College Basketball Nation: power rankings 022712

Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

February, 27, 2012
Finally, there's serious movement in the Big Ten Power Rankings. And it mostly centers on Ohio State’s recent struggles and Iowa’s … surge? Without further ado, the new Big Ten Power Rankings:
  1. Michigan State: Tom Izzo is certainly in the national coach of the year conversation. And Draymond Green is the Big Ten’s player of the year. The Spartans have won a slice of the Big Ten title, and with a victory at Indiana on Tuesday, they would earn the outright conference championship. A loss against the Hoosiers, however, would set up a possible three-way tie for first in the Big Ten, with Ohio State traveling to East Lansing on Sunday.
  2. Michigan: The Wolverines’ Saturday loss to Purdue snapped a four-game winning streak for Michigan. And it was its first home loss of the year. The Wolverines don’t control their own fate, but with a little help and road wins over Penn State and Illinois this week, they could grab a share of the Big Ten title.
  3. Wisconsin: The Badgers bounced back from a midweek loss to Iowa by outplaying Ohio State in Columbus on Sunday. They held Jared Sullinger to eight points, his second-lowest tally of the season. And down the stretch, they were the tougher team.
  4. Ohio State: Columbus, we have a problem. The Buckeyes have lost three of their past five games. And Sullinger is struggling (17 points combined in past two games). This Buckeyes squad has Final Four talent, but I'm not sure it has Final Four poise. This team panicked on its final possessions against the Badgers. Do the Bucks have the necessary leadership to make a run in March?
  5. Purdue: The Boilermakers needed a signature victory to feel more secure about their at-large hopes. So they played with passion during a 75-61 win at Michigan this weekend. Matt Painter continues to find a way with this team. Despite limited size, limited depth and off-court issues, the Boilermakers are an NCAA tourney team.
  6. Indiana: The Hoosiers were never going to live up to the hype that commenced after December victories over Kentucky and Ohio State. But you have to step back and take a look at what’s happened in Bloomington this season. A team that won three Big Ten games last season is comfortably in the field of 68 and has amassed 22 victories. The Hoosiers crushed Minnesota on Sunday (69-50 in Minneapolis), avenging an earlier loss to the Gophers.
  7. Northwestern: Wildcats fans, prepare to send towels my way so I can wipe the egg off my face. Weeks ago, I was confident that the Wildcats wouldn’t sniff the NCAA tournament. But here they are, right on the bubble. If they beat Ohio State and win at Iowa this week, how could the selection committee leave them out? A .500 conference record isn’t sexy, but look around the country. They wouldn’t be the only team with questions surrounding their postseason résumés. Plus, the Wildcats can secure another major win in the Big Ten tournament. There’s a first for everything, right?
  8. Iowa: Yep, it can happen. It hasn’t happened. But it can. The loss at Illinois on Sunday was disappointing, but the Hawkeyes (7-9 in the Big Ten) can play their way into the field of 68. If they win their next two and get to the Big Ten final, the selection committee would have to consider them. Reminds me of the 2009-10 Minnesota team I covered, one that upset Purdue and Michigan State in the conference tournament and earned an at-large berth that season.
  9. Minnesota: This was supposed to be the week that the Gophers solidified themselves as a team with a legit argument for the NCAA tournament. But they unraveled during a must-win home game against Michigan State. And they were crushed by Indiana on Sunday. This squad overcame the November loss of Trevor Mbakwe to a knee injury, and it’s been in a position to earn an at-large berth in recent weeks. But it continues to squander crucial opportunities. Time has run out for Tubby Smith’s team.
  10. Illinois: The Fighting Illini needed Sunday’s win over Iowa, a win that snapped a six-game losing skid for Bruce Weber’s team. With matchups against Michigan and Wisconsin ahead, the Fighting Illini can give their at-large résumé at least a fighting chance.
  11. Penn State: The Nittany Lions pushed Northwestern, a desperate bubble team, to the brink Saturday during a 67-66 loss. They’ve lost a lot of games, but they’ve never given up under first-year coach Pat Chambers.
  12. Nebraska: You can rearrange the bottom four in a variety of ways, but some team has to fill this spot. The Cornhuskers’ Big Ten debut hasn’t gone so well, as evidenced by their 34-point performance at MSU this weekend. But at least they’ll have an opportunity to spoil some team’s postseason aspirations in the Big Ten tournament.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

February, 27, 2012
Syracuse put a bow on its nearly perfect Big East run, sewing up the conference’s regular-season honors. But there’s still much jockeying to be done in the final week -- for bubble positions and, more immediately, for seeding positions for the Big East tournament. The top four earn the double bye.

1. Syracuse: The Orange clinched the regular-season crown with a win that might have been more impressive than the other 15. Syracuse needed to stave off UConn for a victory that made up in grit what it lacked in style points.

2. Marquette: Not even the absence of four starters for a half could keep the Golden Eagles down or Buzz Williams from dancing. Marquette’s rally from an 11-point halftime deficit at West Virginia proved this is a very good team.

3. Georgetown: You almost had to feel for Villanova. The Hoyas went and got inexplicably clobbered by Seton Hall. Someone was going to pay. The Wildcats were the victim, sliced and diced by 21.

4. Notre Dame: Nothing lasts forever, not even the Irish’s luck. Notre Dame’s nine-game streak ended at the hands of St. John’s and an awful 4-of-31 performance from beyond the arc. The Irish need to fix that or their Big East tournament visit won’t last long, either.

5. Louisville: The Cardinals are among the teams pushing to grab that last top-seed position. To get it, they’ll need to win two tough ones -- against equally hungry South Florida and at Syracuse.

6. South Florida: The Bulls will be among the most watched teams all the way through Selection Sunday. South Florida is 11-5 in the league after beating Cincinnati but still needs a signature win. The Bulls have a chance at Louisville and then with a home game against fellow bubble resident West Virginia.

7. Cincinnati: Most folks believe the Bearcats are in the Dance. But they certainly don’t want to make it easy. Cincinnati scored 45 points against South Florida’s defense and now has to finish up against Marquette and Villanova. A loss to the Wildcats isn’t how Cincinnati wants to finish the season.

8. Seton Hall: The Pirates giveth; the Pirates taketh away. A hugely impressive win against Georgetown proved why Seton Hall deserves NCAA consideration. A home overtime loss to Rutgers negated some of the good. How the Hall finishes will be critical.

9. Connecticut: The Huskies showed more in defeat than they have all season, finally displaying some energy, hustle and feistiness in their loss to Syracuse. The question is: Was it too late? UConn absolutely cannot lose to Providence or Pitt to finish the season.

10. West Virginia: Kevin Jones might be the best player in the conference, but his team is trying to dull his star and keep him out of the NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers are fading, losing four of their past five. Jones struggled with foul trouble against Marquette, and no one picked up the slack.

11. St. John’s: Technically, Madison Square Garden is a home-court advantage for the Red Storm. The way this young team is playing, it just might take advantage of it. Moe Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison, perhaps as good a one-two punch as there is in the league, led St. John’s to its upset of Notre Dame, its third win in a row.

12. Rutgers: There’s nothing like a win against your rival to cure what ails you. And we’ll see whether that’s the case for the Scarlet Knights, who ended a six-game skid by upsetting Seton Hall. Now it’s up to Rutgers to use the momentum well against Villanova and St. John’s.

13. Pittsburgh: Saddled with injury and illness, the Panthers came up short on an upset bid against Louisville. That’s five losses in a row, a streak the Panthers need to end to gain some confidence heading into New York.

14. Villanova: Maalik Wayns returned. JayVaughn Pinkston turned his ankle during pregame warm-ups. That about sums up the Wildcats’ season, which is limping -- quite literally -- to a merciful finish.

15. Providence: At this point of the season, the Friars are latching onto any good news: Blowing a 17-point lead yet still beating DePaul thanks to Vincent Council’s late heroics qualifies.

16. DePaul: The promise of a new beginning for the Blue Demons in the Big East has faded to the same result. DePaul will need to beat both West Virginia and Seton Hall to crawl out of their regular conference-basement seat for the Big East tournament.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

February, 27, 2012
The power structure in the SEC hasn’t moved one bit. Kentucky is king, and there doesn’t appear to be another team capable of getting to the Final Four.

1. Kentucky: Anthony Davis put on a show with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 6 blocks in a win against Vanderbilt. He’s a national player of the year co-favorite. UK is rolling right now as the No. 1 overall seed and the lead dog to win the national title.

2. Vanderbilt: The one thing you can say about the Commodores is that they don’t have bad SEC losses. Vandy fell to Kentucky twice, lost at Arkansas when the Hogs were unbeatable at home, and lost by one in overtime against Mississippi State when the Bulldogs were on a high. Vanderbilt still has the most experience in the league, even more so than Kentucky. That could serve it well in the coming weeks.

3. Florida: The Gators get this spot by default. Florida continues to befuddle. The Gators can look like a Final Four team at Arkansas, then appear to be a team that couldn’t get out of the First Four when they lose at Georgia. If this team makes 3s, it will advance. If it does not, it won’t. It's pretty simple.

4. Alabama: Credit Anthony Grant for the way he handled the suspensions. Despite the disciplinary actions, the Tide have moved up into the top four with three straight wins against Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi State. Alabama will now go to the NCAA tournament barring a complete collapse. JaMychal Green certainly got Grant’s message, and the Tide will go forward without Tony Mitchell, who remains suspended for the rest of the season.

5. Tennessee: Cuonzo Martin has the Vols believing in his philosophy of defense first. This team continues to be a spirited group that could be a spoiler in the SEC tournament. The numbers don’t add up in terms of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but there’s no reason to dismiss this team as a threat in New Orleans next week.

6. LSU: The Tigers are on the rebound from a disastrous two-year period. With seven league wins so far, LSU has been more than respectable. Trent Johnson has a postseason team that will benefit from playing a few extra games in March. The Tigers, like the Vols, could pose some problems at the SEC tournament in New Orleans.

7. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have lost five in a row and are one of the most perplexing teams in the SEC. Yes, Renardo Sidney has had injuries (back), but no, he can't be the only reason for the slide. Losing to Kentucky at home is acceptable. But dropping a home game to Georgia and failing to win one road game during this stretch at LSU, Auburn or Alabama is not. Still, don’t be surprised to see the Bulldogs leapfrog a number of these teams into the NCAAs because of their overall résumé.

8. Ole Miss: The Rebels humbled LSU 72-48 on Saturday. The Tigers have been more consistent, but the Rebels deserve plenty of credit for being resourceful of late. A depleted team that has had some squabbling within, the Rebs haven’t stopped playing. Ole Miss can be a spoiler in the final two weeks. What happens next in terms of the coaching position is a question for the administration.

9. Georgia: If the Bulldogs make shots, they suddenly are a viable team to be a winner in the final week of the SEC and into the conference tournament. Georgia won’t win at Kentucky, but it can beat South Carolina and finish with five SEC wins. The Bulldogs have impressive wins against Mississippi State and Florida at home.

10. Arkansas: The Hogs finally rallied and won at Auburn after a number of poor performances, including two at home. Arkansas can put forth a more efficient and productive effort. It needs to here down the stretch to salvage the rest of the season with winnable games against Ole Miss and at Mississippi State.

11. Auburn: The Tigers looked like a tough out, one that would be hard to chase down in a home win against Mississippi State. But suspensions to Varez Ward and Chris Denson for a violation of team rules didn’t help the cause in a six-point home loss to Arkansas.

12. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have won two games in the SEC. And the numbers in points, rebounds, assists and field goal percentage are all below 300 in Division I. This is a team that looks good in the airport but not on the floor.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 27, 2012
If I believed in ties, I’d rank Missouri alongside Kansas in this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings. But I don’t, so Kansas gets the nod after clinching at least a share of its eighth straight conference title in Saturday’s 87-86 overtime victory against the Tigers.
  1. Kansas: Thomas Robinson (national player of the year) and Bill Self (national coach of the year) both enhanced their chances of some lofty postseason honors in Saturday’s win over Missouri. Robinson finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Self coached his team back from a 19-point deficit in the second half.
  2. Missouri: It was hard not to be equally impressed with the Tigers on Saturday. Their performance in what was easily the loudest environment they’ll ever encounter was stunning. I don't care that they ended up on the losing end. This is a Final Four candidate. Period.
  3. Baylor: Monday is senior night at the Ferrell Center for Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones. But could it also be the final home game for sophomore Perry Jones III and freshman Quincy Miller, both of whom are projected as lottery picks in this summer’s NBA draft?
  4. Iowa State: Assuming they lose at Missouri on Wednesday, a victory over Baylor on Saturday would place the Cyclones in a tie with the Bears for third place in the Big 12 standings. That’d be quite a feat for a team that finished just 3-13 in league play a season ago.
  5. Kansas State: The Wildcats are one of the toughest teams in the country to figure out. Seriously, how do you beat Missouri on the road one night then lose at home to Iowa State three days later? Frank Martin’s team needs to beat either Texas A&M (Tuesday in College Station) or Oklahoma State (Saturday in Manhattan, Kan.) to feel rock-solid about its NCAA tournament hopes.
  6. Texas: The Longhorns needed overtime to defeat Texas Tech in Lubbock Saturday. That’s a reason for concern. Wednesday’s home game against Oklahoma is huge in terms of earning an NCAA tournament bid. A victory would ensure at least a .500 record in Big 12 play.
  7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys would be ranked ahead of Texas -- a team they beat -- if not for a recent hand injury to LeBryan Nash that will likely sideline the freshman for the remainder of the season. Monday’s home game against Kansas will be tough with Nash out. And winning in Manhattan on Saturday won’t be easy, either.
  8. Texas A&M: The Aggies played Kansas tough on Wednesday before getting drilled by 18 points at Oklahoma State over the weekend. It’s unfortunate that injuries and off-court distractions ruined Billy Kennedy’s first season in College Station. He’s done the best he could with the hand he was dealt.
  9. Oklahoma: The Sooners certainly aren’t giving in. They snapped a six-game losing streak by defeating Oklahoma State on Wednesday before giving Baylor all it could handle in a 70-60 defeat in Waco on Saturday. Oklahoma led that game at intermission.
  10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders end their miserable regular season against a pair of ranked teams in Baylor and Missouri. Don’t be surprised if Texas Tech is the Big 12’s most improved team next season, although Texas will certainly be in the mix for that accolade as well.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

February, 27, 2012
For all the ways you can diss the Pac-12 this season -- and you can start with the 1-29 record against the RPI top 50 in nonconference play, or look at the paucity of teams ranked inside Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency top 50 (there are two), and so on and so forth -- you can't dispute this: This league is in for a fascinating final week.

Why? Cal's loss at Colorado on Sunday dropped the Bears to 13-4, where they're currently a half-game behind Washington, which just snuck past rival Washington State 59-55 on Saturday. If the Huskies win at USC and UCLA, they'll finish 15-3 and in sole possession of the conference title. If they stumble -- and provided Cal can get past Stanford on Sunday -- the Bears could still earn a share of a title they've appeared destined to win for much of the season. Forget NCAA tournament bubble implications. These coaches and players have a title to win.

Oh, and speaking of the tourney: There really are no guarantees. Cal is the closest thing to an exception, because it would be hard for the Bears to fall below the coterie of teams bunched around the bubble line on the S-Curve even after Sunday's loss in Boulder. But Washington? Arizona? The operative Bubble Watch phrase here is "work to do." The basketball has been uneven all season, but you can't dispute the intrigue and what promises to be a fiery debate in the weeks leading up to Selection Sunday. Stay tuned.

1. California: On Sunday, Cal lost 70-57 at Colorado. Just three days earlier, Stanford went to Boulder and beat the Buffaloes 74-50. You figure those two results out. I really can't. Cal still looks like the best team in the conference, and its still-solid efficiency numbers (the Bears rank No. 19 overall in KenPom's adjusted efficiency and No. 2 in the league in per-possession offense and defense, the best all-around numbers of any team in Pac-12 play) back that up. But they're far from a dominant outfit, which we saw in the offensively challenged performance at CU. Now the Bears have to win at rival Stanford -- and hope for a Washington loss -- to steal a share of the league title.

2. Washington: The Huskies now control whether they win the Pac-12 title. Wins at USC and UCLA would make them outright regular-season conference champs. Most Washington fans would assume, and understandably so, such an accomplishment would seal their team's NCAA tournament bid. But in this season's Pac-12, that isn't a guarantee. Remember, the committee doesn't look at conference record (at least, it says it doesn't), but it does look at nonconference performance and top-50 wins, among other things. This conference is severely lacking in both categories. One would assume 15-3 and the league title will be enough, but UW might not want to drop a game to the LA schools and test whether 14-4 does the trick.

3. Arizona: Seniors Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry were determined to make their final regular-season home game a win, and their second-half efforts -- in which they combined for 28 of their team's 38 points -- ensured a crucial two-point victory over UCLA. Arizona's at-large chances remain a work in progress, but the win over the rival Bruins keeps them in the discussion heading into the finale against ASU and the Pac-12 tourney.

4. Oregon: Oregon's chances of notching an at-large bid aren't great, but Dana Altman's team kept its faint hopes alive by escaping from Corvallis with a one-point win over Oregon State on Sunday. Oregon finishes up with two home games versus Colorado and Utah. E.J. Singler and Devoe Joseph have really come on down the stretch for this team, giving the Ducks efficient offense on the wing, but the narrow losses to Oregon State, Cal and Colorado in the past month have kept Altman's team from breaking through to the top of the league.

5. Colorado: When you're on the bubble fringe, as Colorado is, the best you can do is take your chances when they come. That's what Tad Boyle's team did Sunday, beating league leader (and the only team in the league with a top-50 RPI) California. The Buffs have struggled on the road all season long, so season-closing road trips to Oregon and Oregon State will present their challenges. At this point, even with the Cal win in hand, CU's profile is such that it almost certainly has to win the next two and at least get to the Pac-12 tourney final to find itself in the NCAA tournament.

6. UCLA: The 2012 Bruins are still the 2012 Bruins -- disappointing, mediocre, occasionally not-quite-mediocre and then mediocre again. This week, UCLA beat Arizona State in Tempe and lost to Arizona in Tucson. It is 9-7 in league play. its longest winning and losing streaks in league play are three games and two games, respectively. In its past five games, UCLA has lost (to Cal), won (USC), lost (at St. John's), won (Arizona State) and lost (at Arizona). I think that pretty much sums it up.

7. Stanford: Can you explain the Cardinal's week? Because I can't. On Thursday, Stanford went to Colorado -- a team that beat Cal by 13 Sunday, mind you -- and won by 24 points. Then, on Saturday, Stanford lost. Yes, lost at Utah. Utah has played better, and clearly Colorado was off, and so on, but still. This league is weird.

8. Washington State: The Cougars nearly took down the Huskies in Pullman Saturday, a win that may well have sunk Washington's at-large hopes for good. Instead, Washington escaped with the 59-55 win, as Wazzu's offense -- which, pre-Faisal Aden injury, was one of the league's best while at home -- fell short.

9. Oregon State: The Beavers' one-point home loss to Oregon on Sunday was their fifth in a row, a losing streak that began with a home loss to the aforementioned Cougars and continued against Washington, Stanford and Cal. Back in November, Oregon State lost to Vanderbilt by two points on a neutral floor just two days after putting 100 points on a solid Texas team in an overtime victory. That was months ago now, but it feels even longer.

10. Arizona State: All things considered, this has been a disastrous season for Arizona State, from the losses to the ineligibility of freshman Jahii Carson to more losses to, well, more losses after that. In any other season, ASU is probably the worst team in this league. But not in 2012! So, you know, there's that.

11. Utah: We can say much of the same for the Utes. In any other season, Utah -- which changed coaches and conferences in the matter of 12 months and saw its best and most important player (Josh "Jiggy" Watkins) dismissed by coach Larry Krystkowiak in mid-January -- would be the worst team in this league. For much of the season, including that horrendous nonconference stretch, things appeared to be heading that way. But give the Utes some credit. They improved throughout the season, played hard and gave a bunch of putatively better teams occasionally serious challenges -- and even won some, including this weekend against Stanford.

12. USC: And also, USC is worse. The Trojans are averaging .83 points per trip (adjusted) in Pac-12 play. Overall, the Trojans' offensive efficiency ranks No. 318 in the country, per KenPom, which puts them one spot ahead of Eastern Michigan and one spot behind Arkansas-Pine Bluff. In 16 Pac-12 games, the Trojans have scored more than 60 points exactly twice. Saturday's loss at Arizona State dropped them to 1-15 in the worst Pac-12 we've seen in a really long time. In short, USC is bad.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

February, 27, 2012
One key player was ruled ineligible. At least one key team likely saw its at-large NCAA tournament hopes snuffed. And once again, it looks as if the ACC regular-season title will come down to the final Duke-North Carolina game, next weekend. This week’s attempt at the ACC power rankings:

1. Duke: The Blue Devils -- who already lost to Miami and Florida State at home this season -- had another close call at Cameron Indoor Stadium, needing overtime to beat Virginia Tech. But their win at FSU last week keeps them right where they want to be: in the hunt for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA and ACC tournaments.

2. North Carolina: ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi said last week the Tar Heels would need to win out to make a case for a top seed in the NCAA tournament. That push continues this week with their home finale against Maryland and a trip to Duke. When will point guard Kendall Marshall set the school record for assists in a season? Stay tuned.

3. Florida State: It was a rough week for the Seminoles. First they lost at home to Duke -- and likely lost their chance at the regular-season ACC title. Then they fell at Miami on Sunday. They’ll try to stop their slide at Virginia next.

4. Virginia: Saturday’s loss to the Tar Heels stung -- not just because of the physical game, myriad of whistles against the Cavs’ big guys or forward Mike Scott's ACC season-low six points. But also because Virginia has now lost three of its last five games.

5. Miami: The Hurricanes beat Florida State on Sunday without center Reggie Johnson, who was declared ineligible by the school after an investigation revealed members of his family took impermissible travel benefits from the former coaching staff. The victory enhanced the Hurricanes' NCAA résumé, but they’re going to need Johnson back to make a stronger push (and case).

6. Clemson: Andre Young's game-winning 3-pointer in overtime against NC State means the Tigers are now 2-8 in games decided by five or fewer points this season. They have now won four out of five games and pushed themselves to .500 in league play. But that still hasn’t made much of a dent in their triple-digit RPI.

7. NC State: Saturday’s overtime loss at Clemson was just the latest defeat to rip at the Wolfpack’s NCAA tournament hopes. An ACC tournament title would give them an automatic bid, but that now is probably the only way they get there after four straight defeats (Duke, Florida State, UNC and Clemson).

8. Maryland: After beating Miami at home last week, the Terps went on the road against a struggling Georgia Tech team and promptly lost. Coach Mark Turgeon summed up his team’s performance at Georgia Tech this way: “I thought we were growing up, but today showed we haven’t grown up all the way,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “We weren’t ready to play.”

9. Virginia Tech: “One or two more rolls went different this year, we’d be a whole different team,” senior guard Dorenzo Hudson told The Washington Post on Saturday after the Hokies lost another close one -- this time at Duke. Enough said.

10. Wake Forest: After Duke comes to town on Tuesday, the Deacs will finish the regular season with a winnable game in Atlanta. After prevailing in two of their last three games, they’d like to continue on a high note.

11. Georgia Tech: After managing only 37 points in a loss to Clemson, the Yellow Jackets beat Maryland by a bucket. “We're real happy,’’ guard Mfon Udofia said, according to The Associated Press. “I always tell the guys, 'Something's going to shake.'"

12. Boston College: The Eagles have now lost 10 of 11 games. The positive: All of those freshmen will be sophomores next season.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.