College Basketball Nation: power rankings 022012

Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
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The Big Ten proved to be the king of college basketball conferences this weekend with a variety of upsets, near-upsets and tough efforts by some of the league’s bubble teams. Doesn’t make it any easier to rank this league, though.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans keep rolling. They toyed with the Badgers on Thursday. They fought off a motivated Boilermakers squad Sunday. And with just four games remaining on their Big Ten slate, it’s hard to see the Spartans stumbling and squandering the Big Ten title. And they’re probably a team that deserves a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney.

2. Michigan: The Wolverines kept their conference title hopes alive with a crucial win over the Buckeyes. They’re undefeated at home. And although he’s just a freshman, Trey Burke (17 points, five assists against the Bucks) is a gamer who’s equipped to lead the Wolverines on a run in March.

3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes don’t look like the same crew that recently rattled off six straight wins. They took a major hit against the Spartans last weekend. And their loss to Michigan on Saturday put a serious dent in their Big Ten title hopes. It’s easy to look at Jared Sullinger's recent struggles (14 turnovers in his last three games, including 10 in the loss to the Spartans last weekend), but William Buford has failed to record double-digits in three of his team’s four Big Ten losses. Buford, the team’s second-leading scorer, finished with six points in Saturday’s loss in Ann Arbor.

4. Wisconsin: The Badgers are certainly an NCAA tournament team. If they play a team that’s equally interested in the grind-it-out style that makes Bo Ryan’s system go, then they’ll have a chance to advance in March. But I don’t know how they’re going to keep up with some of the nation’s more talented offensive squads if their scoring droughts continue (five scoreless minutes in the first half of their loss to Michigan State).

5. Indiana: Sunday’s road loss to the Hawkeyes interrupted a three-game winning streak for the Hoosiers. With Cody Zeller inside and the confidence that comes from knowing that they’re the only team in the country that’s cracked the Kentucky Code, the Hoosiers have the potential to make noise in March. Their struggles away from Assembly Hall, however, warrant doubts.

6. Northwestern: A few weeks ago, I wrote that the Wildcats would not crack the field of 68 on Selection Sunday. Northwestern had offered few reasons to consider another postseason path. But I’ve certainly been proven wrong in recent weeks. The Wildcats never quit after losing three consecutive games in late January. They’ve won four of six, and if you ask Joe Lunardi, they’re in the Big Dance right now. A victory over Michigan on Tuesday would be huge.

7. Purdue: In stretches of Sunday’s loss to Michigan State, the Boilermakers took on the “play through adversity” mantra that sometimes fuels inspired performances. But in the end, MSU was too tough and the Boilers lacked the firepower to build on a 38-35 halftime lead. The D.J. Byrd/Kelsey Barlow drama could change Purdue's postseason outlook.

8. Iowa: Sunday’s win over nationally ranked Indiana was another sign of progress for Fran McCaffery and his staff. Next season’s task: win on the road (five straight losses). Some squad from the bottom of the league is going to score an upset in the Big Ten tournament. The Hawkeyes are on that list.

9. Minnesota: The Gophers are certainly on the outside of the bubble right now, but a victory over Michigan State on Wednesday could push Minnesota back into the discussion. The Gophers don’t have a magic number, just a need to score some additional signature victories in the coming weeks when they’ll play the Spartans, the Hoosiers and the Badgers.

10. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers’ 23-point win over Illinois on Saturday was an embarrassment for the Illini but a major boost for a squad that’s struggled all season. Is it too late to save Doc Sadler's job?

11. Penn State: The Nittany Lions’ loss to Wisconsin in Madison was Penn State’s ninth consecutive road loss. This is another team that’s been solid in stretches at home but unable to duplicate any sliver of that success away from State College, Pa.

12. Illinois: I don’t care about the Illini's record. I don’t care about nonconference wins or their past victories over the Spartans or Buckeyes. That performance against Nebraska this weekend -- an 80-57 loss when they knew what was on the line -- put the Illini at the bottom of these power rankings. They’re the worst team in the league right now for a lot of reasons. But on Tuesday in Columbus, they have a crucial opportunity to revive their at-large hopes and potentially save Bruce Weber’s job. Don't count on it.

Conference power rankings: Big East

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
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For once there wasn’t a whole lot of moving around in the rankings. Maybe that means now that the regular season is nearly over, things are starting to settle down. Or it’s just the calm before a final storm.

The only minor change: Marquette jumps a slot above Notre Dame. That’s more of a nod to how solid the Golden Eagles have looked recently.

1. Syracuse: This is how you know things are going right for the Orange: Syracuse finally beat Louisville. It wasn’t pretty but it ended a possible seven-game win streak for the Cards.

2. Georgetown: The Hoyas’ defense has become downright smothering. In the last five games, four opponents failed to muster better than 35 percent shooting against Georgetown.

3. Marquette: The Golden Eagles are looking better and better with each passing game, routing UConn on the road this week. Jamil Wilson has filled in more than ably for the injured Davante Gardner.

4. Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish came from 20 points down to beat Villanova, a testimony to Notre Dame’s intestinal fortitude and ability to knock down 3-pointers.

5. Louisville: The Cardinals didn’t look pretty against DePaul, needing overtime to dispose of the Blue Demons. Louisville will have to get its motor running much earlier against a hungry Cincinnati team on Thursday.

6. South Florida: Time to see what the Bulls are really made of. South Florida, riding a four-game win streak and now 10-4 in league play, heads to Syracuse on Wednesday. Regardless of that result, USF is guaranteed its first winning Big East season, a big step for the program.

7. Cincinnati: The Bearcats are fighting to prove their NCAA worth. Beating Seton Hall and Providence, as Cincinnati did this past week, won’t carry nearly as much weight as beating Louisville on Thursday.

8. West Virginia: The Mountaineers turned the backyard brawl -- perhaps the last one -- against Pittsburgh into a pillow fight, turning a tight game at the half into a rout. This is a big week for WVU, with a visit to Notre Dame on Wednesday and a home game against Marquette on Friday.

9. Seton Hall: Time is running out on the Pirates’ NCAA tourney hopes. Seton Hall needs to rack up wins and fast. Beating Georgetown on Tuesday would help considerably.

10. Connecticut: Jim Calhoun will be a spectator when the Huskies visit Villanova on Monday night. Doesn’t matter who coaches; UConn needs a win and needs one desperately. Even more, it could use a win at home against Syracuse on Saturday.

11. Villanova: Down two starters, the Wildcats nearly pulled off the upset against Notre Dame, but this has been a season of "nearly." Villanova instead dropped its second in a row and now hosts UConn on Big Monday, in an all-name/no-game matchup.

12. St. John’s: The Red Storm beat head coach Steve Lavin’s former team without Lavin on the sidelines. The result probably says more about UCLA’s misfortunes than anything, but it is certainly a nice confidence boost for a St. John’s team trying to finish a difficult season on a good note.

13. Rutgers: Mired in a five-game losing streak, the Scarlet Knights’ reward is a date with its third ranked opponent in a row -- Marquette on Wednesday night. Not good for a young team trying to find traction.

14. Pittsburgh: The brief hopes that Tray Woodall’s return would change the Panthers’ fortunes have been all but dashed. Pitt, which lost its shooting touch in the second half against USF on Sunday night, now has lost four in a row.

15. DePaul: Oliver Purnell was happy to see his team’s effort against Louisville but not so happy with the result. DePaul blew a 10-point halftime lead and lost in OT, its 36th straight loss to a ranked opponent.

16. Providence: The Friars face DePaul on Saturday in a fight to get out of the Big East basement. Don’t think that doesn’t matter.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
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Saturday’s game between Kansas and Missouri will go a long way toward deciding this year's Big 12 regular-season champion. Both teams have identical 12-2 conference records, but Missouri gets the nod in this week’s Conference Power Rankings because of its victory over the Jayhawks on Feb. 4 in Columbia.

1. Missouri: Frank Haith’s squad eked out another hard-fought road victory Saturday when it defeated Texas A&M 71-62 in College Station. The win was the seventh straight for the Tigers, who will try to avenge a Jan. 7 loss to Kansas State on Tuesday.

2. Kansas: The Jayhawks had an easy time with last-place Texas Tech in Saturday’s 33-point win. Forward Thomas Robinson continues to make a case for national player of the year honors. The junior is averaging 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.

3. Kansas State: Angel Rodriguez scored 15 points to lead the Wildcats to their best win of the season against Baylor on Saturday. The 57-56 victory upped Kansas State’s Big 12 record to 7-7 and will greatly enhance its resume on Selection Sunday. Two more tough tests await this week. The Wildcats visit Missouri on Tuesday and host Iowa State on Sunday.

4. Baylor: The Bears are in a downward spiral with losses in three of their past four games. Scott Drew’s team failed to score in the final two minutes of Saturday’s home defeat against Kansas State and looked completely disorganized and lost on its final two possessions. Getting healthy at Texas on Monday won’t be easy.

5. Iowa State: Scott Christopherson scored 25 points and Chris Allen added 16 in Saturday’s 80-69 victory over Oklahoma. At 9-5, the Cyclones are now tied with Baylor for third place in the Big 12 standings. Standout Royce White has had three single-digit scoring outputs in his past five games.

6. Texas: Saturday’s 90-78 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater snapped the Longhorns’ four-game winning streak. Texas was outscored from the free throw line 43-14. At 7-7 in league play, Rick Barnes’ team desperately needs a home win against Baylor on Monday to enhance its NCAA tournament hopes. Texas lost to the Bears 76-71 on Jan. 28 in Waco.

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are the Big 12’s most improved team; especially when they play at home. Oklahoma State has now defeated Missouri, Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in Stillwater. They still have home games remaining against Texas A&M and Kansas. Keiton Page had 40 points in Saturday’s win over Texas, when he was 20-for-20 from the foul stripe.

8. Texas A&M: The Aggies have lost five of their past six games, and with Kansas coming to town Wednesday, things may get worse before they get better. Point guard Dash Harris hasn’t played since Jan. 23 because of a foot injury. Elston Turner averages a team-high 14 points.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders didn’t do much to capitalize on their Feb. 11 victory over Oklahoma. They turned in a dismal offensive performance in a 47-38 setback against Texas A&M on Tuesday before getting stomped by 33 points at Kansas on Saturday.

10. Oklahoma: The Sooners have lost six games in a row and eight of past last nine. Wednesday’s home game against Oklahoma State looks like a possible victory, as the Cowboys have been terrible on the road. Still, it’s been quite a collapse for a team that opened the season with wins in nine of its first 10 games.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
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Kentucky is the national favorite, but Florida’s dominant play at Arkansas and Vanderbilt’s complete game at Ole Miss should give hope that the SEC has three teams with the potential of Elite Eight appearances.

1. Kentucky: The Wildcats had one game last week and got off to a sluggish start against Ole Miss. But that was over quickly in the second half. Seeing Terrence Jones and Darius Miller star for the Wildcats is yet another indication of the talent depth of this squad. So much has been made, and rightfully so, of freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, as well as the development of Marquis Teague. But the play of veterans (yes, sophomores qualify as veterans at UK) will ultimately decide Kentucky’s title fate.

2. Florida: The Gators absolutely obliterated Arkansas by 30 on the road. It was Florida’s most complete performance, home or road, this season. The Gators can’t figure out how to play Tennessee and they couldn’t handle Kentucky in the second half. But if UF shoots, runs and rebounds as well as it did in Fayetteville, it will finish second in the SEC. And there's no shame in that this season.

3. Vanderbilt: The Commodores had their most dominant SEC effort with a 102-76 win at Ole Miss, followed up by a nine-point road win at Georgia. The play of Vandy in that first game is exactly what everyone expected in the preseason. Watch the Commodores’ offense in that game and you’ll see a team that can win multiple games in the NCAA tournament. Vandy still has the talent to win the SEC tournament if Kentucky loses focus.

4. LSU: The Tigers are suddenly back to .500 in league play, which puts them in a four-way tie for fourth. So why not have them leading that pack? Trent Johnson has taken advantage of a depleted Alabama and a Mississippi State team that continues not to close late in games. LSU’s schedule down the stretch is so favorable that it’s not out of the question that the Tigers could win four of the next five games and finish with 10 SEC wins.

5. Alabama: The Tide still are without suspended players JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, but Alabama has reconstituted itself, and the 12-point win over Tennessee is a strong indication that Bama may still be a factor down the stretch. The Tide defense was as solid as it has been this season in allowing the Vols to score only 50 points. If Mitchell and Green do return and buy into Grant, then Alabama will be in play down the stretch in the SEC.

6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have top-two talent, but they have not played that way of late. Mississippi State has inexplicably lost three games in a row. The loss at home in overtime to Georgia was a clear sign something was off. The road loss in overtime at LSU is acceptable. The Tigers at home are more than formidable. But losing by 10 at Auburn, even without Renardo Sidney (back spasms), signifies some serious issues. The Bulldogs have a tough slate ahead in the next two games in hosting Kentucky and going to Alabama. Losing five in a row is a realistic scenario that will have MSU right on the bubble.

7. Tennessee: The Vols had been one of the hottest teams in the SEC with a four-game win streak. But then they ran into Alabama’s defense and went cold on 3s by going 4-of-20. Tennessee still has a chance to finish in the top half of the SEC. The schedule of hosting Ole Miss and going to South Carolina this week puts UT in a favorable position. The final two (at LSU, hosting rival Vandy) could decide this team's SEC fate.

8. Auburn: The Tigers jump up to No. 8 above Ole Miss and Arkansas simply because they played the most efficient game of the week. The win over Mississippi State was one of Auburn’s best of the season. Of course, the next game for the Tigers is at Florida, and Auburn still has to go to Alabama, so the good vibe could be short-lived. But Auburn’s defense was on lockdown against the Bulldogs, and that’s a positive sign.

9. Arkansas: The Hogs had their worst performance at home against Florida. Arkansas headed into the game as a team that had an unbeaten home résumé, but nothing to show for itself on the road. But the complete meltdown at Bud Walton essentially eliminates the Hogs from contention for an at-large bid. It’s hard to justify Arkansas, barring a run through the SEC, after losing by 30 to Florida for its fourth loss in five games.

10. Ole Miss: The Rebels were blitzed at home by Vanderbilt in embarrassing nature. Ole Miss then found a way and mustered up a solid effort in the first half against Kentucky. And then reality hit. The Wildcats ran past the Rebs. Credit Andy Kennedy for trying to keep this team together in the short term, but it has been an exceedingly difficult season for Ole Miss and it looks like it will only get more difficult.

11. South Carolina: The Gamecocks get the nod over Georgia with a win over the Bulldogs in Columbia. This has been a humbling season for South Carolina and it will likely get worse over the final couple of weeks. The next three are against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Mississippi State.

12. Georgia: The Bulldogs are in the infancy stages of a major rebuild and while the Mississippi State road win was a high, losing to South Carolina was another setback for a team that's now 3-9 in the SEC.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
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Don't look now, but we may finally have this league figured out. For the first time since we unleashed these rankings on an unsuspecting hoops populace, almost nothing has changed in the past week of games. Why? Because at this point, we basically know what these teams are: Cal steady and solid, Washington is talented and mercurial, Arizona is the defensive stalwart, Oregon is better than its record but can't get over the hump, Colorado is good but not great, UCLA has been a mess, Stanford is meh, and the rest of the league is just plain ... well, you know. Let's not be mean about it.

1. California: Cal has never been quite as fascinating to me this season as Washington. The talented but inconsistent Huskies have always represented the vague allure of the unknown; they might be the most Free Darko college hoops team in the country. Cal, on the other hand, has been much easier to read, and much less exciting for it. But with just three games left in Pac-12 play, it's probably time to give Mike Montgomery's team its due. On a per-possession basis, Cal has been the best offensive team in the league and the second-best on defense; this team is balanced and experienced and just, well, solid. The Bears were blown out by every good team they played in the nonconference, sure, but that was a long time ago. Since then, they've been pretty good. (Usually, anyway.) They won't blow you away, and I have no idea where their tournament ceiling is, but we probably shouldn't dismiss the Bears just yet. We'll see.

2. Washington: With the exception of what looks like an outlier loss at Oregon on Feb. 9, Washington has won eight of its past nine, including Saturday's nine-point home win over Arizona. The Huskies feel like a team that could -- repeat: could -- make noise in the NCAA tournament. But they have to get there first. Three straight road games (at Washington State, USC and UCLA) will close out the regular season. That's treacherous territory for a team sitting smack dab on the bubble, because a bad loss could be enough to tip the scales in the wrong direction.

3. Arizona: The Wildcats are allowing the lowest opponents' effective field goal percentage in Pac-12 play. It's tough to score on this team, and that's what led to its late-season, five-game winning streak before Saturday's loss in Seattle. But will it be enough for an at-large bid if needed? Zona closes with USC and UCLA at home and rival ASU on the road. Have to win 'em all.

4. Oregon: Poor Oregon. The Ducks have played some pretty good basketball in this league this season, but they have a knack for the brutal close loss. There was that one-point loss at Colorado, the five-point home loss to Oregon State and, of course, Thursday's three-point loss at Cal, which is about as big a resume win as you can get in the Pac-12 this season. The Ducks barely missed out, and their chances of joining this shaky Pac-12 at-large picture were slimmed as a result. Sunday night's win at Stanford was a must and they got it, but there's still work to be done here.

5. Colorado: The Buffaloes are allowing the fewest points per possession of any team in the Pac-12 this season. That's a testament to the job Tad Boyle has done in what was supposed to be a totally down, irrelevant season in Boulder. This team probably shouldn't even be this good. Colorado still has a chance to knock off Cal at home in the coming week, and there is the Pac-12 tournament, but it will require a late push to get this profile the respect of the committee.

6. UCLA: In another season, UCLA's Saturday trip to St. John's would have been a nice bit of national spotlight. In 2012, the Bruins would probably prefer no one notice. (It was a 66-63 loss, by the way.) You know the drill. We're months past the early-season mess, and this team is still just mediocre.

7. Stanford: The Cardinal were once a promising conference title contender, or at least that's what their nonconference performance seemed to indicate. They've faded rather badly since. This season should be a mark of progress for Johnny Dawkins' program -- the Cardinal have improved from last season, no question. Just not enough to contend for the conference crown yet.

8. Washington State: The Cougars have kept on fighting through the loss of Faisal Aden to a career-ending knee injury, and they're still scoring the third-most points per trip in the conference. Their league-worst defense, however, has kept them out of the picture for most of the season.

9. Oregon State: Oregon State got one of the conference's few top-50 RPI wins when it beat Texas on a neutral court in November. But the Beavers haven't done much since. They're on a four-game losing skid now. The good news? Of any of the teams down in this range, Craig Robinson's is probably the lowest-ranked squad that still has a legitimate puncher's chance to win the Pac-12 tournament. I'm not saying it's going to happen. I'm just saying there's a chance.

10. Arizona State
11. Utah
12. USC

When you're this bad in the Pac-12 this season, you're going to be really, really bad. All three teams are definitely that. The biggest question is whether USC will avoid the ignominious fate of ending the season with just one conference win in this league. The Trojans are on the road at Arizona and Arizona State, followed by home games against Washington State and Washington. There are potential wins in them thar hills. If the Trojans could manage more than 60 points here and there -- a barrier they last exceeded in January -- I'd be a little more confident about their chances.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
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With two weeks remaining, it looks like it’s going to be a down-to-the-wire race for the regular-season ACC title. This week’s attempt at the power rankings:

1. Duke: After needing a 20-point rally to beat NC State, Duke had it a lot easier at Boston College on Sunday. The Blue Devils won by a decisive 25 points to remain tied atop the ACC standings with UNC and Florida State. Next up: a trip to Tallahassee, Fla., on Thursday for a rematch with the Seminoles.

2. North Carolina: Sophomore Harrison Barnes averaged 23.5 points in wins at Miami and over Clemson, and both he -- and his teammates -- appear to be revving up for a postseason run. Outside shooting is still a concern lately, but defense is making up for it.

3. Florida State: The Seminoles’ win at NC State on Saturday marked the first time the they have beaten all four ACC teams from North Carolina -- UNC, Duke, Wake Forest and the Wolfpack -- in the same season. “Being from North Carolina, it’s a big thing,’’ said guard Ian Miller, who hails from Charlotte.

4. Virginia: The Cavaliers’ upset loss at Clemson marked the first time they have dropped back-to-back games this season. But UVa followed up by beating Maryland to secure its first 20-win season since 2006-07.

5. Miami: After his team lost to the Hurricanes, Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said he thinks Miami is an NCAA tournament team. But UM (which broke a two-game losing streak with the win) is taking a one-game-at-a-time approach: “It’s a goal and a dream,’’ guard Durand Scott said, according to The Miami Herald. “But you can’t deal with the future unless you take care of the present. Today is the present. Today is what’s important right now.”

6. NC State: With back-to-back losses at Duke and to FSU last week, it’s going to be difficult to reach the 11 ACC victories coach Mark Gottfried predicted his team would need for an NCAA tournament at-large bid. The Wolfpack are now 7-5 in league play, with home games against UNC and Miami and road matchups at Clemson and Virginia Tech left on the docket.

7. Maryland: The Terps suffered their largest margin of defeat this season when they lost by 27 points at Virginia, and coach Mark Turgeon grew so frustrated with his team’s turnovers and shot selection that he pulled his starters with four minutes left. “I just had enough of selfishness, not boxing out, not defending,’’ he said, according to The Baltimore Sun.

8. Clemson: The Tigers followed an upset win over Virginia with yet another loss to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. “I don’t think it has much to do with extra pressure or anything like that,” Tanner Smith said of the Tigers’ 0-56 streak at UNC. “We just didn’t make the plays down the stretch that we needed to make.”

9. Virginia Tech: Dorenzo Hudson's desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer helped beat Georgia Tech in overtime. But it couldn’t quite erase the sting of allowing FSU to come back from a nine-point deficit in the final 90 seconds to win, just two days before.

10. Wake Forest: The Deacons ended a six-game slide with a win over Georgia Tech, only to possibly begin another one with a loss at Miami. They get a break before playing Boston College next weekend.

11. Boston College: The Eagles were blown out at Maryland and then managed only 50 points against Duke. That's now three straight losses and a 1-9 stretch for BC, with the only victory coming against Florida State, strangely enough.

12. Georgia Tech: The Jackets’ last-second loss at Virginia Tech means they have now lost three straight, and nine of their past 10. They played that game without Glen Rice Jr., who is suspended indefinitely.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

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