College Basketball Nation: power rankings 020113

Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

February, 1, 2013
Another week, another bunch of really great games in the Big Ten, another batch of minimally moved Big Ten Power Rankings. No preamble; let's jump in.

1. Michigan.
2. Indiana.

I've written thousands of words about both of these teams already this season, in this space and plenty of others. At this point, on the eve of the biggest game of the season, it seems a little silly to rehash everything you already know about the Wolverines' hyper-efficient Trey Burke-led offense and Indiana's multifaceted, balanced attack. Michigan has been No. 1 here for a while; Indiana may be the better team. We'll find out Saturday night. This is the analytical calm before the storm.

Man, I can't wait.

3. Michigan State. Things looked a little hairy for the Spartans in the first half against Illinois on Thursday night; Illinois finally regained some semblance of its perimeter attack, and Michigan State had to win the game not through defense or rebounding but good old-fashioned playmaking on the offensive end. (My particular favorite was Keith Appling's late-second-half alley-oop to Branden Dawson, which really couldn't have been any prettier.) The Spartans finished with 80 points on 65 possessions. Appling is doing his thing, the bigs are playing well and freshman guard Gary Harris is starting to find his stroke. After pushing Indiana to the brink in Bloomington on Sunday, don't count Michigan State out of the conference title chase, no matter what happens between the Hoosiers and Wolverines on Saturday night.

4. Ohio State. The Buckeyes move up to No. 4 after a grinding home win over the Badgers on Tuesday night, and credit where it's due: This team defends. The Buckeyes have allowed just .90 points per trip in conference play, best in the Big Ten, and as long as the Buckeyes defend like that, they can get by with that ever-disconcerting lack of a second offensive option able to take some of the scoring load off Deshaun Thomas. That's been the great quandary of the Buckeyes' season, the one factor limiting their ability to play with the elite, but maybe they're good enough on the other end that it doesn't really matter.

5. Wisconsin. It was no surprise to see the Badgers wage another defensive skirmish at Ohio State; the only team better on the defensive end this season than Wisconsin is the Buckeyes. And that's not a trick of Wisconsin's slow pace. This season, the Badgers are both slow-paced and great defensively. (In contrast to recent seasons, when they were slow and offensively efficient, only most people didn't realize it because Wisconsin plays 61 possessions a game.) That's how you get a 45-44 result over Minnesota and three straight games now in which the Badgers have scored fewer than 50 points.

6. Minnesota. I put Minnesota at No. 6 after it lost at Northwestern, and I see no reason to downgrade the Golden Gophers for losing that aforementioned 45-44 crawler in Madison on Saturday. There's been a decent amount of talk about what's "wrong" with the Gophers, and how they can fix it; there's been just as much bandwagon-hopping. But Minnesota's flaws aren't really new. The Gophers have turned the ball over on 21.6 percent of their conference possessions thus far, more than any other team in the Big Ten. But those turnovers (and the easy transition points they allow) have been magnified by some hot 3-point shooting from Minnesota's opponents, too. That Northwestern loss was ugly, sure, but other than that I'm not too concerned.

7. Iowa. This spot is right where the Hawkeyes belong. They do not belong among that top-half group, but they are not so bad as to warrant submergence below Northwestern or Purdue or even Illinois. What they are is a bubble team, as bubbly as they get, and their path to the NCAA tournament looks arduous at best. On Sunday, Fran McCaffery's team travels to Minnesota. Next up is an away game at Wisconsin. The remaining résumé-type games essentially boil down to a Feb. 17 return date against Minnesota and a March 2 road game at Indiana. The two games against the Gophers look like the best possible opportunities. A home win over Illinois March 5 couldn't hurt. You do not want your NCAA tournament bid to rest on whether you could beat Indiana in its own building. Analysis, kids. That's why they pay me the medium bucks.

Oh, also, you should probably see this photo of McCaffery. It is magnificent.

8. Illinois. How did the Illini lose two games and move up two spots? Because Northwestern lost by 15 at Nebraska and Purdue got beat 97-60 on its own floor by blood rival Indiana? Those are among the reasons, but they're not the whole story. Indeed, the Illini aren't the 10th-best team in this league. They are probably the eighth-best team in this league, which is not exactly reaching for the stars, but it's worth acknowledging all the same. Illinois finally found its outside shooting in a really impressive first half at Michigan State, and although the Spartans pulled it out in the end, that was as good a performance as John Groce's team has had since December. Illinois' opponents will stop making so many 3s, and Illinois -- which was averaging a league-low 23 percent before Thursday night -- will start making a few more, and Brandon Paul & Co. won't seem like such a story of collapse when all is said and done.

9. Purdue. Speaking of random rankings bumps: How does a team get embarrassed on its own floor in front of its own deflated fans by 37 points ... and move up in the rankings? Because Purdue's not that bad! Indiana was just magnificent Wednesday night, as good as it could be, but that is not the Boilermakers team you will see most often, at least in its own building. There is a lot of rebuilding to do, but forward A.J. Hammons seems to improve on a nightly basis at this point. Don't be surprised if Matt Painter's team knocks a big boy or two off at home before the season is out.

(Having written this complimentary paragraph despite a 97-60 loss at home, I trust this will stop Purdue fans from tweeting and angrily commenting that their beloved Boilermakers are being overlooked, that they're the seventh-best team in the Big Ten, and yada yada. Actually ... nahhh. Probably not.)

10. Northwestern. Considering everything Northwestern has had to deal with this season, particularly the loss of senior guard Drew Crawford, it was impressive to see the Wildcats beat Illinois on the road, hold Indiana to a single-digit victory in Evanston and upset Minnesota all in a matter of six days last week. And then, something like reality set in. Northwestern scored 49 points in 64 possessions at Nebraska on Saturday and followed it up with a basically hopeless road trip to Michigan on Wednesday night. With Crawford's injury and all this youth, the Wildcats are not as bad as they probably have the right to be. But they're not even their usual mediocre selves this season, either.

11. Nebraska. Nice win over Northwestern this week, and while "nice win" and "over Northwestern" are not phrases you'll hear in conjunction often this season, when you're rebuilding at a traditional basketball doormat in a loaded conference, you take what you can get. Also, Tim Miles didn't write any scathing halftime tweets this week; that makes two steps in the right direction.

12. Penn State. Oh, and if you didn't think a win over Northwestern is worth mentioning, just ask Penn State. The Nittany Lions are still fighting for their first conference win of the season and, after a merciful weekend off, they have a couple of chances next week. The first is Tuesday at home against Purdue; the second is Saturday at Nebraska. If the Nittany Lions, who shoot the 11th-worst 3-point field goal percentage (27.8) in all of college basketball, can just knock down a few shots, they can break this 0-9 start.

The alternative is that Penn State keeps losing, and I start doing a sarcastic "Winless Watch" or something and we all start ironically cheering for the Nittany Lions, and I really don't think any of us want it to come to that.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

February, 1, 2013
Just when everything seemed set up for Oregon to win the Pac-12 title, the Ducks got lambasted by Stanford on Wednesday, and now nothing is certain. Whatever happens, it appears that the race for the league crown is going to be one of the most interesting in college basketball. Here are this week's power rankings.

1. Arizona. The Wildcats posted a 57-53 win at Washington on Thursday despite shooting just 35.1 percent from the field and turning it over 17 times. With games coming up against Washington State, Stanford and Cal, Sean Miller's squad has a chance to extend its two-game win streak to five.

2. Oregon. The Ducks' nine-game winning streak came to an alarming halt in Wednesday's 76-52 loss at Stanford. Oregon played the game without starting guard Dominic Artis, who is out indefinitely with an injured left foot.

3. Arizona State. The Sun Devils rallied from an 11-point deficit to defeat Washington State 63-59 on the road. It marked just the second time in 10 years that ASU has won in Pullman. The Sun Devils (17-4) are off to their best start since 1981. Their 6-2 Pac-12 record is their best since 1994.

4. UCLA. What's happened to the Bruins? Two days after thwacking Arizona in Tucson, UCLA got hammered by Arizona State and then lost to USC at home Wednesday in overtime. Shabazz Muhammad was battling the flu in that game, but he still played 37 minutes and scored 22 points.

5. Colorado. The Buffaloes have won their last three games by an average of 13.3 points. And they averaged 78 points in victories over Stanford and Cal. Colorado now faces a crucial stretch of three straight road games, the biggest of which is a Feb. 7 showdown with Oregon in Eugene.

6. Stanford. No Pac-12 team has looked as good as Stanford during the past week. The Cardinal's 87-56 win over Utah was their most lopsided conference victory in nine years. The Cardinal followed that up with Wednesday's 76-52 win over No. 10 Oregon -- their first triumph over a top-10 team since 2008.

7. USC. Bob Cantu is doing an excellent job as the Trojans' interim head coach. USC turned in a heck of an effort in last week's 98-93 overtime loss at Arizona State. On Wednesday, the Trojans defeated UCLA in overtime at Pauley Pavilion. This team could've easily given up after Kevin O'Neill was fired. It hasn't.

8. Washington. Thursday's 57-53 home loss to Arizona was embarrassing. The Huskies tried to tie the game in the waning seconds on a 30-foot backdoor lob pass that was contested and off the mark. On its next possession, 7-foot center Aziz N'Diaye air-balled a 3-pointer. It was the first 3-point attempt of his career. Washington has now lost four straight.

9. Cal. The Golden Bears rallied from a 12-point deficit in the second half to defeat Oregon State on Thursday. Mike Montgomery's squad hasn't won back-to-back games since beating Cal-Santa Barbara and Prairie View A&M in late December. Allen Crabbe is averaging 19.8 points.

10. Washington State. The Cougars turned in a strong effort but fell to Arizona State 63-59 at home Thursday. Guard Mike Ladd has scored in double figures in nine straight games. Things won't get any easier Saturday when Washington State hosts Arizona.

11. Oregon State. The Beavers lost a 12-point second-half lead in Thursday's 71-68 setback at Cal. Craig Robinson's squad had 17 seconds to attempt a game-tying 3-pointer but couldn't get a shot off. Oregon State's last three losses have come by a combined seven points.

12. Utah. The Utes' only Pac-12 win is against Washington. On Sunday they lost a home game to Stanford by 31 points. Colorado should provide another tough test on Saturday. Jordan Loveridge averages team highs in points (12.1) and rebounds (7.1).

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

February, 1, 2013
The Mountain West Conference had the appearance of a six-bid league a month ago.

But the league has eaten its own. That was bound to happen. Separation has occurred and the numbers are more likely going to be a repeat of last year's four -- which is still quite a feat for a nine-team league.

On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. Sorry for those MWC fans hoping I would dump the Lobos out of the top spot after a loss at San Diego State -- New Mexico then went to Wyoming and won a tough turnaround game. UNM should stay in the spot with a visit from Nevada up next.

2. Colorado State. The Rams have shot up my power rankings after their 20-point blowout of Boise State. CSU lost to New Mexico at the Pit, but really made a strong comeback. The only other league loss was at San Diego State in overtime. The Rams take on Wyoming next.

3. UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels are still figuring out how best to play. They have a tough chore ahead, going to Boise State, then a game they should win but won't walk through at Fresno State.

4. San Diego State. The Aztecs hammered New Mexico at home in a must-win game to stay in the chase. Now the task for San Diego State is to get past a tough Air Force team that is more than capable of knocking off anyone at home.

5. Air Force. Yes, the Falcons are now at No. 5 after winning four in a row and handling Wyoming in Laramie. Air Force can disrupt the league race with games upcoming against San Diego State and at New Mexico. I have said for weeks that the Falcons' experience will pay off later in the MWC season. This is a postseason team in some form.

6. Wyoming. The Cowboys are on a skid right now, having lost four of five. The defense hasn't been as much of an issue as struggling to score has been. A visit to Colorado State on Saturday won't make stopping this slide any easier.

7. Boise State. The Broncos still own one of the top nonconference road victories, at Creighton, but it's losing that importance during the MWC season. Boise State got pummeled by Colorado State and has lost four of five. UNLV at home and San Diego State on the road are up next for the Broncos, meaning this season could go in either direction.

8. Nevada. The Wolf Pack aren't going to make the turn into an NCAA tournament team. They are now solely in the spoiler role going forward.

9. Fresno State. The Bulldogs have dropped four consecutive games but can be disruptive, especially at home. No one should sleep on this squad just yet.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 1, 2013
Thank goodness for Kansas, Texas Tech and TCU. The decision to rank the Jayhawks, Red Raiders and Horned Frogs Nos. 1, 9 and 10, respectively, is the only thing that's easy about the weekly Big 12 power rankings. The league continues to be as unpredictable as it has been in years. But that also makes it more interesting. Here is the latest attempt to rank the conference.

1. Kansas. While KU's defense has been outstanding, its offense continues to sputter. The Jayhawks are averaging 62 points in their past six games, and three of their past four wins have come by five points or less. Kansas' guard play has been sloppy at times.

2. Kansas State. The Wildcats' 83-57 thrashing of Texas Wednesday is even more impressive considering the minimal contributions made by Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling, who combined for 12 points. KSU plays at Oklahoma -- a team it defeated 69-60 last month -- on Saturday.

3. Oklahoma. The Sooners pulled off one of the more impressive Big 12 wins of the season thus far by defeating Baylor 74-71 in Waco Wednesday. Amath M'Baye and Steven Pledger each scored 20 points for a team that shot 52.7 percent. OU's only two Big 12 losses are against Kansas and K-State, both on the road.

4. Baylor. The Bears were lifeless in the first half of Wednesday's 74-71 home loss to Oklahoma. They deserve credit for fighting back from a 16-point deficit, but it should've never gotten to that point. Isaiah Austin was a bright spot with 19 points and 20 rebounds. Baylor now has back-to-back road games at Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Uh-oh.

5. Oklahoma State. Marcus Smart's layup with 3 seconds remaining propelled the Cowboys to a 78-76 win over Iowa State Wednesday. Oklahoma State hopes to capitalize on that momentum in Saturday's game at Kansas, where the Jayhawks have won 102 of their past 103 games at Allen Fieldhouse.

6. Iowa State. I never thought I'd rank the Cyclones this low, but their inconsistency has been maddening. How do you go from coming within 1 second of beating KU in Lawrence to losing at Texas Tech? Five days after beating K-State at home, Iowa State lost at Oklahoma State. Fred Hoiberg's squad won't get an NCAA tournament bid if it can't win a few road games.

7. West Virginia. Bob Huggins' squad has lost four of its past five games, with the only win in that stretch coming against TCU. Huggins and talented transfer Aaric Murray can't seem to get on the same page. Games against Texas Tech, TCU and Texas are up next, so the potential for a three-game winning streak exists.

8. Texas. The Longhorns looked like the Big 12's worst team in Wednesday's 83-57 loss at Kansas State. Point guard Myck Kabongo becomes eligible in three games, but it may not matter. Sheldon McClellan averages a team-high 14.8 points.

9. Texas Tech. Three of the Red Raiders' next four games are at home, and Saturday's tilt with West Virginia at United Spirit Arena looks like their best chance at a win during that stretch. Jaye Crockett averages team-highs in points (12.7) and rebounds (7.7).

10. TCU. The Horned Frogs' past two losses (to Baylor and West Virginia) have come by an average of 23.5 points. TCU plays at Texas Saturday before hosting Kansas on Wednesday. That one could get ugly. Arkansas transfer Devonta Abron is averaging only 6.6 points.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

February, 1, 2013
Here we go again. This week’s SEC power rankings:

1. Florida. In the 1980s, Mike Tyson was a brutal force who tore through boxing’s contenders with an ease that few, if any, pugilists had ever achieved. But Tyson had a problem. He didn’t beat guys who would have been considered contenders in more vibrant eras in the heavyweight division. So it’s tough to assess his legacy. Yes, he was dominant. But whom did he fight? That’s Florida’s challenge right now. The Gators are destroying the SEC. They’re one of three teams in the past 25 years that have defeated their first seven conference foes by 15 points or more, according to Elias. But they’re in a league that’s clearly one of the worst conferences in America. Still, they held a high-major program (South Carolina) to 10 points in the first half of a 39-point victory this week. That’s impressive regardless of whom they were playing.

2. Ole Miss. So Destiny’s Child just dropped a new track called “Nuclear.” The song created a buzz because folks were convinced that Beyonce & Co. would get back together. But that hasn’t happened. The bottom line is that the track is like every other “group” effort by the pop trio: a lot of Beyonce and a little bit of the other two women/members whom most folks can’t name (Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland). Marshall Henderson turned into Beyonce when Kentucky visited Ole Miss on Tuesday night. He made the night about Marshall Henderson instead of his team. He took bad shots. He played to the crowd. He got into a verbal spat with coach Andy Kennedy. And he threw a piece of ice toward fans. Great theater. But he didn’t lead the Rebels to a win. There was just too much of him and not enough of everyone else in that crucial game.

3. Kentucky. About a decade ago, Dr. Dre promised hip-hop fans that he would deliver one of the greatest rap albums of all time: “Detox.” He has teased with a variety of leaked tracks. But he hasn’t delivered the full project, only glimpses of what it might be. That’s how I feel about this Kentucky team right now. I think the Tuesday victory at Ole Miss was a great showcase for a Wildcats squad that could emerge as Florida’s greatest threat in the coming weeks. It was a dominant performance, especially for Nerlens Noel (12 blocks). But we shouldn’t forget the loss to Alabama. Or Texas A&M (at home). Or Baylor (also at home). The Wildcats have potential, and they proved it again when they beat the Rebels. But I’m weeks away from believing that it was anything more than one impressive effort by a team I can’t trust yet.

4. Alabama. The Crimson Tide beat Kentucky last week, lost to Tennessee over the weekend and squeezed past Arkansas for a 59-56 victory that was decided in the final seconds Thursday night. Where would you rank them? I could leave Bama here. I could also move Anthony Grant’s squad down two or three spots. I’m not sure that this is the fourth-best team in the SEC. But I don’t have any evidence that it’s not the fourth-best team in the league, either. And that’s the problem with this conference. By now, Bama over Arkansas should mean something. It should have offered proof that one team was moving forward and the other was moving in the opposite direction. It didn’t really do that. Neither team played well. Arkansas went 3-for-19 from beyond the arc. Bama committed 19 turnovers. I’m not sure one team is really better than the other. And that’s the story of the SEC -- after Florida of course -- right now.

5. Missouri. Here’s the essence of the conversations I’ve had with Mizzou fans for the past two weeks via the Twittersphere. Me: “Missouri is not as good as its ranking suggests. The Tigers have bigger issues than Laurence Bowers’ injury and absence.” Mizzou fans: “You’re wrong. We’ll get Bowers back. We’ll be fine.” Me: “But their ballhandling is inconsistent, they’re not defending the 3-point line and … ” Mizzou fans: “Dude, Bowers will be back. And we’ll be fine.” Well, Bowers returned … and the Tigers lost at LSU 73-70 on Wednesday night. LSU is 12th in the league with a 39.3 percent overall mark from the field. But LSU -- which has lost to Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina -- shot 55 percent against Mizzou. This is the same Tigers squad that averaged 0.9 points per possession through the first six games of SEC play, 12th in the league according to John Gasaway. Confused yet?

6. Tennessee. The Vols might the most intriguing team in the conference after Kentucky. They lost their first three SEC games but they’ve won three of their past four, a stretch that includes a win over Alabama. Jarnell Stokes finished with double-doubles in those three victories. When he plays to his full potential, the Vols are clearly a different team -- one that’s capable of competing with most of the squads in this league.

7. LSU. Yep, the Tigers beat a nearly complete Missouri squad (Keion Bell did not play) Wednesday night. But they’ve also lost to Auburn, South Carolina and Georgia. … And they’ve beaten a Missouri team that entered the conference slate as Florida’s toughest competitor. So I guess they’re seventh. Why? Because the SEC just doesn’t make much sense, especially after LSU pulled off one of the biggest wins by a team in the bottom tier of the league.

8. Arkansas. The Razorbacks are a solid offensive group that struggles in games that aren’t track meets. They’re averaging 66.4 points per game in SEC play, fifth in the league. Yet they’re last in 3-point shooting (23.9 percent). And they’re really limited to whatever Marshawn Powell and BJ Young can give them each night. The duo accounts for 41 percent of Arkansas’ offensive production. So every night is a toss-up, especially for a program that’s ranked 104th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy.

9. Georgia. Mark Fox has only one scorer averaging double figures (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at 17.5 points per game). But he’s making up for those offensive gaps with the 3-ball. The Bulldogs, who’ve won three of their past four, have hit 36.2 percent of their 3-pointers, third in the SEC.

10. Texas A&M. Between now and Feb. 13, the Aggies will play Kentucky (again), Missouri and Ole Miss. This is an important stretch for a program that has disappointed since a Jan. 12 victory at Kentucky. The Aggies are holding SEC opponents to 58.0 PPG (tied for second in the conference) but they’re only scoring 58.4 PPG (12th). Elston Turner's recent turn of inconsistency hasn’t helped.

11. Vanderbilt. Four of the Commodores' past six games have been played on the road. So the young program’s fortunes could change in the coming weeks, because four of its next five games are at home, a stretch that does not include matchups against Kentucky, Ole Miss, Florida or Missouri. The Commodores have lost two SEC games by two points or fewer. They lost to Ole Miss in overtime. Their 61.5 percent mark from the charity stripe (last in the SEC) won’t help the Commodores secure future wins in similar scenarios.

12. Mississippi State. The Bulldogs kicked off the SEC with promise by winning their first two games. But they’ve lost their past five. Their greatest challenge? Turnovers. They’ve averaged 18.3 per game in SEC play. That and a defense that’s giving up an SEC-worst 70.7 PPG.

13. Auburn. Tony Barbee's program isn’t much better. Auburn’s SEC opponents have averaged 70.0 PPG in league play. The Tigers are also on a five-game losing streak.

14. South Carolina. The Gamecocks scored 10 points in the first half of a loss to the Gators this week. I know, I know. They played Florida. But even Southeastern Louisiana managed 26 in the first half of its 82-43 loss to the Gators this season.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

February, 1, 2013
To death and taxes, I add Marquette. The Golden Eagles are the one thing you can count on annually. A year after losing the Big East’s player of the year and league’s leading scorer (and they were two different people) Buzz Williams’ team is back again, tied atop the leaderboard with Syracuse. Despite seven consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, Marquette still somehow manages to sneak up on people.

Maybe we ought to start paying closer attention.

1. Syracuse. That the Orange lost to Villanova in overtime isn’t the biggest worry right now. Even their bad shooting isn’t a big concern. Here’s the problem: Four of Syracuse’s starters played 41 minutes or more in that game. Without James Southerland (eligibility issue) and now DaJuan Coleman (injury), the rotation is minuscule for the Orange as they head into the home stretch.

2. Marquette. The Golden Eagles have won eight of nine to quietly slide into a first-place tie with Syracuse atop the standings. For those thinking Williams needs a steady scorer, Vander Blue might be the guy -- he had 30 against South Florida. But there’s a big test for both Blue and Marquette this weekend, at Louisville.

3. Louisville. The Cardinals ended their losing streak by beating Pittsburgh despite playing without Wayne Blackshear (shoulder injury) and Kevin Ware (suspension). Here’s the catch: Louisville is averaging just 61.8 points over its past four games. As good as the Cards’ defense is, their offense has to make life a little more bearable.

4. Georgetown. Without Greg Whittington, the Hoyas don’t have much room for error. Their bench is perilously short, so short that John Thompson III had to go to a walk-on against Seton Hall. But Georgetown is winning steadily after a sloppy start, three in a row and five of its past six.

5. Cincinnati. The Bearcats’ propensity for slow starts nearly cost them dearly at Rutgers. Sean Kilpatrick bailed them out then and has continued to be a backbone, especially with Cashmere Wright still getting over a balky knee. Cincinnati has winnable games in the coming week -- at Seton Hall and Providence -- but can ill afford to back into things again.

6. Notre Dame. The great tinkerer, Mike Brey, retooled his team practically overnight, debuting a bigger, tougher and stronger version of the Irish against red-hot Villanova. It worked. The Irish not only won, but got contributions from previously untapped resources such as senior Tom Knight and freshmen Cam Biedscheid and Zach Auguste.

7. St. John’s. The Red Storm could catapult up these rankings in a week. St. John’s has won five in a row, showing a streak of consistency few in this league can match. The catch? The Red Storm have feasted on the bottom of the standings (with the exception of Notre Dame) to get out on that run. I want to see how St. John’s does in upcoming games against Georgetown and Connecticut.

8. Pittsburgh. The Panthers’ four-game win streak came to an end at Louisville, but in the loss Pitt showed it could hang with the conference elite. And now the Panthers’ reward: They get to try to do it all over again when they host Syracuse on Saturday.

9. Villanova. That the Wildcats’ week of happy mayhem ended at South Bend did little to disprove that Villanova is arguably one of the most improved teams in the league. The Cats hung with Notre Dame despite a woeful 3-point shooting night. The next challenge: beating teams they are now expected to beat, including Providence and DePaul, next on the docket.

10. Connecticut. Nothing is easy for the Huskies these days, but at least they are finding a way to gut it out, beating Providence in overtime Thursday for their second victory in a row. For once, at least, UConn got some scoring from someone other than its backcourt, with Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels hitting double figures. That needs to happen more often.

11. Seton Hall. We have now entered that portion of the rankings where you are debating among the least awful of the awful. So kudos to the Pirates, who at least have lost just two in a row, both on the road and to two decent teams in Georgetown and St. John’s. Not that the schedule gets any kinder, with a visit from Cincinnati and a trip to Pittsburgh in the coming week.

12. Providence. The Friars are oh-so-close to putting something together and oh-so-far-away from seeing the results. Providence lost to Pitt by four, to Marquette by 10 and to UConn in overtime. Can the Friars finally break through Sunday at Villanova?

13. Rutgers. If "almost" counted, the Scarlet Knights would be right there. They’ve lost four in a row, but were in the games against Notre Dame, Connecticut and Cincinnati. Alas, this is neither horseshoes nor hand grenades, and as Rutgers preps for a midweek visit from Louisville, it has won just once since Jan. 10.

14. South Florida. The Bulls’ skid is at three, but in their defense, it is against two quality teams -- Notre Dame and Marquette. But like Rutgers, USF’s quality losses don’t mean much, not when it has but one league victory to show for it.

15. DePaul. I’ve run out of ways to describe the Blue Demons’ doom and gloom, so just use the numbers: DePaul has lost five in a row and seven of its past eight.
If someone tells you they know how to rank all 16 Atlantic 10 teams at this point in the 2012-13 season, that person is lying. To be honest, I was tempted to update John Gasaway's Tuesday Truths efficiency margin data to include Wednesday and Thursday night's games, and just use that in place of power rankings -- my little artistic protest against indecipherable hierarchies, a silent screed against the pointlessness of delineation. But then I realized you guys would probably think I was being lazy. We can't have that.

The good news in all this is I'm pretty sure, even this far removed from the date, that the A-10 tourney is going to be completely insane. In the meantime, let's just do our best?

1. Butler. I know, I know: The Bulldogs were handled on the road at Saint Louis on Thursday night, losing 75-58 and never really threatening from the end of the first half onward. But I'm leaving the Bulldogs at the top of the league for a few reasons.
  • I'm not inclined to punish teams too much for losing to other good teams on the road.
  • Based on overall performance throughout the entire college hoops season -- when Butler got wins over Marquette, Indiana and Gonzaga, and only lost to Illinois during the height of the Illini's 3-point-shooting wizardry in Maui -- it is awfully easy to make a pure "resume" case for the Bulldogs at the No. 1 spot.
  • No one else has truly stepped up to claim the spot.

Is this a ranking by default? Sure. But I'm not really sure who else you'd take here, and so Butler remains in place. For now.

2. La Salle. Here's another excellent example of why the current A-10 is such a chaotic rankings haven: Last Wednesday, La Salle toppled Butler at home. On Saturday, the Explorers traveled to Richmond, Va., and got the best league win of the season to date, a 69-61 victory at Virginia Commonwealth in which they didn't let VCU kill them on turnovers and held the Rams to just 0.95 points per trip in their own building. Here come the Explorers, right? Right!

That is, until Wednesday, when La Salle lost at home to Massachusetts 61-60. Being held to 60 points on your home floor by a defense as mediocre as the Minutemen: not a good look.

Even so, I dare you to find me an A-10 team without at least one confusing or just downright bad loss in recent weeks. It isn't possible. So La Salle gets the bump up to No. 2 this week, even if it sort of backed its way in.

3. Virginia Commonwealth. I still believe in the VCU Rams. I still think they're one of the best teams in this league, with some of its most athletic and versatile players and one of its best defenses. Having said that … through seven A-10 contests, including two recent losses to Richmond and La Salle (and a major home survival against a confident Rhode Island team Wednesday night), the Rams actually have played the 10th-best per-possession defense (1.02 PPP) in the conference to date. Yes, you read that right. Tenth. The good news is that they're still forcing a ton of turnovers. The other good news is that most of that scoring is because of opponents hitting a league-high 40 percent from 3 against the Rams, which is bound to come down eventually. With Fordham, Charlotte, and UMass on deck, I'd guess that'll happen sooner rather than later.

4. Saint Louis. I'm not about to go and do something like crazy like put the Billikens at the top of the A-10 power rankings after one convincing home win, because I'm not about to forget that two-week-old home loss to Rhode Island that quickly. Saint Louis isn't as bad as that loss insinuated, nor is it as good as a double-digit victory over Butler might say. The Billikens are, however, closer to the latter. They still hassle opposing ball handlers, and they chase down the highest percentage of available defensive rebounds in the A-10. If they get their offense working, they're not to be slept on.

5. Temple. Is there another team that encapsulates this maddening A-10 better than Temple? In the aforementioned Tuesday Truths, John called this league the "post-Xavier A-10," but I'd argue it is just as much the post-Temple A-10. For the past five years, with minimal exception, you knew what you were going to get from Fran Dunphy's team -- and what you usually got was a league title contender. This season, the Owls are playing wildly disparate basketball, beating Syracuse and pushing Kansas to the limit just a few weeks before losing to St. Bonaventure at home. They are, like the A-10 itself, impossible to predict. Anyway, the Owls couldn't quite keep up with Butler at Hinkle on Saturday, but they did get a nice return win over Richmond on Wednesday night. So there's that.

6. TIE

Note: Until otherwise notified, consider each of the following teams essentially tied. If you complain to me on Twitter about where any of them is ranked, I will know you are a blind homer, because you don't know either. Heed this warning!

Xavier. The Musketeers are 5-2 in league play, their only losses coming on the road at Charlotte and Saint Joe's, and so we at least know one thing about Chris Mack's team: It is going to be really tough to beat at home.

Massachusetts. I'm not kidding: These teams really aren't going to be ranked in any discernible order, because it's practically impossible, at least at this point. And I remain pretty unconvinced of UMass. But the Minutemen did beat one of the hottest teams in the A-10 -- and in the country, really -- on its own floor this week (La Salle), and they got past Richmond (also hot) 70-65 in Amherst on Sunday.

George Washington. On Saturday, for the first time in my college hoops writing career, I got a bunch of tweets from George Washington fans. "Looks like you have to change your A-10 power rankings nyah nyah" was the general sentiment. I have to admit: I wasn't paying much attention to the Colonials at the time. But, lo and behold, Mike Lonergan's team wasn't just winning its third consecutive game; it was absolutely pulverizing the previously defensively impressive Charlotte 49ers 82-54. There isn't much to say other than: nice win, and I'll be more of a believer when and if you can knock of La Salle at home tomorrow.

Saint Joseph's. The preseason conference favorite continues to struggle for one simple reason: defense. The Hawks are playing the fourth-best offense in the league to date, but they've allowed 1.06 points per trip -- 13th in the conference. Were Phil Martelli's offense clicking at a Michigan-esque rate, allowing well over a point per possession would be just fine. But Saint Joe's offense is only slightly better than average, and so this is the result.

Richmond. Whatever happens to the Spiders the rest of the season -- and they've been taking losses and wins in clusters for a month now -- they'll always have that overtime win over city rival VCU. That's not nothing.

Dayton. It's tough to get a read on Dayton. The Flyers lost their first three A-10 games to Butler, VCU and La Salle, then followed up with two obvious blowout home wins over Fordham and Duquesne. Archie Miller's team had a chance to topple rival Xavier on the road Wednesday, but couldn't come up with the plays away from home, and so Dayton is a predictable 2-4, and it feels as though the Flyers belong right in the middle of this group.

Charlotte. Is it time to abandon the Charlotte bandwagon? Yeah, probably. Look, blowout road losses happen, and I'm totally willing to look past that 82-54 loss at George Washington. But I can't look past how putrid this offense is. To wit: The 49ers are playing the third-best per-possession defense in the league thus far. They are allowing 0.97 points per trip. They are scoring -- get this -- 0.923 points per trip. They're playing really good defense! That offense is just so bad it doesn't matter.

St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies are a little like Charlotte, but the opposite: St. Bonaventure can score at an OK rate, but it doesn't really defend, which is why (plus good competition, of course) it put up six consecutive losses from Dec. 22 to Jan. 16. Still, the Bonnies did beat Temple and Saint Joe's on back-to-back occasions, and played Saint Louis relatively tight in a home loss last week, so they're not hopeless.

Note: Tie over. Carry on.

14. Rhode Island. Rhode Island is not good -- let's not get carried away -- but the Rams are not bad, and nowhere near as abysmal as they were last season. Consider their past four games: On Jan. 19, they won at Saint Louis. On Jan. 23, they lost to George Washington 66-65. On Jan. 30, they lost at VCU 70-64. There was a three-point road loss at Fordham sandwiched in there, but nobody's perfect, and the point is not that Rhode Island is even a top-100 team -- merely that it is playing teams both good and bad close, both at home and on the road. Considering where this program left off last season, it's pretty impressive stuff.

15. Fordham. Nice home win over Rhode Island last week, but with VCU, Saint Louis, La Salle, Xavier and Butler coming up, it might be the last one for a while.

16. Duquesne. The Dukes have lost their past eight games. It's nice, in a league this wild, to know I have at least one slot to count on.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

February, 1, 2013
Miami keeps rolling while the rest of the league keeps shuffling. Here are this week’s ever-changing ACC Power Rankings, based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Miami. At a time when top teams are winning with youth, it’s refreshing to see the Hurricanes be so successful with a slew of upperclassmen. Monday, the Hurricanes rose 11 spots in the AP rankings, to No. 14. Wednesday, they remained undefeated in league play (7-0) with a win at Virginia Tech. Next up: a trip to No. 19 NC State, the preseason favorite to win the ACC.

2. Duke. It took a career-high 32 points from Mason Plumlee, plus a clutch 3-pointer from Seth Curry with less than three minutes left, but the fifth-ranked Blue Devils notched their first true road win of the season at Wake Forest on Wednesday. This, after freshmen Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson posted big games in a blowout against Maryland.

3. Virginia. The Cavaliers extended what had been a fairly quiet winning streak with an exclamation point when it upset No. 19 NC State on Tuesday. Joe Harris scored 22 points in that win and has averaged 15.8 points over UVa’s past four victories. Meanwhile, the Cavs' defense has held foes to an average of 50 points per game during the streak.

4. NC State. Point guard Lorenzo Brown has proven to be a fast healer in the past, returning from offseason knee surgery more quickly than expected. The No. 19 Wolfpack is hoping for the same thing now, after he sprained his left ankle in the first half of Tuesday’s loss at Virginia. The junior, who was in a walking boot Wednesday, leads the league with 6.9 assists per game.

5. North Carolina. Sophomore reserve P.J. Hairston, who was averaging about a point a minute over his past three games, will be sidelined this weekend after suffering a concussion. But at least the Tar Heels get junior guard Leslie McDonald back after an academics-related suspension. Coach Roy Williams hated his team’s lack of aggressiveness in the first half of its loss at rival NC State but was pleased with the way it overcame the adversity of losing Hairston at Boston College.

6. Florida State. Lose big or win on a Michael Snaer last-second shot? For the past two weeks, it’s been one or the other for FSU. Wednesday, Snaer -- who buried two game winners in ACC play last season -- hit his second in seven days, this time a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left to top Maryland. But that followed a 24-point loss at Miami.

7. Maryland. It was a tough week for the Terps, who saw the best out of freshman foe Rasheed Sulaimon (25 points) during a blowout loss at Duke, then classic Michael Snaer (game winner) at Florida State. Ouch. Maryland has now lost five of its past seven.

8. Clemson. Forward Milton Jennings again showed his capability with his 28-point, 14-rebound effort against Virginia Tech last weekend. But he followed that with nine points in a win against Georgia Tech. “He can be a very good player in this league, and he's shown it at times," said coach Brad Brownell. But the senior has had trouble with consistency, something the Tigers could use.

9. Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have run the gamut over the past week and a half, following the best win of the Jeff Bzdelik era (over 18th-ranked NC State), with a 20-point thud at Georgia Tech, and then with a down-to-the-final-minutes loss against No. 5 Duke. Freshman Devin Thomas is averaging 14.2 points over his past five games, but Wake has now lost four of them.

10. Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ only two ACC wins of the season have come in overtime (at Georgia Tech) and by a point (to Wake Forest), but senior Erick Green makes this team worth watching. He continues to lead the nation in scoring at 25.5 ppg and has been averaging 30 points over his team’s past three losses. Next up: UNC.

11. Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets finally won an ACC game, clobbering Wake Forest by 20 points last weekend. But they followed that with a three-point defeat at Clemson. Tech remains last in the league in field goal percentage, at 42.2 percent.

12. Boston College. Make that five straight losses for the Eagles, who continue to be led by sophomore Ryan Anderson (16.4 ppg) and Olivier Hanlan (14.1 ppg) but are allowing ACC foes to make .483 percent of their shots.