Purdue drops out of top three after devastating Hummel injury (cont.)
Last Week: 14
Georgetown Hoyas (19-7)How hard is it to rate the schizophrenic Hoyas? At various points during the compilation of these rankings, they were rated as low as 14th (same as last week) and 16th based on last week's home loss to Syracuse, their second straight. But then you take a look at what they did next -- go on the road and win going away against a Louisville team that had won five of six to move a game against ahead of Georgetown in the standings -- and you realize the Hoyas actually had a pretty good week.
As has been the case most of the season, Georgetown was at is best Tuesday when Austin Freeman was at his hottest. The guard scored 24 of his 29 points after halftime, and the Hoyas went on a 24-5 run, eventually going up by as much as 15.
At this rate, the selection committee may have an equally daunting task figuring out where to seed this team. Georgetown also sits at ninth in the RPI ratings, boasts seven wins over top-50 teams and played a tough nonconference schedule. However, they also have some bad losses (USF at home, at Rutgers) and as of now sit tied for fifth in the Big East standings, behind two teams (West Virginia and Pittsburgh) that sit lower in these rankings. Best of luck to the committee sorting through the ever-volatile Big East.
Next three: 2/27 vs. Notre Dame, 3/1 at West Virginia, 3/6 vs. Cincinnati.
Last Week: 12
New Mexico Lobos (26-3)Very soon, basketball writers around the country will begin voting on various coach of the year awards. I would assume they will strongly consider the candidacy of Lobos coach Steve Alford, whose team has now won a Mountain West-record 12 straight games. Consider:
• The Lobos, who lost three of last year's top six players, were picked to finish fifth in the Mountain West and featured no players on the preseason all-conference list.
• Their roster consists of one senior, two juniors and eight freshmen or sophomores.
• They are two wins away from matching the school record (28 in 1995-96) and assured of earning their first NCAA tournament berth in five years.
Of course, it will greatly help his cause if New Mexico wins the Mountain West regular-season championship -- and that will almost assuredly require winning Saturday's much-anticipated showdown at BYU.
Next three: 2/27 at BYU, 3/3 vs. TCU, 3/11 vs. TBD (MWC tourney).
Last Week: --
Butler Bulldogs (25-4)The Bulldogs have long since wrapped up their fourth straight Horizon League title, but on Friday at Valparaiso they have a chance to make history. They're looking to become the league's first team in 14 years to achieve a perfect conference record, and the first since it went to an 18-game schedule.
In the meantime, Brad Stevens' team stepped out of conference for last weekend's BracketBuster date with mid-major darling Siena and sent quite a message with a 70-53 rout. The Bulldogs' school-record 17th straight win marked their third victory of the season over an RPI top-50 foe. (The others: Xavier and Ohio State.)
Between the potential perfect conference record and the nation's fourth toughest nonconference schedule, Butler has ample reason to believe it can match the No. 5 NCAA seed achieved by its 2007 squad, which gave national champion Florida a fight in that year's Sweet 16. This year's team is 3-3 against the top 50, 8-4 against the top 100. That year's team: 4-1 and 7-3.
Next two: 2/26 at Valparaiso, 3/6 vs. TBD (Horizon tourney).
Last Week: 15
Brigham Young Cougars (26-3)The Cougars made sure to leave no doubt as to the two-team hierarchy in the Mountain West, dispatching third-place San Diego State 82-68 on Wednesday to set up what the AP is calling "the biggest regular season showdown in Mountain West history" Saturday against New Mexico. In that poll, the Lobos sit 10th, the Cougars 13th.
Of most immediate importance, BYU will put itself in prime position to win at least a share of its fourth straight conference title with a victory over the Lobos, but it would also help them considerably for NCAA seeding purposes. Heading into Wednesday's game, the Cougars sat at a modest 3-3 against top 50 foes. Wins over both the Aztecs and New Mexico would move them to 5-3, and 9-3 against the top 100. That's still not quite at the level of the Lobos, who sit at 6-2/10-2 thanks to their nonconference slate, but the committee does take conference standings into consideration.
Whatever the case, BYU will wind up in far different position than its past three league-title teams, all of which netted No. 8 seeds. This team should find itself somewhere between fourth and sixth, which would be its highest since 1988. BYU hasn't won a tourney game since 1993 and hasn't made it out of the second round since Danny Ainge's memorable coast-to-coast drive against Notre Dame sent the Cougs to the Elite Eight in 1981.
Next three: 2/27 vs. New Mexico, 3/3 at Utah, 3/6 at TCU.
Last Week: 8
West Virginia Mountaineers (21-6)It has not been the most pleasant few weeks for the Mountaineers, who have lost three of their last five games. It started with a disappointing Big Monday home loss to Villanova, followed by a triple-overtime heartbreaker at Pittsburgh, and then, following unceremonious wins over Providence and Seton Hall, a 73-62 at suddenly resurgent Connecticut.
While none of those setbacks could be called "bad" losses, they've put a damper on what previously looked like a sterling resume. The common refrain: Poor shooting. Star guard Da'Sean Butler made just 2-of-10 field goals against the Huskies, and the Mountaineers shot just 12-of-23 from the free-throw line. "Every good team goes through that," coach Bob Huggins said. "We're just not making any shots."
Huggins had a more pressing complaint during the game, one he couldn't share publicly: Officiating. With 62 seconds left in a game that saw UConn shoot 42 of the game's 65 free throws Monday, Huggins voiced his displeasure to referee Mike Stuart vehemently enough to earn his first ejection in nearly seven years.
Next three: 2/27 vs. Cincinnati, 3/1 vs. Georgetown, 3/8 at Villanova.
Last Week: --
Temple Owls (23-5)In this year's ultra-competitive Atlantic 10 race, the Owls have won four straight to keep pace with Xavier and Richmond, all three of which sit tied for first at 11-2 in league play. On Wednesday, they won the kind of game that would have made John Chaney proud, grinding out a 49-41 victory over Dayton, which suffered their lowest scoring output in 13 years. Neither team could buy a bucket for most of the night, but give credit to Temple forward Lavoy Allen, who grabbed 13 rebounds and is now averaging 10.5 on the season, 11th-best nationally.
Fran Dunphy's team split its regular-season meetings with its two Atlantic 10 co-leaders, beating Xavier at home on Jan. 20 but suffering a 71-54 drubbing at Richmond on Feb. 6. (The Spiders and Musketeers will meet for the first and only time this Sunday.)
Richmond is the hottest of the three (eight straight wins), but what separates the Owls at this point and will likely garner them a higher NCAA seed is their nonconference schedule, ranked 31st nationally, which included wins over Villanova, Siena, Virginia Tech and Seton Hall. Temple is 7-3 against the top 50 and has suffered just one "bad" loss, on Nov. 28 vs. St. John's.
Next three: 2/28 at LaSalle, 3/3 at St. Louis, 3/6 vs. George Washington.
Last Week: 16
Vanderbilt Commodores (20-6)Last week, we wondered how the Commodores would handle a daunting 48-hour period that saw them visit Ole Miss, then host No. 2 Kentucky. The answer: Pretty darn well, and awfully close to fantastic. The 'Dores took care of business in Oxford, pulling out a close win against a team that was clinging to its bubble life thanks to a monster game from A.J. Ogilvy (27 points, eight rebounds).
Two nights later, in front of the most amped up home crowd in years, Vandy held the Wildcats to a season-low 35.8-percent shooting night in as close a game as you're going to find -- 11 lead changes, 14 ties. Ultimately, the 'Dores got "Walled," Ogilvy's shot rimmed out and the upset bid fell just short.
In the big picture, there's a lot to like about this team, which is 5-2 against the RPI top 50 (both losses coming against Kentucky) and 9-5 against the top 100.
Next three: 2/25 vs. Georgia, 2/27 at Arkansas, 3/2 at Florida.
Last Week: --
Pittsburgh Panthers (21-7)As of Wednesday afternoon, the Panthers were set to burst into these rankings all the way up in the top 10. Unfortunately, this was a rare case where a team played three games since our last edition (Thursday, Saturday and Wednesday) -- and Round 3 was a clunker. Notre Dame, despite playing without Luke Harangody, drubbed the Panthers 68-53, ending a five-game losing streak. It didn't help that the Irish sank 10-of-18 three-pointers against Pitt's normally stingy D.
But Jamie Dixon's continually surprising team still deserves credit for its work immediately prior to that setback -- a 58-51 win at Marquette followed by a huge 70-65 home win over Villanova. Pitt remains tied for third in the Big East at 10-5, not bad for a team that lost a ridiculous amount of star power (Levance Fields, Sam Young and DeJuan Blair) from a year ago. Ask Roy Williams how tough it is to deal with that much turnover from one year to the next.
Games like Wednesday's serve as a reminder of Pitt's vulnerability when they go on the road -- they've also lost at Seton Hall, USF and Indiana -- but lest we forget, this is also a team that went to the Carrier Dome and handed Syracuse its first loss and has wins over Villanova, West Virginia, Connecticut and Louisville.
Next three: 2/27 at St. John's, 3/4 vs. Providence, 3/6 vs. Rutgers.
The rest: 17. Michigan State. 18. Wisconsin. 19. Richmond. 20. Gonzaga. 21. Maryland. 22. Tennessee. 23. Texas. 24. Xavier. 25. Texas A&M. 26. Missouri. 27. Wake Forest. 28. UTEP. 29. Baylor. 30. Northern Iowa. 31. Illinois. 32. Florida.
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