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Taking stock of Pitt and Vanderbilt, 'Cuse's legitimacy and more mail

Have I told you lately that I love you?

This year's Hoop Thoughts Stock Report was the longest, mostly inclusive one I've ever done. It ran more than 5,000 words, issued ratings with explanations for 30 teams and offered my takes on 10 additional schools classified as either sleepers or busts. But it wasn't enough for you, my devoted Hoop Thinking readership. Once again, you deluged my e-mail and Twitter accounts with solicitations for ratings of even more teams. I gave you all I had, and you still couldn't get enough.

Seriously, you had me at hello.

It is always interesting to see which fan base objects the most to being left out of the HTSR. This year's prize goes to Pittsburgh fans, who had the most to say through e-mail. Believe it or not, the most frequent complaint I got via Twitter was my omission of Vanderbilt. Who knew?

Equally surprising was the base from which I heard nary a peep: Illinois. There was no particular reason I left Illinois out; I simply had to draw the line at some point. Yet, while I think of the Illini Nation as one of the most passionate and rabid fan bases in the nation, their silence was deafening. Could it be that fatigue and apathy is settling in after several unremarkable years on the hardwood? Or maybe you all just have better things to do than fret over my column?

Anyway, here is one of several e-mails I got about my exclusion of Pitt:

Pitt isn't on your radar yet? 3-0 in the Big East with two quality road wins. I'd say a team that just got two valuable starters back to their rotation would be a strong BUY option! They had one bad game against IU (Crean knows how to beat Dixon), but their other loss (against Texas) was a matter of depth, which they have now. I'm saying 10 Big East wins and a 5 seed for an overachieving Panthers squad.-- Dustin, Columbus, Ohio

As for Vandy, here are two of the tweets that were sent to my account at SethDavisHoops:

From @VSLNation: why doesn't a 10-3 Vanderbilt team get any attention?

From @anchorofgold: @SethDavisHoops obviously isn't vetting his selections through KenPom. Vandy #23. Florida #47. Vandy dangerously below radar.

I am happy to rectify this situation by rating those two teams. I warn you, though, to be careful what you wish (and e-mail and tweet) for:

The Panthers have shot their way onto the national radar with road wins at Syracuse and Cincinnati. So now what? Well, it's hard to say, considering they have only been at full strength for four games. Senior guard Jermaine Dixon (21 points vs. Syracuse) missed the first eight games because of a broken bone in his right foot, and junior forward Gilbert Brown (17 points off the bench against Cincy) missed the first 11 while serving a suspension for academics. I'd love to tell you the Panthers are on their way to great things, but check out what they have coming up: at UConn, home versus Louisville, at Georgetown, at Seton Hall, home versus St. John's, then road dates at South Florida and West Virginia. Will Pitt's lack of inside scoring be exposed in the next few weeks? Or will they continue to shoot lights out and take a ton of foul shots? Time will tell, but while I grant that this team is better than I thought, given all they lost from last season I have a hard time envisioning them moving into the top 15 and staying there.

Tennessee's woes present the Commodores with an opening in the SEC East, but even if they do a little better than expected in the conference, I still don't see this as a team that can make hay in the tournament. Kevin Stallings likes full-court pressure, but he doesn't have the personnel to pull it off. The Commodores are high on skill (A.J. Ogilvy) and agility (Jeffery Taylor), but they are low on toughness. That shows up at the defensive end, where Vandy ranks 10th in the SEC in steals and seventh in rebound margin. When Vandy lost to Cincinnati in Hawaii, they got outrebounded by 18. That's the kind of rugged team the Commodores will face in the NCAA tournament (presuming they get there). Vandy hasn't made much noise thus far, but to me this is not a stock on the rise.

As for the rest of my ratings, I got lots of varying opinions. Some of you wrote to say you agreed with me -- shocking, I know -- but what fun would it be to answer those? Instead, allow me to address some of the more notable dissenters:

I couldn't disagree with you more about your "SELL" assessment for Villanova. I think it was the one glaring mistake. As you know, they just got back their best on-ball defender and smartest player, Reggie Redding, and with Yarou being cleared to play, they have immense depth. (They easily go nine deep.) Put that together with a clutch playmaker (Scottie Reynolds) and a great coach, and I think a run to the Final Four is very possible. I think you discount the type of toughness a Big East team will gain over a season. Villanova is more talented and deeper than, eh, your once-again-overrated-alma-mater Dukies.-- Thomas Kamvosoulis, Paramus, N.J.

I'm going to let Thomas in on a little secret: I didn't mean to rate Villanova a SELL. I meant to rate them a HOLD. It sounds like that still won't be enough to satisfy him, but when I originally wrote up my assessment of Villanova, Mouphtaou Yarou, the 6-foot-9 freshman center on whom this team's prospects heavily depended, had not been cleared to play after he came down with Hepatitis B in November. In fact, it looked like he could possibly be gone for the season. Yarou has not played in a game yet for 'Nova, but I was at least willing to wait a little while to see what kind of impact he would have and decided to change my rating. Only, when I rewrote the analysis, I forgot to make that change. My bad.

That still does not answer my concerns about this team's defense, and given how young Yarou is and how much time he missed, he won't have nearly the same impact he would have had he played from Day 1. I was as bullish as anyone about Villanova in the preseason, but given that they're 12-1 and ranked No. 6 in the AP poll, it is still very hard for me to rate them a BUY.

And thanks for the Duke hate, Thomas. Really makes me feel like the season is kicking in.

If Wisconsin is a BUY, why didn't you have them ranked in this week's poll? Are you trying to hedge your bets? How many times have you told yourself not to bet against a Bo Ryan-coached team? Methinks you should start listening to those voices in your head.-- Tom, Madison, Wis.

First of all, be glad I don't listen to those voices in my head. We're all better off.

Second, what's with using actual facts to undermine my arguments? No fair, bro. I have no idea where you found my AP ballot (I know it's available online somewhere, I just don't know where), but I double-checked it on my computer and you're right -- I didn't rank Wisconsin, and I don't know why. I guess it was just an oversight. I'd like to promise you that I'll rank them next week, but considering they've got Michigan State and Purdue coming up, I'll have to reserve judgment.

Either way, I agree Bo knows hoops, and this team is a great bet to make the NCAA tournament. There are a lot of other teams in the Big Ten that wish they could say that right now.

I still find it amazing that the media is still giddy over Syracuse. They are a decent team, but certainly not a great team. It all happened when they beat Florida (average-at-best team) and beat North Carolina (average team). People will soon realize that Syracuse is nothing special. It will take some time, but it will happen. They are no better than last year. Mark my words!-- Don, Warrington, Pa.

I give Don credit for making a bold prediction, and he makes a good point about Florida and North Carolina (though I'm not sure I'd describe the Tar Heels as an "average" team). I would also submit that Don is underrating the Orange's win at Seton Hall. A road win is never a given in college hoops -- just ask Carolina. Obviously we'll have a better sense of how good 'Cuse is in a few weeks, but I still think they're a good pick to get to Indy. The one thing that the Orange have done exceptionally well the last few years is defend the three-pointer, yet in their loss to Pittsburgh they allowed the Panthers to make 10 of their 24 attempts from behind the arc. I call that a bad night, not a deficiency. Plus, Andy Rautins and Brandon Triche combined to shoot 1-for-11 from three-point range themselves. How often is that going to happen? For the time being, I'm willing to give Syracuse a mulligan, but if they go into a slide, my pal Don from Warrington is going to look more prescient than I will.

Finally, here are two more e-mails not related to the stock report:

How would you diagnose the state of the Maryland Terrapins? Though they started the year with lofty expectations, they have sunken to new lows, with not a single impressive victory on their resume. In the past week their prize recruit Terrence Ross decommitted, they lost (at home) to William & Mary, and again the Gary-bashers are preparing themselves for a verbal war. What does it take to get this once-storied program back to national prominence? Can they compete effectively as long as Gary Williams is the coach? Looking ahead to the future (after 2013), who do you see as a potential coaching possibility for the Terps?-- Truman Kennedy, Jersey City, N.J.

It was only a matter of time before this narrative began anew. While I would disagree that the Terps began the year with "lofty" expectations (they have never been ranked in the AP's Top 25, though they were first in "others receiving votes" in the preseason poll), I don't disagree that they have been a disappointment. There was some optimism that freshmen forwards Jordan Williams and James Padgett could shore up Maryland's weaknesses inside, but so far those guys have not panned out.

As for Terrence Ross, my understanding is that the Maryland coaching staff did an excellent job evaluating and recruiting him, but once Ross figured out just how good he was, he decided he wanted to test the waters. Now he is getting recruited by big boys like Duke, Kansas and Kentucky. This, I'm sure, is a distressing development for Terps fans, because it feeds their suspicion that no matter how hard the Terps huff, no matter how hard they puff, they will never be considered a truly elite program.

As for Williams, while he and athletic director Debbie Yow are still barely on speaking terms, I do not see her mustering the will to show Williams the door. Gary is going to leave when Gary wants to leave, and while in my view he has earned that privilege, he needs this program to start showing some signs of life or this thing is going to get ugly. (Just ask Bobby Bowden.) Though it is way too early to speculate on possible successors, the names of Maryland natives Tubby Smith and Mike Brey always seem to come up in basketball circles whenever this question arises. Still, Maryland does not have a coaching vacancy, and I don't expect it will have one in the foreseeable future.

I normally find your analysis to be spot on and often learn from your commentating, but I am seething that you put your foot squarely in your mouth following the UK-UL game. Not once did you mention [Louisville guard Jared] Swopshire kneed [DeMarcus] Cousins in the head during the wrestling for the ball. You took enough time up talking about Cousins getting booted from the game but in your rush to bad mouth him, you missed the knee to Cousins' head. What a shame you dropped the ball with the audience you had. Please consider an apology for missing this, the unfair criticism of Cousins and the officials. Be a stand-up guy.-- Aaron L. Shaw, Shepherdsville, Ky.

It's a reflection of today's saturated media environment that this topic already seems tired, even though the play only happened four days ago. So let me expand on the comment I made on CBS at halftime of the Kentucky-Louisville game asserting my belief that Cousins should have been thrown out of the game.

First, let's understand the rule that was in play. Because it was a dead ball situation, the only way Cousins could have been ejected would have been for the officials to determine his forearm to be a "combative act," which would have warranted not just an ejection but also an automatic one-game suspension. If Cousins had made the same or even lesser contact with his elbow during a basketball play -- say, while grabbing a rebound and pivoting -- he would have automatically been called for a flagrant foul, which means an ejection but no suspension.

My understanding is that when the officials went to the monitor (as they are required to do), they did not see the same replays that the viewers at home saw. From the angle of the replay they looked at, the refs determined that Cousins' forearm deserved an unsporting technical but did not rise to the level of a combative act. My hunch is that given the high-profile nature of the game, the zebras were reluctant to administer such a harsh penalty against a critical player in the opening minutes.

Now reasonable minds (and even unreasonable minds) can differ, but when I see that replay, it is quite obvious to me that Cousins intentionally and overtly thrust his elbow into Swopshire's face -- as close as you can get to punching a guy without making a fist. That is a combative act any way you cut it. I stand by my initial assessment that he should have gotten tossed, and frankly I don't even think it was close.

For a point of reference, I'll direct you to the elbow that Gonzaga freshman forward Elias Harris threw at Wake Forest center Chas McFarland last month. The video is here and the elbow occurs at the 1:13 mark. Because this happened during a basketball sequence, it was an easy call for the refs to give Harris a flagrant, but that aside it was no worse than what Cousins did to Swopshire.

As for the oft-cited contact made between Swopshire's knee and Cousins' head, Aaron's argument does not hold up for two reasons. In the first place, the contact took place during a scramble for the ball, and to my eyes it looked inadvertent. But -- and this is the important part -- if Aaron thinks it was an intentional act, then he is arguing that both Swopshire and Cousins should have gotten tossed. He seems to be conceding that Cousins' elbow was intentional but justified because it was thrown in retaliation -- in other words, it was a combative act.

I'm sure it will not surprise you all to hear that I got lots of angry e-mail and tweets from Kentucky fans who took exception to what Tim Brando and I said about the play at halftime. That is fine, but really, isn't it silly to accuse someone of having a bias against UK just because he disagrees with your (clearly unbiased) assessment? A few days after Bob Knight lashed out at John Calipari, I said on CBS that Knight had his facts wrong and would do well to own up to his own bad behavior before criticizing someone else's. Where was my anti-Kentucky bias then?

Keep those e-mails and tweets coming, Hoopheads, and I'll dip into the Mailbag again next week.

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