Hoop Thoughts (Cont.)
In the wake of the blown call at the end of the Syracuse-West Virginia game, some people have called for goaltending to be added to the list of reviewable plays, if only for the last few minutes. John Adams, the NCAA's coordinator of officials, has said that the rules committee might consider this. I hope it never comes to pass. We already have more than enough replays during games without adding judgment calls. Besides, this is not football -- play continues in this sport. What happens if a referee misses a goaltending call, but after the "block," the other team comes down and hits a game-winning shot? Do you go back to the replay and wave off the entire sequence?
Also, let's stop with the refs-work-too-many-games complaint every time we see a missed call. Just because a guy gets a good night's sleep doesn't ensure that he'll get everything right. Besides, one of the referees working the Syracuse-West Virginia game was Karl Hess. Ask any coach in the Big East and he'll tell you that if he walks into a game and sees Hess has been assigned, he is very pleased.
Believe it or not, I'm about to pass along a nugget about Iowa State that doesn't include Royce White: The Cyclones are one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country. They're ranked second in the Big 12 in three-point percentage (38.5) and first in threes made per game (8.9). Ironically, that's despite the fact that Chris Allen, the transfer from Michigan State, has been making a career-low 36.4 percent from behind the arc.
Penn State 6-1 junior point guard Tim Frazier has to be on the short list of great players on bad teams. Frazier leads the Big Ten (and is 11th nationally) in assists (6.3), is second in both scoring (18.3) and steals (2.13) and is eighth in free throw percentage (75.5).
ESPN's BracketBusters extravaganza is a great idea for many reasons. One of them is the fact that the home team is required to play at the road team's arena during the following season. And kudos to the Boys in Bristol for assigning Saint Mary's play at Murray State. Gonna be a big, big game.
You're a Michigan fan and you have a choice: Trey Burke as a freshman or Darius Morris as a junior? As much as I love Burke, you have to go with Morris, right?
Marquette sophomore guard Vander Blue may not be the scorer people that many thought he'd be coming out of high school (the kid can NOT shoot), but I love the way he crashes the boards. Blue has doubled his rebound average from last season, and is averaging nearly eight per game over his last three contests.
I'm usually the guy who argues that it's better for a team to lose a game than go into the NCAA tournament undefeated. It's hard enough to win six games without the added pressure. My theory, however, does not apply to Murray State. These guys know they are not going to win a championship, so they might as well do something special by going into the tournament with a perfect record. It would certainly be a great storyline for college basketball.
THIS WEEK'S AP BALLOT
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Kentucky (1)
2. Syracuse (2)
3. Ohio State (3)
4. Missouri (5)
5. Kansas (4)
6. Baylor (6)
7. North Carolina (7)
8. Michigan State (9)
9. Florida (12)
10. Florida State (14)
11. UNLV (10)
12. Michigan (11)
13. Murray State (13)
14. Georgetown (15)
15. Duke (8)
16. Virginia (18)
17. Mississippi State (16)
18. Marquette (17)
19. San Diego State (19)
20. Wisconsin (20)
21. Saint Mary's (24)
22. Creighton (23)
23. Indiana (21)
24. Notre Dame (NR)
25. Wichita State (NR)
Dropped out: West Virginia (22), Gonzaga (25)
There was less movement on my ballot this week than at any other point during this season. Most losses suffered by teams in my top 25 were in close road games. One exception was Marquette, which got blitzed at Notre Dame, but I had to consider that the Golden Eagles were playing without their best remaining big man, sophomore forward Davante Gardner. (Unlike the team's other center, Chris Otule, Gardner is going to return soon.) I didn't want to punish Marquette too much, but I did want to reward Notre Dame for its fourth straight quality win. So the Irish make my ballot for the first time.
I also don't believe that a voter should punish a team for losing on the road to a team that is ranked above it. Last week, Indiana lost at Michigan, Michigan lost at Michigan State, Wisconsin lost at Ohio State and Virginia lost at Florida State. I still think Kansas is a little better than Missouri, but Missouri won, so I flipped those two. And if a team loses by a bucket on the road to a good conference team, it's also hard to penalize them. That's why UNLV (which fell at Wyoming) and Creighton (lost to Northern Iowa on a buzzer-beating three) didn't get dinged too badly. In fact, Creighton moved up a spot due to my decision to drop West Virginia, which barely beat Providence in overtime to avoid its fourth straight loss.
The team that got dropped the most this week is Duke. I've been sensing for the last several weeks that the Blue Devils weren't quite as good as their ranking, but until they lost I didn't have an opportunity to let my ballot reflect that.
Elsewhere, I wouldn't say I've totally given up on Gonzaga, but in the wake of the Bulldogs' blowout loss at BYU, I don't foresee putting them back into my top 25. Even if they beat St. Mary's at home, I wouldn't rank them because, well, they're supposed to beat teams at home. Gonzaga has some nice players, but this team is just too young and lacking physical strength to be ranked right now.
I had a lot of good options at No. 25, but, as usual, I gave extra deference to a mid-major team. Wichita State, which is now tied with Creighton for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference, has quietly had an excellent season. The Shockers have an opportunity to make some real noise when they visit Creighton on Saturday. The Bluejays won in Wichita on Dec. 31 by seven points, so I'm very much looking forward to the rematch.
Other teams I considered ranking: Iowa State, Temple, Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee State, Weber State, VCU, Cleveland State, Harvard and Iona. Aside from Iowa State, which will play Baylor twice and Missouri once (on the road), those teams will not have the chance to play games where a win would vault them onto my ballot. Thus, they likely finish the season unranked. But that doesn't mean they will be unloved. Not in this space, anyway.