College Basketball Nation: power rankings 012312

Conference power rankings: Big Ten

January, 23, 2012
Here’s my attempt at ranking the Big Ten this week:

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have won four of their last five, so they’re back where they’re supposed to be. On top of the Big Ten. Excluding a Jan. 10 road loss at Illinois, the Buckeyes have outscored their last four victims by an average of 27.7 points per game. Nope, they haven’t beaten the league’s best teams during this run. But they’re crushing the bottom-tier squads, and that’s more than the majority of the Big Ten can say right now.

2. Michigan State: The Spartans shook off back-to-back road losses with a 25-point home win over Purdue on Saturday. Coach Tom Izzo certainly has the pieces in place to make Michigan State relevant again in March. But in the more immediate future, given the Spartans' physicality inside, they are the greatest threat to Ohio State’s bid for the Big Ten title.

3. Wisconsin: This is just what Bo Ryan does. After the Badgers lost three consecutive Big Ten games, many assumed their Big Ten hopes were dead. And then, the Badgers did what the Badgers do. They collected themselves and burst back into the Big Ten hunt. They’ve won four in a row, including a 67-63 road win at Illinois on Sunday. Wisconsin Badgers don’t care. Watch out.

4. Michigan: Help me out on this one. Is this too low? Too high? I just don’t know what to make of the Wolverines yet. They’re definitely a talented team with potential. But are they the squad that outplayed Michigan State a week ago and held Wisconsin to 41 points earlier this month? Or is this the team that ended up in a 20-point hole in a loss at Arkansas on Saturday and suffered a 16-point loss at Iowa last weekend? I don’t know. The Wolverines’ next four games (at Purdue/Ohio State, vs. Indiana, at Michigan State) will tell us plenty.

5. Illinois: The Illini have lost two in a row since a Jan. 10 upset win over Ohio State. This seems like the norm for the Illini under Bruce Weber. Outside of a three-game win streak in Big Ten play, the Illini haven’t consistently lived up to projections about their potential this season. There’s still time for the Illini to put it all together, though. And their effort against the Buckeyes was proof that this could be -- should be -- a team that makes a serious push for the Big Ten title.

6. Indiana: The Hoosiers might have saved their Big Ten season with a second-half push during their 73-54 home win over Penn State on Sunday (they were down by two at halftime). Things weren’t looking good early. But the win was a nice way to end a three-game losing skid for a squad that had been plummeting since suffering a surprising home loss against Minnesota on Jan. 12.

7. Purdue: The Boilermakers had a horrible weekend. Their plane was stuck on a runway for three hours, so they didn’t reach East Lansing, Mich., until a few hours before the tipoff of their 25-point loss at Michigan State. But they had issues before Saturday’s mess. The Boilermakers’ Big Ten opponents have shot 46.6 percent from the field against them, 11th in the Big Ten. They’ve lost three of their last five games.

8. Minnesota: The Gophers lost their first four Big Ten games, but they’re riding a three-game winning streak after Sunday’s 75-52 home win over Northwestern. Freshman Joe Coleman has been a catalyst during this run. He’s scored 39 points combined in the team’s past two games.

9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes have lost three of their past four. Their impressive wins against Wisconsin (on the road) and Michigan don’t tell the full story of their season. Neither do their recent losses. Iowa, however, has faced Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State in its first seven games. Their upcoming slate against some of the squads in the league’s bottom tier will give the Hawkeyes a chance to climb the Big Ten standings.

10. Northwestern: End the bubble conversations/hopes/manufactured buzz. This is not an NCAA tournament team. The Wildcats enter the week with a 2-5 record in the Big Ten. They’ve lost their last two games (road losses against Wisconsin and Minnesota) by 43 points combined.

11. Nebraska: Doc Sadler’s squad played five ranked teams in its first eight conference games. Like Iowa, this is a squad that could reel off a string of victories (the Cornhuskers showed promise in last week’s win over the Hoosiers) once its conference slate gets easier in the coming weeks.

12. Penn State: Tim Frazier is Penn State’s only consistent scoring threat. Big Ten opponents have shot 47 percent against the Nittany Lions, the worst mark in the league. Tough year for the program.

Conference power rankings: Big East

January, 23, 2012
The best team in the Big East lost this past weekend, but the best team is still the best team. A few other things did change in this week's power rankings, though. Let's take a look:

1. Syracuse: The Orange finally fell and looked as lousy in defeat as they looked great in 20 victories. But one bad loss on the road without starting center Fab Melo does not a bad team make. Syracuse is still easily the best team in the Big East, though the road continues to be unkind with a Monday trip to Cincinnati without Melo.

2. Georgetown: The winner of the ever-revolving No. 2 slot goes to the Hoyas this week, but not necessarily in convincing fashion. Georgetown shot 3-of-24 in the first half at home against Rutgers and made only 12 field goals on the day, but did end up surviving.

3. Marquette: The Golden Eagles have yet to see the best of what the conference offers, but give Buzz Williams’ team credit: They keep winning while everyone else falters. Marquette has won four in a row.

4. West Virginia: Fortunately for the Mountaineers, these rankings aren’t based on basketball smarts, because Darryl "Truck" Bryant's foolish and unnecessary floater against Cincinnati would push WVU to the bottom of the list. As it is, the 'Eers have won three in a row.

5. Cincinnati: The Bearcats are two-thirds of the way through one of the more difficult conference runs, beating UConn in Storrs and losing to West Virginia in Morgantown in overtime. Now for the big test: Syracuse, ticked after dropping its first game of the season, on Monday.

6. Notre Dame: Perhaps the Irish should schedule more games against No. 1 teams. Notre Dame upset Syracuse for its eighth win against a top-ranked team. This after losing to Rutgers on the road.

7. Louisville: What a difference Kyle Kuric makes. Kuric played despite a balky ankle, scoring 21 in a much-needed win for the Cards at Pitt.

8. South Florida: Quietly, while no one was paying attention, the Bulls are building up their best Big East record to date at 5-2. South Florida has won three in a row and five of the past six. Where did this come from?

9. Connecticut: The Huskies’ troubles continue, with four losses in six games, including to a rebuilding Tennessee team in Knoxville. UConn has a tough upcoming slate, at home versus a confident Notre Dame team and then on the road at Georgetown.

10. Seton Hall: The Pirates’ margin for error is slim, evidenced by back-to-back losses to South Florida and Villanova. Seton Hall remains a dangerous team, capable of beating anyone but equally susceptible to bad losses.

11. Villanova: Progress comes in baby steps for a Wildcats team trying to find its way, so a home win against Seton Hall and a come-from-behind overtime victory at St. John’s counts significantly.

12. Rutgers: The young Scarlet Knights are going to be in every game. It’s just winning them that’s difficult. Rutgers gave Georgetown all it could handle but couldn’t steal a road win.

13. DePaul: The struggles continue for the Blue Demons, losers of five in a row and six of seven since league play began. This week could be a good one for DePaul, with young Rutgers and St. John’s teams on tap.

14. St. John's: The troubles also continue to mount for the Red Storm, who are mired in a four-game losing streak with little relief in sight. This week, St. John's hosts West Virginia and then travels to Duke.

15. Providence: After battling back-to-back ranked teams in Syracuse and Marquette, the Friars enter a three-game run of winnable games. Providence plays at Pitt and South Florida and then hosts Rutgers. Nothing is a gimme when you have one league victory, but at least the Friars will have a chance.

16. Pittsburgh: What else can be said about the Panthers? With "College GameDay" on campus fueling the energy in the Pete and Travon Woodall back in the lineup, Pitt still lost to Louisville. The Panthers host Providence on Wednesday in a Big East battle of the basement.

Conference power rankings: Big 12

January, 23, 2012
Here are this week’s Big 12 power rankings:

1. Kansas: Bill Self said Saturday’s 69-66 victory at Texas was his team’s best win of the season. Not because the Jayhawks played particularly well against the struggling Longhorns, but because they found a way to grind out a victory in a tough road environment. Kansas is 36-7 in Big 12 road games in the past five-plus seasons.

2. Missouri: Ricardo Ratliffe scored 27 points in Saturday’s 89-88 win at Baylor, but many of those came on easy baskets against the Bears’ soft interior defense. The bigger story was the performance of point guard Phil Pressey, who had 18 points, seven assists and six steals in the Tigers’ most impressive victory of the season.

3. Baylor: Saturday’s 89-88 loss to Missouri was more lopsided than the final score indicates. The Bears were outscored 14-0 on second-chance points in the first half, when they were out-toughed and out-hustled in the paint by the undersized Tigers. The Bears trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half. Perry Jones III has a nagging ankle injury that has limited his performance the past two games.

4. Iowa State: Success in its next three games (at Texas and at home against Kansas and K-State) would go a long way toward improving the NCAA tournament hopes of a Cyclones team that is 14-5 overall and 4-2 in league play. Juco transfer Tyrus McGee had six 3-pointers in a 20-point effort in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech.

5. Kansas State: The Wildcats have won their last two games (against Texas and Oklahoma State), but their free-throw shooting has been abysmal. Frank Martin’s squad has made just 44 of its last 79 attempts from the foul stripe (55.7 percent). Center Jordan Henriquez has been suspended indefinitely.

6. Texas: The Longhorns are improving, but it hasn’t shown up in the win column. Texas’ last two losses (to K-State and Kansas) have come by a combined seven points. Freshman guard Sheldon McClellan is averaging 15 points in his last two games.

7. Texas A&M: Billy Kennedy’s team got a huge confidence boost when it defeated Oklahoma in overtime Saturday in College Station. It may be short-lived. Three of the Aggies’ next four games are against Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State. Khris Middleton, who is regarded as Texas A&M’s top player, missed most of Saturday’s game after bumping knees with a teammate and is questionable for Monday’s game at Kansas.

8. Oklahoma: The Sooners have a huge chance to regain some momentum when they host Baylor on Tuesday. Forward Romero Osby is averaging 17.3 points in his last three games, but he may have trouble against the Bears’ size and length. Upcoming road games at Kansas State (Saturday) and Kansas (Feb. 1) won’t be easy.

9. Oklahoma State: The undermanned Cowboys turned in an impressive performance before losing at Iowa State on a buzzer-beater last week. Saturday they fell at home to Kansas State for their third straight loss. Missouri visits Stillwater on Wednesday. The Cowboys are 9-10 overall.

10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are 0-6 in Big 12 play, and their losses have come by an average of 17 points. Billy Gillispie’s squad averages just 63.1 points per game. The biggest question the rest of the way will be whether Texas Tech can get a conference win. Its best chance may be at home against Oklahoma State on Jan. 31.

Conference power rankings: SEC

January, 23, 2012
After a banner weekend in the SEC during which a pair of midlevel teams (Arkansas, Tennessee) beat ranked foes (Michigan, Connecticut) in nonconference play, let's attempt to rank the conference 1 to 12:

1. Kentucky: The Wildcats got pushed by Alabama more than I thought they would. That's a credit to the Tide. Kentucky still won but has to get tougher.

2. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs again looked like the second-best team in the league with a gritty overtime win at Vanderbilt on Saturday night. If they had played like that to start the SEC, they wouldn't have ever slipped out of this slot in the first place.

3. Vanderbilt: The Commodores had the Bulldogs beat -- at the half. But Vandy allowed MSU back in it and then failed to make a stop in overtime. Tough home loss. This team still can't quite find its footing.

4. Florida: The Gators are now getting the consistent play from Erik Murphy and Bradley Beal that will make a difference in March. Now can this group consistently win on the road? Big one Thursday at Ole Miss.

5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide did lose twice this week, at home to Vandy and at Kentucky, but the effort and production at Rupp on Saturday proves this team has the potential to be a pest going forward.

6. Tennessee: The Vols pulled off a huge win over Connecticut, the second signature victory under Cuonzo Martin. The addition of just-turned-18 freshman Jarnell Stokes makes this team a tough matchup to deal with. Expect a few more upsets out of UT.

7. Arkansas: The Razorbacks held off Michigan at home for another quality win at Bud Walton Arena. Mike Anderson's chore is to get the Hogs to hunt their shots on the road, too.

8. Ole Miss: Andy Kennedy has done a great job of rallying this team after some off-the-court turmoil. The Rebels beat Mississippi State at home and won at Georgia last week. They aren't at-large worthy, but can make the NIT.

9. LSU: The Tigers have been given a reality check lately and it hasn't been pretty, having dropped four of their past six games. It's evident LSU is still a young team learning how to win on the road.

10. Georgia: The Bulldogs can't seem to break through with that signature conference win this season, even though they did gut out an OT win against Tennessee. But would it have been too much to ask for a follow-up home win against Ole Miss?

11. Auburn: The Tigers need to ensure they have an identity during this rebuilding phase and at least they're proving themselves to be a tough out at home. They've knocked off South Carolina and Ole Miss in Auburn and pushed Kentucky 'til the final few minutes.

12. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have become a team you can pick up a win against. That needs to change fast or Darrin Horn is in trouble.

Conference power rankings: Pac-12

January, 23, 2012
No time to waste with the preamble this week. Anyway, you know the drill. Let's hop right in:

1. California: Just as Cal appeared set to create some separation between itself and the rest of the Pac-12 -- separation it deserves, given its statistical superiority and meaty efficiency margins thus far -- the Bears lost a two-point heartbreaker at Washington State. So why are they still No. 1? Two reasons:
  • Because Washington State, for all its struggles on the road, is a different team at home. The Cougars have averaged 1.17 points per possession in their four home conference games to date. Ken Bone's team is 3-1 at home. It's tough to beat Wazzu in Pullman.
  • Because, based on the season to date, Cal still looks like the best team in this league. That's been the case pretty much all season, and a road loss here and there isn't going to change that perception. And rightfully so.

This is hardly a great team, of course, but the Pac-12 is hardly a great conference. You don't have to be great to be the best team in this league. You merely need to be good, and we can safely say that much about this Bears team.

2. Oregon: Let's take a moment and pass some credit in the direction of Oregon coach Dana Altman, who for the second straight season is building his team into a force to be dealt with in Pac-12 play. On Saturday, the Ducks posted a solid, if unspectacular, home win over UCLA. Don't look now, but that's Oregon's fourth victory in a row and one that moved the Ducks into a first-place tie with Cal at 6-2.

3. Washington: The Huskies appear to be rounding into a collective form proportionate to their talent-rich parts. Thursday's home loss to Cal was tough, but UW nearly came all the way back from a 13-point deficit on their way to a near miss in the final moments. Washington handily dispatched Stanford at home Saturday, moving to 5-2 in league play in the process. Has this team turned a corner? Meh. It's hard to say. But inconsistent as they are, the Huskies seem to be piecing together longer stretches of quality performance.

4. Stanford: Tough week for the Cardinal. Johnny Dawkins' team took it in the teeth twice on the road this week, losing 81-69 at Washington State and 76-63 at Washington. We've already established that Washington State is particularly tough at home, and that Washington is improving, so it's not as if either loss is all that damning. Taken together, though, it's hard to fight the impression that Stanford isn't quite good enough to stay afloat when it goes on the road, and if it can't do that, it will struggle to keep pace with Cal at the top of the league.

5. Colorado: This is a big week for the Buffaloes. Thursday and Saturday's home wins -- the latter of which was a 64-63 win over Arizona -- moved them to 5-2 in league play, but the biggest tests lie ahead. Colorado hasn't won a Pac-12 road game yet. This week, it travels to USC and UCLA. How Tad Boyle's team fares on the road will be the defining characteristic of their season.

6. Oregon State: Oregon State's record isn't particularly attractive -- the Beavers are still just 3-5 in the standings -- but they did take care of business at home this week, topping UCLA 87-84 and easily dispatching winless USC. The Beavers, like so many of the teams around them, aren't setting the world ablaze by any means, and they'll have to toughen up in upcoming road games if they want to bounce back from their 1-5 start and make some noise at the top of the league before the season is out.

7. UCLA: The Bruins just can't get over the hump. Every time we think this team is going to get it together, they toss in another uninspiring and/or just plain bad performance, and their still-shaky record (now 10-9) takes another hit. There was some hope that the departure of Reeves Nelson would stabilize this bunch. More and more, it's looking like the Bruins just are what they are -- which is not as bad as their nonconference performance, but certainly not good enough to stage a second-half season redemption.

8. Arizona: Speaking of teams that seem like they should be improving, but probably aren't? The Arizona Wildcats fit that bill. There was some inclination, at least in these parts, that Arizona's highly touted young guards (especially Josiah Turner) would overcome their early setbacks and make good on their immense talent in the second half of the season. That hasn't really been the case, at least not yet, and until it is -- which is still a matter of "if," not "when" -- Arizona doesn't scare anyone.

9. Washington State: Hey, Ken Bone's team isn't half bad! Provided, of course, it is playing at home. Everyone's more comfortable at home, of course, but few teams in the country seem to suffer such a disparity between their play on their own court and their play away from it. That's why I'm not ready to put Washington State much higher than this spot this week. The Cougars have to show some of that efficient offense in another team's building before I'm willing to let the excitement boil over into a thrilling rise to, like, fifth or sixth. These are the conference power rankings, Smokey. There are rules.

10. Utah: Believe it! A few weeks ago, I thought it would be a miracle if Utah got out of last place in these rankings even once. The Utes did that last week. This week, the unthinkable happened again. Yes, it's a move to No. 10. What gives? The Utes are playing some pretty decent basketball. Or, at the very least, they're playing much better than they did for the first two months of the season, when they were easily the worst major-conference team in the country. Since then, though, Utah has played a host of its Pac-12 foes close. This week, it did more than that -- blowing out Arizona State in its own building 64-43. OK, so it's just Arizona State. But compared to where Larry Krystkowiak's team was this season, and considering it just dismissed its best and most frequently used player (Josh "Jiggy" Watkins, the nation's leader in usage rate), a move two whole spots out of the Pac-12 cellar is legitimate cause for celebration. Cheers, Utes!

11. Arizona State/12. USC: For the first two months of the season, the only thing keeping Arizona State from being the undisputed worst team in this league was Utah. Now, it's USC. The offensively offensive Trojans are still winless in this brutally bad league; they inhabit a special area of ineptitude here. Arizona State, meanwhile, is going to struggle the rest of the season. That much was clear in Salt Lake City on Saturday. But at least the Sun Devils have toppled a couple of so-so opponents at home. We can't even say that much for Kevin O'Neill's team.

Conference power rankings: ACC

January, 23, 2012
Four teams now top the ACC standings with one league loss; thank Florida State’s resurgence for making this conference race so all-of-a-sudden competitive. My attempt at this week’s power rankings (up for debate, as always):

1. Duke: After coming off the bench to score 20 points in a win over Wake Forest, freshman Austin Rivers was back in the starting lineup against FSU -- only to have his would-be overtime-inducing shot upstaged by Michael Snaer's game winner. The Devils allowed the Seminoles to make two-thirds of their shots in the second half; Duke’s defense has got to continue to improve.

2. Florida State: Is this really the same team that lost to two Ivys, and at Clemson by 20? The Seminoles said at the beginning of the season that the goal was to push their way into the top two of the ACC. By blowing out North Carolina, beating Maryland, then ending Duke’s 45-game home winning streak (all in a matter of eight days), they’ve done just that. FSU is the hottest team in the league right now.

3. North Carolina: The Tar Heels bounced back from the worst loss of the Roy Williams era, at FSU, by getting an intense win at Virginia Tech, fueled by 27 points from Harrison Barnes. But it still suffered another huge loss in that game, in the form of Dexter Strickland. The team’s best perimeter defender/starting shooting guard/fastest player/backup point guard is out for the season with a torn ACL. How will the Tar Heels rally?

4. NC State: After Sunday’s win over Miami, the Wolfpack is 4-1 in the ACC. One of the positives of the game: Guard C.J. Williams, who injured his shoulder against Boston College last week, started and played 31 minutes. The Wolfpack aren’t very deep, and the loss of any key player would be devastating.

5. Virginia: First, Assane Sene suffered an ankle injury last week that will keep him out for about six weeks. Then, the Cavs lost to Virginia Tech on Sunday for their second league defeat. Virginia will need to adjust without its center, and one thing that would help: more production from guard Sammy Zeglinski, who has made only 4 of his 23 shots over his past three games.

6. Maryland: After averaging 14 points and eight rebounds in his first three games, freshman center Alex Len has struggled -- averaging only 2.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in his next three, then exiting the Terps’ loss at Temple early because of a twisted ankle. Maryland lost both of its games last week, and a healthy, rejuvenated Len would be key to getting back on track.

7. Miami: The Hurricanes’ latest loss, to NC State on Sunday, means they have dropped three of their past four. This isn’t exactly what first-year coach Jim Larranaga was expecting out of this team, especially with its returning talent. "I was anticipating what our squad would be like before my staff and I arrived and I've found that we have a lot more work to do than we originally thought,” he said Sunday, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

8. Virginia Tech: Dorenzo Hudson's 3-pointer from the corner with 16.5 seconds left secured the Hokies’ rivalry win over Virginia -- and their first ACC victory of the season. But after a slow conference start, they have a lot of work (and winning) to do in order to catch up to the top of the pack.

9. Clemson: Andre Young crushed his shooting slump by scoring a career-high 29 points (including seven 3-pointers) to hold off Georgia Tech and break a three-game losing streak. The Tigers need him to continue scoring.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets managed only 38 points in their loss to Virginia, their worst output since 1982. Then they fell short in their rally at Clemson, losing by two. They’ve now dropped three straight, and seven of their past eight.

11. Wake Forest: After losing three straight, coach Jeff Bzdelik called Saturday’s game at Boston College a must-win. After beating freshman-laden BC by 15, he told the Winston-Salem Journal: "This game was our Super Bowl. Every win is huge, and they are hard to come by. This is another big step for us in our journey to be the type of team we want to be."

12. Boston College: After winning two ACC games, the young Eagles have now lost two in a row. “Right now, we have a snowball effect -- in both directions,’’ coach Steve Donahue told The Boston Globe. “When things go bad, we have a tendency to let them get to us and compound it on both sides of the ball. When we do positive things, it ends up snowballing in that direction.” Not a great sign, with a trip to Virginia next up.

Robbi Pickeral can be reached at Twitter: bylinerp.