College Basketball Nation: power rankings 011113

Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
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There are going to be a lot of really good weekends in the Big Ten this season -- any game featuring any of the top seven or eight teams, depending on the home-road configuration, is a recipe for entertaining and important basketball -- but this weekend is the early favorite for best of the year. On Saturday, Indiana hosts Minnesota, which is off to its best start since The Season That Shall Not Be Named and which presents a bunch of really intriguing matchup issues for the Hoosiers. On Sunday, Michigan travels to Ohio State, where I think we're basically guaranteed to, (a) learn more about what the Buckeyes can and can't do and, (b) get to see a pretty awesome rivalry game. Yes, please.

1. Michigan: Hosting Nebraska on Wednesday, the Wolverines didn't quite match their insane scoring output of the first two games, when they blitzed Northwestern and Iowa with a combined 189 points and 1.39 points per possession. Instead, they limped out to a 25-point first half before casually cleaning things up in the second. But I'm not worried about the Wolverines' offense. Instead, you should be keeping an eye on their defense, which in the past few weeks has gone from one of the nation's 25 best to No. 43 in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. (Then again, the Wolverines haven't exactly needed much defense lately.)

2. Indiana: Since March, coach Tom Crean has been almost relentlessly focused on defense, and with good reason: While the Hoosiers were one of the nation's most prolific offensive teams in 2011-12, they were mediocre on the defensive end, and that is not exactly the most proven recipe when it comes to national title contention. Crean's focus has paid off. In recent weeks, the Hoosiers' defense has become -- believe it or not -- almost as good as its offense. On a per-possession basis, IU is the only team in the country ranked in the top five in points (1.21) and points allowed (82.2) per possession. At the halfway point of the season, that's exactly where this team wants to be, and it's getting to the point where Gasaway is threatening to pull a Kentuckian efficiency reversal on us. He'll do it, people. Don't make him do it.

Anyway, Indiana's five games since the Butler loss have, with the exception of a road win at Iowa, hardly been against great competition. Minnesota, which comes to town Saturday, is a totally different beast. The Gophers are scoring just fine, including in their road win over Illinois this week, and they present some of the most difficult matchup woes -- a bruising, offensive-rebound-gobbling front line and big, strong, athletic guards -- that Indiana could face all season. Hard as it is to picture IU losing to anyone at home this season, the Gophers may be the team to pull it off.

3. Minnesota: I love this Minnesota team. The Gophers have everything a coach could want: A big, bruising, veteran forward who grabs a ton of rebounds (Trevor Mbakwe); an insanely athletic four (Rodney Williams); and a cadre of efficient, physical guards (Andre Hollins, Joe Coleman, Austin Hollins) who not only make shots but get to the rim and impose their will on opposing defenders. Oh, each week we've done these rankings, this has been the nation's best offensive rebounding team. That is still the case this week. (If it changes, rest assured I'll let you know.) Asking a team to win at Indiana is a lot. Asking them to do it three days after toppling Illinois in their Assembly Hall is kind of ridiculous. But you know what? I wouldn't be surprised if the Gophers pulled it off.

4. Michigan State: You know the deal with Michigan State: Great defense, bruising bigs, a budding star freshman in Gary Harris, and way too many turnovers for anyone's liking. So why do I have them fourth this week? Consider it a sign of respect for Iowa: The Hawkeyes are going to be very tough to beat at home this season, and the Spartans gutted out (that phrase is overused, but on Thursday night Harris hit three 3s after popping his dislocated shoulder back into place; I'd say "gutted" fits here) a 62-59 win in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. That's a great win.

Also of interest: After last week's IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATION into Derrick Nix's paucity of right-handed hook shots, I now have Spartans fans tweeting at me every time the man takes a shot with his right hand. It's the little things, you know?

5. Illinois: Well, this is a bit of a quandary. Illinois is 1-2 in its first three Big Ten games, but one of those losses came at Mackey Arena, which is never an easy place to get a win. The other loss came at home Wednesday night to Minnesota, which basically manhandled the smaller, more perimeter-oriented Illini and won going away. And sandwiched in between those losses was a really impressive 74-55 win over Ohio State. OK, sure, the Illini got the benefit of a really poor OSU shooting night (the Buckeyes fired up 19 3s and made only four, and scored just 0.74 points per trip), but Illinois also did a totally credible job of keeping the Buckeyes off the offensive glass, and scored a point per trip despite hitting only eight of their 27 3s.

When taken together, to me these results scream "good but glaringly flawed." Which is about where the team that precedes the Illini (Michigan State) and the team just below them (Ohio State) seem to be, too. In fact, if we want to consider all three of these teams roughly equal in these power rankings right now, I'm cool with that.

What's that you say? That's a copout? Well, err … you're a copout! Or something! Moving on.

6. Ohio State: Good but glaringly flawed is where we land on the Buckeyes, too; I think the phrase describes them quite well. In fact, I've had people whose basketball knowledge I deeply respect make the case that no, actually, Ohio State isn't any good, they haven't beaten anybody, they're just overrated by advanced per-possession statistics. The fact of the matter is, that's a hard charge to combat, because despite all of their impressive per-possession numbers thus far this season, and as much as I loathe people who try to tell you their eyeballs are the only metrics they need to evaluate basketball … Ohio State really hasn't looked good.

The last time I was impressed with the Buckeyes was at Duke, when they lost by five in a game they largely controlled. But since? I'm not seeing it. Let me be more specific: Outside of Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, I'm not seeing any of Ohio State's various highly touted sophomores and complementary pieces morph into reliable offensive threats. I'm not seeing another go-to player besides Thomas. I'm seeing LaQuinton Ross try, with mixed results. I'm seeing Amir Williams not even look for the ball in the post. We could still be wrong, and maybe this is all fuzzy, and maybe the Buckeyes will put it together against Michigan Sunday. But there are good reasons to be skeptical.

7. Iowa: Home against Indiana, on the road at Michigan, home against Michigan State: Life in the Big Ten is tough, but rarely does the schedule present three games with such challenges and opportunities baked in. Iowa could have gotten Indiana; it lost 69-65. On Thursday night, it could have — should have — gotten Michigan State; it lost 62-59. (It could not have gotten Michigan in Ann Arbor. That was to be expected.) On the one hand, you can forgive Iowa for losing those games; Indiana and Michigan State are very tough teams to beat. On the other hand, you wonder if Hawkeyes fans will spend the latter half of the Big Ten season wondering how much better their NCAA tournament chances would be had they managed to take one or both of those would-be marquee wins. Tough week in Iowa City.

8. Wisconsin: Wisconsin hasn't beaten anyone good. Wisconsin's past five games are wins over UW-Green Bay, UW-Milwaukee, Samford, Penn State and Nebraska. Wisconsin is a state full of proud, friendly people rightfully enthusiastic about cheese. (That last part isn't about basketball, it's just an opinion.) But Wisconsin basketball is also Wisconsin basketball, and while the offense may be a sight for sore eyes, if the Badgers keep defending at current levels they are going to beat plenty of Big Ten opponents, perhaps starting with Illinois Saturday afternoon.

9. Purdue: Record-wise, the 7-8 Boilermakers feel like they've been taking one step forward and two steps back for pretty much the entire season. For example: They got a nice home win over Illinois on Jan. 2, but scored just 0.86 points per trip and didn't defend well at all in a 23-point loss at Michigan State. Back at home Tuesday, Terone Johnson & Co. allowed Ohio State (which, if you'll recall, shot 30 percent from the field at Illinois) to shoot 60 percent from inside the arc, losing 74-64 in the process. But we've said it all along: That's the kind of season this is going to be for Purdue, as a young team transitions into a new era.

10. Northwestern: OK, so it's only Penn State, but with Reggie Hearn back in the lineup, Northwestern scored 1.17 per trip at Penn State Thursday night, winning 70-54. Again, it's only Penn State. But a result is a result, and even better if it's on the road.

11. Nebraska and 12. Penn State. I'm penalizing Penn State and moving it back down to last place for losing to Northwestern by 16 points at home. I don't like it, but it has to be done. Meanwhile, kudos to Nebraska. Last week, I did the whole Bruce Springsteen album har har routine with their space, but they actually nearly nipped Wisconsin at home Sunday and then held Michigan to 25 first-half points in Ann Arbor Wednesday night. Neither of those games ended in wins, but still. Progress.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
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Arizona finally ran out of good fortune and, as a result, we have a new contender for the Pac-12 title. Here are this week's power rankings.

1. Oregon -- The unranked Ducks became the first team this season to defeat No. 4 Arizona when they pulled off a 70-66 upset Thursday in Eugene. A 41-19 run in the first half led to a 41-30 cushion at intermission. Dana Altman's squad staved off a late Wildcats rally to secure the win. Freshmen Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis combined for 19 points, and four Ducks finished in double figures. Oregon also owns a victory against UNLV.

2. Arizona -- There's certainly no reason to panic after one loss, and the Wildcats still should be considered the favorite to win the league. But the race will be much closer than expected if freshmen big men Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski don't progress at a faster rate. The trio went a combined 3-for-13 from the field Thursday. But point guard Mark Lyons is averaging 19 points in his past three games.

3. UCLA -- Thursday's road win at Utah marked the eighth victory in a row overall for the Bruins, who won despite a six-point effort from leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad. Ben Howland's squad will face a huge test against Colorado on Saturday in Boulder. Win that game, and UCLA will be considered a legitimate contender for the Pac-12 title, if it's not already.

4. Arizona State -- The Sun Devils are one of the most improved teams in the country at 14-2 overall and 3-0 in league play. Freshman point guard Jahii Carson (16.9 points) has been a huge reason for Arizona State's success, but the unsung hero has been senior forward Carrick Felix, who averages 15.3 points and a team-high 8.3 rebounds. The Sun Devils face Oregon in Eugene on Sunday in a clash of teams with undefeated league records.

5. Colorado -- The Buffaloes finally appear to have put last week's "loss" to Arizona behind them. Colorado held a comfortable lead for most of Thursday's 66-60 victory against USC before the Trojans made things close at the end. Freshman Josh Scott has scored in double figures in seven straight games. He'll try to make it eight in a row when Colorado hosts UCLA on Saturday.

6. Washington -- The Huskies have won six of their past seven, the loss being a Dec. 29 road game against Connecticut. Lorenzo Romar's team dominated Cal 62-47 on Wednesday -- and that victory came on the road. If it defeats Stanford Saturday, Washington will own a 3-0 Pac-12 record, with all three victories coming away from home. Talk about a momentum boost. C.J. Wilcox averages a team-high 18.5 points.

7. Oregon State -- Wednesday's 72-62 home loss to Arizona State marked the third defeat in four games for the Beavers, who have suspended forward Eric Moreland indefinitely. Even if it's just for a game or two, the loss of Moreland (10.8 points, 11.1 rebounds) is huge for a team whose next two games are against Arizona and UCLA. A season that began with such promise has turned sour for Oregon State.

8. Utah -- These rankings are based on how well teams are playing at the moment, regardless of overall record. That's why Utah is No. 8 despite being 0-3 in league play. The Utes' three conference losses have come against upper-tier teams Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA -- and all have been by four points or less. Larry Krystkowiak is doing an outstanding job with a team that won only six games last season.

9. Cal -- The Golden Bears' subpar record (9-6, 1-2) has overshadowed an outstanding season thus far by forward Allen Crabbe, who is averaging 20.5 points. Crabbe has scored 20 or more points in nine of his team's 15 games. Cal has lost three of its past four, although upcoming games with Washington State, Stanford and Utah all appear winnable.

10. USC -- The Trojans are a mess. USC had 23 turnovers in Thursday's 66-60 loss at Colorado, and haven't won a road game since November 2011. Coach Kevin O'Neill can't figure out what he wants to do with junior college transfer J.T. Terrell, who is talented but lacks discipline on the court. Senior point guard Jio Fontan has been a huge disappointment since returning from an ACL injury that forced him to miss last season. He's shooting just 30.9 percent from the field.

11. Stanford -- After opening Pac-12 play with losses at USC and UCLA, the Cardinal notched their first conference win by defeating Washington State 78-67 on Wednesday. Stanford still needs to get better production out of guard Chasson Randle, who is averaging 13.3 points but shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range. Stanford hosts Washington on Saturday.

12. Washington State -- The Cougars couldn't be off to a worse start. They opened league play by dropping a home game to rival Washington, then fell to Stanford on the road. WSU will remain in the Bay Area this weekend to take on Cal. DaVonte Lacy is averaging just 6.5 points in his past two games. Forward Brock Motum (20 points, 6.5 rebounds) scored 29 against Stanford.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
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The start of Mountain West play on Wednesday night was indicative of the nonconference for this league. There was plenty to shout about if you were promoting the conference. The league had quality games, tremendous atmospheres and highlight plays worthy of national attention. On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. I picked San Diego State to win the conference in our revised predictions. But it’s hard to go against the Lobos after UNM beat UNLV on Wednesday night in a classic Pit game. The Lobos showed they had the necessary balance to beat the Rebels and defended well in key stops. The Lobos have to duplicate that energy on the road.

2. UNLV. The Runnin’ Rebels can’t be penalized for losing at the Pit. This was a game within a few possessions down to the final seconds. UNLV showed if it can get the ball to Anthony Bennett this team can be special. Khem Birch and Anthony Marshall are solid complementary pieces. Mike Moser isn’t up to full speed yet.

3. San Diego State. The Aztecs had to squeak by Fresno State. But it’s still a road conference win. Jamaal Franklin was sensational with 20 points, 18 boards and a freak dunk off the backboard. The concern right now is for Xavier Thames, who is out with a back injury. This will be a tough stretch for the Aztecs going against Colorado State and UNLV, even if both games are at home.

4. Boise State. The Broncos handed Wyoming its first loss of the season despite playing in Laramie without four players, including leading scorer Derrick Marks. The Broncos are a legit NCAA tournament at-large contender with a win at Creighton, a near-miss at Michigan State and now a win at top 25 Wyoming. Leon Rice is quietly doing an outstanding job in rebuilding this program.

5. Wyoming. The Cowboys did lose at home by two points to Boise State but the Pokes are playing without Luke Martinez. Wyoming was in position to win in the final minute. Road games at Nevada and Fresno State are up next.

6. Colorado State. It’s odd to put the Rams this low. CSU could legitimately finish in the league's top three. But the Rams haven’t played yet in the conference, so I’m waiting before passing full judgment. The Rams are a terrific rebounding team and could cause San Diego State some issues in their MWC opener Saturday.

7. Air Force. I’ve written for weeks how experienced the Falcons are and so it should come as no surprise that Air Force won its MWC opener against Nevada. The more surprising stat was the number of points. The Falcons scored 78 against Nevada and gave up only 65. No team in the MWC will get out of Clune Arena easily.

8. Fresno State. The Bulldogs are breathing new life into the Mountain West. Fresno State gave San Diego State fits and pushed the Aztecs to the final few possessions. Kevin Foster had one of his best games of the season with 18 points in the loss. If he can score at that level, Fresno State will nip a few teams at home.

9. Nevada. The Wolf Pack fell flat in the MWC opener. Nevada had better take care of Wyoming at home if it wants to be taken a bit more seriously in the league. There has been very little flow to Nevada. Every time you think the Pack have turned it, they fall a bit flat.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
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Just when we thought we understood the enigma known as the SEC -- just when I’d felt comfortable with my weekly rankings -- SEC play began. And the madness continued. We’ll get through this together.

1. Florida -- The Gators have the most complete team in the SEC right now. They opened up SEC play with a 33-point win against Georgia on Wednesday night. They’re balanced, experienced and talented. Few teams in this league can say that. Their losses (Arizona, Kansas State) weren’t bad losses. And I still think that this team is growing. Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Patric Young anchor Florida’s core, but they’re also assisted by talented reserves such as Will Yeguete.

2. Missouri -- The Tigers were more efficient in their Tuesday victory against Alabama than they were in a nail-biter against Bucknell over the weekend. But they lost Laurence Bowers to a knee injury in that game. That’s clearly a concern as they prepare for an Ole Miss team that is more than capable of pulling off the upset, especially at home. I still think that the Tigers rely on Phil Pressey too much, and that’s going to cost them at times this season, possibly as soon as Saturday when they face the Rebels without Bowers.

3. Ole Miss -- The Rebels had such a poor nonconference strength of schedule (No. 241 per ESPN.com’s RPI rankings) that their impressive stats (top 40 in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings) have been difficult to trust. But Ole Miss opened up SEC play with a dominant win at Tennessee. No, the Vols aren’t the crème de la crème of the conference. But they’re definitely better than Mississippi Valley State and East Tennessee State, two teams the Rebels faced during their nonconference slate.

4. Kentucky -- As I watched the Wildcats on Thursday night, I realized that I’d given the hype more credit than it deserved. Yes, I still believe Kentucky could be the best team in the conference by the end of the season. But what evidence do I really have to assume that the Wildcats will come anywhere close to their potential? They blew a 47-31 lead at Vanderbilt, a team that lost to Marist by 17 points. So I’m still waiting for Kentucky to prove that it’s more than a bunch of NBA prospects that can’t play together.

5. Tennessee -- Tennessee’s offense has been a concern all season. But in its past two games, its defense has been the issue. The Vols gave up 85 points to Memphis and 92 points to Ole Miss in back-to-back losses. I still think Tennessee is one of those squads that could give any team in the conference trouble. But the Vols haven’t put together a run that has showcased their potential. This pattern will lead to an average finish in the SEC if Cuonzo Martin can’t find a way to reverse it.

6. Auburn –- So, I’m surprised, too. But I think Auburn deserves a slot in the top half of the league. Why not? Tony Barbee’s program knocked off LSU in its SEC opener Wednesday night, even though leading scorer Frankie Sullivan (17.2 ppg) fouled out after scoring 10 points. Junior Allen Payne has played well during a stretch that’s featured five wins in seven games (the Tigers suffered a two-point loss at Illinois on Dec. 29).

7. Texas A&MElston Turner (15.5 ppg) and Co. have won three in a row since a 53-51 home loss to … Southern on Dec. 22. The Aggies crushed Arkansas 69-51 in their SEC opener Wednesday night. So perhaps that loss to Southern won’t define their season. The Aggies have held their opponents to 58.6 ppg, second in the conference. But like so many teams in this league, they amassed that sexy stat against a lukewarm nonconference slate. Their dominance Wednesday night, however, suggests that they might be one of the best average teams in the conference. A road win against Kentucky on Saturday would send a message to the league.

8. Alabama -- I was searching for signs of progress on Tuesday night. I mean, Bama has to do something. Fast. And the Crimson Tide had their chance in Columbia. The team was down 40-36 at halftime. And then, Bama arrived. Anthony Grant’s squad was outscored 44-32 in the second half. Alabama finished with 16 turnovers and shot 5-for-17 from the 3-point line. This isn’t an issue with injuries. This is just a team that apparently can’t complete games. They’re talented enough to play with any team in the conference in stretches. Winning, however, is still a problem.

9. LSU -- Johnny Jones’ squad didn’t commence SEC play with a bang. Instead, the Tigers lost on the road to Auburn. They didn’t accrue any meaningful wins during a weak nonconference slate. So I never believed the 9-2 record that they took into that game. I figured if they couldn’t handle the ball against McNeese State (19 turnovers) and Houston Baptist (15 turnovers), then they’d probably have trouble in the SEC. Their 12 turnovers in the Auburn loss were costly. They missed 6 of 10 free throws. LSU’s inflated nonconference record might have been debunked in the SEC opener.

10. Arkansas -- The Razorbacks average 80.6 ppg, ranked 11th nationally. That offense is their only ticket to any respectable finish in the SEC. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell average 31.4 ppg for Mike Anderson. So how did Arkansas end up with 51 points at Texas A&M? Well, Powell’s foul trouble and zero points certainly didn’t help. This squad had won five in a row against a lackluster assembly of nonconference opponents entering the game. Meaningless. They barely cracked 50 points against a midlevel SEC squad. It’s not the end of the world for the Razorbacks. But Anderson has to figure out what’s up with Powell (17 points combined in past three games) going forward.

11. Mississippi State -- Speaking of effort, how about the Bulldogs winning their SEC opener against South Carolina 56-54? After the win, Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray tweeted, “Thank you to the Bulldog fan base for all of the congratulatory tweets. I appreciate it. Prepping for Georgia now. Grindin' for my State!” He should be pumped for his program, which has struggled all season. The Bulldogs have won three of four.

12. Vanderbilt -- Kudos to Kevin Stallings’ squad for nearly knocking off Kentucky at home Thursday night. The Commodores overcame a 16-point deficit and put themselves in a position to pull off the upset. But they fell short. Now, it should be noted that the finish was corrupted by an obvious shot-clock violation on a Nerlens Noel bucket with 17.3 seconds to go. But the true moral of the story is that you should always avoid a 16-point deficit when possible. Vandy’s effort in the second half was commendable. But the SEC standings don’t have an “effort” column.

13. South Carolina -- Frank Martin, this is your team. The Gamecocks, like most of the league, grabbed 10 nonconference wins against a poor schedule. So they entered SEC play as a mystery. They hadn’t proven anything. What did they do in their first conference test? They committed 24 turnovers. The Gamecocks have been fumbling all season against lesser programs. And that weakness affected the outcome in their conference opener. Check the box scores. Turnovers have plagued this program all season. And it will be its biggest issue in SEC play.

14. Georgia -- Mark Fox has a really, really good player named Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (17.0 ppg). He’s a star. But he doesn’t have much to put around him. So the Bulldogs are averaging just 59.4 ppg, No. 321 in Division I. In their 33-point loss to Florida on Wednesday night, Caldwell-Pope (11 points) was the only player who cracked double figures. Now, the loss did stop a four-game winning streak. But it’s just difficult to see how Fox’s program will avoid the league’s basement if it expects one player to carry the load every night.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
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Kansas is still the heavy favorite to win a ninth consecutive Big 12 title. But its path to the championship may be more difficult than Big 12 fans expected. That was evident Wednesday, when Iowa State nearly upset Bill Self's squad at Allen Fieldhouse. Some late-game heroics by Ben McLemore sparked a furious comeback that resulted in a 97-89 Kansas victory in overtime. Still, the effort by the unranked Cyclones served as a reminder that there are other capable teams in this league besides the Jayhawks. Here's a look at this week's Big 12 power rankings.

1. Kansas. The Jayhawks have won 100 of their past 101 games at Allen Fieldhouse. The only home game they've lost there in the last six-plus years came against Texas in 2011, the morning after forward Thomas Robinson's mother passed away unexpectedly. KU plays at Texas Tech on Saturday before hosting Baylor on Monday. McLemore averages a team-high 16.9 points.

2. Iowa State. It's rare that a team moves up in the polls after a loss, but the poise the Cyclones displayed in Wednesday's setback against KU was remarkable considering the opponent and venue. This team has a lot of nice pieces and will continue to improve as long as Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious plays at a high level. Fred Hoiberg is one of the country's more underrated coaches.

3. Baylor. The Bears opened Big 12 play with an overtime win against Texas and looked scary good in Tuesday's road-thumping of Texas Tech. Baylor won by 34 points but probably could've beaten the Red Raiders by 60. Scott Drew, who returns to the bench this weekend after serving a two-game suspension, has already led his team to a victory at Kentucky's Rupp Arena. Winning against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Monday will be even tougher.

4. Kansas State. Rodney McGruder looked like the best player in the league while scoring 26 points in the second half of Saturday's home victory against then-No. 22 Oklahoma State. Winnable road games against West Virginia (Saturday) and TCU (Wednesday) are up next. Reserve forward Nino Williams is averaging 16.5 points off the bench in his past two games.

5. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys snapped a two-game losing streak with an 18-point home win over TCU on Wednesday. OSU needs to get more production out of wing Le'Bryan Nash. The potential first-round NBA draft pick ranks third on the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game. But he's shooting just 42.8 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from 3-point range.

6. Oklahoma. The Sooners are the Big 12's most improved team. Lon Kruger's squad opened conference play with a road victory at West Virginia. Sure, the Mountaineers are struggling. But winning in Morgantown isn't easy no matter what. A victory in Saturday's Bedlam game against Oklahoma State in Norman would give the Sooners a huge jolt of momentum and generate legitimate NCAA tournament buzz.

7. West Virginia. Bob Huggins' squad showed a ton of resolve by battling back from a double-digit deficit to force overtime against Texas in Austin on Wednesday. WVU went on to win 57-53 for its first league victory as a member of the Big 12. As poorly as things have gone for the Mountaineers thus far, a home win over K-State on Saturday could alter the course of their season. Huggins spent a year as KSU's head coach before taking over at WVU in 2007.

8. Texas. After two consecutive overtime losses to open Big 12 play, it's tough to envision the Longhorns (8-7, 0-2) extending their streak of 14 straight NCAA tournament berths. Heck, at this point, they might not even make the NIT. Texas' next three games are: on the road against Iowa State, at home against Kansas and on the road against Oklahoma. The Longhorns will be underdogs in each.

9. Texas Tech. Longtime followers of the Big 12 have opined that TCU might be the worst team in the history of the conference -- and that Texas Tech might be the second-worst. The Red Raiders weren't even close to being competitive in Tuesday's 34-point loss to Baylor. Whoever takes over this program in the spring will have a massive rebuilding job on his hands.

10. TCU. No one will be surprised if the injury-riddled Horned Frogs finish 0-18 in Big 12 play. Their best chance for a victory game in last week's league opener against Texas Tech, but TCU lost at home by nine points. Saturday's road tilt at Baylor will be followed by back-to-back home games against Kansas State and Iowa State.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
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So this has been an interesting week. The top of the Big East is clear. It’s the rest that’s hard to figure out.

In a week’s worth of horrific losses or surprising wins (depending on your rooting interest), the middle is muddled, and there’s really only one question worth asking: Are the crazy scores the result of competition or mediocrity?

To be determined.

1. Louisville: The Cards can win when Russ Smith is ordinary and Chane Behanan is on the bench. Why? Defense. That’s what helped lift Louisville past Seton Hall. The Cardinals are home against South Florida and at UConn this week. The second could be a little dicey, especially if Behanan is still out.

2. Syracuse: The Orange can win ugly. We know that now. In back-to-back games, Syracuse couldn’t shoot -- first against South Florida and then against Providence -- but won anyway. A little more troublesome is how easily the Friars picked apart the Orange’s zone.

3. Notre Dame: The Irish are the perfect antidote for bereft football fans. They’ve won 12 in a row, and this week they showed they can play fast (scoring 93 against Seton Hall) and slow (just 66 in a win against Cincinnati) depending on what they need. It’s the beauty of a veteran team, which will host Connecticut and travel to St. John’s this week.

4. Marquette: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and most wouldn’t have beheld much from the Golden Eagles’ 49-48 win against Georgetown. But to Buzz Williams, it’s art. Marquette has quietly won four in a row.

5. Connecticut: Here’s where the muddied waters start. The Huskies had a nice, if not unexpected, win against DePaul. But at least they won, which is more than some of their brethren can say. Things get a little trickier this week with a visit to Notre Dame followed by a home game against Louisville.

6. Cincinnati: The Bearcats are making it hard to keep them in the top half of the standings, having lost three of their past four. The way to beat Cincinnati seems to be obvious -- slow the guards down. In the two league losses to St. John’s and Notre Dame, the Bearcats scored 52 and 60.

7. Villanova: The Wildcats probably don’t belong this high, but they have done what others have not -- won their first two league games, albeit against St. John’s and South Florida. We’ll see what Villanova is really about this weekend after it travels to Syracuse.

8. Pittsburgh: Yet another mystery team. The Panthers followed up an ugly loss to Rutgers with a dismantling of Georgetown. That makes no sense. Perhaps this weekend’s game against Marquette will offer some clarity.

9. Rutgers: Maybe Mike Rice’s suspension settled things down for the Scarlet Knights? I’m still not sold on this team, but you have to give the Scarlet Knights their due, as they beat Pittsburgh and St. John’s to improve to 2-1 in the league. We’ll see what happens against Cincinnati on Saturday.

10. Georgetown: The Princeton offense, with its possession control, has been known to slow offenses down. This, however, is the first time it’s actually ground a team to a halt. The Hoyas scored 48 and 45 in their past two games, torturing fans and baffling coach John Thompson III. The only reason Georgetown isn’t further down in these rankings is talent; there’s so much of it, you have to think things will get better.

11. St. John’s: The Red Storm are young, which is about the only way to explain how they can win at Cincinnati one night and lose a home game to Rutgers four days later. We’ll have to see which team shows up against Georgetown. The one thing you can count on this season -- D'Angelo Harrison. He’s been outstanding.

12. Seton Hall: Reality bites. The Pirates built themselves up a pretty snazzy record, 12-2, after beating DePaul in the Big East opener. Along come Notre Dame and Louisville and, well, here we are -- one 19-point loss and one 15-point loss.

13. DePaul: The Blue Demons just can’t get it done. They beat the bottom part of the league (winning against Providence) and get shellacked by the top (losing by 21 to Connecticut). They’ll get a desperate Cincinnati team Tuesday.

14. Providence: The Friars showed some life in their loss to Syracuse, holding a three-point lead at the half. Is it enough to grow on? We’ll see. Providence has the talent to win games in this league. Amid a five-game losing streak, they need to believe that.

15. South Florida: Its defensive prowess is impressive, but at some point you have to score points to win basketball games, and USF simply cannot. It ranks 260th in scoring, averaging a paltry 63.9 points per game.
This week, my colleague Myron Medcalf described the Atlantic 10 to me as a "beautiful mess." That sounds about right. We know Virginia Commonwealth and Butler are really good. We know Temple and Saint Louis aren't too far behind. But the middle of the league -- from the fifth spot to the 11th or so -- is a gigantic muddle, one that is sure to trade body blows and/or confusing results for the next three months.

So: As much fun as it is to to get lathered up about where your team is or isn't ranked, the bottom line is that these rankings aren't definitive, and they aren't going to be for a while -- we're still just beginning the most enlightening portion of the season (actual intra-A-10 play). But I'm excited to kick things off. You?

1. Virginia Commonwealth. One thing I remain certain of, at least right now, is that VCU is the best team in this league. That hasn't changed since last Friday. The Rams kicked things off with a solid home win over Dayton on Wednesday, and will road-trip it to St. Bonaventure Saturday.

2. Butler. VCU's first A-10 win was a somewhat ho-hum home-court stand against an inferior squad; Butler's was a truly impressive road victory over a team (Saint Joseph's) desperate to start turning their thus-far disappointing season around. Butler scored 1.14 points per possession, and held the Hawks to 1.05, in that win. As I detailed last week, 2011-12 Butler and 2012-13 Butler couldn't be more stylistically opposite. Last season, the Bulldogs guarded but couldn't throw it in the ocean. This season, their offense is their greatest strength.

3. Saint Louis. UMass gave Saint Louis just about all it could handle in each team's conference opener Thursday night, but the Billikens held on, breaking open enough space at the end -- helped in part by a really bad (and questionably called) foul on UMass forward Raphiael Putney -- to win 70-62. The Billikens are not particularly pretty to watch: They play at the A-10's slowest pace, and they rely on stalwart defense more than any particularly attractive sense of offensive creativity. But they are effective.

4. Temple. I'll be honest: I did not expect Temple to lose at Xavier on Thursday night. I definitely did not expect them to score a mere 52 points in 63 possessions. But I also refuse to overreact to a road loss in conference play, even against a team riding a four-game losing streak. It is never easy to come away with victories in the Cintas Center, and I would imagine more than a few of the teams ranked above Temple in this list will be confronted with that reality before the end of the season.

5. Massachusetts. This is a huge, huge leap for UMass this week. Why? First of all, because I said so! You're not the king of Dirk! I'm the king of Dirk! Second, because I watched almost all of UMass's loss at Saint Louis on Thursday night, and I came away awfully impressed. The Billikens tend to grind unprepared and sloppy teams into pulp, particularly on their own floor, but the Minutemen were neck-and-neck for about 37 minutes. Plus, they really don't have a bad loss yet. So here they are.

Take heed: This team's per-possession numbers tell a different story. They are not promising. So, yes, I reserve the right to yank them back down to the lower portions of the league at a week's notice. But for now, I'll give a little credit where it's due.

6. Charlotte. On Wednesday night, La Salle star Ramon Galloway went a positively Allen Iverson-esque 7-for-29 at Charlotte. Those 22 misses were the most by any player in regulation since 2008. And, sure, while some of that is a bad shooting night, some of it is also the stifling defense the 49ers are playing under coach Alan Major. The 49ers hold opponents to the 10th-lowest effective field goal percentage (41.6 percent) in the country. They will, as Mr. Galloway learned, make you miss. Now, if they can just shape up that ugly offense …

7. La Salle. Charlotte's defense is going to wreak havoc on plenty of opponents' shooting performances this season, so you can't really punish the Explorers too much for falling short on the road. Still, if this is supposed to be an NCAA tournament team -- and I'm not sure it is, though I've thought the Explorers were a nice sleeper throughout the offseason -- it's going to have to go out and get a few road wins at some point.

8. Saint Joseph's. I'm trying to not be overly negative about the Hawks, because it isn't their fault they were picked to win the league based on the fact that they returned five starters from last season's team. Bringing back five starters is all well and good, but what people seem to miss when they make obvious picks like that is that a lack of turnover is no guarantee of sudden improvement. Just as often, teams remain what they were. At the end of last season, Saint Joe's finished ranked No. 52 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 106 in adjusted defense, per KenPom.com. Through 13 games this season, they are ranked No. 62 on offense and No. 94 on defense. Last year, Saint Joe's finished 20-14. This year, the Hawks are 8-5. Each week it gets harder to locate differences.

9. Dayton. Dayton was at No. 7 last week, and while the Flyers didn't cover themselves in glory at VCU this week, that's a tall order for most any team. The problem with Dayton right now is turnovers. When Dayton keeps the turnovers low, it has an offense that can compete with the rest of this league. When it coughs the ball up -- which is more often than not -- it is going to struggle. It's that simple.

10. Xavier. Give credit where it's due: On Wednesday night, despite an injury to point guard Dee Davis (which kept him out for much of the game), Xavier held off Temple for a 57-52 home victory. In any of the past five seasons, that might have been the win that sealed Xavier's superiority in the league regular season. This time around, it broke the program's longest losing streak (four games) in 33 years. I still wouldn't want to play at Xavier if I'm an opposing coach, but we have to see more from this young team before it starts climbing.

11. Richmond. A win is a win, I suppose, but the fact that the Spiders -- for whom offense is a core (OK, only) strength -- barely mustered just 64 points in 63 possessions at home against Rhode Island on Wednesday is slightly disconcerting. Again, Chris Mooney's team held on, 64-61, but if the Spiders are going to be an efficient offense that can't guard anybody, you'd like to see them, oh, I don't know … play well on the offensive end?

12. George Washington. For all of the nonconference season, George Washington's offense was among the worst -- if not the worst -- in the A-10. Its defense was among the 40-or-so best in the country, but offense? Not GW's thing. But in their first A-10 game, the Colonials dropped 78 points in 67 possessions, the highest figure of the A-10 conference season to date. Which is, of course, why we use caution with small sample sizes. But seriously, if this team can manage even a point per trip against decent teams, it'll pick up more than a few wins going forward.

13. St. Bonaventure. As you just read, the Bonnies were on the losing end of a game in which basically nothing went right. Not only did George Washington's dormant offense come roaring to life, but its typically stout defense held Chris Johnson and Co. to just .88 points per trip. And it doesn't get any easier this weekend: On Saturday, VCU comes to town.

14. Rhode Island. The Rams are not good. But they are better than last year (this is not a high hurdle) and, at the very least, are giving opponents serious tests (a la their near miss at Richmond on Wednesday).

15. Fordham. This is the first time Fordham has moved out of the wooden spoon position in these rankings all season. That immense honor comes courtesy of a seven-point home win over Duquesne.

16. Duquesne. Lost to Fordham by seven points. Verbum sap.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
7:30
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Can we just call places 3 through 6 a tie? After the first week of ACC play, it’s harder than ever to judge the middle of the league pack. But here are this week’s ACC Power Rankings, based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Duke. Still undefeated, still No. 1 after victories over Wake Forest and Clemson. But the Blue Devils will be tested Saturday not only by an NC State team that has won nine in a row, but by playing without senior forward Ryan Kelly, who is out indefinitely with an injured right foot.

2. NC State. The Wolfpack was picked to win the ACC during the preseason by both media and coaches, and Saturday’s home game against the Blue Devils will show if it has what it takes to make that push. Lorenzo Brown, with 21 points against Georgia Tech, was the latest to lead his team in scoring. Who’s next?

3. Miami. The Hurricanes have never started 2-0 in the ACC -- until now. Senior forward Kenny Kadji had 18 points to help break his team’s 10-game losing streak to UNC on Thursday night, and sixth-year senior Julian Gamble (14 points against the Tar Heels) has been filling in admirably for the injured Reggie Johnson.

4. Maryland. Dez Wells had a bad shooting night, Alex Len at times got pushed around, and the Terps saw their 13-game winning streak snapped via a 12-point comeback by Florida State. Whether they bounce back at Miami this weekend could be a good indication of whether they’re a top-tier ACC team.

5. Florida State. Junior forward Okaro White has come up big during the Seminoles’ 2-0 ACC start, averaging 17.5 points and 8 rebounds. And so has his team. "We sat down, the juniors and seniors, with the young guys and told them we have to stop talking, and we have to show them how hard you have to play,’’ White told Tallahassee.com.

6. Virginia. Beat North Carolina, only to lose to Wake Forest? It might be that sort of topsy-turvy season for the Cavs, who should get more and more of a boost as senior guard Jontel Evans, who returned from injury last weekend, gets more and more back in sync with the offense.

7. North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams said his team was stressed in the locker room after losing to Miami on Thursday night. And for good reason: This marks only the fourth time UNC has ever started 0-2 in the ACC, and things won’t get any easier at Florida State on Saturday.

8. Boston College. The Eagles have now won six of their past seven games, and gave NC State a scare in their only loss since Dec. 4. Sophomore Lonnie Jackson has posted double digit points for three consecutive games, including a season-high 22 at Virginia Tech.

9. Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets had a six-game winning streak broken by the start of ACC play. Tech is shooting just 35.2 percent during its 0-2 conference start.

10. Wake Forest. Despite shooting just 26 percent after halftime and failing to score a field goal for the final 10 minutes, the Deacs survived Virginia’s comeback attempt. “We stayed with it,” Wake Forest forward Travis McKie told The Times-News. “I think early in the season we would’ve put our head down and had a pity party. But we stayed with it and continued to fight hard.” Wake has now won five of seven games.

11. Clemson. The Tigers scored only 10 points, on just 12 percent shooting, in the first half at Duke on Wednesday. Yikes. Devin Booker has posted two double-doubles in Clemson’s 0-2 ACC start.

12. Virginia Tech. Already-undermanned Tech was down to six scholarship players during its midweek loss to BC, thanks to illness and injury. Erick Green continues to lead the nation in scoring, but the Hokies have now lost four in a row, and are 0-2 in ACC play.

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