Annual Stock Report (Cont.)
SAINT LOUIS (12-2): SELL
If you haven't seen the Billikens yet, check 'em out. They play smart, efficient, patient, team-oriented basketball. They take good shots and make a high percentage. But ask yourself this: Would people be talking about them so much if their coach weren't so famous and colorful? Then again, if Rick Majerus weren't there, they probably wouldn't be this much fun to watch. At any rate, those wins over Washington (at home) and Villanova (neutral court) don't look nearly as impressive now as they did back in November. Saint Louis had a chance to make a statement on the road against a good-but-not-great New Mexico team, and it lost by four. That tells me this team is not as its current reputation.
SAN DIEGO STATE (12-2, No. 24): SELL
It wouldn't surprise me to see the Aztecs return to the NCAA tournament -- which would be impressive considering what they lost from last year -- but I still think they're overvalued. Even if you set aside their two losses (to Creighton at home after leading by 17, at Baylor by 10 points when the Bears didn't have Perry Jones III), many of their wins failed to inspire confidence. They beat USC and Cal at home by a combined three points, and they needed overtime to beat Long Beach State at home and UC Riverside on the road. Those results, combined with upcoming games against UNLV and at New Mexico, make this a good time to sell.
SYRACUSE (15-0, No. 1): BUY
I was tempted to rate the Orange a Sell based on the nowhere-to-go-but-down theory, but as I looked at their Big East schedule, it was hard to pick a game they should lose until the middle of February. It speaks volumes about this team's collection of talent that its most talented player, sophomore guard Dion Waiters, is not even a starter. Yes, this team has a few warts (free throw shooting chief among them) but who doesn't? Syracuse is probably going to be a number one seed, and teams who aren't used to going up against that zone will have a hard time beating it in the tournament.
TEXAS (10-3): SELL
If you've held onto the Longhorns this long, you probably deserve to lose at least part of your shirt. I warned you in my preseason postcard that the Longhorns were too young to make waves (though I thought they'd be better than this). They suffered bad losses to Oregon State and N.C. State, and they were embarrassed by 19 points at North Carolina. Freshman point guard Myck Kabongo is taking longer to grasp his role than anticipated, and he isn't getting much help from his friends. There is still some hope here -- that win at home over Temple was nice, and J'Covan Brown is always going to give them a puncher's chance -- but for Texas, the real purpose of this year is to be a better team next year.
UCLA (7-7): SELL
The Bruins had a golden opportunity to steal a win at Stanford last Thursday night, but even though they had 13 opportunities to take a lead, they never did it once. That, however, didn't bother me as much as the way they got run out of the gym two nights later at California. We can't blame Reeves Nelson for UCLA's troubles anymore. The fact is, this team's guards simply are not good enough to lead this to the NCAA tournament. I'm not yet ready to call the season a lost cause for UCLA, but I don't see any signs that a turnaround is in the offing.
UNLV (15-2, No. 17): BUY
I like this team. The Runnin' Rebels are experienced, they're tough, and they have a matchup from hell in 6-8 sophomore forward Mike Moser, who is ranked 12th in the country in rebounding but has also made 18 three-pointers. They lead the Mountain West in both steals and blocks, so that tells you they can play some serious D inside and out. Moreover, I'm not sure the Mountain West is as good as people think (especially since BYU is no longer in the league). So there's a good chance UNLV can still move up in the rankings.
VANDERBILT (9-4): BUY
The Commodores finally looked like the team they were projected to be when they blitzed Marquette by 17 points in Milwaukee last week. Senior center Festus Ezeli, who has missed most of the season because of a knee injury, played in that game and did about as much harm (six turnovers) as good (seven rebounds). But his return, and anticipated improvement, should help the Commodores acquire a toughness that is commensurate with their offensive talent. This team's basic DNA is not going to change all that much, but I do think they've turned a corner. Given the way their stock price has taken a beating, that makes them a pretty good buy.
VILLANOVA (7-7): BUY
I consider myself a savvy bargain hunter. The entire world has flushed Villanova (with good reason), but I still see some nice pieces on this team. Maalik Wayns has to learn to play like a point guard instead of a shooting guard who happens to be playing the point. When and if that happens, 'Nova could take off. Though the Wildcats have gotten off to a rough start inside the Big East with road losses to West Virginia and Marquette, four of their next five games are at home (although one is against Syracuse). Since the Big East is not as deep as it has been the last couple of years, I could envision 'Nova stringing together enough wins to get into the tournament.
VIRGINIA (12-1, No. 21): HOLD
Do I think Virginia is a Final Four team? No. But the Cavs are one of the top four teams in the ACC, and while that's not saying much this season, that should allow them to hold their status as a borderline top 25 team. The Cavaliers don't play the most exciting style of basketball, but they're very good at holding down the tempo and making life uncomfortable for opponents. (They're giving up just 51.1 points per game, third-lowest in the nation.) Virginia only has nine scholarship players following two recent transfers, but it still has a solid inside-outside duo in Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski. So the Cavs will win a lot and lose a few, but in the end they should make the tournament for the first time in five years.
WASHINGTON (8-5): BUY
One of the many unfortunate side effects of the Pac 12's expansion was the elimination of the true round robin schedule. Washington, however, reaped the biggest benefit because it does not have to make a road trip to the Bay Area. Even though this has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country, I'm recommending a Buy because of the weakness of the Pac 12, because shot blocker Aziz N'Diaye has returned from a knee injury, because freshman point guard Tony Wroten is a star in the making, and because at some point Abdul Gaddy is going to remember that he's actually a good basketball player. Nobody else seems to think Washington has a chance to be good, so even if this bet goes belly up you won't lose a lot of dough.
WISCONSIN (12-3, No. 18) HOLD
I probably should recommend that you sell Wisconsin after Saturday's loss at home to Iowa, but as long as Bo Ryan is on the sidelines, you're not going to get hurt too badly holding out some hope. The Badgers shot 3 for 28 from three-point land against the Hawkeyes, but they have been a pretty good three-point shooting team thus far (they're ranked second in the Big Ten in three-point percentage), so I don't expect that to happen often -- especially at home. Wisconsin has a tough stretch coming up beginning this week at home against Michigan State, followed by road dates in three of their following five (Michigan, Purdue and Illinois). So the Badgers are going to be down for a little while, but it would be foolish to count them out.
XAVIER (9-4) BUY
Talk about your basement bargains. Contrary to recent evidence, the Musketeers did not suddenly forget how to play basketball. They were simply thrown off stride -- mentally, physically, every which way -- by that ugly brawl with Cincinnati. The problem is that so much of Xavier's personality was built around toughness and its willingness to fight. They took those concepts too far against the Bearcats, and now they're having a hard time re-establishing the proper equilibrium. However, conference play is getting under way, and I think Xavier will regain its stride. Remember, this is a down year in the Atlantic 10, and it's a long road from here to the tournament.
Belmont (9-5). Bruins have been disappointing during nonconference play, but that largely resulted from their tough schedule. They're still the class of the Atlantic Sun and have NCAA tourney experience.
Charleston (10-3). Bobby Cremins has a team that could play in the school's first NCAA tournament since 1999. The Cougars beat Tennessee at home and nearly knocked off Louisville on the road.
Indiana State (10-3). Sycamores have a real stud in sophomore point guard Jake Odum, and they will benefit from the Missouri Valley's overall depth. If they're on the bubble for an at-large, that road win over Vanderbilt is gonna be huuuuuuge.
Iona (10-3). Gaels' loss at Hofstra last week put them further out of at-large range. But with the nation's assist leader, Scott Machado, at the helm, they remain the favorite to win the MAAC.
Marshall (9-4). Gave Syracuse all it wanted in the Carrier Dome. Herd has dynamic guards in DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts, plus ranked second in the nation in rebound margin.
Middle Tennessee (13-2). Beat Loyola Marymout and UCLA on the road as well as Belmont at home.
Ohio (12-1). Bobcats have three quality road wins at Marshall, Oakland and Northern Iowa, and they fought hard at Louisville before succumbing by five. Junior point guard D.J. Cooper is a demon on both ends of the floor.
Saint Mary's (13-2). The Gaels served notice with pasting of BYU that they are an NCAA tournament caliber team -- again. Matthew Dellavedova is one of the top point guards out west.
Southern Miss (13-2). It only took him eight years, but Larry Eustachy finally has a team that is good enough to win Conference USA. The Golden Eagles' nonconference schedule was weak, but they nearly knocked off Murray State at home before losing in double overtime.
Weber State (10-3). All three losses were on the road to good teams (Saint Mary's, BYU, California). Wildcats boast the nation's leading scorer in 6-3 junior guard Damian Lillard, who also ranks in the top 10 in the Big Sky in assists and rebounds.
Arizona State (4-9). Herb Sendek's top recruit, point guard Jahil Carson, was declared academically ineligible, but that's no excuse for this record.
Boston College (5-8). Steve Donahue left a Cornell that reached the Sweet 16. Last week his ACC club lost to Harvard by 21 points. Remind me again what was so bad about Al Skinner?
Rhode Island (2-12). As if losing wasn't bad enough, Jim Baron announced last week that leading scorer Jamal Wilson has been suspended indefinitely for breaking team rules. At least Baron won't have to sweat out Selection Sunday this year.
Utah (3-10). This is hands down the worst power conference team in America. First-year coach Larry Krystkowiak has some good players coming in, but this is going to be a long rebuilding process.
Wake Forest (9-4). Don't be deceived by the won-loss record. The Deacons lost by 28 points to Arizona State on a neutral court and squeaked Yale by a single point at home last week. I'll say it for the thousandth time: This is the karma you get for firing coach Dino Gaudio after he took his team to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Ball don't lie.