Hoop Thoughts (Cont.)
It's not quite North Carolina-Clemson, but you may not know (I certainly didn't) that Dayton has now lost 27 straight at Xavier. That's pretty remarkable considering Dayton, unlike Clemson, has actually been a consistently competitive program inside its league for a long time.
I know that Southern Miss (at Houston) and Memphis (home vs. UTEP) suffered bad losses over the weekend, but one way or another Conference USA is going to get at least two teams into the tournament. You gotta get to 37 at-larges somehow.
You think Colorado State has a big stretch coming up? Here are the Rams' next three games: vs. New Mexico, at San Diego State, vs. UNLV. Win one and they've substantially strengthened their bubble resume. Win two and they're in.
William Buford is killing Ohio State right now. He shot a combined 5-for-24 in the Buckeyes' losses to Michigan State and Michigan. On the season, his three-point percentage has plummeted from 44.2 as a junior to 36.4. Hard to imagine Ohio State can win a title with him playing like this.
When I visited Baylor for my preseason postcard last fall, Perry Jones told me that he only participated in one summer camp that involved top collegians. Not only did he skip the main events that were sponsored by Nike, Jones told me he didn't even know about them. (Probably just a coincidence that Baylor is an adidas school.) I have to believe that if Jones spent his summer going up against high-level competition instead of working out by himself in Waco that he would be a much better and tougher player.
I don't know that I've ever seen a dumber, more egregious ejection than Karl Hess tossing Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from N.C. State's home game against Florida State on Saturday. I wouldn't argue that those two should get special privileges, but unless a fan is throwing things or using excessive profanity (which was apparently not the case here), there is never a justification for the official to have them removed. I'd love to see Hess suspended for a week, but that's not going to happen.
UNLV and San Diego State learned last week what the rest of America is just beginning to realize: New Mexico plays some serious defense.
Usually when a team has issues with turnovers, the problems center around the point guard. In Florida State's case, though, it's the other players who have been sloppy. Luke Loucks did not commit a turnover in the win at N.C. State, but as a team the Seminoles had 14.
Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I really think Mississippi State's problem right now is its senior point guard, Dee Bost. He's a turnover machine and a volume shooter. That's a bad combination.
I don't believe Saint Mary's or Gonzaga can win ugly against a good team. That spells trouble for the tournament.
My all-time all-man crush team: Juan Dixon, Maryland (captain); Grant Hill, Duke; Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina; Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA; Dee Brown, Illinois; Jimmer Fredette, BYU; Draymond Green, Michigan State. Could there be a higher honor?
People are understandably fixated by Wichita State guard Joe Ragland's 30-point performance in the Shockers' win at Davidson, but how about the 6-foot shooting guard grabbing seven rebounds? That's what winners do.
Here's what else you need to know about Wichita State: It can really shoot the ball. Over their last four games, the Shockers have made 36 of 63 (or 57.1 percent) from three-point range. Seven-foot senior center Garrett Stutz has made 6 of 8 from behind the arc during that span and is shooting 38.5 percent from three on the season. When you play the Shockers, a big part of your defensive strategy is hope.
To think: The Big East could end up getting more bids than the Big Ten after all. Smh.
Anyone else notice that Tennessee freshman forward Jarnell Stokes has cooled off since making his high-impact debut six weeks ago? Over the last six games, Stokes reached double-figure scoring just once (and double-figure rebounding zero times). He sat out one of those games with a wrist injury, but he wasn't much of a factor in the Vols' road loss to an Alabama team that had two of its starters out because of suspensions. The future is still pretty bright in Knoxville, but for all intents and purposes the Vols' season is over.
Don't look now, but Butler has won five of its last six. The Bulldogs can't get an at-large bid, but if they go on to win the Horizon League tournament, you think anyone is going to want to play them in the first round? Neither do I.
Washington's freshman point guard Tony Wroten is the best player in the Pac-12 and it's not even close. He had 22 points, nine rebounds and two assists in the Huskies' pivotal win over Arizona on Saturday. Wroten is second in the Pac-12 in steals (2.0 per game), he's fourth in both points (16.5) and field goal percentage (46.5), and he's eighth in assists (3.5).
It's obvious that Bruce Weber is a dead coach walking, but Illinois fans might need to lower expectations about potential replacements. Most of the top names are head coaches with very expensive buyouts. If Illinois fires Weber, it will have to pay him $3.9 million for the balance of his contract, which runs through 2015. And that's before they hire the next guy. Keep in mind the school is already committed to paying Ron Zook $2.6 million for firing him. That might clear the path to hire an assistant like Chris Collins of Duke, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and whose father, Doug, is the former coach of the Chicago Bulls.
We're now at a glorious part of the season where every single night there are several games with major bubble implications. Can you imagine how much less interesting this would be if the tournament had expanded to 96 teams? We dodged a bullet there, folks.
If Anthony Davis were a team, he would be ranked 31st in the country in blocks per game. Just making sure you knew.
I've picked on Erving Walker a lot the last four years, so let me congratulate him on becoming Florida's alltime assists leader. Say this for Walker: The kid is a gamer, and he has gotten better every year.
I'd love to see Marquette and Murray State play each other in the Sweet 16. There'd be a lot of skin under their fingernails, I can tell you that.
It just looks to me like Virginia is running out of gas. It's hard to play that kind of grind-it-out basketball over the course of an entire season. It also doesn't help that the Cavaliers' best outside shooter, Joe Harris, is playing with a broken bone in his non-shooting hand.
I gave Michigan State center Adreian Payne a lot of love last week for his inspired play in the win over Ohio State, but he has yet to prove he can play with that kind of energy every time out. Payne, a 6-10 sophomore, had just two points each against Wisconsin and Purdue. If the Spartans are going to make the Final Four, they're gonna need all hands on deck.
It's pretty disappointing that Villanova junior forward Dominic Cheek has still not developed a reliable jump shot. I saw him quite a bit in high school and he seemed to have stardom written all over him.
We've got a pretty good mix of teams from the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC vying for No. 1 seeds. It comes down to this: If a team wins the regular season title in one of those leagues and then wins the conference tournament, it's a mortal lock to wind up on the top line.
THIS WEEK'S AP BALLOT
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Kentucky (1)
2. Syracuse (2)
3. Missouri (3)
4. Kansas (4)
5. Michigan State (5)
6. Duke (7)
7. North Carolina (8)
8. Ohio State (6)
9. Michigan (13)
10. Marquette (12)
11. Florida (15)
12. Murray State (16)
13. Georgetown (11)
14. Baylor (9)
15. Florida State (17)
16. Wisconsin (19)
17. Notre Dame (21)
18. Wichita State (22)
19. Temple (24)
20. New Mexico (NR)
21. UNLV (10)
22. San Diego State (14)
23. Louisville (NR)
24. Virginia (18)
25. Drexel (NR)
Dropped out: Indiana (20), Saint Mary's (23), VCU (25)
I don't think I have to explain this to most of you, but in case any Michigan fans are incensed that I ranked Ohio State ahead of the Wolverines despite Saturday's result, let me state the obvious: The game was played in Ann Arbor. Michigan won by five. When the two teams met in Columbus three weeks ago, the Buckeyes won by 15. Keeping Ohio State ahead of Michigan was a no brainer, but I did reward the Wolverines by moving them into my top 10. Four spots is a substantial jump at this point in the season.
You'll also notice I slid Georgetown down two spots even though it didn't lose. The Hoyas' record doesn't look quite as impressive upon closer inspection. They beat Louisville and Marquette at the start of their Big East schedule, but here are their wins since then: at St. John's, at DePaul, Rutgers, UConn, South Florida, St. John's, at Providence. Meanwhile, their losses were: at West Virginia, Cincinnati, at Pitt, at Syracuse.
You might think I should have dropped Baylor more than five spots for losing at home to Kansas State, but keep in mind that the team ranked right below them, Florida State, lost at Boston College two weeks ago and was extremely fortunate to get by Virginia Tech at home. New Mexico, meanwhile, clearly deserved to be ahead of San Diego State and UNLV. Those two teams actually lost both games last week (UNLV in overtime at TCU; San Diego State at Air Force), but they were ranked too high for me to drop them out altogether. Besides, the Aztecs played Air Force without their leading scorer and rebounder, Jamaal Franklin, who was sidelined by a sprained ankle.
Indiana, on the other hand, did get dropped for losing at Iowa Sunday night. The game was never close, and it left the Hoosiers with an 8-7 record in the Big Ten.
Finally, a hearty welcome to Drexel for making my ballot after drilling Cleveland State on the road. That was the Dragons' 15th straight win, and it makes them the team in the CAA that is most likely to earn an at-large bid if it needs one. I almost went with Iowa State at that spot, but the Cyclones lost by 15 points at Baylor last week before beating Oklahoma at home. The good news/bad news is the Cyclones end their regular season at Kansas State, at Missouri, and then at home against Baylor. A win in one of those three (especially if it's at Missouri) would substantially fortify their case.