Fast Break (Cont.)
I watched the New Mexico Lobos thoroughly outplay the ranked Big East Beast UConn Huskies, and all I hear about is how great Shabazz Napier is. Granted, he is an outstanding player, but why don't players like Kendall Williams (Paradise Jam MVP) and Tony Snell get mentioned? Great players don't just come from the power conferences or east of the Mississippi River.
-- Stephen Branch, Carver, Mass.
I understand that lack of visibility is a continued source of frustration for teams and fans on the West Coast. Until the sun starts rising in the west, this is going to be an ongoing problem.
Then again, UNLV is also a western team that plays in the same conference as New Mexico, and the Rebels seem to be getting an awful lot of love. When they lost at home (!) to Oregon, the response of many experts was not to decide that UNLV was bad but that Oregon must be pretty good. Perceptions are hard to change.
As I indicate while discussing my AP ballot below, there is a very good case to be made that New Mexico deserves to be ranked, but I would think even the Lobos' hard-core fans (and based on my Twitter feed there a lot of them) would concede their case is not open-and-shut. Yes, the win over UConn in the Virgin Islands was significant, but in their previous game the Huskies needed two overtimes to get by Quinnipiac. And the Lobos didn't exactly look like world beaters over the weekend when they needed overtime to beat an Indiana State team that opened its season with a 27-point loss at Shabazz-less UCLA.
One thing I do agree with is that Kendall Williams and Tony Snell are as good a 1-2 punch as you will find in college basketball. New Mexico can take the floor with any team in the top 25 and believe it can win the game, regardless of where it is played. Likewise, the Lobos are capable of losing to a lot of unranked team if they don't play to their potential.
It's pretty simple, really: Win your games, and the rankings will take care of themselves. Everything else is just sound and fury.
Now that the Maryland move to the Big Ten has been announced, what are your thoughts on a) a charter member of the ACC leaving and b) their chances in a (typically) strong Big Ten come 2014?
-- Ajay Pillai, Cleveland, Ohio
Regarding the lament of a charter member of the ACC to move to the Big Ten, unfortunately this is akin to spitting in the wind. The move makes great financial sense for Maryland as well as the Big Ten. Terps fans of a certain age will miss the excitement of seeing Duke and Carolina come to town, but believe me, their kids will be equally jacked for Indiana and Ohio State. This is the price of progress.
From a competitive standpoint, Maryland's short-term concern is the unlikelihood that Alex Len will return for his junior year. NBA scouts tend to notice agile seven-foot centers who can score and rebound. Beyond that, the main question is whether playing in the Big Ten will be a hindrance in recruiting. Maryland's recruiting base has always been on the east coast. Now, instead of selling recruits on the idea of playing in the ACC, Mark Turgeon is going to have to convince players to commit to a schedule that is going to make it very difficult on their families to watch them play. I'm not saying he can't overcome that hurdle, but it is a hurdle.
N.C. State vs. UConn at Madison Square Garden, Tuesday at 9 p.m. This game would be important if only because it features N.C. State playing in the Jimmy V Classic during a season that marks the 30-year anniversary of Valvano's Miracle of '83. Moreover, it will give this year's N.C. State squad a chance to put up or shut up against a good-but-beatable UConn squad. What's it gonna be, guys? You ready for prime time?
Florida at Florida State, Tuesday at 7 p.m. I watched in person as the Seminoles beat BYU and Saint Joseph's on back-to-back nights in Brooklyn, so I'm surprised at how poorly they've been playing lately. I'm guessing they'll have their A game for the red-hot Gators.
Colorado State at Colorado, 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. Larry Eustachy's Rams' 6-0 start includes an 18-point win at Washington. This will be a tougher test, but one that CSU is capable of passing.
Arkansas at Michigan, Saturday at noon. It will be a treat watching the Wolverines' new running style go step-for-step with Mike Anderson's fullcourt pressure.
Illinois at Gonzaga, Saturday at 10 p.m. Was the Illini's Maui title just a fluke against a weak field, or do they really have the chops to be a factor in the Big Ten? Nothing like a true road game against a highly-ranked team to clear things up.
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Indiana (1)
2. Duke (2)
3. Louisville (3)
4. Michigan (5)
5. Ohio State (6)
6. Syracuse (7)
7. Arizona (8)
8. Kansas (9)
9. Florida (11)
10. Gonzaga (12)
11. Cincinnati (13)
12. Missouri (14)
13. Michigan State (10)
14. Georgetown (16)
15. San Diego State (18)
16. Pittsburgh (21)
17. Oregon (22)
18. UNLV (23)
19. Illinois (24)
20. Minnesota (NR)
21. Notre Dame (NR)
22. Boise State (NR)
23. Baylor (NR)
24. N.C. State (25)
25. Creighton (15)
Dropped out: Kentucky (4), Colorado (17), North Carolina (19), Florida State (20)
This was a good week to do a little house cleaning. For some reason, I had been sticking with Kentucky more than my fellow voters, who installed the Wildcats at No. 8 following their loss to Duke. I honestly believe that Duke could be the best team in the country right now, so I didn't feel right about penalizing Kentucky for losing to them on a neutral court. After last week's drubbings at Notre Dame and then at home against Baylor, I decided to drop the Cats completely out of my rankings. I don't keep records of such things (and I hope you don't either), but I'm pretty sure no team has ever dropped so far so fast from my ballot.
It's also time to banish from the rankings that other proud program from the south, North Carolina. Ironically, the Tar Heels and Wildcats have the same problem right now. For all that blue, their players are way too green.
As I mentioned at the top, my decision to leave Creighton at 25 is as much a measure of respect for Boise State as anything -- which is further demonstrated by my decision to rank the Broncos even higher. I also noticed my fellow voters ranked UNLV last week and not Oregon, even though the Ducks beat the Rebels in Las Vegas. Oregon's only loss this season was a close one to Cincinnati in Vegas the next day. It's only a matter of time before voters catch their drift.
There were plenty of other teams with strong cases for inclusion. Unfortunately, I was limited to 25 slots. So you can assume there was an eight-way tie for 26th between New Mexico, Wichita State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Alabama, Maryland, Oklahoma State and VCU. As always, the best way to make my ballot is to beat someone who's on it.
One team no one is talking about is Temple, which is quietly off to a 5-0 start. The Owls have a chance to raise eyebrows this week with games at Villanova and against Duke at the Meadowlands.