Friday November 21st, 2008

Now that every team has had two (or one, or in some cases, zero), games to live up to the preseason hype, we present the first editon of the 2008-09 Power Rankings ...

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
Got a different view than Luke?
1North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: --
We rank teams in the present here, so consider the Heels not No. 1 with an asterisk (as in, *once philosophy enthusiast Tyler Hansbrough returns) but rather No. 1 even without Hansbrough. Carolina still has:
  • Three possible 2009 first-rounds in its backcourt, in Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green;
  • Two possible 2010 or '11 first-rounders in its frontcourt, in Kentucky-blowout star Deon Thompson and freshman rebounding machine Ed Davis
  • The deepest point guard rotation in the country, with Lawson backed up by senior Bobby Frasor and freshman Larry Drew;
  • The nation's only players with experience scrimmaging a long-pantsed Obama, an event that no doubt directly resulted in him rolling through the N.C. primary and turning the state blue for the first time since 1976.
    Next three: 11/21 vs. UC-Santa Barbara, 11/24 at Chaminade, Maui Invitational TBD
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    2Louisville Cardinals
    Last Week: --
    The Cards are the only team in the country, I believe, that practices in a facility with an exclamation point in its name: the Yum! Center. Why Yum!? Because Yum! Brands, which is responsible for those super-healthy Taco Bell/KFC mutliplexes, is headquartered in Louisville, and paid to have its name on the hoops building. There are easy Derrick Caracter jokes to be made here, but the only power forward/center they care about in Card Country now is Jamaican import Samardo Samuels, who had 33 points and 12 rebounds in a Yum!(my) intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday. The 'Ville is also the only team in these rankings that's yet to play a real game, so while we can only speculate on how good Samuels will be, we get the feeling that there will be no better front-line trio in college hoops than Samardo, Earl Clark and Terrence Williams. And that makes the Cards the most reasonable title contender after Carolina.
    Next three: 11/22 vs. Morehead State, 11/30 vs. Western Kentucky, 12/6 vs. Indiana State
     
    3Connecticut Huskies
    Last Week: --
    One of the nuggets I couldn't fit into my magazine story on UConn center Hasheem Thabeet (who's averaging 16.0 points, 12.5 boards and 3.5 blocks through two games) was coach Jim Calhoun's explanation of how the Huskies defense feeds opposing drivers toward their 7-foot-3 menace. Said Calhoun: "We're trying to never get you to go to the middle -- we're trying to push you sideline, then turn you baseline, where you run into Hasheem. The biggest thing, when that happens, is that we have to get great rotation down [from a help defender] to take [Hasheem's man's] legs out from under him. Even if it's A.J. Price against a 6-10 guy, he's got to cut his legs. Because big guys won't block shots, even when they could be successful, if [the guy they leave] gets the ball and dunks. Big guys don't like that. They might get posterized, and it's a pride thing, too. So the bottom line is, we send people down to check that guy."
    Next three: 11/21 vs. La Salle, TBD in Paradise Jam
     
    4UCLA Bruins
    Last Week: --
    College-spurner Brandon Jennings has a blog on his Under Armour site that he might actually be writing, because it has lines such as, "I'm sure you've been lookin at my stats and saying he's not doin much." The Lottomatica Roma guard says he plans to keep tabs on NCAA ball via the Internet, and curiously mentioned that his "favorites this year in college gotta be UCLA because my man Malcolm Lee goes there, so I'm going for my boy." Jennings then gives shout-outs to Kemba Walker (UConn), Isaiah Thomas (Washington) and Tyreke Evans (Memphis) ... but has nothing for Arizona other than to point out that he schooled Mustafa Shakur in a game against Tau Ceramica. So Jennings de-committed from USC, then left 'Zona in the lurch ... and now he's a Bruins fan. Nice! Lee, meanwhile, is averaging 7.0 points in two games with the Bruins, but he's also averaging a foul every two minutes he's on the floor, which is a bit worrisome.
    Next three: 11/20 vs. Michigan, 11/21 vs. TBD in Coaches vs. Cancer, 11/29 vs. Florida International
     
    5Duke Blue Devils
    Last Week: --
    Coach K made the preseason's most high-profile personnel move by replacing forearm-pad-wearing senior point guard Greg Paulus with sophomore Nolan Smith in Duke's starting lineup. Thus all eyes have been on the point in the Blue Devils' first three games, and while Smith looks like the right choice (he's the quicker defender and more complete scorer), neither player has put up a fantastic assist-to-turnover ratio. Smith has five dimes against five turnovers (1-to-1) and Paulus has four assists against three turnovers (1.3-to-1). Which leads one to believe that a third guy, Mr. Jon Scheyer, is Duke's best point-guard option in high-pressure situations. He's too good of a scorer to play the position full-time, and Duke likes have him run Redick-esque cuts along the baseline to create shots, but Scheyer's 5.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover is the most impressive part of his portfolio.
    Next three: 11/20 vs. Southern Illinois, 11/21 TBD in Coaches vs. Cancer, 11/23 vs. Montana
     
    6Pittsburgh Panthers
    Last Week: --
    Panthers point guard extraordinaire Levance Fields is listed at 190 pounds on their official roster, although visual evidence suggests he's carrying well over 200 (on just a 5-10 frame) after sitting out for two months while recovering from foot surgery. Pitt's "bootylicious" power forward DeJuan Blair told SI he's down to 265 pounds (on a 6-7 frame) after a workout-heavy offseason, but he still looks like a serious space-eater in the post. Fields and Blair may be the best chunky PG/PF duo ever in college hoops. Khalid El-Amin (now in Ukraine) never had a husky Husky in the post; Big Baby (now a Celtic) didn't have any baby-fat in his backcourt; and Big Jelly (the No. 1 pick in the '07 Chinese Draft!) didn't have a jellied point guard to match. Am I missing any super-sized 1-4 combos? Readers, chime in.
    Next three: 11/21 vs. Akron, 11/22 vs. Indiana (Penn.), 11/25 vs. Belmont
     
    7Purdue Boilermakers
    Last Week: --
    Robbie Hummel = Paulie Bleeker? Hummel, a 6-8 (and white) Purdue forward, was responsible for the best highlight from Monday's win over Eastern Michigan, when he sprung out of traffic to follow-slam an E'Twaun Moore miss late in the second half. ESPN color guy Steve Lavin's reaction to Hummel's dunk was to say, incredulously, "I didn't know he had it in him!" Play-by-play man Brent Musburger, obviously not a Diablo Cody fan, failed to pick up on the unintentional Juno reference and serve up the appropriate response: "He just doesn't look, well, virile."
    Next three: 11/22 vs. Coppin State, 11/26 and 28 in NIT Season Tip-Off
     
    8Notre Dame Fighting Irish
    Last Week: --
    A stress reaction is ruining the Maui Invitational. Or it might be ruining the Maui Invitational. There's still no definitive word on whether injured Tar Heel Tyler Hansbrough will be on the floor to face the Irish's Luke Harangody in a potential title-game titan-clash on Thanksgiving Eve. Hansbrough, who Roy Williams says has been in a "snotty mood on the bench, wants to play in Friday's Maui warmup at UC-Santa Barbara. If I were Williams, I'd instruct my equipment managers to accidentally leave Psycho T's jersey behind. Because four games in six days is exactly what he needs to recover from a stress reaction. As much we'd all like to declare a winner in Jab vs. Shot-put, that battle can wait 'til Detroit.
    Next three: 11/21 at Loyola-Marymound, 11/24 vs. Indiana, Maui Invitational TBD
     
    9Memphis Tigers
    Last Week: --
    If these were Style Power Rankings, the Tigers would be much higher. Their switch from asymmetrical Adidas jerseys to Nike's two-tone look -- with the white fronts and faintly grey backs that were on display against UMass -- kept them at the forefront of college hoop fashion. And in a year where the varying floorplans of the NBA, NCAA men and NCAA women have some courts looking like the London Tube map, Memphis' hardwood at FedEx Forum was refreshingly free of extra three-point or lane lines on Monday night. Just the men's lines for a nice, clean look -- one that's made possible, I presume, by the fact that the women's team only plays three games in the same arena.
    Next three: 11/20 vs. Chattanooga, TBD in Puerto Rico Tip-Off
     
    10Texas Longhorns
    Last Week: --
    In the next eight seasons, the Longhorns will have three (three!) chances to win a national title in their home state, at a venue only a three-hour drive away from Austin. The NCAA had already awarded the 2011 Final Four to Houston's Reliant Stadium, and on Wednesday, added a 2014 Final Four in Arlington (at the new Cowboys Stadium) and a 2016 Final Four back in Houston. The three cities snubbed in the latest round of venue announcements were Detroit, this year's Final Four host; San Antonio, last year's Final Four host; and Glendale, Ariz., which was so confident it would be on the NCAA's list that it had already scheduled a celebratory news conference. No one outside of Detroit is crying about the Motor City being left off the list ... since no one seems all that excited about going there this year, either. But San Antonio is a fantastic Final Four city, and Phoenix is a fantastic bowl-game city that was ready to handle a Final Four. Both would have been better spots than Houston. Not cool, NCAA.
    Next three: 11/24 vs. St. Joe's, Maui Invitational TBD
     
    11Tennessee Volunteers
    Last Week: --
    The saddest economic downturn story I read all week was the one about ushers at Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena no longer being entitled to free hot dogs when they work games. What is the world coming to? The end of the athletic department's memo to the staff, according to the Knoxville News, read, "We regret that we have to make decisions such as these," the memo continues. "But [we] are confident that your goal is the same as ours -- we want to provide opportunities for our student-athletes to compete for championships." That's corporate-speak for, "YOUR FRANKFURTER CONSUMPTION HABITS, IF ALLOWED TO CONTINUE UNCHECKED, COULD KEEP US OUT OF THE FINAL FOUR." Or something.
    Next three: 11/21 at Middle Tennessee, 11/27 vs. Siena, Old Spice Classic TBD
     
    12Michigan State Spartans
    Last Week: --
    On Wednesday the Spartans became the first-ever Big Ten team to road-trip to Fort Wayne, Ind., where they beat IPFW 70-59, but were in serious danger of losing until they erupted on a 13-0 run in the second half. Coach Tom Izzo admitted to being "out of [his] mind" for scheduling this one, and said, "whenever it's somebody's Fourth of July and Christmas all in one, it's never easy." It would have been nice to see such a raucous holiday on live television, what with all the blowouts we've been subjected to lately, but the Big Ten Network bricked on showing the game. Thanks, BTN!
    Next three: 11/27 vs. Maryland, Old Spice Classic TBD
     
    13Gonzaga Bulldogs
    Last Week: --
    Among the things you can learn from the Hoops Ideology Report we posted last week: The Flex Offense, which Gonzaga became famous for but now claims is not its primary offense (that would be four-out, one-in motion), is almost exclusively an east-of-the-Mississippi strategy. Maryland is the flagship Flex program, and only one of the 15 teams (out of 301 survey respondents) that reported running Flex was in the West. And that team was way West -- Hawaii.
    Next three: 11/27 vs. Oklahoma State, Old Spice Classic TBD
     
    14Marquette Golden Eagles
    Last Week: --
    Permit me to drop an only vaguely Marquette-related anecdote here, on the week of the passing of famed coach Pete Newell, who was regarded as one of the game's greatest teachers. I recently got my hands on a first-edition hardcover of David Halberstam's Breaks of the Game and was reading a passage about Newell, who in 1979, when the book begins, was already retired from college coaching. Then-San Diego Clipper Kermit Washington would rise at 6 a.m. twice a week in the summer, in order to drive himself and Jerome Whitehead, a second-year pro from Marquette who was frustrated with the Clipper organization, to Los Angeles just so they could work under what Halberstam called "Newell's harsh and unsparing eye." Halberstam recounted a conversation the two players had one day, on the drive back to San Diego. "Kermit," Whitehead said. "Mister Newell is the best coach you know, isn't he?" Washington agreed that he was. "Well, Kermit, why can't coach Newell just come down to San Diego and coach the team there?" "Because that's just not the way things work in the NBA, Jerome," Washington had said.
    Next three: 11/22 vs. Milwaukee, 11/25 vs. Texas Southern, 11/28 vs. Northern Iowa (in Hoffman Estates, Ill.)
     
    15Oklahoma Sooners
    Last Week: --
    Blake Griffin, who outshined Stephen Curry (and his 44 points) by putting up a Beasleyish 25-and-21 stat line in Tuesday's win over Davidson, is probably going to be either the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in next year's NBA Draft. (NBADraft.net has Griffin No. 1, DraftExpress has him No. 2, behind Spaniard Ricky Rubio.) The fact that Griffin will get drafted in the same slot (or higher) that Michael Beasley did in '08 is reflective of the overall talent deficit in college hoops this year: Griffin has neither the finesse, nor the three-point range or shot-blocking ability that Beasley did, yet the Sooners power forward is still regarded as the NCAA's best post prospect, because no other bigs come close to his level of athleticism.
    Next three: 11/22 vs. Gardner-Webb, TBD in NIT Preseason Tip-Off
     
    16USC Trojans
    Last Week: --
    The Trojans' chance of challenging UCLA for the Pac-10 title took a hit on Wednesday when Alex Stepheson's transfer-year waiver request was denied by the NCAA. Stepheson sought a hardship waiver (for family issues) after leaving North Carolina, where he coincidentally did not get a ton of playing time behind Hansbrough and Thompson in the post, and where super-freshmen Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller were also on the way in. An NCAA spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that Stepheson's case "[did] not warrant relief," in part due to the fact that there was "a lack of contemporaneous medical documentation to indicate that the family members needed extra assistance." There's a been a huge uptick in these cases since Tyler Smith successfully won a waiver case to play for Tennessee last season. Smith's was legitimate, since he was formerly stuck at Iowa while his father was dying of cancer in Tennessee (and has since passed away). Plenty of the cases that followed -- particularly with Stepheson and Herb Pope, at Seton Hall -- have been dubious in nature. I wonder how Smith feels about his family tragedy turning into the newest copycat-loophole scheme in college hoops?
    Got a different view than Luke?

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