Hoops Thoughts (Cont.)
I don't like the vibes coming out of Florida right now. The Gators were playing uninspired basketball even before they lost their best rebounder post defender, Will Yeguete, to a broken foot. In their first game without him, they lost on the road to a pretty bad Georgia team by double digits. If you're looking for a high seed to peg for an upset in your bracket, there are worse places to look.
Remember when Anthony Davis looked shaky out of the gate from the free throw line? Through his first seven games he shot 52.8 percent. Since then he has made 78.4 percent. He's, um, good.
Speaking of Kentucky, isn't it funny how nobody mentions their lack of depth? John Calipari gave all but three minutes of that Vanderbilt game to six guys. Winning is indeed the ultimate deodorant.
Four of Syracuse's last eight wins have been very close shaves. Over the last month the Orange have beaten Louisville by one, UConn and West Virginia by a deuce, and Georgetown by three in overtime. Anyone in Orangeland getting just a wee bit nervous?
People who doubt whether Draymond Green can be a good NBA player should not be taken seriously. The kid is a first team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year. Lots of guys who were very marginal college players seem to be cashing paychecks up there right now.
Weird how it is with Duke: Each game, between Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, two of those three shoot well and the third is a non-factor. To beat a really good team on a neutral court, the Blue Devils will need all three to be on point.
Remember how Cornell benefited from having a 7-foot center in Jeff Foote when it reached the Sweet Sixteen two years ago? I think Wichita State has that same kind of asset in Garrett Stutz. Often times, size is what differentiates mid-majors from power conference schools. So having a 7-footer who can rebound and shoot threes is huge. Just one more reason why I'm digging the Shockers.
Royce White is having a terrific season, but Iowa State's three-point shooting is a major reason why the Cyclones appear to be bound for the NCAA tournament. Iowa State has three of the top 10 three-point shooters in the Big 12, and it is ranked seventh nationally in made threes per game. Witness senior guard Scott Christopherson, who made all five of his three-point attempts while dropping 29 points on Kansas State. The great thing about Iowa State's position is that its final two games are against Missouri and Baylor, so the Cyclones won't even have a chance to suffer a bad loss.
Have you considered the possibility that the Pac 12 could end up getting three teams into the tournament?
Josh Pastner has done an extraordinary job this season. He has a young team, lost two starters to season-ending injuries, yet he still has Memphis alone in first place in Conference USA.
I heard that some people in the Ohio Valley Conference think this Murray State team is not as good as the one that beat Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament two years ago. I disagree. These Racers may not have quite the same talent, but their intangibles are off the charts. That was a tough road win they grinded out at Tennessee Tech Saturday night.
Indiana's Christian Watford may have sunk the dramatic three to beat Kentucky in early December, but he has had some horrendous shooting games lately: 0-for-7 against Purdue, 4-for-11 against Northwestern, 0-for-5 against Iowa, 0-for-8 against North Carolina Central. I don't know if it's a slump, tired legs or bad shot selection, but I do know the Hoosiers won't go far in the tournament unless Watford finds his range.
This is one of my favorite weeks of the season for one reason: Senior day. I just love watching all these proud young men walking to midcourt with their parents. Reason number 1,573 why college hoops is better than the NBA.
One last postscript from the Karl Hess-Tom Gugliotta-Chris Corchiani contretemps. It does no one any good -- least of all Hess -- to forbid an official to explain himself to the media immediately after something like that occurs. We act like this is some kind of huge state secret. If Hess had good reason to give those guys the boot, he should have had the chance to explain himself. If he didn't, he should have faced harsher consequences than being reprimanded for failing to follow proper procedures.
Just so you know, when I reference fatigue this time of year, I'm usually talking about mental fatigue more than physical. These are college kids. Their minds are much more likely to wear down than their legs.
When you're breaking down the chase for a number one seed, remember what's really at stake. Kansas and Missouri both want to play in the St. Louis regional. So it's better for them to be a two seed in the Midwest than a one seed in the west. Also, if Duke and North Carolina end up fighting to be the top number two seed, that's also significant. Why? Because it will be the difference between being sent out west as a two as opposed to being sent to the East or South, where Syracuse and Kentucky are going to be looming.
Love this quote last week from Notre Dame coach Mike Brey: "I plan on being loose the rest of my career, because I can be."
THIS WEEK'S AP BALLOT
(Last week's rank in parentheses)
1. Kentucky (1)
2. Syracuse (2)
3. Kansas (4)
4. Michigan State (5)
5. Missouri (3)
6. Duke (6)
7. North Carolina (7)
8. Marquette (10)
9. Ohio State (8)
10. Baylor (14)
11. Murray State (12)
12. Michigan (9)
13. Wisconsin (16)
14. Wichita State (18)
15. Georgetown (13)
16. Notre Dame (17)
17. Drexel (25)
18. Florida (11)
19. Florida State (15)
20. UNLV (21)
21. San Diego State (22)
22. Virginia (24)
23. Temple (19)
24. VCU (NR)
25. Iowa State (NR)
Dropped out: New Mexico (20), Louisville (23)
The first puzzle I needed to solve was Missouri. On the one hand, the Tigers did lose twice last week, including by 10 points at home to Kansas State. On the other hand, if you watched them go down in overtime at Kansas on Saturday, you saw a team that was every bit as good as its opponent. So I split the baby: The Tigers deserved to be ranked behind Kansas, but I kept them ahead of Duke and North Carolina. It was a close call, but I know what I saw.
Keep in mind that I fill out my ballot knowing that it doesn't decide anything, even if people are interested in where voters rank their teams. (Just check out the way my mentions feed blows up on Twitter every Sunday night when I tweet out my ballot.) You also need to remember that there is a distinct difference between ranking teams and placing them in the bracket. If I were doing a bracket, I would give Duke a slight edge over Kansas for the final number one seed based on the Blue Devils' head-to-head victory over the Jayhawks back in the Maui Invitational. Rankings, however, are much more weighted toward what has happened lately. And yes, they are political. If I think there's an overlooked team that deserves some extra recognition, my ballot will reflect that.
There are so many results by this point in the season, it's hard to make wholesale changes. For example, Wisconsin lost to Iowa on the road last week but then beat Ohio State. Both of those games count. I wanted to punish the Buckeyes for that loss, but I don't honestly believe they're worse than Baylor and Murray State. So they only fell one spot.
Michigan also lost by 14 points at home to Purdue. I wanted to move the Wolverines down several places but look who's behind them: Georgetown and Notre Dame, who both lost last week to Seton Hall and St. John's, respectively. See what I mean?
Now for the political part. I have three mid-majors on my ballot that I'm guessing are higher than where other voters will place them: Wichita State at 14, Drexel as 17, and VCU at 24. If you put any of those three teams against any team ranked outside my top 10 on a neutral court with neutral referees, I honestly believe they'd be evenly matched. You can talk all you want about the quality of their competition, but Murray State has played the same level or worse, and it was ranked 14th last week.
Still, I admit that I gave those three teams extra weight in hopes that it will send a little more recognition their way. In the cases of VCU and Drexel, that is my way of saying that I believe the CAA deserves to have at least two teams go to the NCAA tournament. I'm putting my ballot where my mouth is.
Elsewhere, I wasn't thrilled with the idea of leaving UNLV and San Diego State on the ballot, but both those teams won their games last week, so I couldn't drop them out. Florida and Florida State both got dinged for losing to Georgia and Miami, respectively. One more bad loss would put either off my ballot altogether.
Temple had won 11 straight games before losing at Saint Joseph's last weekend. That earned the Owls a mulligan (and losing on the road to a league rival hardly qualifies as a bad loss). With so few slots opening up, it's impossible to find a place for every team that might be deserving to be ranked. Indiana fans were up in arms Sunday night when I tweeted out a ballot that didn't include the Hoosiers, but since I didn't have IU ranked last week, I had to ask myself which was the harder win -- Iowa State's at Kansas State, or Indiana's at Minnesota? I think that answer is obvious.
I've heard the outcry from some of my media colleagues that Indiana's "overall body of work" is too great to ignore. This is a specious argument. As I said with regards to Duke and Kansas, if we're talking about putting together an NCAA tournament bracket, then overall body of work is paramount. A top 25 ballot, in my view, should be much more weighted to what teams have done lately. Would Indiana be an obvious favorite over Drexel, Temple or VCU if they played on a neutral court? Hardly. Are the Hoosiers playing any better than Iowa State is right now? Don't think so.
The good news for Indiana is that, unlike a lot of teams, it still has a chance to play a top-five team on its home floor. If the Hoosiers beat Michigan State in Bloomington on Tuesday night, I promise they will have a place on my ballot next week. Simple, right?
Besides, Indiana is far from the only good team that I left out. Louisville, Saint Mary's, Gonzaga, George Mason, Nevada, Creighton and Weber State could all make credible arguments. I'm glad that we've only got a couple more weeks to pretend the ranking matter. After that, all these debates will get decided right where they should be -- on the court.
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