Buy, sell or hold? Assessing 63 teams with annual Stock Report
You're cold and you're cranky. You're stressed out and you're snowed in. Your flight was canceled, your driveway hasn't been shoveled and you're going to lose your mind if you don't get your kids out of the house and back to school. And don't even get you started on those officious meteorologists at the Weather Channel, or the panicky anchors on your local newscast letting you know when the next storm is coming.
In other words, the last thing you need is another forecast.
Fear not, Hoop Thinkers. This is not your ordinary, pedestrian forecast. It's not even a forecast for pedestrians. Rather, it is the esteemed roundball tradition that always melts your hearts and warms your toes: The Hoop Thoughts Stock Report.
You know where your favorite team has been, but where is it going? You've got a few sheckels left over from the holidays. So where should you invest them? As usual, I've got all the answers. This is the absolute, final, definitive word on where the college basketball landscape stands -- at least, as of today.
Loyal readers know how this works. I have assessed 63 -- yes, 63 -- teams based on three criteria: Their record, their ranking in this week's AP poll, and that ever-important-but-hard-to-quantity category called "buzz." I have taken stock of where those teams have come from, and I have forecast where they are headed. Then I gave each of them a rating of Buy, Hold or Sell.
As you read, keep in mind that counterintuitive logic of the HTSR. If a team has been winning games and climbing the rankings, that means it's stock price has been climbing as well -- and therefore I am more likely to rate it a Sell. If a team has underperformed but has room for improvement, I am more likely to rate it a Buy. Therefore, just because Team A is a Buy and Team B is a Sell, that does not mean that I think Team A is better. You got it?
Of course you do. You may have ice in your veins, but your brain is working just fine. You have college hoops to get through the winter, and the season is just getting ready to heat up. Time to take stock.
Arizona Wildcats (15-0, No. 1): HOLD
This is a good team, a really good team. But is it a great one? I'm not ready to go there just yet. Besides, giving an undefeated team that is ranked No. 1 in both polls a Buy rating would mean stamping them as a heavy favorite to win the national championship. The Wildcats certainly could win it all, but the reality is that they are young in the frontcourt and the Pac-12 will challenge them more than it has the past few years. And I certainly wouldn't want you to Buy this stock right before Arizona hits the road to play at UCLA on Thursday.
Arizona State Sun Devils (12-3, NR): SELL
It seems as if we all want Arizona State to be good. Herb Sendek is likeable enough and Jahii Carson is the second coming of Nate Robinson. Yet every time the Sun Devils have a chance to prove themselves, they come up short. The latest example was last Thursday night, when they fell at home by 11 to a mediocre Washington team.
The Sun Devils can score when they're clicking and they have an elite shot blocker in 7-foot-2 senior center Jordan Bachynski. But now we're into conference play, where team defense and rebounding become paramount, and those are two areas where Arizona State is woefully deficient.
Arkansas Razorbacks (11-2, NR): SELL
I know Razorbacks fans are excited about their team's start, but upon closer examination it is not so exciting. Arkansas has only played two teams that are on pace to make the NCAA tournament (Gonzaga and Cal -- and Cal is iffy) and lost both times on a neutral court. Mike Anderson has done well to gas his team's engine, including giving 12 players double-digit minutes on average, but the rubber is about to hit the road. The Razorbacks might squeeze out a road win at Texas A&M in their SEC opener, but after that they get Florida and Kentucky at home, followed by Georgia and Tennessee on the road. In other words, this is the perfect time to sell.
Baylor Bears (12-1, No. 7): SELL
This is a pretty good team, but it ain't the seventh-best in the country. The Bears have good home-neutral wins over Colorado and Kentucky, but they did not have a single true road game on their schedule before the start of Big 12 play. Three of their first five league games are on the road, including at Iowa State and Kansas. Senior forward Cory Jefferson (14.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg) is a stud and I'm impressed with the way juco transfer Kenny Chery has commandeered the point guard spot, which was a major question mark to start the season. But unless 7-1 sophomore forward Isaiah Austin develops a toughness that is commensurate with his talent, this team has risen as high as it can go.
Boise State Broncos (11-3): BUY
This is a nice little economic purchase. The Broncos were starting to climb up "Others receiving votes" in the polls until they got thumped by 15 at Kentucky on Dec. 10, and although it was disappointing to see them lose to Saint Mary's their next time out, they later gave a very good Iowa State team all it could handle in Hawaii before losing by four.
This team is a little too perimeter-oriented for its own good, and it would be nice if the Broncos dedicated themselves to defending once in a while, but the Mountain West is just strong enough that they should be able to eek out the requisite wins to earn an NCAA bid -- in which case you'll yield a modest return.
Butler Bulldogs (10-4): BUY
Nobody is talking about Butler, which is exactly how first-year coach Brandon Miller likes it. Besides losing Brad Stevens to the Celtics, this team also had to replace Roosevelt Jones, who went down in the preseason with a wrist injury, yet the winning has continued. If you look closer, you'll see signs that the Bulldogs are even better than their record indicates. Three of their losses came by a total of seven points, including two in overtime, and those three came against teams that are going to the tournament (Oklahoma State and LSU at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Villanova at home).
This team won't overwhelm you with talent, but it has a lot of quality guards who are familiar with the system. Plus, I like the way the new Big East sets up for this group. The league is good enough to provide many opportunities for quality wins, yet not too good to prevent Butler from getting them.
Cal Bears (10-4): HOLD
Decent team, but nothing to get excited about. The Bears have had a few injury issues in the early going (senior center Richard Solomon did not play in the losses to Syracuse and Dayton), but they did nothing during the nonconference season to make you believe they are ready to be a factor in the Pac-12. Their best bet to get to the NCAA tournament is to pickup a few decent wins like their victory at Stanford last Thursday. Cal has to play at Oregon this week -- and the Ducks will not be in a great mood after losing their first game of the season over the weekend to Colorado -- but the more dangerous game is at Oregon State two days later. The Bears aren't real bad at any facet of the game, but they doesn't do anything all that well, either. It would be nice if they could, uh, bear down and become a tough defensive team, but that is not in this team's personality.
Cincinnati Bearcats (13-2): HOLD
I was prepared to rate the Bearcats a Sell and write a scathing review of their offensive offense, but their dominance on the road at Memphis made quite an impression. This team embraces an identity centered on toughness and defense, and that kind of team is usually a good bet. The challenge moving forward is that the Bearcats will continue to rely on generating points with their pressure, and not every team is going to be as generous missing long-range shots and turning the ball over as the Tigers were on Saturday.
Colorado Buffaloes (13-2, No. 15): BUY
The Buffaloes have been ranked for several weeks, but aside from their win over Kansas on a buzzer-beating three, they haven't given people much reason to cluck about them. That will start to change, especially after they handed Oregon its first loss on Sunday. Colorado has legitimate talent, highlighted by its inside-out combo of Josh Scott and point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, but because of their location, their history and their league, most people haven't seen the Buffs play all that much. I recommend you scoop 'em up now before the rest of the shoppers figure out how good they are.
Connecticut Huskies (11-3): SELL
I'm afraid the Huskies have been exposed as a one-trick pony. Senior point guard Shabazz Napier is as good as they come, but even with his considerable talents he can't carry this team alone. UConn's deficiencies in the frontcourt are now manifest on both ends of the court. Napier needed 18 shots to score 27 points at Houston last Tuesday, but the Huskies still lost because they allowed the Cougars to shoot 49 percent from the floor. It's no surprise that UConn fell out of the rankings this week, and with upcoming games at Memphis and home against Louisville, its stock could drop even further.
Creighton Bluejays (12-2): BUY
This is a great time to scoop up the Dougies. Their only two losses came at the Wooden Legacy in California by six points to San Diego State and by seven to a plucky George Washington team. But the Bluejays have dominated Cal and Marquette in recent weeks, and they look like the second best team in the Big East next to Villanova. Plus, everyone has had their fill of freshman hype, so you can expect senior star Doug McDermott to draw a lot of attention over the next two months -- as well he should.
Duke Blue Devils (11-3, No. 16): BUY
This is a perfect time to buy the Blue Devils. They just fell out of the AP's top 10 for the first time in more than six years, so it's hard to imagine their stock price going much lower. It is, however, easy to imagine it climbing much higher. For all of his greatness (and remarkable consistency), Saturday's loss to Notre Dame served as a healthy reminder that Jabari Parker is, in fact, human -- and still a freshman. Rodney Hood is a redshirt sophomore, but this is his first year competing in a Duke jersey. So this remains a team very much finding itself, and even though Parker was a total non-factor in South Bend, the Blue Devils only lost by two. It's a long season, and this team has too much talent -- and is too well-coached -- not to be a Final Four threat by the time we get to March.
Florida Gators (11-2, No. 10): BUY
The Gators had all sorts of personnel issues the first two months, yet they still emerged as the clear favorite to win the SEC. And they could get even stronger when (or should I say if?) freshman forward Chris Walker, a McDonald's All-American, becomes eligible. Given the relative weakness of the SEC, it's very possible that the Gators could be undefeated in the league at least until mid-February, when they have to play on the road four times in five games (including at Kentucky on Feb. 15). I realize this program has been to the Elite Eight the last three years, but I also believe that the offense operates much better with 6-2 senior Scott Wilbekin running the point. Provided he can stay healthy and out of trouble, the Gators have a great chance at making it to Arlington for the Final Four.
Florida State Seminoles (9-4): SELL
It feels like déjà vu all over again with the Seminoles. They have some good athletes who guard with a purpose, and that allows them to get a few nice pops during the nonconference season (wins over VCU and UMass, close losses to Michigan, Florida and Minnesota). But when conference play comes, their inability to score comes back to bite them. Florida State is ranked sixth in the nation in defensive efficiency, but it is 113th in offensive efficiency and 316th in turnover percentage. The ACC is weaker than many folks anticipated, so it's possible the Seminoles could sneak into the NCAA tournament, but I can't recommend that you buy a team that does not appear to be a threat to advance.
George Washington Colonials (12-2): HOLD
I've been pumping the Colonials more than most (they were ranked No. 25 on my ballot for two weeks), but I must say I got spooked by their embarrassing 17-point loss at Kansas State last week. Perhaps I overreacted to their seven-point win over Creighton on a neutral court back on Dec. 1. We'll have a better sense of whether the Colonials are legit when they open their league schedule next week with games at La Salle, and then home against Rhode Island and VCU. If GW can't win two of those three, you might as well dump 'em.
Georgetown Hoyas (10-3): HOLD
I was inclined to rate the Hoyas a Buy until I saw their schedule: Their next three games are all on the road against potential bubble teams Providence, Butler and Xavier. Given how underwhelming Georgetown has been to this point, I could envision it losing all three and facing a crisis of confidence.
The Hoyas have a similar profile to UConn's -- high scoring guards but not much up front. (I'm sure you're not surprised that Joshua Smith is only averaging 19.7 minutes per game because of poor conditioning and foul trouble.) Can the Hoyas cobble together enough wins to make the NCAA tournament? Quite possibly, but I wouldn't bet the ranch on it.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (14-2, No. 22): BUY
It's a testament to this program's consistent excellence that the Zags could be ranked in the Top 25 heading into league play, yet nobody is talking about them. Sure, they don't have any signature wins (their best came by four at West Virginia) and have lost twice, but in one of those defeats they lost their best inside player, 6-9 senior Sam Dower, to a back injury. Dower returned for a brief appearance in the Zags' rout of league rival Saint Mary's last Thursday night, but this team is also bound to get a lift from Angel Nunez, a 6-8 sophomore forward who just became eligible after transferring from Louisville.
Unfortunately, Gonzaga will also have to play the next four to six weeks without 6-1 junior guard Gary Bell, who broke his hand in the league opener against San Francisco, but in the twisted logic of the HTSR, that actually makes them a better buy. Finally, this is the weakest the WCC has been in a while, which means it is likely Gonzaga will continue to rack up wins -- and climb in the rankings -- over the next two months.
Harvard Crimson (13-1): BUY
I've been driving the Harvard bandwagon from the start of the season, and aside from a tough loss at Colorado, the wagon has rolled rather nicely. That remains the only game the Crimson have lost despite playing most of the season without two injured starters. One of those, 6-1 senior guard Brandyn Curry, returned from his Achilles injury in late December, and as he rounds into form, he is going to improve this team immeasurably. The other, 6-8 junior center Kenyatta Smith, has not played yet because of a foot injury, but there's a good chance he will be back sometime in February. Remember, Harvard returned its entire team from the squad that upset New Mexico in the NCAA tournament. If the Crimson can win the Ivy again, I think they can do at least as much damage, if not more, in this year's Big Dance.
Illinois Fighting Illini (13-2, No. 23): HOLD
I don't know whether it's luck, guile or karma, but the Illini have lived a charmed life the first two months of the season. Their three biggest wins -- at UNLV, on a neutral court over Missouri and home against Indiana -- came by a total of six points. They also narrowly avoided a bad loss to IPFW before winning by two. That means they have some house money heading into Big Ten play. I'm not sure how high this team will rise, but I don't think it will fall very far either, especially as those five freshmen currently coming off the bench gain more experience.
Indiana Hoosiers (10-5): SELL
I realize the Hoosiers' stock price is pretty low, so if you want to hold onto it for a while, be my guest. But this is still Indiana, and for that reason alone I sense people are anticipating a turnaround. I'm not. Aside from a neutral court win over Washington, the Hoosiers did not do much to help themselves in the nonconference season, and they let a great opportunity for a conference road win slip away last week at Illinois. There is still some talent in this program, but it is young talent, and as brilliant as sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell has been at times, I simply don't trust the template that requires him to be a huge scorer in order for the Hoosiers to beat good teams.
Iowa State Cyclones (13-0. No. 9): HOLD
This is actually a pretty strong endorsement of the Cyclones given that they haven't lost and are about to hit the teeth of their Big 12 schedule. Over the next four weeks, the Cyclones have to play Kansas twice and face road dates at Texas and Oklahoma State. In just his fourth season as a college coach, Fred Hoiberg has distinguished himself as a master tactician, and even moreso a masterful manager of personalities. He was ahead of the curve on the transferring craze that has swept through the sport, and he has produced a consistent winner that has all the chops to make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and beyond.
Kansas Jayhawks (9-4, No. 18): BUY
Let the rest of the world give up on these young Jayhawks. The smartest shoppers always keep their cool. Kansas has a lot of growing up to do, but it has also played a murderous schedule, and every one of its losses has come against a ranked team (Villanova, Colorado, Florida and San Diego State). And keep in mind that its top challenger in the Big 12, Oklahoma State, just lost an important player to a season-ending injury in center Michael Cobbins. The Jayhawks are going to take their lumps during Big 12 play, but when they are on top of their game, they are as good as anyone. By the time March rolls around, nobody will want to play them.
Kansas State Wildcats (11-3, No. 25): SELL
It would be a nice feel-good story if Bruce Weber's Wildcats could keep it rolling, but I sense trouble ahead. Kansas State's two biggest wins (over Gonzaga and Oklahoma State) came at home against teams that had injury issues, and its three losses include a 27-point drubbing to Georgetown. (The Wildcats also lost their season opener to Northern Colorado, but I'll give them a mulligan because their starting center, Thomas Gipson, did not play in that one.) Finally, four of K-State's first Big 12 games are on the road, three of which are at Kansas, Texas and Iowa State. In other words, this team is ready for a comedown.
Kentucky Wildcats (10-3, No. 14): BUY
What the heck, you only live once, right? Even after their win over Louisville, the Wildcats have their share of doubters, so the stock is moderately priced at the moment. The biggest question about Kentucky during the first two months was whether it would get enough backcourt leadership from the Harrison twins, and those two have been much better recently. The free throw shooting is going to be a lingering problem, but the SEC looks sufficiently weak that the Cats should be able to pile up the wins and continue to rise in the rankings.
Louisville Cardinals (13-2, No. 12): SELL
The Cardinals were already having problems before they dismissed Chane Behanan. They had been struggling to replace the two primary losses from last year's national champs, point guard Peyton Siva and center Gorgui Dieng, and senior guard Luke Hancock has been a shell of the player who won the MOP at the Final Four. Without Behanan, their best offensive rebounder, their deficiencies on the boards will be even more pronounced. I still believe this is an NCAA tournament team, and if anyone can get the most of the remaining pieces it is Rick Pitino, but at the very least, the Cardinals are headed for an uncomfortable period of adjustment.
LSU Tigers (9-3): HOLD
I was ready to rate LSU a Buy if only because of the overall weakness of the SEC, but its loss at home to Rhode Island on Saturday gives me pause. The Tigers have had problems taking care of the ball and they're a lousy free throw shooting team, but in Jordan Mickey and Jarrell Martin they have a pair freshmen forwards with a lot of upside. Plus, over the next three weeks they will face Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas at home. Those are golden opportunities to notch confidence and resume-boosting wins.
Marquette Golden Eagles (9-6): SELL
I don't usually make a habit of betting against Buzz Williams, but I can't advise you to invest your hard-earned money in a team that has such a hard time scoring. Even playing at home on Saturday against lowly DePaul, the Golden Eagles could not muster 70 points. Losing freshman point guard Duane Wilson to an injury was a killer of a setback that will make it hard to climb out of the hole Marquette has dug for itself. And that climb is mighty steep the next two-and-a-half weeks, with road games at Xavier, Butler and Georgetown and home games against Villanova and Providence. Unless Williams can get this thing turned around fast, it's conceivable that Marquette could be virtually out of the running for an at-large bid by February.
Maryland Terrapins (10-5): SELL
As the Terrapins have struggled during the first two months of the season -- two of their losses came at home to Oregon State and Boston U -- many people felt compelled to point out that this team was playing without injured point guard Seth Allen. Allen returned three games ago, and while he is a good player (and certainly better than anyone else coach Mark Turgeon was deploying at that position), he's not exactly the second coming of Steve Blake. The reality is that the talent on this roster is limited, and though the best way to overcome a lack of talent is by playing stout defense, the Terps have thus far not shown the ability to do that. With three road dates in their four ACC games, it's hard to envision the momentum getting reversed anytime soon.
Massachusetts Minutemen (12-1, No. 19): BUY
You'll hear some chirping in the coming days about how great the Atlantic 10 is, and although I am not ready to buy into that talk, I do believe the Minutemen are the clear favorite to take the conference crown. During nonconference play they throttled a good New Mexico team on a neutral court, and they scored two true road wins at Eastern Michigan and Ohio. UMass plays a dynamic, exciting style, and it has one of the best point guards in the country in mighty mite senior Chaz Williams. I imagine the Minutemen will roll through their conference, and in the process continue to rise up the rankings.
Memphis Tigers (10-3, No. 24): HOLD
Ah, the counterintuitive logic of the HSTR. I've been bullish on the Tigers lately, so I was prepared to rate them a Buy -- until they got embarrassed on their home floor by Cincinnati on Saturday. Then again, that loss also downgraded their stock price, so it made little sense to mark them a Sell. I split the baby and went with the Hold, but I still think they're closer to a Buy than a Sell. This team is too old and too good to lose many games in a league that, while certainly an upgrade from Conference USA, is just OK at best. The real lesson Memphis needs to take from the Cincy loss is that it is not going to beat many good teams from behind the three-point line. I'm going to assume that lesson has been learned and that better days are ahead.
Michigan Wolverines (10-4): SELL
I realize Michigan's price plummeted after the school announced that Mitch McGary was going to have back surgery, but I still don't see much reason to buy any shares. As great as Trey Burke was last year, this team still finished fourth in the Big Ten. It was McGary's surge in the postseason that enabled the Wolverines to reach the championship game. Without McGary, Michigan will have to rely that much more heavily on unproven pieces like freshman point guard Derrick Walton. And the early Big Ten schedule is brutal: Starting Jan. 18, the Wolverines play on the road five times in eight games. Those opponents: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State. That stretch is followed by Wisconsin and Michigan State at home. Do you see a lot of price-increasing opportunities ahead?
Michigan State Spartans (13-1, No. 5): BUY
The Spartans have everything a team needs to win a national championship -- guard play, size, speed, depth, toughness, and of course, great coaching. The only question is whether they can stay healthy. Already they have been slowed by injuries to Gary Harris (ankle), Keith Appling (hip) and Adreian Payne (plantar fasciitis). Moreover, sophomore forward Branden Dawson's intensity has been unreliable, though better of late. But when the Spartans were at full strength against Kentucky and over the weekend at Indiana, they demonstrated why some people (myself included) tapped them as the No. 1 team in the country during the preseason. For the time being, it looks like they are getting healthy at just the right time, and if that keeps up this stock will be well worth the lofty asking price.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-3): HOLD
Nobody is talking about the Gophers, so you might as well hang on and see what happens. They do have a brutal stretch coming up, with consecutive games against Michigan State (road), Ohio State (home), Iowa (road) and Wisconsin (home), but if they can find a way to win even one of those games, they could be in decent position to get an NCAA bid. Like most teams, Minnesota lacks a bona fide post scorer, but it is a quick and athletic team, and in 6-2 junior Andre Hollins, it has a guard who can take over a game at any time with his scoring.
Missouri Tigers (12-1, No. 21): BUY
This is another nod to the weakness of the SEC, but I really do like this team. They've got big, experienced guards, and 6-5 junior point guard Jordan Clarkson, who transferred in from Tulsa, has proven to be a terrific find. The Tigers are not as effective when they become over-reliant on the jump shot, as was the case in their loss to Illinois, but I don't expect them to fall into that habit too often. Mizzou will probably lose a road game or two over the next couple of weeks, but it has a great chance to boost its stock when it plays Kentucky at home on February 1.
New Mexico Lobos (10-3): BUY
Two of the Lobos' three losses were excusable, coming on a neutral court to UMass and a road-neutral to Kansas in Kansas City, Mo. Only one, at home to New Mexico State, was a clunker, and the Lobos were without starting point guard Hugh Greenwood (wrist). His absence allowed freshman guard Cullen Neal to gain valuable experience, and Neal played well. Greenwood returned over the weekend, and the Lobos are set to engage San Diego State in a terrific duel in a Mountain West conference that is not as strong as it has been the last few years.
North Carolina Tar Heels (10-4): HOLD
If you like volatility, then this is the stock for you. With their loss at Wake Forest Sunday night, the Tar Heels once again demonstrated that they are capable of beating anyone or losing to anyone. I think they will benefit from having the cloud of uncertainty removed with respect to P.J. Hairston, who is done at UNC because of eligibility issues, but his absence will make the Heels' trek through the ACC more difficult. I see North Carolina as a low-ceiling, high-floor kind of team -- the kind that will make the NCAA tournament but not be much of a threat to advance. We'll learn a lot about the Tar Heels on Jan. 11, when they travel to the Carrier Dome to take on Syracuse.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (10-4): SELL
Yes, this team has one of the nation's leading scorers in sophomore forward T.J. Warren, but that presents a two-sided problem. First, it makes the Pack easy to defend. Second, if Warren isn't playing like a superhuman, as was the case during the second half on Saturday against Pittsburgh, then the team is positively woeful. Nor is N.C. State a strong enough defensive team to overcome its lack of overall scoring talent. The Pack does have a road win over Tennessee on its resume, but with three of its next four games on the road, including at Notre Dame and Duke, it's hard to envision a scenario that ends with an NCAA tournament bid.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-4): BUY
Okay, I'll bite. I had no intention of giving the Irish this rating before their win over Duke, but I sense that even after that game, their stock price didn't go up that much. After all, most of the postgame discussion centered around what Duke did wrong as opposed to what the Irish did right. It won't be an easy climb to the NCAA tournament without their leading scorer, Jerian Grant, who was suspended for academics, but there is still enough talent on this roster to get there, especially since the ACC hasn't exactly lit the world on fire. Keep your eye on 6-6 freshman guard Steve Vasturia. He is a gifted long-range marksman who can replace some of the scoring that Grant used to provide.
Ohio State Buckeyes (15-0, No. 3): SELL
This rating is based purely on timing. I believe the Buckeyes have Final Four potential, but they played a weak nonconference schedule and they're due for a comedown. That starts tomorrow night with a huge game at Michigan State, but they also start February with back-to-back road games at Wisconsin and Iowa. Their league schedule gets easier from there, so if you want to dump them now and scoop them up a month hence, I won't talk you out of it.
Oklahoma Sooners (12-2): BUY
This is a great time to buy this stock. The Sooners are still undervalued because their 11-2 start did not include any marquee wins. (The two losses were at home in overtime to Louisiana Tech, and to Michigan State in Brooklyn.) But they served notice that they're for real with a win at Texas on Saturday, and now they get Kansas and Iowa State at home their next two games. And they've done all this with a freshman, Jordan Woodard, playing point guard. I think he will continue to mature as the season goes on, which would put the Sooners in the NCAA tournament.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (12-2, NO. 11): HOLD
I could never recommend that you sell a team featuring Marcus Smart, but I have big concerns about the Cowboys as they move forward without 6-8 junior forward Michael Cobbins, who is done for the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Cobbins only averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 19 minutes per game, but he was an invaluable Glue Guy on a team that was already lacking frontcourt depth. During their loss at Kansas State on Saturday the Cowboys gave up 14 offensive rebounds, and six players accounted for all but 10 of the game's minutes. Oklahoma State can still beat any team in a one-game scenario, but over the course of an entire conference season, not to mention a three-week NCAA tournament, I'm not sure the Pokes can hold up.
Ole Miss Rebels (9-4): SELL
The Rebels had two golden opportunities to get signature wins in December, but they fell just short at Kansas State (by three) and at home against Oregon (in overtime). They are hardly heading into SEC play with momentum, having lost two of their last three games (and both at home). Ole Miss is more than the Marshall Henderson show (6-3 junior guard Jarvis Summers is averaging 18 points and three assists per game), but they do not have the strength on the boards to win tough league games on the road.
Oregon Ducks (13-1, No. 17): BUY
If the Ducks had pulled out a win at Colorado, I would have recommended you try to time the market and Sell them, but I like the way this stock price has corrected. Oregon was undefeated going into that game, but several of those losses were close shaves, so they were due to get clipped. I'd still like to see the Ducks tighten up their D -- they'd rather outscore you than stop you from scoring -- but I think they have the best chance to challenge Arizona for supremacy in the Pac 12.
Pittsburgh Panthers (13-1): BUY
This is for all you bargain shoppers out there. After waltzing through a weak nonconference schedule and losing to Cincinnati, 44-43, at Madison Square Garden in one of the ugliest games of the season, the Panthers were demoted to the discount rack. When they fell behind at N.C. State on Saturday, it looked like even that might be too good for them, but you have to give them credit for getting off the mat and winning a conference road game going away. Now I think Pitt is ready to get some work done in its new league. Most of the ACC teams they play are not used to the physical brand of ball that Pitt will bring. The Panthers might not look pretty getting to the NCAA tournament, but I think they'll get there.
Purdue Boilermakers (10-5): SELL
When you're a power conference program with a proud tradition, the only question that matters is whether you make the NCAA tournament. In Purdue's case, the answer is likely to be no. This is, after all, a team that lost to Washington State on a neutral court. The Boilermakers are still a year away from having a real postseason to look forward to.
Saint Louis Billikens (13-2): HOLD
The Billikens' record might look gaudy, but if you look closer, you'll see that in the two opportunities they had to beat good teams, they came up short -- against Wisconsin on a neutral court, and at home against Wichita State. Still, this remains an efficient, veteran team that should win enough games in the Atlantic 10 to merit an NCAA bid. The only reason I didn't rate Saint Louis a Buy is because it could start out league play 0-2 after opening with road games at Rhode Island (which won at LSU last weekend) and Dayton.
San Diego State Aztecs (12-1, No. 13): BUY
After breaking Kansas' 68-game home nonconference win streak on Sunday, the Aztecs' stock can't get much higher. But I don't think it's going any lower, either. This is a tough, veteran group that might be the best defensive team in the country. The Aztecs' confidence has to be sky high after that win, and I love the leadership that fifth-year senior Xavier Thames is providing at the point.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles (13-2): SELL
The Golden Eagles emerged from nonconference play with the best overall record among Conference USA teams, but they played a very weak schedule and were embarrassed by 31 points at Louisville. I think CUSA is going to be a one- or two-bid league at best, and other league teams like UAB, Charlotte and UTEP built up a much stronger resume during the first two months of the season.
SMU Mustangs (11-3): BUY
This is a risky buy, but it's a calculated risk. First of all, the Mustangs are unranked and not getting any real buzz, even after they handled UConn on Saturday. All three of their losses were respectable: at Arkansas by 11, to Virginia on a neutral court by 3, and at Cincinnati by 8. The reason I rated them a Buy is that their next game is on the road at at a sputtering Louisville team on Jan. 12. Give Larry Brown eight days to prepare for a big game, and maybe he'll actually pull it off -- in which case this team's stock will soar. If it works, you clear a big profit, but if it doesn't, you won't lose much.
St. John's Red Storm (9-5): SELL
This is one of the really disappointing teams in college basketball this season. The Red Storm have too much talent to be suffering embarrassing setbacks like a neutral court loss to Penn State and a 17-point thrashing at Georgetown on Saturday. Things won't get any easier when Villanova comes to Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The Johnnies have become way too reliant on DeAngelo Harrison on offense. That makes them a really easy scout, which is a death knell in league play.
Saint Mary's Gaels (11-4): SELL
We are used to thinking of Saint Mary's as a prominent midmajor program, but that is not the case this season. The Gaels had a disastrous week at the Diamondhead Classic at the end of December, when they went 0-3, and last Friday night they got throttled by 22 points at Gonzaga. Moreover, they still have to play two more games without their head coach, Randy Bennett, who is serving a five-game suspension for violating NCAA rules. The Gaels' best nonconference win came on a neutral court against Boise State, which means they're going to have to earn their NCAA tournament bid during league play. That won't be easy to do given that the WCC looks like a one-bid league.
Syracuse Orange (14-0, No. 2): BUY
I'm a big believer in this team. The Orange have a wonderful cocktail of talent, experience and chemistry, and they are heading into their first season in the ACC as the team to beat. Plus, while they will play Duke twice, they only have to play North Carolina once, and that game is at home. The lack of depth concerns me and I don't like that sophomore guard Trevor Cooney shot the ball so poorly in the win over Miami last weekend, but freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has far exceeded expectaitons, and C.J. Fair is as versatile and dependable as they come.
Tennessee Volunteers (10-4): BUY
Maybe I'm foolish to stick with the Volunteers, but I still believe there is too much talent here to miss out on the NCAA tournament. Plus, this stock price could hardly be much lower thanks to that loss at home to N.C. State on Dec. 18. Still, Tennessee beat a pretty good Virginia team by 25 points in Knoxville on Dec. 30, and once again, the SEC does not have much depth. In the end, I think the Vols will sneak into the tournament. The one cautionary note is that over the next three weeks, the Vols have road games at LSU, Kentucky and Florida. If you want to wait until afterward to make this purchase, I won't try to talk you out of it.
Texas Longhorns (11-3): BUY
Aww, what the heck. This is an easy team to root for. You've got a plucky young roster with a coach on the hot seat, and they've played just well enough to make you think the story will have a happy ending. Sophomore point guard Javan Felix has blossomed into a terrific leader and dangerous scorer, and 6-9 sophomore center Cameron Ridley has star potential if he can improve his conditioning. It's too bad the Longhorns couldn't get by Oklahoma at home last weekend, but in a couple of weeks they will have three golden opportunities at home against Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas. A win in any of those could give a nice bump to their stock price.
UCLA Bruins (12-2): BUY
I can't say I'm a huge fan of these Bruins. They have a nice collection of individuals, but as far as I can tell they are not committed to defense, and I think they had a leadership problem as well. (The Wear twins continue to disappoint.) However, there is no denying that there is some talent here, which brings me to the main reason why it's worth buying this stock: No. 1 Arizona is coming to Pauley Pavilion on Thursday. I think UCLA has a great chance to win that game, in which case its stock will rise quickly.
UNLV Runnin' Rebels (10-5): SELL
The Rebels have not given any indication they are ready to be a factor in the Mountain West. During nonconference play they lost at home to UCSB and Arizona State, and on Saturday they lost at home to Air Force. Next week, they play on the road at New Mexico and San Diego State. UNLV plays well enough on the defensive end to stay in a lot of games, but at some point you've got to make good decisions with the ball and drill outside shots, and this gang has major problems in those two areas.
Utah Utes (12-2): BUY
The Utes were really close to scoring a breakthrough win last week, but they ended up losing at home to Oregon by two points in overtime. They had an equally close call at Boise State back on Dec. 3. Those are Utah's only two losses, which indicates this program is ready to break through. It has been a really down few years for Utah so the stock price is quite low, but there are many good wins to be had in the much-improved Pac-12.
VCU Rams (12-3): HOLD
The Rams had a disappointing nonconference season, losing to Florida State and Georgetown on neutral courts as well as at Northern Iowa. They have lot of making up to do in the Atlantic 10, but I still believe they can get to the NCAA tournament. My lingering concern is that their halfcourt offense is not as good as it has been the past couple of years, which means if they're not devastating teams with their fullcourt press, they become just another team. In the next two weeks, they have road games at George Washington, Dayton and La Salle, so we'll have a good handle on just how valuable this stock is by then.
Villanova Wildcats (13-1, No. 8): SELL
Here's another overachieving team that has been flying high, and therefore has nowhere to go but down. The Wildcats have been one of the real pleasant surprises this season, but they are winning games with an unconventional, perimeter-oriented lineup. They are the clear favorite to win the newfangled Big East, but it's natural to expect they will stub their toe a few times, especially on the road. Over the next five weeks, they have two separate stretches where they play three consecutive road games. Their stock price won't come down very far, but it will come down.
Wichita State Shockers (15-0, No. 6): BUY
I am not one of those bold souls who are predicting that the Shockers will complete an undefeated regular season, but I have to say it's hard to look at their schedule and find a spot where they are going to lose. The Missouri Valley Conference is down this year, but it does have some of the best fan bases in the country, and I suspect there will come a day or two when the Shockers stink up the joint and get beat. Even so, this team made the Final Four last year for a reason, and as it holds its place near the top of the rankings throughout the season, the buzz is going to be off the charts.
Washington Huskies (9-6): BUY
The Huskies had a disastrous nonconference season (which included losses to UC Irvine and Boston College), so their stock has dramatically depreciated. But they showed last week that they so have some potential, winning at Arizona State and then giving Arizona a tough time in Tucson before falling by nine. This is also a good time to buy Washington because it has Utah and Colorado coming to town this week. The Huskies have one of the nation's most dynamic scorers in C.J. Wilcox. If they dedicated themselves to playing defense once in a while, they might actually make the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin Badgers (15-0, No. 4): SELL
How much higher can this price possibly climb? Wisconsin is a really good, wonderfully entertaining team that, as usual, has been way ahead of the curve in terms of chemistry and efficiency during the nonconference season. But if you look at their wins, nothing jumps out at you as all that impressive. Even their victory over Florida on Nov. 12 lacks luster because the Gators were far from full strength. Iowa had the Badgers on the ropes Sunday night before Wisconsin was able to pull away. One thing going for Wisconsin is that it has a very favorable league schedule -- it only plays Michigan State and Ohio State once, and each of those games is in Madison -- so that should keep the price inflated, but at this point, if you buy Wisconsin's stock and they don't make the Final Four, you'll suffer a loss. Sell high, buy low -- that's the whole idea.
Xavier Musketeers (12-3): BUY
This team is on a very nice upswing. Its stock price took a huge hit over Thanksgiving, when the Musketeers blew a big second-half lead against Iowa and then lost all three of their games at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Well guess what: They haven't lost since, and their wins include a 17-point rout of rival Cincinnati, a tough road win at Alabama and a 2-0 start in the Big East with home wins over St. John's and Butler. Xavier has a solid point guard in Semaj Christon and serviceable post scorer in Matt Stainbrook. All the Musketeers needed was to get their confidence back, and I think they've gotten it.