College Basketball Nation: power rankings 120911

Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

December, 9, 2011
Based on results and not preseason expectations, here's my attempt at ranking the Big Ten teams one month into the season:

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost three veterans, but they’re a more talented team this season. The proof? Their dismantling of Duke and a win over Florida. And top-recruit LaQuinton Ross became eligible this week. Their only concern going forward is Jared Sullinger’s back, which may or may not keep him out of Saturday's game at Kansas.

2. Illinois: Bruce Weber has talent at every position this season. The emergence of Meyers Leonard shifts the entire program and its chances to compete with Ohio State for the Big Ten title. Last week, the 8-0 Illini outplayed a good Gonzaga team at home, but upcoming games against UNLV (in Chicago) and Missouri (in St. Louis) will really prove how legit they are.

3. Michigan: Darius Morris went pro and some (see: me) assumed a collapse would ensue. But Trey Burke has filled that gap in his first season, although you have to worry about his turnovers. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a star. You don't have to worry about him. The Wolverines have a win over Memphis in Maui and for now that's enough to rank them ahead of Wisconsin, which really hasn't beaten anyone outside of BYU.

4. Wisconsin: Early panic about a Bo Ryan team? Check. Listen, the Badgers’ only losses have come against nationally ranked North Carolina and Marquette. No shame in that. But Jordan Taylor is not the scorer he was a year ago (18.1 ppg to 12.4 ppg). And that could be a problem for a team averaging 68.8 points per game. Saturday’s game against UNLV will be a good test.

5. Indiana: The Hoosiers are averaging 85.0 points per game, the seventh-best mark in the country. They pulled off a tough win at NC State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Cody Zeller is a 6-foot-11 walking testament of Tom Crean’s impact on the program and the Hoosiers’ shot to upset No. 1 Kentucky at home Saturday.

6. Michigan State: The Spartans dropped their first two games against North Carolina (on a boat) and Duke (in New York City). But they’ve won their last seven. Draymond Green is averaging a double-double. If Brandon Dawson eventually lives up to the hype, the Spartans will certainly move up this list.

7. Purdue: Robbie Hummel is just a fighter. He’s leading the Boilermakers with 18.8 ppg following back-to-back ACL tears and a lengthy hiatus. Had he not cramped up in Saturday’s loss to No. 8 Xavier, I think the Boilermakers would have won that game. With a healthy Hummel, Purdue will be a factor in the Big Ten.

8. Minnesota: The Gophers have been a surprise this season. They’ve won their past three games (including a win over Virginia Tech) without star Trevor Mbakwe, who tore his ACL in a Nov. 27 loss to Dayton. Junior Rodney Williams has averaged 14.6 ppg and 7.6 rpg in Mbakwe’s absence. They’re not the same team without their star, but early signs suggest that all is not lost without him.

9. Northwestern: The Wildcats hope to crack the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s history this season. And with so much parity in the Big Ten, they might get their shot. There’s nothing wrong with losing to No. 6 Baylor. But scoring 41 points? They’ll still have problems with athletic teams.

10. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers’ double-overtime road win over USC looked promising … until we realized how bad the Trojans were. But Doc Sadler has veterans in a league that lacks them. Bo Spencer, a transfer from LSU, is averaging 16.0 ppg. I still think Nebraska is a sleeper in this league.

11. Iowa: Um, about that rebuilding process in Iowa. This was supposed to be a season of strides for Fran McCaffery’s team, but its deficiencies in athleticism and offensive capability remain. Matt Gatens (13.8 ppg) is the only double-figure scorer on a team that's been wiped out by Creighton (by 23 points), Campbell (by 16), Clemson (by 16) and Northern Iowa (by 20).

12. Penn State: The Nittany Lions lost the best player in program history when Talor Battle graduated. So a fall was anticipated. Still, this is a really bad team, as evidenced by the home loss to Lafayette earlier this week. Reason for hope? Tim Frazier (17.6 ppg) is getting his Talor Battle on.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

December, 9, 2011
Here's my attempt at ranking the Big East teams one month into the season:

1. Syracuse: Amid distractions and the dismissal of their associate head coach, the Orange have done nothing to undermine their top-five national ranking. Syracuse won its first seven games by an average of 26 points and then survived a slugfest against Florida. SU's defense has been particularly strong, while its offense is a little less reliable.

2. Marquette: Buzz Williams’ chronically underappreciated Golden Eagles ought to get their due soon. They’re undefeated, with notches against in-state rival Wisconsin and a good Washington team in New York. Darius Johnson-Odom is good enough to make the early short list for Big East Player of the Year.

3. Louisville: For those who thought Rick Pitino did a masterful job last season, we give you the first month of 2011-12. Pitino has had to hodgepodge together a team amid a myriad of injuries and has yet to lose a game. Louisville has quality wins against a good Long Beach State team and Vanderbilt, and, with everyone finally getting healthy, should only get better as the schedule gets tougher.

4. Connecticut: Rare is the season when beating Harvard signals that UConn is starting to find its way, but the Crimson is that good. Thursday night’s win doesn’t answer all the questions, but certainly for a Huskies team still trying to add new parts -- and satisfy old ones in the form of Alex Oriakhi -- it's a good step. Connecticut is good and will be better as the season progresses, but as the loss to UCF and the near-loss to Florida State prove, there will be growing pains.

5. Georgetown: The Hoyas count as a pleasant surprise in the Big East. After losing Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, no one knew quite what to expect. But Jason Clark has stepped into the leadership role in the backcourt, Hollis Thompson and the emerging Henry Sims have solidified the frontcourt, and Georgetown is 7-1 with quality wins against Memphis and Alabama and only a close loss to Kansas.

6. Pittsburgh: The Panthers will be tough to honestly judge for the next month as they play without Trevon Woodall. That sort of fits right in with Pitt anyway. This is a good team, but one that is a bit confounding. The loss to Long Beach State at the Pete ranks as the biggest head-scratcher, but there's also a sense that Pitt hasn’t quite found its groove just yet.

7. West Virginia: Bob Huggins’ work in progress is starting to progress. The Mountaineers took it on the chin against Mississippi State, but rebounded with a mighty impressive double-overtime win against a previously unbeaten Kansas State team in front of thousands of purple people in Wichita. Who this team is now and who it will be come March will likely be decidedly different.

8. Seton Hall: Herb Pope is playing out of his mind -- averaging an impressive double-double of 21.4 points and 11 boards -- and the Pirates are enjoying the benefits. Seton Hall has not played a murderers' row, for sure, but has won its winnable games with authority. Their lone loss, to Northwestern, isn’t diabolical.

9. Cincinnati: This perplexing Bearcats team could provide answers quickly. Cincinnati plays at Xavier on Saturday. In the meantime, we have only a confusing résumé to go by, which is why the Bearcats are in the middle of the pack. This is a talented and veteran team, so how to explain home losses to Presbyterian and Marshall? Yes, the Thundering Herd is a good team, but Cincy ought to be better.

10. Providence: No one will confuse the Friars’ 7-2 record for a sign of a Top 25 team in the making -- this team has feasted on winnable games early. But there’s no point in knocking that approach either. Ed Cooley is trying to change the culture at PC and in order to do that, he’s first got to change the confidence. Reality will come in the form of Georgetown and Syracuse in back-to-back games to end 2011 and start 2012.

11. Villanova: Jay Wright keeps tinkering and hasn’t found the right combination yet. There is talent on the Wildcats’ roster, but it’s not working together or working well. A team many thought would make the finals at the 76 Classic instead dropped games to Saint Louis and Santa Clara. The Wildcats are going to have to get smarter and better fast to be competitive in the conference.

12. Notre Dame: The Irish’s power rankings ought to come with an asterisk. Without Tim Abromaitis, this isn’t the same team. But as coaches like to say, you can only play the hand you’re dealt, and right now the Irish can’t even bluff well. Notre Dame has lost badly to the two ranked opponents it's faced (Missouri by 29 and Gonzaga by 20). In order to survive, Mike Brey may have to pull out the walk-the-ball-up-the-court method he used after Luke Harangody was injured.

13. DePaul: The Blue Demons’ struggles don’t appear to be easing anytime soon. DePaul played well in losses to its two toughest early opponents -- Minnesota and Ole Miss -- but almosts don’t count in basketball. There is still much work for Oliver Purnell to do and little time to do it in. DePaul kicks off the Big East season against Syracuse and Pitt.

14. St. John’s: Credit the Red Storm for playing a tough schedule. Unfortunately, right now the young team has nothing to show for it. St. John’s has lost to the three ranked teams it’s faced, but what is more damning is that it lost to Northeastern and Detroit as well. Steve Lavin is still recovering from cancer surgery, and Nurideen Lindsey just decided to transfer out. Not a fun season so far for the Johnnies.

15. South Florida: Times remain tough for Stan Heath in Tampa, where the promise of talent has never delivered victories. The Bulls this season are 5-4, but don’t let the record fool you. USF’s losses are either to bad teams (Penn State) or really bad losses to good teams -- a 23-point beating from VCU followed by a 28-point blowout to Kansas. The pressure is on Heath right now.

16. Rutgers: There are more questions than answers right now for the Scarlet Knights, who have lost four of their past five, including two in a row to LSU and Princeton. Most troubling, Rutgers hasn’t broken the 60-point mark in any of those games and is averaging just 66 points on the season.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

December, 9, 2011
Based on results and not preseason expectations, here's my attempt at ranking the SEC teams one month into the season:

1. Kentucky: The Wildcats played the toughest nonconference game to date and beat North Carolina on a buzzer-beating blocked shot. UK has the most talent in the league and will be the team to chase throughout the season. Nothing will change that going forward.

2. Florida: The Gators lost on the road in two places (Ohio State, Syracuse) where most teams will fall this season. Wednesday's OT victory against Arizona was a must-win for this team. Having Patric Young score 25 points is a good sign the Gators will keep getting better.

3. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have the most intriguing frontline in Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sindey. Dee Bost continues to be a steadying force for MSU, which seems to have righted itself since the home loss to Akron. This has the look of an NCAA team.

4. Vanderbilt: The Commodores have played the toughest schedule of any SEC team so far, but the Dores blew leads against Xavier at home and at Louisville. Getting Festus Ezeli back in a road win at Davidson means Vandy can start its season anew. This is still a team with a chance to go far in March.

5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide lost at home to surging Georgetown and on the road to an erratic Dayton. Bama is still an NCAA-type team, but the Tide need to find some consistency before they hit the SEC season. The ceiling is still high for this crew.

6. Ole Miss: The Rebels squeezed out a win at DePaul when Murphy Holloway came through in the clutch. But that win and the one at Penn State aren't exactly jaw-droppers. The Rebs have a formidable frontcourt, but the guard play has to improve.

7. Arkansas: The Razorbacks lost Marshawn Powell for the season, but still showed they had plenty of fight in a loss at Connecticut. Mike Anderson has this team highly competitive with a chance for postseason play.

8. LSU: The Tigers have climbed up into the top eight after winning two in a row on the road, at Houston and at Rutgers. The rebuilding job by Trent Johnson might be turning a bit of a corner. A game against Marquette is still on the horizon, which could humble the Tigers.

9. Tennessee: The Vols have lost four of their past five, but Tennessee did show it can hang and play with passion and purpose in losing to Duke and Pitt in close ones, and to Memphis in double overtime in Maui. A soft part of the schedule is coming up. UT needs to take advantage.

10. Georgia: The Bulldogs have hit a skid in the schedule by losing five of their past six, all against power-six schools (no softies here). Georgia needs a win badly and might get one at USC on Dec. 17.

11. South Carolina: The Gamecocks were looking like one of the worst teams in any major conference early in the season (with losses to Elon and Tennessee State), but the win at rival Clemson keeps them out of the SEC basement. The problem is that Ohio State comes calling on Dec. 17. Uh-oh.

12. Auburn: The Tigers (4-1) have a better overall record than LSU, Tennessee, South Carolina or Georgia, but the four wins were against low-majors. The one time the Tigers played a power-six school they lost badly at Seton Hall. So judging is still incomplete with the Tigers.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

December, 9, 2011
Based on results and not preseason expectations, here's my attempt at ranking the Big 12 teams one month into the season:

1. Baylor: The Bears are the most talented team in the Big 12, and it’s not even close. Just ask previously unbeaten Northwestern, which shot 24.1 percent in a 69-41 home loss to Baylor last weekend. The frontline is imposing, but guard play will determine the Bears’ fate. Juco transfer Pierre Jackson (11.9 ppg, 4.4 apg) is off to a nice start.

2. Missouri: Frank Haith’s detractors are eating their words, as the guard-oriented Tigers have been one of the most impressive teams in the country thus far. Senior Marcus Denmon (21.8 ppg) has looked like an All-American candidate in victories against Notre Dame, Cal and Villanova. Kim English is playing the best basketball of his career.

3. Kansas: We’ll know a lot more about the Jayhawks after Saturday’s game against Ohio State. For now, though, KU's streak of seven straight Big 12 titles appears to be in jeopardy. Forward Thomas Robinson (17.4 ppg, 12 rpg) will contend for national player of the year honors, but a lack of depth and poor guard play -- Kansas committed 22 turnovers Tuesday against Long Beach State -- have been issues.

4. Texas A&M: The Aggies have done an admirable job in the absence of top player Khris Middleton, who is hoping to return in time for A&M’s game against Florida on Dec. 17. Billy Kennedy’s squad has won its past four games by an average of 16.3 points. Forward Ray Turner (14.3 ppg) and guard Elston Turner (12.2 ppg), a Washington transfer, have led the way thus far.

5. Kansas State: The Wildcats aren’t as strong as they’ve been the past few seasons, but Frank Martin has done an impressive job with a team that has a lot of nice pieces but no true star. Jamar Samuels is averaging 13 points and 9 rebounds for squad that beat Virginia Tech on the road before dropping a double-overtime heartbreaker to West Virginia on Wednesday.

6. Texas: The Longhorns are rebuilding after losing Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson to the NBA draft. But a pair of gut-wrenching losses (in overtime against Oregon State and by three to NC State) apparently didn’t do anything to squelch Texas’ spirits. Rick Barnes’ squad is on a four-game winning streak thanks in part to J’Covan Brown (19.4 ppg).

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys haven’t been all that impressive. They lost to unranked Virginia Tech and Stanford in the NIT, and only managed narrow wins against UT-San Antonio and Tulsa. Highly touted freshman LeBryan Nash has been inconsistent, and is shooting just 40 percent from the field and 29 percent from 3-point range.

8. Iowa State: Fred Hoiberg’s squad has been the league’s biggest disappointment thus far. Despite a cast of talented transfers and one of the top all-around players in the conference (Royce White), Iowa State finds itself toting losses to Drake and Northern Iowa, the latter of which came at home.

9. Oklahoma: Lon Kruger is doing an excellent job during his first year in Norman, so don’t be surprised if the one-loss Sooners move up a few spots in the rankings in the coming weeks. Nonconference wins against Houston, Arkansas and Cincinnati would do wonders for OU’s confidence as it prepares to enter Big 12 play.

10. Texas Tech: Billy Gillispie is doing the best he can, but he’s basically working with a group of freshmen and junior college transfers who had never played a minute of Division I basketball prior to this season. The Red Raiders went 0-3 in the Old Spice Classic, losing to Indiana State, DePaul and Wake Forest. It's going to be a long season in Lubbock.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

December, 9, 2011
What’s more debatable: How to rank the first two ACC teams, Nos. 3-4, or the jumble of the following seven? Only one thing’s certain: Boston College is at the bottom of the bunch.

1. North Carolina
2. Duke

I wrote earlier this week that polls -- and in this case, power rankings -- should be about what teams have done, and not necessarily what they have the potential to do. So at first, I had Duke in the top spot. And a strong case could be made for the Blue Devils, considering their league-high RPI and lone loss.

But that loss was in ugly fashion at Ohio State. Plus, the Devils only beat Belmont at home by a point in their season opener. And Wednesday, they still looked like they were trying to bounce back from the thumping they took from the Buckeyes.

UNC, meanwhile, crisscrossed the nation twice before playing like one of the top three teams in the country during a one-point loss at Kentucky. The Tar Heels’ 10-point defeat to then-unranked UNLV in Las Vegas makes for a rub -- but that’s the only rub. Carolina is playing better right now.

3. Virginia: What a difference a fifth year makes. Forward Mike Scott, back for an extra extra season of eligibility, has led the Cavs to their first 8-1 start since 2004, averaging 15.3 points and 9.1 rebounds. They get the nod over FSU because of their double-digit win over Michigan.

4. Florida State: What does it say about the ACC that its fourth-best team managed only 41 points, and missed its first 15 shots, in a loss to Harvard? Yikes. But FSU still ranks among the national leaders in field goal percentage defense and blocked shots.

5. NC State: Three days after the Pack let a seven-point lead against Indiana evaporate, they allowed Stanford to come back from a dozen-point deficit. With C.J. Leslie consistently scoring in double figures, new coach Mark Gottfried boasts a team with a bunch of potential. But it must learn to finish.

6. Virginia Tech: Seth Greenberg had to have a toughness talk with his team after it lost its second straight, to Kansas State, earlier this week. It seemed to kick in during the Hokies’ victory at Rhode Island, where Erick Green scored 24 points.

7. Maryland: Point guard Terrell Stoglin continues to lead the Terps -- and the ACC -- in scoring (22.5 ppg), but he could use the addition of center Alex Len, who becomes eligible later this month, and the (hopefully) post-holiday return of guard Pe'Shon Howard from a broken left foot.

8. Miami: It’s hard to come up big when your big men are in street clothes. With senior forward Julian Gamble out after tearing his ACL over the summer, and junior center Reggie Johnson not expected back until next month because of knee surgery, the Hurricanes have had to make do with a lineup that includes three transfers. It didn’t work against Memphis, its best test yet this season.

9. Wake Forest: Deacs coach Jeff Bzdelik thought his team took a step in the right direction when C.J. Harris buried a game-winner to upset Nebraska on the road Nov. 20. Then, three days later, Wake fell behind by as many as 23 points and lost to Richmond at home. It’s going to be that sort of year in Winston-Salem.

10. Clemson: The Tigers have lost by three points or less to Charleston, Coastal Carolina and South Carolina. Sure, they’ve had to replace last year’s veteran leaders, Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant. But with two seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup, it has been a disappointing beginning -- even for a team that was only projected to finish seventh in the preseason.

11. Georgia Tech: With no seniors on the roster except for a couple of former walk-ons, the Yellow Jackets have had to count on Glen Rice Jr., who was suspended the first three games of the season for violating team rules. He leads the team in scoring with 14.3 ppg.

12. Boston College: Only one player, junior Oregon transfer Matt Humphrey, has started each of the Eagles’ first eight games. Before Thursday, the difference between two wins and being winless? Seven points.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

December, 9, 2011
Based on results and not preseason expectations, here's my attempt at ranking the Pac-12 teams one month into the season:

1. Stanford: After four largely mediocre seasons, it appears Johnny Dawkins has his best team yet. The Cardinal have just one loss, a 69-63 defeat to No. 3 Syracuse in Madison Square Garden. Other than that, they've handled their business and looked solid doing so, playing some of the best defense in the country -- as of this writing, Dawkins' team ranks No. 9 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency.

2. Arizona: The Wildcats have struggled at times this season, and the inability of freshman point guard Josiah Turner to adjust to the college game (and stay out of coach Sean Miller's doghouse) has definitely hampered them in the early going. Still, the Wildcats don't have a bad loss on their docket and just took Florida to overtime in Gainesville. This team could fluctuate wildly in these power rankings this season, but for now, they deserve a spot near the top.

3. California: The Bears were many analysts' pick to win this league, and they haven't provided much reason to move them any lower than this. Then again, they haven't exactly wowed either. A one-point loss at San Diego State is a write-off, but that 92-53 trucking they received from Mizzou and the lack of quality wins still raises doubts about just how much this team -- which, let's not forget, lost 15 games last season -- has improved since.

4. Washington: The Huskies have oodles of talent and tons of potential -- potential they've yet to reach. But this week's thrilling last-second loss to unbeaten Marquette portends positive things to come. From a sheer talent standpoint, Lorenzo Romar's appears to be the best team in the league.

5. Oregon State: Craig Robinson desperately needed a solid season to keep the hot seat talk at bay. Thus far, he's getting it. The Beavers are 6-1 with a 100-95 (yes, 100-95) win against Texas on a neutral floor, and their only loss to date is a 64-62 neutral-court defeat to Vanderbilt. At this point, given what we've seen from the rest of this league, that makes OSU a top-half Pac-12 team.

6. Oregon: I'm not sure what a win at Nebraska means exactly, because Wake Forest accomplished the same feat during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. But Oregon was able to go on the road and get a victory against the Huskers, and their two losses (at Vanderbilt, vs. BYU in Salt Lake) are perfectly respectable. We'll get a bit better idea when Virginia comes to Matthew Knight Arena on Dec. 18.

7. Colorado: The Buffaloes have played woeful defense to date; they're ranked No. 216 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. But they have shown an ability to put some points on the board, and their losses -- neutral-court drops to Wichita State and Maryland, and a one-point road loss to rival Colorado State -- are relatively forgivable. This team will have to defend better, though.

8. Washington State: Ken Bone's team played well at Gonzaga but went 0-for-3 in the 76 Classic, ending with a 64-63 loss to UC Riverside in the consolation bracket. Its wins have come against Sacramento State, Portland, Grambling, Eastern Washington and Idaho. That is not very good. But from an efficiency standpoint, the Cougars are still better than the handful of teams that follow here.

9. Arizona State: Keep an eye on the Sun Devils. It seems unlikely this team is going to undergo a sudden surge at any point this season, but if it does, it will be because the NCAA rules touted freshman Jahii Carson eligible in the coming days. If Carson is ineligible for good, an already ugly season could get worse. Let's wait and see.

10. UCLA: The Bruins get the nod over USC here if only because they clearly have some talent. You can see it. It's there. But there are plenty of good reasons to rank them this low. There are the double-digit losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State. The ongoing Reeves Nelson mess. The poor conditioning of Josh Smith. The 2-5 record. The inability to play any of its decent opponents close for more than a few minutes at a time. This team should be better eventually. It almost has to be, right? Either way, it's awfully bad now.

11. USC: USC does play defense! It's ranked No. 44 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Unfortunately, it does not play offense: The Trojans are ranked No. 240 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Yeah. It's ugly. (How does a 42-36 loss to Cal Poly sit with you?) Kevin O'Neill's team might develop into a tough out for many of its conference foes because of that defense, but if it can't put points on the board it's going to struggle.

12. Utah: This was the easiest pick of the lot, and it will almost certainly remain that way for the rest of the season. The Utes are nearing historically bad territory: They're 1-7, ranked No. 305 in the KenPom rankings, and their two most recent results are an 82-52 loss to Fresno State and an 81-50 home loss -- home loss! -- to Cal-State Fullerton. First-year coach Larry Krystkowiak might get the Utes back to relevance eventually, but it isn't happening this season. Yikes.