Friday December 12th, 2008

If only Stephen Curry could come to Madison Square Garden every week, things would be a lot more exciting, hoops-wise, in New York. Could we just swap St. John's out of the Big East and put Davidson in its place? The Wildcats wear the same colors; their coach, Bob McKillop, grew up in Queens; and Curry has no problem with the big stage. Would anyone (other than the Johnnies) object to this? Perhaps some of my more powerful readers can figure out a way to make it happen. In the meantime, I'll be ranking things (Records and stats through Dec. 11):

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
Got a different view than Luke?
1North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 1
Tyler Hansbrough has expanded his game this year to include the ability to save sick people on airplanes. But are the Wooden and Naismith Awards already slipping out of his reach while he recovers from his own injuries? The Shotputting Psycho isn't out of the running -- he's averaging 22.0 points and 6.8 rebounds, and a monster ACC season and a long undefeated streak would revive his campaign -- but he's not even the best candidate on his own team right now. The top three Player of the Year candidates, to date, are:

1. Stephen Curry, Davidson: Has two 44-point games this year, averages 30.8 points and 6.9 assists, and draws the biggest crowds in college hoops. He also leads the nation in mouthpiece adjustments.

2. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma: Has double-doubles in six of the Sooners' eight games (including a win over Curry), monster averages of 24.8 points and 16.3 boards ... and is comfortable in drag.

3. Ty Lawson, North Carolina: Has a 6.1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio while piloting the nation's best team, and is averaging 16.1 points in the process. He also loves Spongebob.

The next tier: Luke Harangody, Notre Dame; James Harden, Arizona State; Sam Young, Pitt; A.J. Abrams, Texas; Hansbrough.

Next three: 12/13 vs. Oral Roberts, 12/18 vs. Evansville, 12/20 at Valparaiso

2Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: 2
On Saturday at 12:30 p.m., Fox College Sports Pacific (channel 454 on my cable) will air a replay of the Paradise Jam title game between UConn and Wisconsin. FCS Pacific has aired this game, as well as the Paradise Jam consolation game between Miami and San Diego, roughly 3,000 times since they were played on Nov. 24. Neither game was any good -- the Huskies won by 19, and the 'Canes won by 35 -- and yet they pop up every time I search for college hoops in the programming guide. FCS Pacific: Is this some sort of weird contractual agreement with the tournament, or have you truly nothing else to put on the air? If you're going to keep playing the same game over and over, at least buy the rights to that Oklahoma State 105, Texas 103 classic from Jan. 16, 2007, in which Kevin Durant and Mario Boggan traded blows into double overtime. Now that game I would watch again. Jerome Dyson vs. Marcus Landry just doesn't have the same juice.
Next three: 12/15 vs. Stony Brook, 12/20 vs. Gonzaga in Seattle, 12/26 vs. Fairfield
3Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last Week: 4
How cool is it that one of the college game's biggest efficiency nerds is 71? We think of those stats as new-age, but Gonzaga's director of basketball operations, Jerry Krause, has been charting the team's possessions by hand for years -- you can usually find him with his head buried in a notepad on the bench -- and passing efficiency reports to Mark Few during timeouts. As I wrote in the magazine this week, the Zags' goal is to hold opponents under 0.9 points per possession, but Krause said "we've never been below that in the past 10 years." This year they're in uncharted territory, ranking seventh nationally at 0.82 points per possession. They have enough versatility to play a mean, screen-switching man-to-man and a solid matchup 2-3 zone, and the size of their lineup is creating problems for opponents. Said Krause, "We've been harping on them [about defense] for a couple of years. But you never know when the lightbulb goes on. And I think the lightbulb has gone on with the majority of our players now."
Next three: 12/14 vs. Arizona in Phoenix, 12/18 vs. Texas Southern, 12/20 vs. UConn in Seattle
4Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 7
Tim Floyd's comments on Leonard Washington, after he punched Blake Griffin below the belt on national television and then was ejected from Thursday's game, were classic: "What do you think he said? 'I didn't do it.' He's a freshman. He doesn't know that we film everything. But he's a good guy."

How you're a good guy when you deliver that blow, I do not know. And how you think you do something like that undetected during an ESPN-HD game, I do not know either. Perhaps we'll get some clarification. Until then, we can settle for answers on the Blake Griffin-in-drag photos from last week. The Lost Ogle reports that they were taken when Griffin was a 15-year-old student at Oklahoma Christian School, from a skit in which he may have been impersonating a female student. Nearly had us fooled.
Next three: 12/13 vs. Utah, 12/20 vs. VCU in Oklahoma City, 12/22 at Rice

5Texas Longhorns
Last Week: 9
Following Stephen Curry's heroics against West Virginia in the Jimmy V Classic, 'Horns shooting guard A.J. Abrams went for 26 points -- one less than Curry, and on nine fewer shots -- as the star of a convincing win over Villanova.'s Kevin Armstrong passed along a nugget from the post-game, in which Abrams was a popular interview subject. A reporter asked Abrams a hypothetical: Would he be getting the same amount of attention if he had missed as many shots as Curry had? Abrams didn't understand the question, at first, and then was told that Curry had missed 18 shots, as opposed to Abrams' 10. His eyes widened and he said, "Eighteen misses? Really? Well, they need Steph to score more than we need me [to score]. We have other guys, too."
Next three: 12/13 vs. Texas State, 12/16 vs. Texas Southern, 12/20 vs. Michigan State in Houston
6Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: 6
January 3. I'm excited for that date, and not because of the International Bowl. It's the day Pitt travels to Georgetown and finally gets to play a ranked team. I know go-to-guy Sam Young is a first-round draft pick, and I believe the Panthers are good, but how can I be sure when the best team they'll play in the entire non-conference schedule is Washington State? It's a shame that the Panthers' non-league slate includes nary a sure-fire NCAA tournament squad. Wazzu might be in the Dance, and so might Texas Tech and Vermont, but none is a lock. If only Pitt had another date with Duke at the Garden. Last year's meeting was an epic.
Next three: 12/13 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County, 12/17 vs. Siena, 12/21 at Florida State
7Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: 8
For an example of a team playing a beefed-up non-conference schedule, look at Tennessee, whose next six games are at Temple (12/13), vs. Marquette in Nashville (12/16), vs. Belmont (12/20), vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (12/29), at Kansas (1/3) and vs. Gonzaga (1/7). That's four NCAA tournament teams, two road games and a neutral-court game. By the end of that stretch we'll have a pretty good idea of where the Vols stand. They haven't looked like world-beaters thus far, but have to feel good about the fact that no other SEC contender has emerged in the preseason. Florida, Ole Miss, Vandy and Kentucky all look shaky, and Alabama flopped hard against Oregon in Maui. Should be smooth sailing to another SEC title for Tennessee.
Next three:12/3 at Temple, 12/16 vs. Marquette, 12/20 vs. Belmont
8Davidson Wildcats
Last Week: 12
The hottest Christmas present for hoopheads is the $60 Stephen Curry jersey at Davidson's bookstore (mouthguard not included). I only saw a couple of them at the Garden ... but expect to see plenty come NCAA tournament time. As I wrote in Tuesday night's column, Curry is the only college basketball player capable of beating the recession."
Next three: 12/13 vs. Chattanooga, 12/20 at Purdue, 12/29 at College of Charleston
9Xavier Musketeers
Last Week: 10
In March 2007, shortly after he signed with Musketeers, 7-foot center Kenny Frease said, "I want to be Xavier's Greg Oden." Frease's numbers, thus far, are closer to Portland Oden than they are to Ohio State Oden: 5.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Frease, to his credit, is giving Xavier some quality minutes; on a squad with forwards as good as B.J. Raymond, C.J. Anderson and Derrick Brown, there isn't a ton of room to score points on the interior. Still, there are areas where Frease could easily elevate his game. His Facebook profile photo is a shot of him in a motorized shopping cart, which, although amusing, doesn't stack up to Oden's most famous picture, of him grinding with some girl in pink spandex.
Next three: 12/13 at Cincinnati, 12/20 vs. Duke in East Rutherford, N.J., 12/23 vs. Butler
10Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Last Week: 11
Online bookmaker BoDog posted its latest round of futures odds on winning the the NCAA title, and North Carolina, as expected, is the overwhelming favorite at 3-to-2. Wake is 35-to-1, which seems about right. The Deacs' real championship shot could come next year, if none of their nucleus bolts for the NBA. The most surprising (or idiotic) thing on the list is that Kentucky -- point-guard-less Kentucky! -- is 40-to-1, the same as Villanova and Xavier. Also, how is UCLA tied with UConn (at 9-to-1) for the best odds other than Carolina? Has BoDog been watching any Bruins games this year? Their offense has a long way to go to be anywhere near single-digit odds.
Next three: 12/14 vs. Wright State, 12/19 at Richmond, 12/22 at East Carolina
11Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: NR
We took a look at Dallas Lauderdale the historian/shot-blocker in Monday's "The Week In Hoops", writing: Lauderdale believes blocking shots is art form, and the Michelangelo of shot-blocking is former Boston Celtic great Bill Russell. "Coach Major" -- OSU assistant Alan Major, the big-man guru who helped develop Michael Olowokandi, David West and Greg Oden -- "gave me a couple of books on Bill Russell this summer," Lauderdale said. "I caught some tips on the way he blocked shots and how he played mind games with his opponents. I read about the stances he was in, and how sometimes he just walls up, and sometimes he actually goes and gets it. And I'm trying to do that stuff. I'm not saying I'm Bill Russell. But I try to mimic him."
Next three: 12/13 vs. Butler, 12/17 vs. Jacksonville, 12/20 vs. Iona
12Michigan Wolverines
Last Week: NR
This is not the way I expected the Big Ten Power Rankings to be shaking out on Dec. 11. Ohio State and Michigan in the top 12, with Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin on the outside looking in? The Wolverines have two of the biggest early-season wins (over in UCLA in New York and Duke in Ann Arbor) and were responsible for the first major court-storming of '08-09, following that upset of the Blue Devils. Every other big upset thus far -- Dayton over Marquette, Western Kentucky over Louisville, Maryland over Michigan State, Xavier over Memphis -- came on a neutral, storm-free floor. Michigan coach John Beilein made the case on a Wednesday radio show that his team shouldn't be in the top 25 -- saying, "We don't deserve it yet" -- but I really have no choice but to put them here.
Next three: 12/13 vs. Eastern Michigan, 12/20 vs. Oakland in Auburn Hills, 12/22 vs. Florida-Gulf Coast
13Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 3
Some worrisome things emerged from last Saturday's upset in Ann Arbor. The Blue Devils' D, which had looked tenacious up until then, had a few inexcusable mental lapses, particularly when they left Zack Novak -- whose main skill is knocking down threes -- wide open twice during a short stretch in the second half. And then Duke failed to knock down threes against John Beilein's 1-3-1 zone, hitting just 7-of-33 on the day. You'd think a rotation that included Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler would hit threes at a high-30s clip, but they're shooting just 30.7 percent through nine games. To keep the floor spread enough to make their Suns-ish offense work, that number needs to improve significantly.
Next three: 12/17 vs. UNC-Asheville, 12/20 vs. Xavier in East Rutherford, N.J., 12/31 vs. Loyola (Md.)
14Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last Week: 5
The Irish are the rankings' most difficult case: They've beaten Texas on a neutral floor, which earned them major points, but they've also lost to North Carolina and Ohio State while their star (Luke Harangody) was suffering from pneumonia. I'm compelled to leave them in, because the Texas win keeps looking better, and they'll soon be back at full strength. The most interesting thing I took away from Saturday's loss to OSU was how much emphasis Thad Matta put on stopping marksman Kyle McAlarney. Said Matta after the game, "Five years ago [at Xavier] we were preparing for Duke in the Elite Eight, and J.J. Redick. We feared [McAlarney] more than [we did] J.J. Redick just because of his ability to get his shot off as quick as possible. I called the guys Wednesday night and said, 'You need to start finding No. 23 tonight. We showed, I can't explain how many clips of [McAlarney]. ... Did we do anything special? Yeah, we had a green shirt going throughout practice, because he's a game-changer. I haven't seen too many like him."

And we haven't seen too many teams defend McAlarney like that, holding him to 0-of-6 from three-point land after he'd been averaging around 9-of-16 shooting over his previous three games.
Next three: 12/13 vs. Boston University, 12/20 vs. Delaware State, 12/22 vs. Savannah State

15Syracuse Orange
Last Week: 13
The 'Cuse hasn't played since the last rankings, but that doesn't mean they haven't been in the news. On Wednesday, a Syracuse judicial board ruled that Eric Devendorf violated the school's student code of conduct for allegedly hitting a female student in the face, and recommended that he be suspended for the rest of the year. While Devendorf can appeal the decision, the allegations are not pretty: The female student claims he hit her in the jaw with the heel of his hand at 3 a.m. on Halloween night. She told police that she got out of her car after a crowd of 10-15 people, including Devendorf, were blocking a campus road. When she exited the automobile, she said that "Devendorf called her a [derogatory name], told her to get back in her car and struck her." He left the scene by the time the cops arrived.
Next three: 12/13 vs. Long Beach State, 12/15 vs. Cleveland State, 12/17 vs. Canisius
16Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Last Week: 15
The Hilltoppers are among the teams not struggling with the new three-point line. They've hit 39.5 percent of their treys thus far, which ranks 43rd in the nation. The overall trend this year, with the introduction of the new, 20-foot-9 three-point line, has been down: According to's three-point tracker, long-range percentages have dropped from 35.1 last year to 33.9 this year. One of the affected is Louisville, the team Western Kentucky upset to make it into these rankings. The Cards are making only 32.5 percent of its treys, down from 35.0 last season.
Next three: 12/13 at Evansville, 12/18 at South Alabama, 12/21 vs. Alabama A&M
(Plenty of good teams) On The Cusp: Marquette, Louisville, Memphis, Georgetown, Butler, BYU, Baylor, Arizona State, UCLA, Dayton, Wisconsin, Purdue, Clemson, Kansas, Villanova, Maryland, Michigan State, Missouri and all the other teams whose exclusion from the top 16 has made you irrationally infuriated enough to consider sending an e-mail. (If you still feel like sending e-mail, I'm here.)
Got a different view than Luke?

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