield some major dividends. So without further ado, I present 2011 Hoop Thoughts Stock Report.
ARIZONA (12-2, NR): HOLD
I was ready to rate Arizona a Buy, but I downgraded them after the Wildcast lost at Oregon State Sunday night. Still, the Pac-10's reputation has gotten so bad that I think a lot of its stocks have become deflated. Arizona is a prime example. The Wildcats haven't beaten anyone significant, but both of their losses were to good teams (Kansas on a neutral court and BYU on the road). Arizona's guards are just OK (they turn it over too much and don't create enough steals), but this team has a potential lottery pick in sophomore forward Derrick Williams. The Pac-10 will be the primary beneficiary of the expansion of the NCAA tournament to 68 teams. If Arizona is in the field, this will turn out to be a smart purchase.
BAYLOR (9-3, NR): BUY
Scott Drew did not do his team any favors with the way he set up his schedule. The Bears started off playing a bunch of really low-caliber opponents, and while that eventually earned them a No. 9 ranking, it also left them unprepared to face better teams. The result: Baylor lost three out of four to plummet out of the rankings. That, of course, makes this an ideal time to Buy its stock. I think Baylor will figure out its problems (getting freshman center Perry Jones more involved in the offense would be a start), and the Bears also have a very favorable Big 12 schedule -- they only play Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri once. They may not be one of the nine best teams in America, but they're at least in the top 25.
BUTLER (10-5, NR): SELL
These are not your one-year-older-brother's Bulldogs. Brad Stevens tried to play down the idea that his team might have trouble wearing a bull's-eye in the wake of last year's run to the championship game, but the Bulldogs were clearly uncomfortable in that role. They've played their usual dirt-under-the-fingernails defense from the start, but while their offense appeared to be coming around, they got blitzed by 24 points at Wisconsin-Milwaukee Monday night. Butler has a chance to improve its stock by beating Cleveland State at home this Friday, but I wouldn't bet the mortgage on it.
BYU (14-1, No. 15): SELL
BYU might well be a Sweet 16-caliber team, but the Jimmers -- sorry, the Cougars -- have done little to justify their ranking. Their best wins were against Saint Mary's and Arizona and they lost to UCLA by seven points in Anaheim. The Mountain West is strong enough that BYU will drop a few games, perhaps as early as Wednesday when the Cougs play at UNLV. Not saying this stock will plummet, but I also don't think it will get any higher.
CONNECTICUT (11-1, No. 8): SELL
The Huskies have been the season's big surprise, but I'm far from convinced they're the eighth-best team in the country. In the first place, now that they've entered league play, they're learning that it's not enough to rely on Kemba Walker to beat teams single-handedly. Losing at Pitt wasn't nearly as concerning to me as the fact that instead of taking out their anger on the next opponent, the Huskies needed overtime to beat South Florida at home. This is also a great time to sell this stock because UConn has Notre Dame and Texas next on the road, and later this month the Huskies have Villanova and Tennessee at home. This is a tournament team (which I would not have said at the start of the season), but at this point it has nowhere to go but down.
DUKE (12-0, No. 1): HOLD
How good are the Blue Devils without Kyrie Irving? Who knows? Since the freshman point guard injured his toe on Dec. 4, Duke won four games over low-caliber teams by an average of 36 points before opening ACC play with an 11-point win at home over Miami Sunday night. This team can still win a title, but it has much less margin for error than before Irving was hurt. For me to rate a team a Buy when it is ranked No. 1 would have to mean I'm virtually guaranteeing it will win the title. And I'm far from ready to do that.
FLORIDA (11-3, NR): BUY
I realize Xavier is not exactly the '86 Celtics, but the Musketeers had won 30 home games in a row before the Gators came in and beat them last Friday. They followed that up by whupping a decent Rhode Island team in Gainesville by 25. That has to be encouraging for a team that began the season ranked ninth before dropping out of the Top 25. Florida's three-point loss at UCF doesn't look quite so bad now as it did two weeks ago. UF walloped Kansas State by 13 before falling on its face at home to Jacksonville the next time out. In other words, the world has a low opinion of the Gators. You may not get rich with this purchase, but you'll earn a little extra beer money.
FLORIDA STATE (11-4, NR): SELL
I realize the Seminoles are unranked so there's not much to sell, but I still get the sense that people think they're better than they are. Yes, Chris Singleton is one of the top five defenders in America, but at some point you've got to put the biscuit in the basket. That's where this team comes up short, scoring just 51, 44, 64 and 60 points in losses to Florida, Ohio State, Butler and Auburn (Auburn!), respectively. Even when Florida State upset Baylor in Hawaii on Christmas Day, it still failed to muster 70 points.
GEORGETOWN (12-3, No. 13): BUY
Even though the Hoyas have started Big East play with a pair of road losses to Notre Dame and St. John's, I still think they have the type of makeup that bodes well for postseason success. This team's four-man nucleus includes three seniors and a junior. It's not uncommon for Georgetown to stumble early in the conference season because Big East teams, unlike nonconference foes, are accustomed to playing against the Princeton offense. I also like Georgetown's league schedule, which has the Hoyas playing once against Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Louisville and UConn.
ILLINOIS (11-3, No. 20): BUY
In the twisted logic of the Hoop Thoughts Stock Report, if the Illini had beaten Missouri instead of falling apart down the stretch, they would be less likely to warrant a Buy. Ditto for their overtime loss to Texas in Madison Square Garden back in November. This group is never going to play as tough as I'd like them to, but they showed some moxie when they out-rebounded a gritty Wisconsin team by seven in their win Sunday night. I also like the way the early Big Ten schedule sets up. Illinois will play Michigan State and Ohio State in Champaign later this month. You've got to figure they can at least get a split, possibly a sweep. That means their price is about to go up. Timing is everything, folks.
KANSAS (12-0, No. 3): HOLD
Even though I picked the Jayhawks to win the national championship on CBS last month (and in the Crystal Ball today), I am still waiting to see whether they can acquire efficiency and discipline that's commensurate to their talent. Yes, they have upside awaiting as Josh Selby gets more comfortable running the show, but they are a lousy free-throw shooting team that turns the ball over too much. On Jan. 9, they begin a stretch of six out of nine games on the road. The recent indefinite suspension to senior guard Mario Little following his arrest on battery charges does not help.
KANSAS STATE (12-3, No. 17): SELL
The Wildcats' ranking dropped appropriately following recent losses to Florida and UNLV, but I still get the sense most fans think of them as a Final Four challenger. I don't. I'm sure they'll be a tough out, but I think Kansas State's overall lack of skill, poor foul shooting and questionable leadership will offset its many positive qualities. Jacob Pullen's three-game suspension for accepting extra benefits is over, but Curtis Kelly still has two more to go. Plus, this team is about to encounter the toughest part of its Big 12 schedule. Beginning on Jan. 17, the Wildcats play at Missouri, at Texas A&M, home against Baylor, and at Kansas. Early February might be a good time to repurchase this stock, but in the short term I think things are going to get worse before they get better.
KENTUCKY (12-2, No. 10): BUY
You might assume I think pretty highly of the 'Cats to rate them a Buy when they're ranked 10th and coming off a big win at Louisville. And you're right. It's ironic that this team is both younger and less talented than last year's, yet it appears to be more mature, efficient, poised and therefore more capable of reaching the Final Four. A lot of that is attributable to the preternaturally poised freshmen, but the team's upperclassmen (Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrelson) have provided critical stability. Instead of constantly looking for the right combinations and trying to keep everybody happy, John Calipari has settled in to a steady seven-man rotation, which helps continuity. While I tend to pick against young teams in the NCAA tournament, they make for great stock purchases in early January because they tend to get better quickly. This rating also reflects my low opinion of the SEC East, which has been a major disappointment outside of UK.
LOUISVILLE (11-2, NR): SELL
I'm not sure exactly what the Cardinals did to get ranked before dropping out of the AP poll following last Friday's drubbing by Kentucky. They beat Butler and UNLV at home, but also lost to Drexel. Now they have to play for up to six weeks without their leading rebounder, Rakeem Buckles, who is out with a broken finger. If you want to hold on to this stock for another couple of weeks, go ahead, but beware the gauntlet that begins on Jan. 29: at UConn, at Georgetown, home versus DePaul, at Notre Dame, home versus Syracuse. Anyone want to predict Louisville will be ranked after that?