College Basketball Nation: power rankings 020612

Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

February, 6, 2012
How many NCAA tourney bids will the Big Ten receive? Five seem safe at this point, but beyond that is anyone's guess -- especially after Illinois' home loss to Northwestern on Sunday.

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes went to Madison and beat the Badgers at their own plodding game Saturday. Thad Matta's squad isn’t just the best team in the Big Ten right now. It’s arguably the top squad in the country based on the way it’s played during its five-game winning streak. The Buckeyes could really pull away from the rest of the field with a win against Michigan State Saturday.

2. Michigan State: Spartans fans can exhale now. Draymond Green scored 14 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a 64-54 win over Michigan Sunday, days after leaving the team’s road loss at Illinois with a knee injury. The Spartans get a shot at Ohio State Saturday in Columbus. And they possess the physical style to stifle the Buckeyes.

3. Wisconsin: Can’t knock the Badgers for putting up a 40-minute fight against an Ohio State team that’s been the league’s best squad for weeks. A few late mistakes cost the Badgers. Their challenges from the 3-point line (18.5 percent against the Buckeyes) continue to hurt a team without an inside force. But they’re going to challenge every team in the Big Ten with their stingy defense.

4. Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines had their fourth conference loss of the season Sunday against Michigan State. No, they’re not out of the Big Ten title race. The Wolverines get Ohio State, Purdue and Illinois at home in the coming weeks. And they play Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern and Penn State on the road. The Wolverines, however, continue to suffer inside with their limited frontcourt depth.

5. Indiana: The Hoosiers have won three of their past five games. Saturday’s 78-61 win at rival Purdue served two crucial purposes for Tom Crean’s program. It saved Indiana from a 5-7 Big Ten record and it snapped its four-game road losing streak in conference play. Only two of Indiana’s final seven games will be played outside of Bloomington.

6. Illinois: The Illini followed Tuesday’s 42-41 home win over Michigan State with a 74-70 loss to Northwestern Sunday … in the same arena, Assembly Hall in Champaign. Really? You try to figure out this up-and-down Illini team because I can’t.

7. Purdue: The Boilermakers have lost three of four. And they play Ohio State, Illinois, Michigan State and Indiana in their last eight Big Ten games. Why are those opponents significant? Because they all have the inside threats that can expose Purdue’s void in the paint.

8. Minnesota: The Gophers have won five of their past seven games. After losing their best player, Trevor Mbakwe, to a season-ending knee injury in November, they could easily be at the very bottom of the Big Ten standings.

9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes are 3-2 at home in 2012. Fran McCaffery’s team has won two in a row. That’s certainly an accomplishment for this rebuilding team.

10. Northwestern: The Wildcats entered the season amid ongoing hope that this would be the first time the program makes the NCAA tournament. That’s not going to happen this season.

11. Penn State: The Nittany Lions have the worst record in the Big Ten at 2-9. But there’s just something about State College. Big Ten teams always seem to encounter trouble when they play there. Plus, Tim Frazier (18.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg and 6.3 apg) is one of the top players in the league. That’s why they avoided the No. 12 slot.

12. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers’ introduction to the Big Ten hasn’t been a smooth one. And that’s too bad because Bo Spencer (15.3 ppg and 3.5 apg) is a special player and he deserves more praise.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

February, 6, 2012
Is Notre Dame really the second-best team in the Big East? At this point in time, it's tough to argue with the results on the court...

1. Syracuse: With Fab Melo back in the fold, the Orange cruised to an easy win against St. John’s. The big man changes things aplenty for Syracuse, all in a good way.

2. Notre Dame: The Irish’s unexpected run continues, with a pasting of a previously rising Marquette team. Notre Dame is dangerous at home and downright lethal when it can hit 3-pointers, like it did against the Golden Eagles.

3. Georgetown: John Thompson III got the Hoyas back to basics on defense. The result has been two opponents who got stuck in the 40s, Connecticut and South Florida. Now for the rivalry game against Syracuse.

4. Marquette: Notre Dame snapped the Golden Eagles’ seven-game win streak in decisive fashion, but it should be noted Davante Gardner was out with a knee injury. That changes things significantly for Marquette’s defense.

5. Louisville: Finally some good news for the Cardinals — Gorgui Dieng's ankle injury wasn’t so bad after all. Dieng returned to the game against Rutgers and Louisville returned to order. The Cards have now won four in a row.

6. West Virginia: The Mountaineers stopped what could have been a disastrous skid by beating Providence in overtime. That won’t do a lot to restore confidence to WVU fans, but hey, a win is a win. The Mountaineers need more this week, against either red-hot Notre Dame or improving Louisville.

7. Connecticut: Perhaps the Huskies prefer turmoil. A day after Jim Calhoun announced an indefinite leave, UConn topped a depleted Seton Hall team to end a four-game slide.

8. Cincinnati: The Bearcats got a cure for what ails them — a visit from DePaul. Now things get more critical for the bubble dwellers as they take trips to St. John’s and Marquette.

9. South Florida: The Bulls finally faced one of the league’s more established teams and it didn’t go well. Georgetown claimed a 30-point win. USF is better, but to convince folks it belongs in the upper half of the league, it needs to beat some good teams.

10. Pittsburgh: Don’t look now but here come the Panthers. With Tray Woodall back in the lineup, Pitt has now won four in a row, including a gut-check victory against Villanova. With a favorable end-season schedule, keep Pitt very close on the radar.

11. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights lost the game and their coach in Louisville, with an exasperated Mike Rice earning an ejection before halftime. The young Knights remain a tough out and expect them to be especially tough when they host in-state rival Seton Hall this week.

12. Seton Hall: The Pirates are a mess, and there's no other way to put it. Forced to play without Herb Pope (rib injury), Seton Hall barely mustered a fight in a loss to Connecticut. That’s their sixth loss in a row, not exactly the momentum the Pirates want to face rival Rutgers this week.

13. St. John’s: The Fresh Five, as the starting freshmen for the Red Storm like to be called, got a fresh look at what they’re up against in a 25-point loss to Syracuse. There is upside for this team, plenty of it, but right now it’s an uphill battle against top-25 teams.

14. Villanova: The good news is the Wildcats fought back from an 18-point deficit. The bad news is the 18-point deficit. Villanova’s loss to Pittsburgh was its third in a row and fifth in seven games. The only meaningful goal right now: a .500 finish.

15. DePaul: Some things are just hard to change and Big East results are among them for the Blue Demons. DePaul has lost seven of its past eight and the schedule is not kind for the Blue Demons – Marquette, Notre Dame, Connecticut and Louisville await.

16. Providence: There are no moral victories, so no solace for the Friars in taking West Virginia to OT. But that’s really all Ed Cooley is aiming for right now — building confidence and a new attitude in his program.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 6, 2012
Here are this week’s Big 12 power rankings:

1. Missouri: The Tigers have played the two toughest teams in the league (Kansas and Baylor) and defeated them both. Guard Marcus Denmon had made just five of his previous 31 attempts from 3-point range before going 6-for-9 from beyond the arc in Saturday’s win against Kansas.

2. Kansas: The Jayhawks blew an eight-point lead with just more than 2 minutes remaining in Saturday’s loss at Missouri, but with Baylor up next on Wednesday, there’s no time to mope about the loss. Kansas is 16-2 all-time against the Bears, who it defeated by 18 points last month at Allen Fieldhouse.

3. Baylor: The Bears’ Big 12 title hopes depend largely on what happens this week. Baylor hosts Kansas on Wednesday and travels to Missouri Saturday. Baylor’s only two losses are against those two teams. The Bears' offense looked sloppy and disorganized in last week’s victories over Texas A&M (63-60) and Oklahoma State (64-60).

4. Iowa State: The Cyclones won at Oklahoma Saturday despite getting just three points from leading scorer Royce White. Fred Hoiberg's squad has won five of its past six games overall and could continue that streak this week against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.

5. Kansas State: The Wildcats got back on the winning track by defeating Texas A&M Saturday at home. And the good times should continue when Kansas State hosts Texas Tech on Tuesday. Leading scorer Rodney McGruder has made just four of his previous 20 3-point attempts.

6. Texas: Rick Barnes’ squad hasn’t caught many breaks in conference play. Texas’ six league losses have come by an average of five points. The Longhorns had lost five of their previous six games before defeating Texas Tech on Saturday. Monday’s road game against a beat up Texas A&M squad is winnable.

7. Texas A&M: The Aggies almost defeated Baylor without Khris Middleton and Dash Harris on Wednesday, and they led Kansas State at halftime before falling 64-53 Saturday in Manhattan. Considering all of the injuries, Texas A&M deserves credit for competing as well as it has.

8. Oklahoma: The Sooners have dropped four of their previous five games heading into Monday’s contest against Missouri. All of a sudden the team that got off to a 9-1 start is 3-7 in league play. Steven Pledger and Andrew Fitzgerald are averaging a combined 31.1 points.

9. Oklahoma State: Three weeks after losing to them by 41 points, Oklahoma State nearly upset the Baylor Bears before falling 64-60 Saturday in Stillwater. Freshman Brian Williams had 23 points in the loss. On Tuesday, Oklahoma State hosts the same Iowa State squad that it lost to on a buzzer-beater Jan. 18 in Ames.

10. Texas Tech: Last week’s home game against Oklahoma State appeared to be the Red Raiders’ best chance of picking up a Big 12 win. Instead, Billy Gillispie’s team was throttled 80-63. Jordan Tolbert leads Texas Tech in scoring with 11.9 points per contest. But he’s averaging just 6.3 points in his past three games.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

February, 6, 2012
Now that Florida has clearly established itself as the top challenger to No. 1 Kentucky, here is where we stand in the Southeastern Conference.

1. Kentucky: Anthony Davis is having not just an SEC Payer of the Year season but is now a serious candidate for the national honor. He was simply dominant against Tennessee and South Carolina.

2. Florida: The Gators are making 3s in bunches, beating Vanderbilt to set up a top-10 showdown at Kentucky on Tuesday. The Gators can shoot the 3-pointer as effectively any team in the country. Now they’ve got to board and defend.

3. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs need to continue to hold serve at home, but that 91-88 victory over Auburn on Saturday was a little too close for comfort. Though after losing to rival Ole Miss last month, any win over the Rebels this week would be welcome.

4. Vanderbilt: The Commodores had a rough road swing, losing at Arkansas and at Florida. The Commodores had chances in both games but still aren’t ready to win and close out late. I’m still convinced the Dores can advance in March in a single-elimination format.

5. Alabama: For now, at least, the Crimson Tide have re-emerged as a top-five SEC team after a much-needed double-overtime win over Ole Miss. Bama easily could have given this game away but made the necessary plays down the stretch, notably guard Andrew Steele, who was clutch from the field and the free throw line. Remember, Steele was out with concussion symptoms earlier this season.

6. Ole Miss: Coach Andy Kennedy has had to remake this team and has turned Ole Miss into a tough out. But the Rebels continue to fall flat in crucial moments. They had a double-figure lead on Florida and couldn’t hold the Gators down in Oxford and had multiple shots to beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa. Those wins have to come soon if we're to take them seriously as a bubble team.

7. Arkansas: Coach Mike Anderson has Bud Walton Arena rocking again, but now the challenge is for the Hogs to bottle up that consistency when they hit road. Don’t hold your breath just yet. That weekend loss in Baton Rouge was highly disappointing for a team that had started to talk bubble.

8. Auburn: The Tigers nearly clipped Mississippi State on the road in Starkville. Auburn has suddenly found its offense and has a legit shot to upset archrival Alabama this week.

9. LSU: This group has meandered through the season without any kind of flow. But LSU's home victory over Arkansas may change the confidence level of this crew. The problem is that a trip to Nashville to face Vanderbilt is next.

10. Tennessee: The Vols are one of the hardest-working teams in the SEC, but the consistent results aren’t there yet. Tennessee is tough at home but pretty awful on the road. Give coach Cuonzo Martin time and this team will be a factor again.

11. Georgia: The Bulldogs have struggled to score during a four-game losing streak, failing to reach 64 points in any of the four games. Playing three of the next five on the road won’t help cure the offensive woes.

12. South Carolina: The Gamecocks got obliterated at home by Kentucky 86-52, and it wasn’t ever close. South Carolina can’t allow itself to get run out of its own house like that against anyone.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

February, 6, 2012
Allow me to concur with my colleague, Myron Medcalf, who included the Pac-12's intriguing title race among his five observations Sunday:
2. The Pac-12 race is actually exciting: Let’s ignore the fact this could still be a one-bid league and the overall conference has been bested by multiple mid-major conferences this season. The Pac-12’s title race is compelling right now. Washington beat Arizona on the road last weekend and then overcame a late double-digit deficit to beat UCLA on Thursday. The Wildcats overcame Cal’s early 22-9 lead in one of the better matchups of the week: a 78-74 road win for Arizona, which it followed up with a victory at Stanford. The Pac-12 might end up with the most captivating finish in the country simply because so many teams possess questionable NCAA tourney résumés.

This is entirely true. Sure, the quality of play in the Pacific 12 conference isn't the highest in the country, but so what? If you want to watch the best basketball in the world, played by all of its best players, well, NBA League Pass is right this way. Go wild. If you want your hoops defined as much by imperfection as success, it's hard to do much better than this fascinating and downright weird league.

Anyway, onto the rankings.

1. Washington: For much of the season, yours truly has been pining over the Washington Huskies. Well, not pining, exactly, but at least keeping an eye out. With Tony Wroten, Abdul Gaddy, Terrence Ross and Aziz N'Diaye, Washington has always appeared to be the most talented team in the conference. Of course, talent only goes so far, and for much of the season, this team's talent was undermined by a lack of chemistry and a lack of defense, and not always in that order. Both of those things have changed in conference play. The Huskies are hardly blowing the doors off on offense, but they're allowing the league's third-fewest points per possession on defense, and unlike their mediocre nonconference slate, Lorenzo Romar's team is getting key stops, closing out tight games and winning on the road. As a result -- and thanks to Cal's home loss to Arizona this week -- Washington finds itself alone atop the Pac-12 standings Monday morning. Can the Huskies take that lead to the finish line? It may not matter, this team's at-large tourney profile is still pretty mediocre. But you can't knock Washington's improvement. If things keep going this way, Romar's team will be in excellent position heading into the all-important Pac-12 tournament.

2. California: The Bears have spent the entire Pac-12 season looking like this conference's best, or at least most solid, team. That perception hasn't changed, despite Thursday's home loss to Arizona, which dropped California out of first place in the league standings. Thing is, Cal has reached its ceiling. The Bears are what they are. That's not something we can necessarily say about Washington, which looks capable of greater improvement each time it takes the floor. The Bears are solid (and their total per-possession numbers are solid, if not amazing, particularly in conference play) but unspectacular. Meh.

3. Colorado: Is it time to believe in Colorado? Insofar as "believe in Colorado" means "think they might be the third- or fourth-best team in the Pac-12," then yeah, sure. The Buffaloes are playing solid defense and got a couple of nice wins last week over Oregon State and Oregon (though Saturday night's win over the Ducks featured a controversial last-second foul call on Oregon's E.J. Singler that gave coach Tad Boyle's team two late, game-sealing free throws). In any case, the Buffaloes still need to prove themselves on the road. This team's only Pac-12 road victory came at USC, and five of their final seven games -- including the next three, at Arizona, Arizona State and Utah -- are on the road. We'll see.

4. Arizona: The Wildcats move up the board further than anyone this week thanks to their impressive Bay Area sweep, which began Thursday at Cal and ended Saturday at Stanford. Both were solid wins for coach Sean Miller's improving bunch. The Wildcats are now 7-4 in conference play with the best per-possession defense in the league. Arizona's offense could hold them back (it was uncharacteristically good at Cal, and it didn't prevent a win at Stanford), but the Cats may have found their niche on the defensive end.

5. Oregon: Perception-wise, it's hard to penalize the Ducks too much for losing on the road at Colorado, let alone losing on the road on such a controversial last-second call. Coach Dana Altman's team has an excellent chance to bounce back this week when Washington comes to town, so that's good news. But Oregon has yet to really impress when it comes to efficiency margin in league play, and while Altman and Oregon fans may feel like they are a few missed opportunities away from contention, the Ducks' advanced metrics beg to differ.

6. Stanford: Stanford entered league play with a sluggish offense and what appeared to be the conference's best defense. Since then, coach Johnny Dawkins' team has regressed to the mean on the defensive end, allowing the fifth-most points per possession in Pac-12 play. That wouldn't be so bad if Stanford were playing a bit better on offense. Unfortunately, that's not the case. That's why Arizona was able to win in Palo Alto on Saturday despite scoring well under a point per possession, and that's why Stanford, once a potential title contender, is stuck here at 6-5.

7. Oregon State: It's hard to move the Beavers either up or down after Oregon State lost at Colorado and won at Utah. Guard Jared Cunningham leads an offense that can score in bunches and a defense that is far too permissive both at home and on the road. Last week's win at Oregon was nice, but little else has been impressive.

8. UCLA: Believe it or not, the Bruins score the most points per trip of any team in the Pac-12. Travis and David Wear are providing efficient role scoring, and Joshua Smith remains a load for any defense to handle. Strangely enough for a program that has prided itself on defense in the Ben Howland era, this team is totally mediocre on the defensive end. Losing to Washington on the road, as the Bruins did Thursday, is hardly a crime. But the way UCLA lost -- with a timeout still on the board -- was curious. More importantly, this team hasn't gone anywhere since the turmoil of November and December, and that has UCLA fans questioning the program's future direction.

9. Washington State: Washington State had one thing going for it in early Pac-12 play: home-court advantage. The Cougars were offensively potent at home, and that trait guided them to wins over Stanford and Cal in back-to-back games last month. But Faisal Aden's sad, career-ending ACL injury has robbed them of even that ability, made evident by a meager 60-53 win over USC and a 60-points-in-65-possessions performance in Saturday's three-point loss to UCLA. This was never going to be a tournament team, but that doesn't make Aden's fate, or its effect on this fledgling squad, any easier to swallow.

10. Arizona State: No surprises here. Arizona State had two road games this week -- at Stanford, at Cal -- and lost by 20-plus in both. Those blowouts moved the Sun Devils to 3-8 in league play, good enough to stay atop Utah and USC and no one else.

11. Utah: The Utes will never truly wash off the stink of their horrendous nonconference performance; on a per-possession basis, they've been ranked in the low 300s all season, and they'll be there for the remainder. But they do still own one more league win than USC. Then again, Utah has lost its past four (including at USC), mostly in blowout fashion, and the Utes may return to their seemingly predestined spot at the bottom of these rankings if the trend continues.

12. USC: And then there's Southern California. The Trojans' only win in league play came at home over Utah, and while they kept things relatively close at Washington State (losing 60-53), that's hardly worth much. USC is scoring about 0.83 points per possession in Pac-12 play, a league that hardly specializes in lockdown defense. Unless the Trojans discover a magical way to score the basketball in the next few weeks, their only hopes of avoiding the 2012 Pac-12 wooden spoon award is if Utah somehow plays even worse.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

February, 6, 2012
North Carolina rallied, Miami upset and Virginia and Florida State battled. It was quite a weekend for the ACC, and here’s an attempt at this week’s power rankings:

1. North Carolina: Harrison Barnes can star when hurting. Kendall Marshall can play an extended stretch with four fouls. And the Tar Heels can still rally, as they showed by coming back from a nine-point deficit at Maryland. But they’re going to have to get more production from their bench, as their reserves managed only nine points in two games last week.

2. Florida State: Michael Snaer managed only three field goals against Virginia’s defense, but they all came at timely points in the second half. The Seminoles have now won seven in a row -- including beating the three other ranked teams in the ACC -- and remain in the driver’s seat for the league’s regular-season race.

3. Duke: The Blue Devils’ loss to Miami marked their second ACC loss at home. Coach Mike Krzyzewski summed up the problem like this: “A Duke team should play with energy for 40 minutes – or 45,” he said, according to The (Raleigh) News & Observer. “Go outside and look at the banners. There are quite a few of them up there. They were not won without energy, without hunger, with ... complacency, with[out] people really wanting it.”

4. Virginia: The Cavs recorded a season-high 20 turnovers in their loss to Florida State, which they blamed more on their execution than the Seminoles’ defense. Senior Mike Scott continues to impress, as Virginia’s four losses this season have come by a combined 10 points.

5. Miami: It took three overtime periods -- two versus Maryland, one at Duke -- to extend the Hurricanes’ winning streak to four, and in so doing, they’re pushing their way back into the NCAA conversation. Sunday’s win marked Miami’s first at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and only its second win over the Blue Devils since joining the ACC.

6. NC State: Scott Wood made six 3-pointers in the Pack’s victory against Wake Forest. Most notably, he did it in his home arena, the RBC Center -- although he told The News & Observer he prefers playing on the road. "Anytime you have fans talking trash, it raises your game."

7. Maryland: The Terps gave the Tar Heels all they could handle on Saturday, even leading by as many as nine points in the second half before UNC rallied. Guard Terrell Stoglin continues to lead the ACC in scoring, but Maryland has now lost five of its past six games.

8. Clemson: The Tigers lost both their games last week and also lost forward Milton Jennings, who was suspended for the second time this season, this time for academic reasons. He’s out indefinitely, meaning the Tigers lose an average of 8.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

9. Virginia Tech: The Hokies -- who had had six of their previous eight ACC games decided by four or fewer points -- finally won a close one when it beat Clemson 67-65. But they squandered a 17-point and lead and needed the Tigers to miss a shot at the end to survive.

10. Wake Forest: It was a tough week for the Deacons, who lost to two in-state foes -- UNC and NC State. That extended their losing streak to four.

11. Georgia Tech: Glen Rice Jr. scored three points in the final minute to help his team beat Boston College and snap a six-game losing streak. “Everybody in the locker room right now is going crazy,” Tech guard Mfon Udofia told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the game.

12. Boston College: The Eagles have now lost six in a row -- the last two by a combined nine points -- and things don’t get any easier with Florida State coming to town on Wednesday.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.