College Basketball Nation: power rankings 010912

Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

January, 9, 2012
After a Sunday afternoon in which Indiana barely held off Penn State and Michigan handed Wisconsin yet another loss, here is my latest attempt to rank the Big Ten:
  1. Michigan State: The Spartans are undefeated in Big Ten play after pulling off a somewhat controversial 63-60 overtime victory against Wisconsin in Madison. They’re ranked 11th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense rankings and seventh in his adjusted defensive rankings. Translation: The Spartans are a complete team.
  2. Indiana: The Hoosiers held off a crafty Wolverines squad in Bloomington, but we’ll learn more about Indiana’s Big Ten title hopes when it travels to Columbus this weekend. The Hoosiers snapped a 16-game road losing streak in Big Ten play with an 88-82 victory at Penn State Sunday. Congrats, but how did IU give up 82 points to the Nittany Lions? Did Talor Battle play?
  3. Ohio State: This is what I like about the Buckeyes: After suffering that disappointing New Year’s Eve loss to Indiana, they did what a top-10 squad should do. They destroyed a pair of teams that are projected to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten (Nebraska by 31, Iowa by 29). At its best, Ohio State is the best team in this league. Will we see it consistently for the rest of the year?
  4. Michigan: This is where the league gets blurry. But Michigan deserves kudos for losing by two on the road against an Indiana squad that had previously defeated Ohio State and Kentucky in the same building. Plus, they held their own against an Indiana team with Christian Watford and Cody Zeller inside, despite playing with one post man (Jordan Morgan).
  5. Illinois: The Big Ten’s most perplexing squad needed a comeback to beat Nebraska. In Champaign. Joseph Bertrand’s 11 for 12 clip was impressive Saturday. Meyers Leonard taking five shots? Not so much. The Illini need more balance. Not sure why Bruce Weber’s squad isn’t playing more of an inside-outside game.
  6. Purdue: The Boilermakers don’t have much beef inside. Their offense revolves around Lewis Jackson’s speed off the dribble and Robbie Hummel’s versatility. But they’re in a massive league. So their margin of error, given their dependence upon outside shots, is slim. The team’s 20-point road loss to Penn State suggests that the Big Ten’s bottom half is murky at best.
  7. Iowa: Fran McCaffery’s wins at Wisconsin and Minnesota were promising. He continues to build in Iowa City, which is not an easy task. But additional lopsided losses, such as the one suffered against Ohio State at home Saturday, might soon suggest that the Wisconsin win was a fluke.
  8. Wisconsin: The Badgers don’t look very good right now, even though two of their Big Ten losses came against a pair of tourney teams. The Iowa loss is inexplicable. And those nonconference victories against UNLV and BYU seem ancient right now.
  9. Northwestern: That one-point loss to Illinois last week might haunt the Wildcats for some time. They’re not good enough to squander those tight games. And for the umpteenth time, the Wildcats’ dream of an NCAA tourney berth seems like a pipedream.
  10. Penn State: The Nittany Lions crushed Purdue last week. And they gave Indiana a run Sunday. Both games were at home. Those efforts might mean progress in State College, but we won’t know until Penn State adds a few W's to the win column.
  11. Minnesota: Tubby Smith’s squad looks lifeless right now. Against Purdue, Smith went with a small lineup, even though his team’s size advantage should have been significant weapon. As the Gophers learned last season, when they finished with 10 losses in their final 11 games, this thing can go downhill quickly.
  12. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had a shot on the road against Illinois over the weekend. But they took some tough shots late. Three of their next four are against Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio State. It’s not going to get easier.

Conference power rankings: Big East

January, 9, 2012
After No. 1, good luck figuring out the rest of the Big East. But I'll give it a shot ...
  1. Syracuse: Instead of giving pause to how good the Orange is, Syracuse’s survival win against Marquette only enforced just why Jim Boeheim’s team is the best in the country. The Orange needed to be tested and was, giving up most of a 23-point lead. Yet Cuse dug in to gut out the win.
  2. Georgetown: West Virginia put the breaks on the Hoyas’ 11-game winning streak, exposing Georgetown’s defensive flaws with its inside-outside power. To be determined: Was it just a bad night in a tough environment for the Hoyas? Upcoming games against Cincinnati and at St. John’s will at least partially answer that.
  3. West Virginia: In Kevin Jones, Bob Huggins has the current frontrunner for conference player of the year honors. Mix in Truck Bryant, who's playing the best basketball of his career, and you have a good recipe for success for a young WVU team that is finding its stride at just the right time.
  4. Seton Hall: Do the Pirates belong in the top tier of the league? Hard to say, but they're playing like it. Embarrassed by the pounding they took from Syracuse, the Pirates have been relentless since, winning their last three by an average of 13 points per game.
  5. Marquette: The Golden Eagles are the kings of almost. They almost beat Georgetown on the road and almost dethroned Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Except almost doesn’t count. Marquette is tricky to rank. This is clearly a good team, and one that will be a tough out in the tournament, but it needs to get the wins to prove it.
  6. Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ seven-game win streak came to an end on a buzzer-beating putback from Moe Harkless and St. John’s. Cincinnati is a good team but with that home loss to Presbyterian still on its resume, it doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room for bad losses. A big game against Georgetown is upcoming.
  7. Connecticut: With or without their coach, the Huskies aren’t particularly fond of New Jersey. UConn lost to Seton Hall while Jim Calhoun finished out his NCAA suspension and fell to Rutgers with him back on the bench. Turnovers are becoming a problem for the Huskies -- Shabazz Napier had five against the Hall and UConn had 20 against Rutgers. They have a critical game against West Virginia on Monday.
  8. Notre Dame: No one is better at adjusting on the fly and squeezing everything out of reconstructed rosters than Mike Brey. When Tim Abromaitis’ season ended with a torn ACL, it seemed the Irish’s season was lost as well. Instead, Brey has conjured up a team that is in the mix in the Big East, especially with its double overtime win at Louisville.
  9. Louisville: The Cardinals are hard to figure. Solid defensively with gritty players, they are abysmal offensively. Those struggles have led to a mini-skid, with Louisville losing three of its last four.
  10. St. John’s: Moe Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison give the Red Storm a bright future. The immediate present will be harder to predict for a young team still trying to make do without its head coach.
  11. South Florida: Progress comes in increments in Tampa and the Bulls' win at Villanova, only their seventh league road win in seven seasons, is progress. The catch: continuing it. USF has to become a consistently tough team on the road to really show improvement.
  12. DePaul: Reality is starting to seep in for the Blue Demons. After winning five in a row, they’ve lost two of their last three. Shoddy defense -- Villanova shot 63 percent -- negated what could have been another win after DePaul forced 28 turnovers.
  13. Rutgers: Maybe the Scarlet Knights should play top-10 teams all the time. The young Knights pulled off another stunner by toppling Connecticut, a game that showed (again) the promise of Mike Rice’s young team. Now Rutgers needs to exhibit that promise more often.
  14. Villanova: That a win over DePaul provided a sigh of relief tells you how desperate the Wildcats were to taste victory. Villanova put an end to a three-game conference slide by beating the Blue Demons. Whether it was a win over an easy opponent or signs of legitimate improvement will be determined quickly. The Cats host No. 1 Syracuse on Wednesday.
  15. Pittsburgh: Just when you thought a bizarre season couldn’t get weirder, the Panthers lost at DePaul. Pitt is reeling through an inexplicable four-game losing streak in what is quickly becoming a lost season.
  16. Providence: The hurts are likely to keep coming for Ed Cooley in his rebuilding process. The Friars' next three opponents: Louisville, Syracuse and Marquette.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

January, 9, 2012
After an eventful week in the Big 12, here are my latest power rankings:
  1. Baylor: At 15-0, the Bears are one of just three remaining undefeated teams in the country. But just how much longer will the streak last? Scott Drew’s squad will face its toughest test to date when it enters Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum Tuesday night. Freshman Quincy Miller has scored in double figures in four of his last five games.
  2. Kansas: Thomas Robinson is the Jayhawks’ best player, but the biggest story in Lawrence lately has been Travis Releford. The junior small forward scored a career-high 16 points in Wednesday’s win over Kansas State before erupting for 28 points in Saturday’s road victory over Oklahoma.
  3. Kansas State: The Wildcats bounced back from an 18-point loss to Kansas by thumping previously-unbeaten Missouri Saturday in Manhattan. Rodney McGruder has been solid all season, but he took his game to a different level in a 20-point effort against the Tigers, when he was in attack mode from start to finish.
  4. Missouri : Frank Haith’s squad got exposed a bit in Saturday’s 75-59 loss at Kansas State. The undersized Tigers shot a season-low 32 percent from the field and were outscored 42-16 in the paint. Missouri’s lack of size could also be a factor in games against Big 12 title contenders Baylor and Kansas. Winning at Iowa State Wednesday won’t be easy.
  5. Iowa State: Saturday’s 74-50 victory at Texas A&M marked the seventh straight win for the Cyclones, who may be starting to figure everything out. Royce White had a triple-double (10 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists) against the Aggies. He’ll have to continue to play well if Iowa State has hopes of beating either of its next two opponents (Missouri and Kansas).
  6. Oklahoma: The Sooners lost their first two Big 12 games by an average of 24.5 points, but no one expected Lon Kruger’s squad to beat Missouri or Kansas. Leading scorer Steven Pledger combined to make just seven of his 22 field goal attempts in those contests. Oklahoma is better than Oklahoma State, but Monday’s game against the Cowboys is on the road. Saturday’s home game against Kansas State should be a good one.
  7. Texas: The Longhorns have made the NCAA tournament in each of Rick Barnes’ 13 seasons, but that streak could be in jeopardy this year. Texas dropped its Big 12 opener at Iowa State before bouncing back with a home win over lowly Oklahoma State. After Wednesday’s game against Texas A&M, the Longhorns hit the road for back-to-back games at Missouri and Kansas State. Uh-oh.
  8. Texas A&M: What in tarnation is wrong with the Aggies? Losing to Iowa State at home is bad enough, but falling by 24 points is inexcusable. Khris Middleton is shooting just 38 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3-point range. Texas A&M is the Big 12’s most disappointing team.
  9. Oklahoma State: Give the Cowboys credit for beating Texas Tech in Wednesday’s Big 12 opener just days after third-leading scorer J.P. Olukemi was lost for the season with an ACL injury. Still, this is an incredibly thin team (in terms of numbers) that will struggle to win more than four or five conference games. The Cowboys’ shot selection must improve. They’re making just 41 percent of their field goal attempts.
  10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are obviously getting better. They trailed unbeaten Baylor by just one point at halftime in Lubbock Saturday but floundered after intermission. Kansas comes to town Wednesday, but the most anticipated game on the schedule occurs Saturday, when Billy Gillispie returns to Texas A&M to face his former school.

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

January, 9, 2012
How did Florida and Mississippi State dropping their SEC openers affect my latest conference rankings? Let's take a look:

1. Kentucky: The Wildcats have Anthony Davis and everyone else does not. Terrence Jones' return as a scorer against South Carolina makes this team even more dangerous.

2. Vanderbilt: The Commodores may end up being the second-best team in the SEC, as predicted in the preseason. They should be. They have the most experience at key positions.

3. Alabama: These spots will rotate from No. 2 to No. 5 over the next few weeks. But the Tide’s defensive domination in a road sweep of Georgia Tech and Georgia was impressive.

4. Mississippi State: I can hear the Arkansas fans chirping at keeping the Bulldogs this high after the Razorbacks thumped them on Saturday night. But it was a difficult road game and I can’t lower MSU too much after that loss.

5. Florida: The Gators continue to come up with ways to lose on the road. The first two losses were legitimate at Ohio State and Syracuse. The Rutgers loss was a failure to finish. The Tennessee loss was more about overall execution.

6. LSU: The Tigers did lose earlier in the week at home to Virginia, but then did what they should: beat a depleted Ole Miss, even without Johnny O’Bryant (hand injury). This will be a huge week for LSU as it hits the road to Alabama and Arkansas.

7. Arkansas: The Razorbacks crept closer to the top half with an impressive offensive performance in the win over the Bulldogs. Mike Anderson and his explosive Hogs had Bud Walton Arena rocking again Saturday night.

8. Tennessee: The certainty you’ll get from a Cuonzo Martin team is a tough, hard-working defensive team. The win over Florida was wildly impressive, from the game plan to the execution. The Vols aren’t going to be an NCAA team, but they will become a tough out from this point forward.

9. Georgia: The Bulldogs are inexperienced in key spots, but are like Tennessee in that they are tough to punch out. The Bulldogs should remain pesky during the conference season.

10. South Carolina: The Gamecocks got rocked at Kentucky as expected. But this team still has the length and athleticism that could pose some problems in Columbia, as it did for a spell against Ohio State.

11. Ole Miss: The Rebels take the deepest drop after booting leading scorer Dundrecous Nelson and reserve Jamal Jones from the team, following Nelson’s arrest. The pair was tossed, according to a source, for multiple failed drug tests. Ole Miss then was wiped out at LSU.

12. Auburn: The Tigers are still in rebuilding mode. Scoring just 35 points in a 30-point loss at Vanderbilt is a strong indication that the project still is in toddler stage. Up next for Auburn: Kentucky. Yikes.

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

January, 9, 2012
Before we go any further, let's just all admit that this premise -- ranking the top seven or eight teams in the Pac-12 -- is inherently futile. The distinctions between these teams are minor, if they even exist. Until these standings begin to shake out in the next few weeks, we can't definitively say any one team is significantly better than the three or four teams ranked above or below it. The entire league is either mediocre or downright bad. It's harsh to say, but it's true. The difficulty we have ranking these teams 1-12 only demonstrates as much.

Alas, I can't not turn in my rankings for the week. The show must go on, as they say. So, with all the enthusiasm of a root canal, here are this week's Pac-12 rankings:

1a. California
1b. Stanford

I'm keeping these two as a tie at the top of the rankings this week, because, well, that's where they were last Monday, and their results were nearly identical in the seven days since. California lost at Oregon State but won convincingly at Oregon; Stanford lost at Oregon but gutted out a 103-101 four-overtime victory at Oregon State. These rankings are based on both results and observations, and if I had to take a guess, I would still say Cal is the favorite to win this league. They're still the best from a tempo-free, points-per-possession perspective, which is certainly worth noting. So, yeah, they're still at the top. Stanford is right there, too. But neither team is going to run away with this league. Far from it, it seems.

3. Colorado: I have serious doubts about whether Colorado is really this good, but at some point you have to acknowledge the only team still undefeated in conference play. That's Colorado. To be fair, the Buffaloes were impressive last week, particularly in their 87-69 thrashing of a Washington squad that appeared to be finally putting its considerable talent together (and was itself ranked No. 3 last time we tried to make sense of this league). Tad Boyle's team is clearly improved from its early-season struggles, and the 3-0 start has to count for something.

4. UCLA: As Doug Gottlieb wrote this weekend, the Bruins' 65-58 win over Arizona at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Thursday was sneakily impressive, if only because, thanks to the high number of Arizona grads in the Anaheim area, the Bruins could barely call this a home game. The Bruins handled business against Arizona State on Saturday, their only Pac-12 losses came at Cal and at Stanford, and with Josh Smith rounding into shape (no pun intended), this team could emerge as a viable contender in the next few weeks. We'll see.

5. Arizona: The Wildcats' loss to UCLA proved two things: A) For all its struggles this season, UCLA is not going to roll over in Pac-12 play, and B) Arizona is merely another decent but unspectacular Pac-12 team. Barring a sudden uptick in performance from disappointing freshman Josiah Turner, the Wildcats' ceiling appears relatively low.

6. Oregon: The Ducks had the chance to post a pair of positive results in their most recent two-game homestand with Stanford and Cal, two very winnable games. They got the win over Stanford, but laid an absolute egg in a 77-60 blowout to Cal on Sunday night. Like the Dec. 18 home loss to Virginia, this was another missed chance to impress at home. Instead, the Ducks disappointed. Major improvement in the next few weeks seems unlikely. They are what they are. And yeah, we could probably say that for just about every team in this league, but it feels especially appropriate for the very so-so Ducks.

7. Washington: U-Dub fell from No. 3 to No. 7 in this space this week, and you could argue for an even more pronounced slip. The Huskies looked utterly uninspired in their double-digit loss at Colorado, and they barely -- barely! -- got past Utah (57-53 in Salt Lake City). The story on this team is simple: Washington has more talent than any other team in the Pac-12. What it doesn't have is defensive consistency or offensive chemistry, and without either, the Huskies will perform far below the sum of their considerable parts. This might be the nation's most frustrating team. It's certainly one of its most inconsistent.

8. Oregon State: Like their rivals in Eugene, the Beavers had a fantastic opportunity to impress this week, getting a crack at both Stanford and Cal in their own building. And like their rivals in Eugene, Oregon State let one -- in this case Saturday's 103-101 four-OT loss to the Cardinal -- slip away. The Beavers are obviously improved, and they can make some noise in this league going forward, but if they're going to struggle on the road (as they did at Washington State and Washington), they'll have to take care of business against decent teams at home.

9. Washington State: This is where things start to get really ugly. How ugly? Consider this: I have Wazzu ranked No. 9 today despite its loss to Utah. Oh, did you miss that? Because it happened: Washington State lost to Utah. That's a little bit like losing to Tennessee Martin or Houston Baptist, two teams currently ranked higher than the Utes in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. The Cougars followed that loss with a 71-60 defeat at Colorado, in which their offense -- the strength of this team to date -- scored just 60 points in 63 possessions. Ick.

10. Arizona State: The Sun Devils' season went from bad to worse this weekend, as leading scorer Kaela King -- one of three contributors suspended for ASU's trip to Southern Cal -- was then dismissed from the team. And yet Herb Sendek's team is not ranked No. 11 in these rankings for the first time all season. Wait ... how's that? Because ASU went to USC and got a win -- yes, a win -- in the Galen Center on Thursday night, topping the offensively bereft Trojans 62-53. It's going to be a long few months in Tempe. Cherish the small victories, and all that. Oh, and speaking of USC ...

11. USC: If Utah wasn't a potentially historic brand of awful this season, I would have put USC in the cellar this week. A home loss to Arizona State is bad enough, but the Trojans lost to a fractured, half-suspended Arizona State team on their own floor. USC's sheer inability to score -- it ranks No. 275 in adjusted offensive efficiency right now -- is absolutely killing this team. I thought SC's tough defense and grind-it-out style would serve it well against some of the lesser Pac-12 foes, but the Trojans, now the only winless team in Pac-12 play, are finding new and ever more depressing ways to lose.

12. Utah: I really, really wanted to move Utah up a spot this week, if only to say it happened at least once this season. Alas, a win over Washington State and a tight game with Washington -- encouraging though they may be -- isn't enough to erase the putrid results of the first two months, which put the Utes on track to be one of the worst high-major teams in the past decade. Maybe that isn't the case. Maybe Larry Krystkowiak can get this team moving in a positive direction. Let's hope so. It's only Jan. 8, and haven't Utah fans already suffered enough?

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

January, 9, 2012
Clemson over Florida State? Wake Forest over Virginia Tech? And here I thought it might be easier to figure out which teams fit where once ACC play began. Unexpected outcomes keep these power rankings a work in progress, but here’s this week’s attempt:

1. North Carolina: Small forward Harrison Barnes has scored 20 or more points in three of his past four games (including 25 in the Tar Heels’ ACC-opening win against BC), but UNC has to find a way to keep intensity and concentration throughout the entire 40 minutes of a game.

2. Duke: After last week’s loss at Temple, coach Mike Krzyzewski made two lineup switches: Freshman Quinn Cook made his first start at point guard, and forward Ryan Kelly came off the bench instead of starting. The result -- a career-high 21 points from Kelly and an 81-74 victory at Georgia Tech. It will be interesting to see if the personnel-tinkering continues.

3. Virginia: Won its 12th straight game when it beat Miami in its ACC opener, but forward Mike Scott -- the only Cavaliers player to score in double figures that game -- is going to need more offensive help from his teammates, especially Thursday at Duke. UVa continues to lead the league by holding foes to 50.5 points per game.

4. NC State: Coach Mark Gottfried said last week he thought the Wolfpack would need 10 or 11 victories to make the NCAA tournament. NC State's on its way. C.J. Leslie posted a double-double en route to beating Maryland on Sunday. State has now won seven of its past eight games, with the lone loss coming to top-ranked Syracuse.

5. Miami: The Hurricanes are still adapting to the man-to-man defense coach Jim Larranaga wants them to play, and they got a good look at the fundamentals at Virginia. UM guard Durand Scott couldn’t score on the final possession, and despite a comeback attempt, the Hurricanes fell by a point.

6. Clemson: The Tigers recorded their second-highest number of points (79) this season in their blowout win over the Seminoles. But can they keep scoring? It will take more wins to rise out of the triple-digit RPI rankings after losses to Coastal Carolina, College of Charleston and others earlier this season. So it will take more wins to keep them this high in the power rankings.

7. Wake Forest: C.J. Harris returned from a groin injury to bury two 3-pointers in the final 65 seconds Saturday, and the Deacs out-pounded the Hokies by 11 on the backboards. Just one game into their league schedule, they have already matched their ACC win total (one) from last season. But can they build upon it? That win comes in the same week they lost to Wofford.

8. Virginia Tech: Coach Seth Greenberg told reporters that upperclassmen Dorenzo Hudson, Victor Davila and Erick Green didn’t set the right tone during the pregame Saturday, and losing 58-55 at Wake Forest certainly doesn’t set the right tone for the conference season (or finally earning an NCAA tournament bid). The Hokies are now 1-7 in ACC openers since joining the league.

9. Maryland: Terrell Stoglin, the ACC’s leading scorer, recorded 25 points at NC State, but nonetheless still saw his team’s seven-game winning streak snapped in Raleigh. The Terps are still a work in progress.

10. Florida State: Just when the Seminoles thought they might be gaining some defensive momentum and gaining some offensive traction -- splat. Coach Leonard Hamilton questioned his team’s effort and focus after losing to Clemson by 20 points, and said there’s some sort of disconnect he just can’t figure out. But he (and they) had better do it soon.

11. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets gave the Blue Devils a better push than expected before losing by seven points. Can they continue to do that each game? Tech has now lost four in a row.

12. Boston College: The fact BC cut UNC’s 20-plus point lead to nine in the second half Saturday bodes well for the future. But with nine freshmen on the team (and five in the starting lineup), the Eagles aren’t just rebuilding, they’re repouring a foundation.

Robbi Pickeral can be reached at Twitter: @bylinerp.