Hoop Thoughts (Cont.)
Seriously, Oregon, that court has got to go.
Seems like every couple of weeks, a different UNLV player catches fire. The last two weeks that player has been 6-3 junior guard Anthony Marshall, who has averaged 22 points on 52 percent shooting over his last three games. Just one more reason I really like this team.
Since the NCAA's supervisor of officials John Adams mentioned to me the increased tendency of defenders to "walk" into a shooter, I've noticed that it actually happens a lot and is rarely called. I hope the refs clean that up. Just because a defender doesn't hack a shooter's arm doesn't mean he hasn't committed a foul.
Here's why teams lose: Washington was trailing Cal by three points with less than 10 seconds to play at home last Thursday night. Washington guard Abdul Gaddy brought the ball upcourt and handed it off to senior forward Darnell Gant. To that point Gant had missed all eight of his shot attempts and was 0-for-5 from three-point range. So what does he do? He fires another three-pointer and misses. Hard to believe the Huskies couldn't get a better shot in that situation, especially since Lorenzo Romar had just called time out to set up the final sequence.
I've been as big an Andre Drummond booster as anyone, but when Jim Calhoun said after UConn's loss to Cincinnati that "we should have an inside game by this time," you knew there was genuine cause for concern.
Priority number one for Indiana is to take better care of the ball. The Hoosiers are ranked last in the Big Ten in turnover margin. They had a total of 45 turnovers during their three-game losing streak. During the loss to Nebraska, Indiana committed 10 turnovers in the first half, and for the game the Cornhuskers has 16 points off turnovers.
I can't tell you how much I love that Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin did not call time out before Sean Kilpatrick's game-winning three-pointer at UConn. I get very frustrated when coaches call time out in that situation. All it does is give the other coach a chance to set his defense while you draw up a play that's probably going to break. Remember what Bob Knight used to say: If my kids don't know what to do by that point then I haven't done my job during practice.
THIS WEEK'S AP BALLOT
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Kentucky (2)
2. Missouri (7)
3. Syracuse (1)
4. Kansas (8)
5. Ohio State (4)
6. Baylor (3)
7. North Carolina (9)
8. Duke (5)
9. Michigan State (6)
10. Georgetown (11)
11. UNLV (12)
12. Michigan (13)
13. Florida (16)
14. Murray State (14)
15. Florida State (NR)
16. San Diego State (23)
17. Mississippi State (17)
18. Marquette (19)
19. Virginia (15)
20. Indiana (10)
21. West Virginia (20)
22. Creighton (25)
23. Saint Mary's (21)
24. Gonzaga (22)
25. Cincinnati (NR)
Dropped out: UConn (18), Illinois (24)
When I released my poll ballot on Twitter Sunday night, I expected a barrage of anger from Syracuse fans who have been on me since I left Ohio State at No. 1 for a couple of weeks despite the Buckeyes' loss at Kansas. (When Ohio State lost at Indiana on New Year's Eve, I moved Cuse to the top.) After all, the Orange were without Fab Melo when they lost at Notre Dame on Saturday. Didn't they deserve the same mulligan?
The barrage never came. I'm sure that was partly because many Syracuse fans (not to mention millions of other decent Americans) were far more interested in the NFC Championship Game than my poll ballot. But I also sense that even Syracuse fans understand that a) Melo is no Sully and b) Notre Dame is no Kansas. Moreover, even though Syracuse deserved to be ranked No. 1 until they lost, the fact is that the Orange's most impressive win came at home against Florida on Dec. 2. Their best RPI wins were at home against Seton Hall (8) and Marquette (12). They have yet to play, much less beat, a top-50 team on the road, and they only have two left on their schedule: Feb. 12 at Louisville (41), and Feb. 25 at UConn (17).
My point is not that Syracuse can't win a national championship. That specter is far more plausible than the notion this time last year that a UConn squad headed for a 9-9 Big East record was going to win it all. I just think it's important to put Syracuse's resume into perspective. This is a very good team, clearly one of the best in America. But we don't have enough evidence yet to make the case that this team is destined for greatness.
As for the top spot this week, I saw some people try to make the case on Twitter for Missouri at No. 1, but I never wavered in my decision to go with Kentucky. Kentucky actually has a slightly better resume -- the Wildcats have wins over Kansas (neutral) and North Carolina (home), and their one loss came on a buzzer-beating, three-pointer at Indiana. Missouri's best wins are over Baylor (road) and Illinois (neutral). Its lone defeat came by 16 points at Kansas State. Plus, I've had Kentucky ranked ahead of Mizzou on my ballot all season long. I need indisputable evidence to reverse that order.
Still, the fact that Missouri is ranked second in the third week of January and scored maybe the best road win anyone has had this season? Incredibly impressive and awfully surprising. My hat's off to 'em.
Elsewhere, it may seem jarring to some that UConn went from 18th to not ranked, but to be honest it was not a hard call. Remember, not only did UConn lose twice last week (to unranked teams I might add, including one at home to Cincinnati), the Huskies have now dropped four of their last six. The road ahead doesn't get easier, with three of UConn's next four games coming on the road.
You can also see several places which illustrate how hard it is to keep head-to-head results in order. There are just too many games by this point of the season. I also feel like it's important to honor the precedents set by previous ballots. Yes, Creighton won at San Diego State, but the Bluejays also lost at home to Missouri State, and the Aztecs just beat UNLV at home and New Mexico on the road. Then again, since San Diego State's win over UNLV came at home, and since UNLV has a win over North Carolina, I still feel like the Rebels should be ranked ahead of both. I was also set to rank Vanderbilt ahead of Marquette this week because Vandy won at Marquette by 17 points three weeks ago. But the Commodores blew that game at home to Mississippi State, so I couldn't pull the trigger.
As for Murray State, I am still capping the Racers at No. 14. If someone honestly and truly believes Murray State is better than the 14th-best team in the country, go ahead and rank them where you see fit. But to just keep moving them up because they're winning while teams from tougher conferences are losing, that doesn't make sense to me. I'm not saying I won't move them higher no matter what happens, but for the time being I'm holding steady.
As usual, there were a lot of teams I looked at closely but couldn't rank because not enough teams lost. My close-but-no-cigar list this week includes Illinois, Weber State, Wichita State, Wisconsin, Harvard, Iowa State and Vanderbilt. Obviously those teams need to keep winning to get ranked, but they also need someone ahead of them to lose their way out. There are only so many spots, and this is a results-driven business.