Wednesday December 23rd, 2009

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
9New Mexico Lobos
Last Week: 13
Butta Exposure: I thought that no All-America candidate would have a better name than Quincy Pondexter, but New Mexico's Darington "Butta" Hobson is on Q-Pon's level. Hobson, a juco transfer from College of Eastern Utah, deserves far more recognition, though; the 6-7 forward is leading the Lobos in rebounds (7.5 per game) and assists (4.5), and is their second-leading scorer (16.5) -- a stat line that puts him in the Evan Turner/Manny Harris category as one of the country's most versatile players. "Butta" is a nickname Hobson got on Houston playgrounds (his lanky frame apparently looked like a stick of butter), and at CEU fans used to hold up "Butta's On A Roll" signs in the stands. He was a recruiting coup for coach Steve Alford, who smartly stuck by Hobson after he failed to academically qualify for D-I basketball out of high school.

Next three: 12/23 at Oral Roberts, 12/29 vs. Texas Tech, 1/1 vs. Dayton
 
10Mississippi Rebels
Last Week: --
A Signature Win: The Rebs, my preseason sleeper team, are climbing up the national rankings, but need a big-time victory to truly put themselves on the map. They beat Kansas State in Puerto Rico before anyone recognized that the 'Cats were legit, but failed to upset Villanova in the title game. Andy Kennedy's boys' big chance comes tonight on the road at West Virginia, which is undefeated but doesn't have the guards to match up with Ole Miss' backcourt. Chris Warren (18.3 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Terrico White (16.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) might be the best scoring duo at the 1-2 positions in the country, and if they can pull off an upset in Morgantown, they'll start to be mentioned in the same breath with the backcourts at Kansas, Villanova and Kentucky.

Next three: 12/23 at West Virginia, 12/29 vs. Jacksonville State, 1/5 vs. Central Florida
 
11Kansas State Wildcats
Last Week: 14
More Pullen Beards: Wildcats junior Jacob Pullen is having a career year; his three-point percentage (43.6) is up more than 10 points from last season, and his scoring average (20.0) is up 6.1 points as well. I attribute the breakout to his beard, a chinstrap sort of thing that extends out of a chop. Pullen played his first two years beard-free and failed to shoot higher than 33.5 percent from long range. Perhaps growing similar facial hair would be the cure for backcourt mate Denis Clemente's shooting malaise? He's hitting just 30.0 percent of his treys, his worst clip since his freshman year at Miami. It might be time to go beyond a goatee.

Next three: 12/29 vs. Cleveland State, 1/3 vs. South Dakota, 1/9 at Missouri
 
12Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: 7
Roster Lockdown: Reserve junior forward Nikita Mescheriakov left the Hoyas this week and plans to transfer to another school. While he was only averaging 6.3 minutes per game, and his departure inspired this deprecating (and phenomenal) photo retrospective from the bloggers at Casual Hoya, losing Mescheriakov shrinks a Georgetown bench that could ill afford to lose bodies. Only 20.9 percent of the Hoyas' minutes have gone to bench players this season, a figure that ranks 338th in the country. They're essentially using a seven-man rotation, which makes them the anti-Texas, and could be a recipe for exhaustion down the stretch in the Big East.

Next three: 12/23 vs. Harvard, 12/31 vs. St. John's, 1/3 at DePaul
 
13Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: --
Majok Magic: UConn's biggest problems through its first eight games were that it had no bench (ranking 346th, or second-to-last in the nation, in bench minutes), and it was getting no offense from anyone other than Gavin Edwards at the 4-5 positions. Getting 6-10 Sudanese import Ater Majok eligible on Dec. 20 was supposed to solve both of those problems, as he's viewed as an NBA-level talent who might only play one to two seasons in Storrs. In two games he's averaging just 3.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 17.0 minutes. So far he seems to be more of an authority on Shaka Zulu than an interior force, but the hope is that he'll emerge as a real contributor by mid-January. If Majok can rebound and take some of the scoring heat off of Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker, the Huskies can challenge for a Big East title.

Next three: 12/27 vs. Iona, 12/30 at Cincinnati, 1/2 vs. Notre Dame
 
14Temple Owls
Last Week: --
Stripe Aid: Temple has emerged as the strongest team in the Atlantic 10 thanks to its defense, as it ranks fourth nationally in efficiency and has stifled previously undefeated Big East teams (Villanova and Seton Hall) in back-to-back games. The offense lags well behind, though, ranking 103rd, in part because the Owls rarely get to the free throw line, and don't shoot very well when they do get there. Temple ranks 342nd in the country in ratio of free-throw attempts to field-goal attempts, and shoots just 63.8 percent from the line. Ideally the Owls would push point guard-turned-shooting guard Juan Fernandez to force the issue a bit more in penetration; the Argentine import is their best pure shooter, but is only drawing an average of 3.3 fouls per game thus far. (For comparison, Villanova guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher draw 5.6 and 6.1 fouls per game, respectively.)

Next three: 12/28 vs. Bowling Green, 12/30 at Northern Illinois, 1/2 vs. Kansas
 
15Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: --
Pushing Leuer: Senior point guard Trevon Hughes has been the Badgers' MVP, but junior forward Jon Leuer appears to be on the verge of Big Ten stardom as well. He keyed their win over Marquette with 24 points, and has been shooting 72.4 percent from the field over his last four games, flashing mid-range skills that few 6-10 players have at the college level. Wisconsin needs to find a way to keep Leuer from fading down the stretch, though; he looked great early in his sophomore season as well, but only scored in double-figures in three of the Badgers' final eight Big Ten games, and averaged just 2.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in the NCAA tournament. If he's properly pushed to take on a huge role in UW's offense -- and conditioned to handle it all the way through March -- Leuer will be one of the league's best forwards.

Next three: 12/23 vs. Milwaukee, 12/27 vs. Illinois-Chicago, 12/31 vs. Ohio State
 
16UAB Blazers
Last Week: --
Name Recognition: A week ago, I wasn't even paying attention to the Blazers -- but then they beat Cincinnati (and Brooklyn Person of the Year??!! Lance Stephenson) by 17, South Alabama by 18 and Butler by 10. So I took notice, and realized their résumé of wins is better than that of most teams in the AP poll. Coach Mike Davis took players' names off the backs of UAB jerseys this year, which is a nice team-building move, but rough when no one (nationally, at least) knows who any of your players are. The one you should learn about immediately is Elijah Millsap, a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette who's established himself as one of the nation's best defensive rebounders. He happens to be the brother of a guy who did some decent glasswork in college.

Next three: 12/30 at Virginia, 1/2 at Arkansas, 1/6 vs. East Carolina

The rest: 17. Tennessee. 18. UNLV. 19. North Carolina. 20. Texas Tech. 21. Washington. 22. Michigan State. 23. Northwestern. 24. Dayton. 25. St. Mary's. 26. Ohio State. 27. William & Mary. 28. Missouri State. 29. Texas A&M. 30. Gonzaga. 31. BYU. 32. Butler.

(If you'd like to send the Power Rankings a note, I'm here.)

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