Wednesday May 6th, 2009

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Kansas Jayhawks
Last Week: --
I'm last aboard the Kansas-as-No. 1 bandwagon. Michigan State topped the '09-10 rankings that ran on the morning after the title game, but that was before KU added a another first-round NBA talent to its lineup. Xavier Henry, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard from Oklahoma City, gives the Jayhawks something they lacked -- scoring power from the wing -- and bumps them just above the Spartans. The nation is aTwitter over the John Wall recruiting saga, but Henry's decision, which came on April 23, could turn out to be bigger, given that he has a better chance of being in a national title hunt.

(Side note: After hearing that Henry and his brother, C.J., picked Kansas over Kentucky, I thought of a conversation I'd had with C.J. at the Jordan Brand All-Star Game in April. C.J. walked on to John Calipari's Memphis team last season and was still wearing a Memphis hat at the game, and when he compared Memphis to Kentucky, he said something surprising: "Kentucky doesn't have the same 'oomph' to it that Memphis did. There's more tradition at Kentucky, but what [Calipari] was building at Memphis was different." Whereas every coach views Kentucky as a major upgrade over Memphis, not every player feels the same way.)

 
2Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: --
Spartans point guard Kalin Lucas had such little interest in turning pro after his sophomore season that coach Tom Izzo told the Detroit Free Press, "I was more serious about Kalin entering his name than I think Kalin was. ... I wanted to make some calls, [but] he kind of acted a little like Mateen [Cleaves] in saying he had more to finish."

Lucas made the right move. The 2010 NBA draft class is deep -- in everything but point guards. With Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn already in the '09 pool, and Nick Calathes and Jrue Holiday likely to stay in, Lucas could be the third point guard taken in '10, after John Wall and Sherron Collins.

 
3Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: --
This may be the highest Huskies projection. But I have difficulty seeing how a team with Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson in the backcourt, and Stanley Robinson in the frontcourt won't contend for a Big East title. Walker can get to the rim at will, and should be one of the biggest sophomore breakout stars in the country. Dyson, before his knee injury, was the team's highest-usage player on offense, and should settle nicely into the role of leading scorer.
Robinson was, at times, UConn's best player during the NCAA tournament. If incoming freshman Ater Majok pulls out of the draft -- and there seems to be some hope that he'll at least play a year of college, even if he has to sit out a number of games -- the Huskies could have the most athletic starting five in the country.
 
4Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: --
Villanova fans should pick up on all the mooing I heard at the Jordan Brand game practices last month. Every time incoming Wildcat Mouphtaou Yarou, the No. 10 overall prospect in Rivals.com's 150, did anything positive -- even easy defensive rebounds -- it was met with a chorus of "moo"s from the fellow All-Stars. 'Nova fans might take to mooing the 6-9 forward's rebounds, because their leading returning rebounder is a 6-5 guard, Reggie Redding, at 4.9 per game. They're considered a top-five team because they have the country's deepest backcourt, in Redding, Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, and incoming McDonald's All-Americans Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns. Reynolds has his name in the draft, but I've yet to talk to anyone who thinks he won't be back with the 'Cats next year. He's one of the college game's best backcourt scorers, but there's no room for him in the first round.
 
5Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: --
Weird few days in John Wall World. On Monday morning we expected to hear that the nation's top point guard recruit had shortened his list of schools -- down to Duke, Florida, Kentucky and Miami -- but instead found out that he'd been cited with a breaking-and-entering misdemeanor after leaving a foreclosed home in Raleigh. The event caused Wall to become the hottest non-Swine Flu topic on Twitter, with many comments like this one: "I cant believe John Wall got arrested and he got millions of dollars waitin on him in a year! (sic)"

The incident should have no impact on his recruiting. The only thing that could keep him out of colleges at this point is the fact that he has yet to obtain a qualifying SAT score. (He apparently skipped out on a strangely planned visit to North Carolina Central in order to attend an SAT class.) If the Blue Devils were to somehow land Wall and keep Gerald Henderson out of the draft, they'd be my preseason No. 1. Without either player, they're my preseason No. 5, which isn't bad.

 
6Texas Longhorns
Last Week: --
The 'Horns weren't in my original top 10; then I got another look at Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton last month and remembered how good they are. Top-20 recruits get hyped to death, but they aren't all ready to contribute as freshmen (case in point: Ohio State's B.J. Mullens was Rivals.com's No. 1 last year, Tennessee's Scotty Hopson was No. 5 and Wake Forest's Ty Walker was No. 17). But I think Bradley, especially, can step into A.J. Abrams' two-guard spot and score, albeit without the same shooting range; and Hamilton is a bullish small forward who can create his own shot. The 'Horns' perimeter offense was one-dimensional last season -- Abrams was literally the only guard who could hit a three -- whereas an eventual rotation of transfer Jai Lucas, Bradley, Justin Mason and Hamilton will be far more balanced.
 
7Purdue Boilermakers
Last Week: --
How quickly will the Big Ten backlash come? Things are quiet now; hoops fans are focused on the NBA playoffs, and are more interested in the lingering recruiting stories than they are in rankings. But once the non-Midwesterners catch wind of the fact that there could be as many as seven Big Ten teams in the top 25 -- Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan should be locks, and Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois need to be considered, too -- they'll begin the cries of "overrated." Purdue is a legit top-10 club, though. It managed to contend for a Big Ten title last season in spite of Robbie Hummel's bum back, in part because fellow forward JaJuan Johnson developed into a future first-rounder. The entire starting lineup is back, and while I got ahead of myself proclaiming them a Final Four-caliber team last preseason, it's not a ludicrous label this time around.
 
8North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: --
[[ Whimsy Alert ]] If trades were legal in college hoops, I'd propose that Carolina offer incoming power forward John Henson -- the No. 5 overall player in the Class of '09 -- straight up to Villanova for sophomore point guard Corey Fisher. This would be win-win. Henson is the Heels' second-biggest NBA prospect (after Ed Davis) but there's no room for him in the starting lineup, and their frontcourt depth would still be absurd with Tyler Zeller and the Wear twins coming off the bench. Putting Fisher in at the point (ahead of Beats Squad President Larry Drew) might make UNC a title contender. 'Nova, meanwhile, would still have Scottie Reynolds at the point, with blue-chipper Maalik Wayns being groomed as a replacement. Putting Henson alongside Yarou in the frontcourt would make them truly scary; as of now they don't have anyone who can score in the post.
 
9West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Week: --
Something to follow next season: Devin Ebanks' 2010 draft stock on the mock sites is at 13 (he's No. 12 on DraftExpress and No. 14 on NBADraft.net). My guess is that he'll solidly be in the top 10 by the end of his sophomore season, in which he should blossom into an All-Big East forward, and could lead the Mountaineers to a conference title. West Virginia certainly believes Ebanks, who arrived with plenty of hype last season, is on the verge of stardom: At the team banquet, he received the "most improved" award ... which, at most schools, tends to go to a guy who's been around long enough to improve on a prior season.
 
10Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: --
Willie Warren said in January that "I'm definitely going to wear 32 next year, after Taylor [Griffin] has graduated." Then Warren told me during the NCAA tournament in Memphis that he was going to stick with the number he was wearing as a freshman -- 13 -- instead. He tends to waver on things. During the first interview about the 32/13 switch, Warren said he was coming back to Oklahoma for sure in 2009-10. Then during the NCAAs he said he was 98.9 percent sure. Then he realized he might be a lottery pick if he declared for the 2009 draft, and he (privately) got a lot closer to 50 percent sure. Now it's back to 100 percent, only because he's not allowed to change his mind again. Next year's draft decision will be much easier, because I'm certain he's going to be an All-America candidate, and that'll only enhance his draft stock.
 
11Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: --
With potential Big Ten Player of the Year Evan Turner back in the fold, the Buckeyes should be the league's third national power. They won't miss B.J. Mullens much, because they weren't using him much (just 20.3 minutes per game as a freshman, during which he posted an amazing 5.7-to-1 turnover-to-assist ratio). While the NBA will accept Mullens now as a project, it was vehemently against accepting Buckeyes walk-on Mark Titus into the 2009 draft pool. The Club Trillion blogger declared for the draft, only to be told through backchannels -- rather forcefully, he says -- that he needed to get his name out in order not to make a mockery of the process. (Wrote Titus, "I could very well be the first person in the history of the NBA to basically be told to go away.") C'mon, NBA: In 2004 you let this giant Canadian guy, who hadn't even played college ball, and whose main achievement was appearing in the Guinness Book, into the draft ... while Titus, who's on a D-I roster, isn't allowed? Not fair.
 
12California Golden Bears
Last Week: --
Zero defections from a 22-11 team means the Bears should enter the season as slight Pac-10 favorites, ahead of Washington. The Bears were the nation's best three-point shooting team in '08-09, although being an elite long-range team last season didn't guarantee success. Just three of the top-10 teams, percentage-wise, made the NCAA tournament:

Rk. Team 3%
1 California (NCAA No. 7 sd) 42.7
2 Portland 41.8
3 IPFW 40.8
4 UC-Irvine 40.7
5 Wisconsin-Green Bay 40.7
6 Eastern Kentucky 40.6
7 Northern Colorado 40.3
8 Cornell (NCAA No. 14 sd) 40.3
9 Western Illinois 40.3
10 N.D. State (NCAA No. 14 sd) 40.3

 
13Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: --
The SEC needs one rep in the top 16 ... and I'm not about to pick Kentucky until John Wall, Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks are all officially listed on the roster. Tennessee star Tyler Smith is more of a lock to return than Patterson and Meeks are, which means the Vols could have their entire starting lineup intact. Should they rediscover how to defend (they were 73rd in adjusted defensive efficiency last year) they'll be a quality team once again. They, like Duke last year, will be able to boast an Olympic coach, too: Bruce Pearl is coaching the U.S. squad in the World Maccabi Games this summer. "It's basically the Jewish Olympics," he said in a recent radio appearance. "Israel is the favorite. And they get to hire their own officials. When I see they have Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lined up, I know we're in trouble."
 
14Washington Huskies
Last Week: --
Senior Quincy Pondexter has taken over the Husky hoops Twittering scene from pioneer Jon Brockman, and Q-Pon seems to be a more active Twitterer, too, with 201 updates since April 27. (Brockman has made just 69 updates since Feb. 24.) Coach Lorenzo Romar's main concern is that he can find someone (or two or three someones) to rebound at Brockman's rate next season. He ranked ninth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (15.6) and 16th in defensive rebounding percentage (25.7) in '08-09. Pondexter (the team's second-best offensive rebounder, at 11.1 percent) and junior Matthew Bryan-Amaning (the second-best defensive rebounder, at 16.2 percent) are the most likely candidates.
 
15Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: --
The Hoyas barely finished above .500 last season, but they showed flashes of brilliance, beating two Final Four teams (UConn and Villanova) on the road. I like Georgetown's peripheral numbers, too: They were the sixth-unluckiest team in all of D-I (according to kenpom's formula), and the most efficient team not to make the NCAA tournament. They ranked 317th in experience, which backs up the theory that they were overwhelmed by a league overflowing with veteran talent. A team with Greg Monroe, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright as its top three offensive options can't miss the NCAAs two years in a row ... right?
 
16Butler Bulldogs
Last Week: --
One Butler fan spent the offseason dreaming of a Tyler Zeller transfer back to the Hoosier State, but his fellow-message boarders shot down the rumor. The Bulldogs will be just fine with junior Matt Howard in the post, anyway. Howard, who averaged 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, is the nation's returning leader in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, at 7.6. This isn't a bad category to excel in: Last season's leader (at 8.0) was Wooden Award winner Blake Griffin, who'll likely be the No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft.
On The Cusp (in this order): 17. Michigan, 18. Gonzaga (without Austin Daye), 19. Clemson, 20. Dayton, 21. Xavier, 22. Minnesota, 23. Illinois, 24. Texas A&M, 25. Missouri
WILD CARDS: Kentucky (Wall, Patterson, Meeks), Wake Forest (Jeff Teague)
ALSO CONSIDERED: Wisconsin, Siena, Notre Dame, Florida, Louisville, Creighton, Tulsa, BYU, Memphis, Northern Iowa, Pitt, UCLA (without Jrue Holiday), Mississippi
(If you'd like to send the Power Rankings an e-mail, I'm here.)

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