College Basketball Nation: power rankings 122812

Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

December, 28, 2012
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This is the final time I will construct a Big Ten power rankings post out of nothing more than nonconference games; Big Ten play begins Monday.

That is good news for power rankings purposes, sure -- it is easier to rank teams when you have some head-to-head results to look at, obviously. But that's not why I'm excited. I'm excited because, you guys, how good is this league? How much fun is it going to be on a nightly basis? I vote "really good" and "a lot." Let's see where we stand before the voice actor from "Mortal Kombat" yells "FIGHT!"

1. Michigan. The Wolverines have been dormant since before last week's rankings, so there's nothing new to report here. If I had to pick between the two, I'd say Indiana is still the best team in this league and best in the country other than (maybe) Duke. But Michigan is right there offensively, not far behind on defense, and has the talent to beat anyone, anywhere, anytime. Keep an eye out on Mitch McGary. He's been good so far, but he's already flashing signs of great.

2. Indiana. I showed Illinois some love last week, and I couldn't bring myself to punish Ohio State for losing at Duke by five, but now that both have suffered losses I don't feel quite as bad about putting the Hoosiers back near the top of the conference. Here's the thing: The Hoosiers aren't perfect. They aren't going to go undefeated. They have holes on the defensive end, they could turn the ball over less, and Christian Watford's propensity for no-shows is troubling. On the road, in the rigors of this loaded league, IU will lose games -- maybe four or five by the time Big Ten play is through. But this offense is so good -- and the defense so improved -- that you can't bet against this team any night, in any gym. Butler troubles or not, IU is very much for real.

3. Illinois. This is the problem when 43.2 percent of your field goal attempts are 3-pointers: When you miss, you lose. That's what happened Saturday in the Braggin' Rights game in St. Louis, when Illinois suffered its first loss of the season, 82-73 to Missouri. The Tigers were able to win despite Phil Pressey's 3-of-19 (!) night because Illinois shot just 8-of-32 from beyond the arc, well below its season average of 37.1 percent. That's the biggest question about Illinois: Is this laudable hot start sustainable? We'll find out soon enough.

4. Minnesota. The Gophers beat Lafayette at home on Saturday, which wouldn't be enough to make them leapfrog a team under normal circumstances, but (a) I have some concerns with Ohio State, (q.v. below) and (b) I want to give Minnesota some love. It is deserved love! Minnesota is rebounding 48.9 percent of its misses -- if my calculations are correct, that's nearly half -- which is the best rate in the country by about 3 percent. Not too shabby for a team with Duke, Memphis, Stanford, Florida State, USC (a good defensive-rebounding team, despite it all) and South Dakota State on its docket. This is Tubby Smith's best team at Minnesota.

5. Ohio State. It's tough to ride a team too hard for losing to Kansas, even at home, because Kansas is Kansas and Ben McLemore is really good. That said ... Ohio State has a few minor problems. Chiefly, the Buckeyes' defense isn't where it was in recent seasons; it doesn't rebound as well or create turnovers without fouling the same way, even with Aaron Craft doing his thing. The second, it seems, is a lack of identity beyond Craft and Deshaun Thomas; as of yet, none of the Buckeyes' promising young forwards has stepped up and demanded a role the way Thad Matta surely would have hoped. Until that happens, the Buckeyes are going to be good, but well shy of great.

6. Michigan State. Were this nearly any other program, this team's turnover woes would be major cause for concern. But this is Michigan State, where turnover woes are quite frequently -- and quite bafflingly -- often the cost of doing business. Even so, this year's Spartans team is turning it over on 23 percent of their trips down the floor, which is the second-highest mark under Izzo since 2003 (though it could obviously come down before the season ends). MSU defends well, shoots it OK, and rebounds, so even if some of these games are ugly, I'm not worried. Yet.

7. Iowa. Last week I officially reclaimed my set aboard the Iowa Hawkeyes Big Ten sleeper bandwagon, and nothing has changed this week. The Hawkeyes are playing some surprisingly good defense, considering the way they started the season at Virginia Tech (which we now know is just plain good on offense); plus Iowa plays fast, which can skew their defensive numbers. Meanwhile, forward Melsahn Basabe is rebounding the ball like he did as a freshman, when he was one of the Big Ten's most impressive newcomers. Look out for the Hawks.

8. Wisconsin. For all the talk of how much Wisconsin misses former point guard Jordan Taylor and injured point guard Josh Gasser, the fact of the matter is that Wisconsin turns the ball over at the lowest rate of any team in the country. Clearly, ballhandling is not the issue. So what is? The Badgers are shooting fewer 3s and have reoriented their offense into the paint, but probably not enough. The 3s they do shoot are not nearly as likely to go in as in recent seasons past. There may be intangible, leadership-based reasons this team hasn't found its stride yet this year, but it's just as much about making shots, and how.

9. Northwestern. Is there anything worse in college basketball than being a Northwestern fan? Anything?! The past few seasons have been one long series of groin kicks, from near-constant bubble worries to failed home wins to surprisingly good teams and a renewal of hope to suspensions (Jershon Cobb) to sudden season-ending injuries (Drew Crawford). So of course the Wildcats lost by two at home to a good Stanford team last Friday. Of course they did.

10. Purdue. At 5-6, Purdue has the worst record in the Big Ten to date. It is a long season, sure, but the chances this young, rebuilding, inconsistent group gets to the NCAA tournament are slim; it's hard to go 5-6 in November and December and get a tourney bid. And with that said, if you think any coach in the league is looking forward to traveling to West Lafayette to face those Purdue fans and their raucous Mackey Arena echoes, not to mention that grindingly good defense, you, my friend, are wrong.

11. Nebraska. Nebraska does exactly one thing well: It prevents offensive rebounds. Other than that, it is taking its lumps any time it plays a good team (and sometimes when it plays not-so-good teams), which was to be expected in Tim Miles' first season. The latest was a 68-52 defeat at UTEP. So, you know: lumps.

12. Penn State. Are wins over Army, Delaware State (in overtime) and New Hampshire exciting? No. Are they wins? They are! With the prospect of playing against the above league for the next two months, you take a three-game winning streak any way you can.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

December, 28, 2012
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The Pac-12 is far from the best league in college basketball, but it will certainly be one of the most competitive. The difference in teams ranked between No. 2 and No. 12 isn’t all that huge, which should definitely make for some entertaining games over the next few months. Here’s a look at the Pac-12 power rankings entering conference play.

1. Arizona. The Wildcats are one of the country’s most talented teams, and also one of the toughest. Ten days after coming from behind to defeat Florida in the waning seconds, Sean Miller’s squad won a 68-67 thriller over No. 17 San Diego State that wasn’t decided until the game’s final shot. Arizona opens Pac-12 play against Colorado on Jan. 3 in Tucson.

2. Colorado. The Buffaloes host Hartford on Saturday before hitting the road to face Arizona and Arizona State next week. Andre Roberson ranks fourth in the country in rebounds with 11.9 points per game. Freshmen Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson have played well but need to continue to do so to improve.

3. Oregon. The well-balanced Ducks have six players averaging between nine and 12 points. That includes senior forward Tony Woods, whose scoring average (10.8) is the highest of his career. Oregon hosts Nevada on New Year’s Eve.

4. UCLA. The Bruins have won four in a row and now have a chance to make a huge statement against No. 7 Missouri on Friday night in Westwood. UCLA is 9-3, but its best victory is against Texas. Shabazz Muhammad is averaging 24.3 points in his past three games.

5. Oregon State. The Beavers will finish 7-0 in December if they defeat Towson (Saturday) and Texas-Pan American (Monday). Even though they haven’t been against top-tier opponents, the wins should give Craig Robinson’s squad tons of confidence as it enters Pac-12 play.

6. Cal. Allen Crabbe (20.4) and Justin Cobbs (16.5) are averaging more than half of the Golden Bears’ 72.4 points per game. Cal failed to pick up a quality win against nonconference competition and will likely be an NCAA tournament bubble team if it finishes in the top four or five in Pac-12 play.

7. Stanford. Even though it didn’t come against an NCAA tournament-caliber team, Stanford’s victory at Northwestern last week could help the Cardinal down the road. Johnny Dawkins’ squad needs to capitalize on that momentum in winnable Pac-12 road games at USC (Thursday) and UCLA (Jan. 5).

8. Arizona State. Freshman Jahii Carson is blossoming into one of the top point guards in the country, regardless of age. He’s averaging a team-high 17.9 points and 5.3 assists for a team that has a legitimate chance to finish in the upper half of the Pac-12 standings.

9. Washington. The Huskies have won four in a row and six of their past seven, but nothing would create momentum like a victory at Connecticut on Saturday. The contest will mark the beginning of a four-game road swing for Lorenzo Romar’s squad, which opens Pac-12 play at Washington State, Cal and Stanford.

10. Washington State. Three of the Cougars’ four losses have come by a combined five points. They’d be on a seven-game win streak if not for a two-point setback against Gonzaga. Brock Motum averages 19.9 points.

11. Utah. The Utes enter Friday’s game against Idaho toting losses in two of their past three contests. Things will only get tougher in the Pac-12, as Utah’s first two games (against Arizona and Arizona State) are on the road.

12. USC. The Trojans are in a world of hurt. One of the nation’s most difficult nonconference schedules has squelched USC’s energy and put coach Kevin O’Neill squarely on the hot seat. Talent-wise, this is the fourth- or fifth-best team in the league. There’s no excuse for the Trojans to be this bad.

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

December, 28, 2012
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The Mountain West continues to shine when the spotlight is on with quality performances and at times breakthrough wins. The MWC may very well end up with the highest percentage of bids to the NCAA tournament.

On to the rankings:

1. New Mexico. It appeared the Lobos had lost the top spot after losing at home to Nate Wolters and South Dakota State. But then they rebounded to show their true colors with a road win at previously unbeaten Cincinnati on Thursday. The win at UC was a game-changer for New Mexico. Now, UNM heads to Saint Louis with a chance for a significant two-game road swing. Had the Lobos lost to Cincy, they would have run the risk of a three-game losing streak. New Mexico shouldn't have dropped out of the rankings with the home loss to the Jackrabbits. They should be given their due next week.

2. San Diego State. The Aztecs were one blocked shot from a Diamond Head Classic title and the top spot in these rankings. Chase Tapley was on his way to a game-winning lay-in before Arizona's Nick Johnson blocked the shot. SDSU was the aggressor early but couldn't finish off the Wildcats. This San Diego State team has plenty of scoring options but needs to possess the finishing kick in key games.

3. UNLV. At full strength, the Runnin' Rebels have the most potential of any of these teams. Anthony Bennett has become one of the top players in the country. Khem Birch is contributing in a number of ways. Once Mike Moser is healthy, the frontcourt will be one of the best in the country. Saturday's game at North Carolina will be a barometer for where the Rebels are at this juncture in the season. But it's hard to judge this team until it is whole.

4. Wyoming. The Cowboys are now one of the four remaining unbeatens with Arizona, Duke and Michigan. Wyoming owns a key home win (Colorado) and a significant comeback win on the road (Illinois State), and now has a chance for another road win at SMU. The more road and neutral-court wins, the more attractive the team is to the NCAA tournament selection committee. This Wyoming team will enter the MWC season with postseason credentials, barring a collapse in the conference.

5. Colorado State. The Rams regained their footing in a win over Virginia Tech in Las Vegas. This was yet another example of the MWC establishing itself as a major player nationally. Remember, that is a Hokies team that knocked off Oklahoma State. Solid win for CSU.

6. Boise State. The Broncos have entered the soft underbelly of their schedule with lower-level games. But don't be dismayed. Boise State was coming off a blowout home win over LSU. This team will ultimately be judged by how well it performs to start the Mountain West -- at Wyoming on Jan. 9 and against New Mexico on Jan. 16. We'll learn then whether the Broncos are pretenders or contenders.

7. Nevada. The Wolf Pack still should be a team to deal with once they get deep into the MWC. We'll know where this team stands in the pecking order after it goes to Oregon, arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12 and then opens at Air Force and hosts Wyoming and San Diego State in two of its first home MWC games.

8. Air Force. The Falcons are an underdog against Florida in Sunrise, Fla., this weekend. But how well they can hold their own against the Gators will be a good test. Air Force will nab a few MWC teams at home and could easily steal a road game or two. This is an experienced club that will be a pest throughout conference play.

9. Fresno State. Fresno has been reeling lately but can right itself if it can pull off an upset with a home win over San Diego State or Wyoming in its first two home games in the conference. The Bulldogs have to establish themselves as a tough out at home to develop an identity in the conference.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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Well, here we go again. My latest attempt to rank SEC teams. Enjoy. Or cry. Either would be appropriate with this conference right now.

  1. Missouri. The Tigers secured the No. 1 spot with their 82-73 win over Illinois Saturday in St. Louis. I was impressed by three things in this game: the toughness of Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers; Missouri's ability to overcome Phil Pressey's 3-for-19 slump; and the pressure the Tigers put on Brandon Paul, who scored 23 points on 5-for-18 shooting. Missouri is the king of the league right now after that win.
  2. Kentucky. The Wildcats could move up to No. 1 if they beat Louisville Saturday. That's obviously a difficult proposition for any program. Kentucky has won four consecutive games, albeit against Samford, Portland, Lipscomb and Marshall. But Ryan Harrow (averaging 14.3 points, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game in the team's past three matchups) is evolving and that could be the most critical development of the season for John Calipari.
  3. Florida. It feels wrong to put the Gators here. It's not as though they suffered two losses to a pair of bad teams. The biggest surprise, however, was the Gators' inefficiency in the final minutes of those losses to Arizona and Kansas State. And it didn't help that Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario played so poorly. I still think Florida will ultimately win this league but first it has to overcome its recent setbacks.
  4. Tennessee. Cuonzo Martin reportedly will speak with Jeronne Maymon (12.7 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game) next month about his status for 2012-13. A redshirt is a possibility with his slow-to-heal knee. If he's not ready to go, it will impact Tennessee's ceiling. The Vols beat a nationally ranked Wichita State squad Dec. 21 and followed it up with a pair of wins over two subpar programs (Presbyterian and Western Carolina). But their next five games (Xavier, Memphis, Ole Miss, at Alabama, at Kentucky) will determine if they've exorcised the offensive demons that hurt them in back-to-back losses to Virginia and Georgetown.
  5. Arkansas. The Razorbacks are 7-4 after winning their past three games. They didn't play the likes of Duke, Indiana and Louisville in that run (Alcorn State, Alabama A&M and Robert Morris, actually). But their only bad loss on the year came against Arizona State (Syracuse, Wisconsin and Michigan were their other three defeats). Arkansas is a team that will score a bunch of points -- via BJ Young (16.7 ppg) and Marshawn Powell (16.5 ppg) -- and pray that it gets enough stops along the way to come out on top.
  6. Ole Miss. The Rebels average 82.1 ppg (eighth in the country). But they lost to the only two teams -- Middle Tennessee and Indiana State -- on their nonconference slate with the defensive capability to neutralize their offense. They were 15-for-52 from the 3-point line in those two losses. The 3-point line will be their blessing and curse all year. The Rebels have shot 279 3-pointers through 12 games, No. 1 in the SEC. But they don't have many scoring alternatives when those shots aren't falling.
  7. Alabama. The Crimson Tide have failed to register 60 points in four of their past seven games. Anthony Grant's squad has lost three of its past four. Three of those defeats came against VCU (on the road), Cincinnati (at the buzzer) and Dayton. But Bama will continue to tumble if Grant can't get more consistent offense from players not named Trevor Lacey (13.4 ppg) and Trevor Releford (16.3 ppg).
  8. LSU. Coach Johnny Jones has had the luxury of competing against one of the league's worst nonconference schedules (No. 243 per ESPN.com's RPI ratings). So, he has managed to win seven of his first nine games in Year 1. But the Tigers have lost the only two nonconference games that could potentially boost his team's résumé (89-70 at Boise State Dec. 14, 84-80 at Marquette Saturday). Can Shavon Coleman & Co. compete in the SEC? We won't know until they face the league's known contenders in the coming weeks.
  9. Vanderbilt. Despite their loss to Middle Tennessee Dec. 21, the Commodores' December has been positive simply because they've won three of their past four. They'll face No. 18 Butler in Nashville Saturday. Kevin Stallings' young squad hasn't been a very efficient offensive group (181st in Ken Pomeroy's ratings and its 60.3 ppg are 306th nationally). And they get more than 50 percent of their scoring from two players (Kedren Johnson and Kyle Fuller). They're too limited.
  10. Texas A&M. The Aggies are good representatives of what ails this conference. They just lost to a 5-6 Southern team that was picked to finish sixth in the SWAC by Blue Ribbon. They scored 51 points against the Jaguars, who rallied in the final minutes. Earlier this season, Texas A&M was crushed by St. Louis (70-49) and suffered a double-digit defeat against Oklahoma (64-54). Their wins? Nothing special. And that's the story of this league right now. The SEC as a whole hasn't been competitive in its toughest nonconference matchups, the true barometers of its status entering league play.
  11. South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won three in a row (Jacksonville, Appalachian State and Manhattan), but are averaging 18.8 turnovers per game, No. 1 in the SEC. They're ranked 269th in Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency ratings and 13th overall in the league in scoring defense. Disappointing numbers for any team, but they're even worse considering coach Frank Martin's squad has played the SEC's worst nonconference slate (323rd per ESPN.com's RPI ratings).
  12. Auburn. I think Auburn's true profile is comparable to the other squads in the league's bottom tier. Zero quality wins. Its victories seem to be the product of a soft nonconference schedule, not an influx of talent. But the Tigers have won three of their past four. And that means something in the SEC, regardless of the opposition. Maybe Auburn should be a few slots higher. Perhaps a few other squads should be lower. The bottom line is that the league, after the top four of five squads, is very difficult to gauge right now.
  13. Georgia. Mark Fox has finally racked up a couple of much-needed wins with the Bulldogs. A two-game winning streak (victories over Mercer and USC) is Georgia's first such streak of the season. Yes, they're 4-7. And if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continues to do everything (he leads the team in scoring, rebounding and steals), then they'll probably remain in the basement. He needs as much help as any player in America. But a couple of wins could signal a momentum swing for Georgia.
  14. Mississippi State. Coach Rick Ray's 4-6 Bulldogs have won two of their past three. But that's the most positive stretch of the year for this short-handed squad. Only five players registered more than 20 minutes in Mississippi State's 79-72 win over Central Arkansas on Saturday. That limited depth has been a problem for the Bulldogs all year. Roquez Johnson & Co. can't afford any injuries or foul trouble. And that could be an even greater challenge once SEC play begins.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

December, 28, 2012
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A few weeks ago, Kansas coach Bill Self tried to calm the folks who were panicking about the downtrodden state of the Big 12. “By the time January gets here,” Self said, “our league will be as good as it’s been.” I couldn’t have disagreed more when Self uttered that statement, and I’m still not ready to say he was 100 percent correct. This clearly isn’t as good of a league as it has been in the past. But it may not be nearly as bad as we thought, either. Just ask Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State, Kentucky and NC State -- all of whom have lost to Big 12 schools. Maybe the league season won’t be so bad, after all. Here are this week’s power rankings.

1. Kansas. Is Ben McLemore the best player of the Bill Self era? That’s the question that’s circulating around Lawrence these days following a five-game stretch in which McLemore, a redshirt freshman, averaged 19.6 points while shooting 59.1 percent from 3-point range.

2. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are expecting a packed house for their New Year’s Eve tilt with No. 13 Gonzaga. A victory would provide a huge momentum boost entering Big 12 play. Le'Bryan Nash (14.9) and Markel Brown (14) combine to average 28.9 points for a team whose only loss came at Virginia Tech.

3. Kansas State. The Wildcats broke into the Top 25 this week, and rightfully so. First-year coach Bruce Weber did an outstanding job preparing his squad for Saturday’s 67-61 victory over Florida in Kansas City. Seven-foot center Jordan Henriquez provided a spark for the first time this season. He’s one of the biggest keys for K-State’s future success.

4. Baylor. The Bears turned in one of their best performances of the season in last week’s 79-64 domination of BYU in Waco. The question now is if Scott Drew’s squad can do it against a good Gonzaga team in a hostile road environment Friday. Baylor has already defeated Kentucky in Lexington, but Gonzaga is a better team than Kentucky.

5. Iowa State. The Cyclones host Yale on New Year’s Day before opening Big 12 play against Kansas on Jan. 9. Will Clyburn and Tyrus McGee combine to average 27.1 points. Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious is shooting just 34.5 percent from the field.

6. Texas. There is reason for hope in Austin. Three days after upsetting North Carolina, the Longhorns pushed Michigan State on the road before falling 67-56. Rick Barnes’ squad led at halftime. Sheldon McClellan averages a team-high 15.3 points but is shooting just 24.4 percent from the field in his past four games.

7. Oklahoma. The Sooners are probably good enough to beat any team in the league on a good day, but they’re capable of losing to just about anyone, too. See: Austin, Stephen F. Ohio University will provide a tough test Saturday.

8. West Virginia. Bob Huggins’ squad hosts Eastern Kentucky Sunday before opening Big 12 play at home against Oklahoma on Jan. 5. Aaric Murray is averaging 11 points and shooting 51.8 percent from the field. He’s also blocking 1.8 shots per game.

9. Texas Tech. Someone give the Red Raiders directions to the Lubbock airport. Texas Tech has yet to play a game outside of United Spirit Arena, and it won’t until a Jan. 5 tilt with TCU in Fort Worth. Chris Walker’s team has lost three in a row and four of its past five.

10. TCU. The Horned Frogs are averaging just 56.5 points per game, a mark that ranks 336th in the country. Yikes! Their Jan. 5 game against Texas Tech will be a battle between two of college basketball’s worst teams from a power conference.

Conference Power Rankings: Big East

December, 28, 2012
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It was a noisy quiet week for the Big East. With plenty of teams enjoying some holiday downtime, two of the best played -- and lost their first games of the season.

Both Syracuse and Cincinnati dropped from the ranks of the unbeatens, but neither is going to get punished too heavily here because both lost to good teams and are clearly, along with Louisville, the cream of this conference’s crop as league play opens.

1. Louisville. The Cards put the defensive clamps on one state rival, easily topping Western Kentucky before Christmas. Now it gets a little trickier, with the ultimate rival coming to town in the form of Kentucky. Maybe toughest of all: Louisville will have to regroup quickly, win or lose, with the league opener against Providence only four days later.

2. Cincinnati. The Bearcats were taken out of their rhythm and off their game with a good defensive effort from New Mexico, which handed Cincinnati its first loss of the season, 55-54 on Thursday. Life doesn’t get much easier for Cincinnati, which rings in the new year against always defensive-minded Pittsburgh.

3. Syracuse. The Orange’s biggest Achilles' heel showed itself in glaring fashion against Temple on Saturday, when a poor free-throw-shooting team missed 15 from the charity stripe. That added up to Syracuse’s first loss of the season, 83-79. The Orange remain among the best in the league, but have areas that need to be addressed.

4. Georgetown. The Hoyas haven’t played since an easy win against American on Dec. 22 and won’t until they open Big East play against Marquette. The big question: Will Georgetown be rested or rusty?

5. Notre Dame. The Irish are enjoying a nice, leisurely holiday break. After easily topping Niagara on Dec. 21, Notre Dame put the brakes on the season until Jan. 5, when it hosts Seton Hall.

6. Pittsburgh. The Panthers will close out 2012 knowing exactly how good they really are -- or aren’t when they host Cincinnati 12 hours before 2013 dawns. Only three teams have sneaked above 60 points against Pitt this season -- and Oakland needed overtime to get to 62. That’s the sort of defense the Panthers will need to impress against Cincinnati.

7. Connecticut. The Huskies get a decent nonconference test this weekend, against the other Huskies, the ones from Washington. The Pacific Northwest version isn’t as good as the East Coast version, but after feasting on easier competition, this will be a good conference launch pad for UConn.

8. Marquette. The Golden Eagles won their last game, but it didn’t do much to settle any unease after Marquette’s shaky month. Barely skating past an OK LSU team isn’t exactly cause for trumpet blaring.

9. DePaul. The Blue Demons have won seven in a row, their longest streak since the 1993-94 season, but just how good is DePaul? That’s the big question. Seton Hall and Providence are the first two league opponents, and if the Blue Demons are legit, they ought to at the very least split those two.

10. Villanova. The Wildcats are winning games, but they also are playing better in their past four games. To prove that is not merely a byproduct of the competition, Villanova needs to play well against St. John’s in the league opener on Jan. 2.

11. Seton Hall. Like Villanova, the Pirates look a whole lot better lately. They’ve won five in a row, but the question is: Is this merely smoke and mirrors? The competition has been average at best. DePaul and Notre Dame to open the Big East ought to answer some questions.

12. Providence. No other way to say it -- the Friars’ loss to rival Boston College was a disappointment. Finally with all the pieces and players in place, Providence couldn’t top a below-average BC team. The Friars need to regroup quickly -- after a game against Brown, they head to Louisville.

13. Rutgers. Associate head coach David Cox is now 2-0, filling in for the suspended Mike Rice, and observers have said the Scarlet Knights look more relaxed lately. Rice will be back for the league opener against Syracuse on Jan. 2.

14. St. John’s. The Red Storm blew a 17-point lead and the Big East’s undefeated mark against UNC-Asheville, succumbing to a 23-4 run that led the Bulldogs to their first win against the conference in 16 tries. St. John’s is young, so laying off the gas pedal is not surprising, but it’s also not forgivable with league play around the corner.

15. South Florida. The Bulls needed triple overtime to beat Bowling Green -- a 5-6 Bowling Green team. Now they face a difficult George Mason team before rival Central Florida.
Greetings from the post-Festivus edition of the Atlantic 10 power rankings! While the reads on many teams will remain the same -- college hoops mostly takes a break during the holidays -- this is also the post-Temple-upsetting-Syracuse edition of the Atlantic 10 power rankings, and I got a lot of problems with you people.

1. Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams' only game since last week's rankings was a 93-56 win over Longwood, which is the margin you would expect against a team ranked No. 345 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. Same deal here: VCU plays efficient offense but really shines on the defensive end, where Darius Theus and Briante Weber (who leads the nation in steal percentage) put opposing ball handlers in the equivalent of the wood-chipper scene in "Fargo." Yah.

2. Butler. But for a Dec. 5 victory over IUPUI, the Bulldogs have stuck to an all-Saturday schedule in December. It has served them well. Butler followed up its thrilling Dec. 15 neutral-court win over then-No. 1 Indiana with this past Saturday's solid home victory over Evansville. Next up: Saturday's road game against Vanderbilt, which is rebuilding but dangerous enough to warrant some caution, particularly in its own building.

3. Temple. OK, people, let's get a few things straight: You can criticize my power rankings all you want. You can politely disagree. Or you can call me stupid. You can call my name "weird." (That kind of bugs my mom, but I went to grade school. I can take it.) I have a thick skin, I take feedback well, I don't believe my rankings to be the end of the conversation but the beginning, and no, I don't take December power rankings based on 10 or 11 games all that seriously anyway. Neither should you.

Here's the one thing you cannot do: criticize the power rankings with the benefit of hindsight.

To wit: Last week, I ranked Temple 10th. This was immediately after a 10-point home loss to Canisius. It was also after a 23-point loss to Duke in which Temple never really looked competitive and no other good wins to speak of (barring a 15-point win at Villanova, which I probably should have paid more attention to). So, Temple comes out a few days after losing by 10 at home to Canisius and, of course, beats Syracuse on a neutral court. And then a bunch of people on Twitter and in the comments section write things like this: "Eamonn Brennan looks like a fool after the Temple game."

Ha! Yes, because you, all-knowing and wise college basketball fan, absolutely knew Temple was not only not mediocre but also good enough to take down Syracuse in Madison Square Garden. You're right! I should have known! How could I have missed that? It must be because I am such a hater!

Ugh.

Anyway, great win for Temple. The Owls were never the 10th-best team in the league; you'll notice in a lot of these descriptions I say something like "[Team X] is not this bad, but ..." and that certainly applied here. Frankly, I'm not sure if Temple is really the third-best team in the league. Let's wait and see. The point is I can't predict the future and hate to even try.

4. Saint Louis. The Billikens beat Loyola Marymount on Saturday; Kwamain Mitchell is still returning from the broken foot he suffered in the first week of practice in October; and the last best nonconference opportunity for the Billikens comes Monday at home against New Mexico. Big game.

5. Dayton. I was not inclined to punish Dayton for losing to Illinois State at home last week, and a similar disinclination remains today. It helped that the Flyers held serve at home against Murray State on Saturday. This team's biggest question is whether its defensive play will be consistent enough to prevent the larger inconsistent modus operandi we've talked (OK, laughed) about so often with the Flyers already this season.

6. La Salle. The Explorers shoot the ball well and don't turn it over -- they have the 19th-lowest turnover rate in the country as of this writing -- and their lack of fouls on the defensive end is keeping their per-possession numbers respectable. What this team needs now is a statement win, or something like it, and a win in Wednesday's visit to Miami would be exactly that.

7. Charlotte. I'm becoming less convinced by the 49ers by the week. I was on board after the win at Davidson, and I'm willing to forgive a loss at Miami even if the margin (31 points) is glaring. But I've seen Florida State plenty this season, enough to know that it is hard for me to take you totally seriously if you can't muster a win over the Seminoles in a quasi-home environment in your home city. That was the case on Saturday, when Charlotte fell to Florida State at the Time Warner Cable Arena, and I am losing the faith.

8. Saint Joseph's. Losing to Florida State is fine on its own. Losing to Creighton by 29 is cool; Creighton's really good. Losing to Villanova on the road in a Holy War game you probably should have -- or at least could have -- won? Fine. Taking an 11-day break and then losing to Fairfield at home? Now we need to talk. The Hawks were touted as the conference's offseason title favorite thanks largely to their huge number of returning contributors, but what if those contributors really just are what they are?

9. Xavier. Don't look now, but Xavier might actually be having a real-life down season. It feels weird to write that, because the Musketeers don't do down seasons. For nearly a decade, they've turned over coaches and players and still been among the best teams in the A-10 and a constant threat to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Last Wednesday's Crosstown loss to Cincinnati was entirely forgivable (the Musketeers cramped up late and stopped scoring entirely), but following it up with 55 points in a home loss to Wofford? Yikes. Chris Mack's team has a long way to go.

10. Richmond. The Spiders' offense has been their clear strength this season, but it betrayed them in a big way against George Mason at the Richmond Coliseum last Saturday. Richmond held the Patriots to just 1.03 points per possession but mustered only .98 of its own, and that is a recipe for losses. Saturday provides a nice chance at redemption when Davidson comes to town.

11. Massachusetts. You may have a higher opinion of East Carolina this season than I do, and I do like that Ohio win, but for now I'm still not buying the Minutemen. There's just too much ugliness on both ends of the floor -- UMass shoots the ball poorly and fouls way too often, to name a couple of examples -- to expect much sustained success going forward.

12. St. Bonaventure. Now that we're not punishing teams for losses to Canisius (the Bonnies lost by three at the Koessler Athletic Center back on Nov. 17), you can argue that three of St. Bonaventure's four losses (at Ohio and last week's loss at NC State) are entirely forgivable. But there is still the matter of that loss at Arkansas State, not to mention the fact that St. Bonaventure opponents seem to shoot the ball exceedingly well from beyond the arc. After a certain number of games, that is less about luck and more about perimeter defense.

13. George Washington. After 11 days off, George Washington recovered from its three-game losing streak to hold off VMI at home. It moves up the rankings one spot because Duquesne lost to Louisiana-Lafayette by 12.

14. Duquesne. Yep, you read that correctly: Duquesne lost to Louisiana-Lafayette by 12. Granted, it was a road game, and Lafayette did give Michigan State some problems early in the season, but -- actually, no, not granted. That needs to be a win.

15. Rhode Island. Keep an eye out for Rhode Island. No, seriously! The Rams have won four of their past six games, and though none of those wins has been particularly fancy, they are wins -- already more than half of the seven victories the Rams won all last season.

16. Fordham. Speaking of mini-win streaks, Fordham has won two of its past three, including a Dec. 15 win over Princeton on a neutral floor. The problem is it lost seven of eight before then, albeit against a brutal schedule.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
7:30
AM ET
Only one more week of tune-ups before Atlantic Coast Conference play begins. Here are this week’s ACC Power Rankings, based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Duke: The 11-0 Blue Devils took the week off, but they remain the top team in the ACC, and nation. Mason Plumlee continues to lead the league in rebounding (11.5 per game), although his team ranks 11th in the league in rebounding margin (minus-0.3). Duke returns to the court Saturday versus Santa Clara.

2. NC State: Forward C.J. Leslie scored a career-high 33 points en route to the Wolfpack’s fifth straight win, over St. Bonaventure, last weekend. It marked the first time he has scored 20 or more points this season, as five NC State players are averaging double figures.

3. Maryland: The Terps allowed a 20-point lead to dwindle to three before beating Stony Brook last Friday. Maryland is fourth in the nation in both assists (18.6) and rebounds (44.4) per game.

4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels didn’t get much of a test during a blowout victory against McNeese State, but they will get one Saturday against No. 20 UNLV. Coach Roy Williams still wants a more balanced attack inside, but three different players have started at center over the past three games.

5. Virginia: Old Dominion had lost nine in a row before using a 21-4 second-half run to stun the Cavaliers -- and maybe serve up a wake-up call?. “I hope they weren’t feeling [good about] themselves: ‘Hey, we won [eight] in a row,’” coach Tony Bennett said after the loss, according to The Washington Post. “I would hope that’s not the case, but if it was, this will certainly bring you back to reality.”

6. Miami: Without big man Reggie Johnson (jammed thumb), the Hurricanes skidded to a 1-2 finish in the Diamond Head Classic, beating Hawaii before losing to No. 4 Arizona, then Indiana State. Wednesday’s game against La Salle will mark their final test before ACC play.

7. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have now won four straight, and six in a row at home at new McCamish Pavilion. Midseason Kentucky transfer Stacey Poole made his Tech debut last weekend, scoring seven points in the second half of his team’s win over The Citadel. But the Jackets still rank last in the league in field goal percentage (43.0).

8. Florida State: After sitting out the previous game because of disciplinary reasons, senior Michael Snaer returned with a 30-point game to help top Charlotte. That three-point win means FSU has now won three in a row since losing three straight.

9. Virginia Tech: Erick Green notched a career-high 31 points to edge Bradley by a point, but his 26 points the following day weren’t nearly enough during a blowout loss to Colorado State in the Las Vegas Classic. The Hokies have now lost three of their past five since their 7-0 start.

10. Clemson: BYU transfer Damarcus Harrison showed his potential by notching 15 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists off the bench in a win over South Carolina State. And the Tigers could use some more of that, as they rank 250th in the nation in points (64.4 per game), 195th in rebounds (34.8) and 220th in assists(12.3).

11. Boston College: BC halted Providence’s six-game winning streak, and now the Eagles have won three straight. Ryan Anderson continues to pace his team with 16.1 points (third-best in the ACC) and 9.7 rebounds (second-best in the ACC) per game.

12. Wake Forest: After beating UNC Greensboro earlier this week, coach Jeff Bzdelik said his team is starting to come together and find their roles at the right time. We’ll see. The Deacons have one more nonconference game, against Xavier, before opening their conference slate at Duke. They’re still getting outrebounded by an average of 1.9 per game, and allowing foes to shoot 43.6 percent.

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