Thursday December 17th, 2009

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
9Villanova Wildcats
Last Week: 6
On Dec. 13, at least, neither Manu Ginobili (of the Spurs) nor Carlos Delfino (of the Bucks) could claim to be the best Argentine guard in America. That title belonged to Juan Fernandez, who's following in Pepe Sanchez's footsteps at Temple -- but unlike Sanchez, is a deadly long-range shooter. Fernandez hit 7-of-10 threes and scored 33 points to orchestrate the Owls' upset of previously unbeaten 'Nova at the Liacouras Center. I'm allowing the Wildcats to stay in the Power Rankings because it was a road game, and because they already have neutral-court wins over Dayton, Ole Miss and Maryland. But they should heed what happened to the top-10 team that lost at Liacouras on Dec. 13 last year. That was Tennessee, which slid all the way to a No. 9 seeding in the NCAA tournament -- and a first-round exit at the hands of Oklahoma State.

Next three: 12/19 vs. Fordham in East Rutherford, N.J., 12/23 vs. Delaware, 1/2 at Marquette
10Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 11
Hoops blog Ballin' is a Habit did a post on the most hated players of the decade, and it began with the Holy Trinity of Duke's J.J. Redick and Greg Paulus, and Syracuse's Eric Devendorf. I disagree with Georgetown's Roy Hibbert (hard to hate a gentle giant) and Notre Dame's Luke Harangody (how can you hate The Gody?) being included, but am OK with the divisive guys who made up the rest of the list: Florida's Joakim Noah, UNC's Tyler Hansbrough, and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison.

When Duke and Gonzaga square off at Madison Square Garden on Saturday -- a matchup that the nation was begging to see in the RedMo year, but one that'll be overshadowed by UNC-Texas this time -- will there be a truly hateable player on either roster? People will always find reasons to hate Duke, but c'mon: of the Blue Devils' two most logical candidates, Jon Scheyer is an overachiever who should be appreciated, and Kyle Singler is hardly abrasive. Gonzaga freshman Kelly Olynyk might get to that level by the time his career is done -- he harasses opponents like crazy on defense, and averages an alarming 7.2 fouls per 40 minutes -- but he's yet to become a household name.

Next three: 12/19 vs. Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden, 12/29 vs. Long Beach State, 12/31 vs. Penn
11North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 13
Carolina March pulled an excellent UNC/Texas-related passage out of Roy Williams' new book, Hard Work. Williams and Texas coach Rick Barnes have a past that dates back to recruiting battles in the late '80s, and Roy told the following story:

"I remember going to Adonis Jordan's home. Rick Barnes, the Providence coach, was scheduled to come in right after me. Rick arrived at the door 15 minutes early and rang the doorbell. Something funny had just happened and we were all laughing and carrying on, and someone opens the door to Rick, and he said, 'Sounds like you're having a party.'

I said, "Coach, you're right, and it's going to last 15 more minutes."

Williams got Jordan to come to Kansas, and Jordan led the Jayhawks to two Final Fours. The two coaches, who'll face each other on Saturday in Arlington, haven't stopped battling for recruits. Kevin Durant's college choice, back in 2005, was between the Tar Heels and the Longhorns.

Next three: 12/19 vs. Texas in Arlington, 12/22 vs. Marshall, 12/28 vs. Rutgers
12Florida Gators
Last Week: 8
Sophomore Erving Walker hasn't done a bad job at point guard since taking over for departed star Nick Calathes -- the Gators are nationally ranked and have enough talent to challenge Kentucky and Tennessee in the SEC East. But the move away from the shooting-guard spot has had a significant effect on Walker's offense, as his shooting percentages have dropped more than seven points on both twos and threes:

Year 2pt% 3pt% O-Rtng A/T
08-09 46.0 41.9 113.6 1.6
09-10 38.6 34.0 105.1 2.2
With fellow guards Kenny Boynton and Ray Shipman shooting 23.9 and 22.2 percent from beyond the arc, respectively, the Gators are lacking in long-distance firepower.

Next three: 12/19 vs. Richmond in Sunrise, Fla., 12/22 vs. South Alabama, 12/28 vs. American

13New Mexico Lobos
Last Week: 16
One group of people for whom the Lobos' success is difficult to stomach: Iowa fans. Steve Alford left Iowa City in 2007 after making just three NCAA tournament trips in eight seasons as head coach of the Hawkeyes ... and now he's revived New Mexico into a nationally ranked program that looks like the favorite to win the Mountain West Conference. It's not that Iowa fans necessarily want Alford back. Many of them were happy he left in the first place. It's just that, under second-year coach Todd Lickliter, who's been absent of late due to health issues, their team is 3-7 and destined for the Big Ten cellar -- and might be there for multiple seasons.

As Iowa Press-Citizen columnist Ryan Suchomel wrote this week: "I'm not upset that Alford is doing well at New Mexico. More power to him. I just thought he was the wrong fit at Iowa and was not able to live up to the success of his predecessor. And right now, hard as it is to accept, Lickliter is having a difficult time living up to his predecessor."

Next three: 12/19 vs. Creighton, 12/23 at Oral Roberts, 12/29 vs. Texas Tech
14Kansas State Wildcats
Last Week: --
Ex-Wildcats beat writer Jeffrey Martin (who's now at the Houston Chronicle) tipped me off to the fact that some Bramlage Coliseum faithful have begun calling themselves "The Angriest Fan Base In America." One K-State hoops message board has been renamed as such, and a few fans who made their way to Vegas for Saturday's win over UNLV made a point to inform a Las Vegas Sun writer that "they come into the Orleans [Arena] as the angriest fan base in America." Martin says it's a tongue-in-cheek thing to fall in step with head coach Frank Martin, who occasionally will appear to be the angriest man stalking a college sideline, but is actually a rather nice guy. This Power Rankings mention should help the movement, but really, what do 'Cats fans have to be ticked about this week? Their team is ranked No. 14 here and No. 1 in the RPI, and is getting enough recognition that it can no longer be referred to as a "sleeper."

Next three: 12/19 vs. Alabama (in Mobile), 12/21 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 12/29 vs. Cleveland State
15Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last Week: 14
Bob Knight's best season in Lubbock was '04-05, when he took the Red Raiders to the Sweet 16 (where they were Pittsnogled). That was also the year where Knight's team ranked 329th nationally in three-point attempts; basically, his philosophy was to run the motion offense for easy buckets, and avoid the three as much as possible. Subsequent Red Raider teams -- coached by Bob and his son, Pat -- began to launch a higher percentage of treys, and won fewer games, as the chart below shows:

Year 3PA/FGA(Rk.) Record
03-04 18.7 (326) 23-11
04-05 19.6 (329) 22-11
05-06 25.0 (314) 15-17
06-07 27.2 (304) 21-13
07-08 26.4 (324) 16-15
08-09 32.3 (183) 14-19
09-10 20.8 (340) 9-0
The three-point barrage culminated with an '08-09 season in which 32.2 percent of Tech's attempts were from long-distance, and it finished under .500. This season, Pat has the Red Raiders going back to their roots, ranking 340th in three-point attempts ... and lo and behold, they're 9-0 and nationally ranked. The three is beloved in other parts of the country, but it doesn't seem to work in West Texas.

Next three: 12/19 at Wichita State, 12/22 vs. Stanford, 12/29 at New Mexico

16Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: --
The Spartans only sort of earned their way back into the rankings -- they gave up more than a point per possession on D to The Citadel, which is not great -- but I suspect they're due to give Texas a scare in Austin on Tuesday. I'm excited to see the Kalin Lucas-vs.-Dogus Balbay matchup in that game. 'Horns coach Rick Barnes has been siccing Balbay on opposing point guards and wreaking havoc on their offensive rhythm, but Lucas will be the best one the Turkish Trap has defended this year. It should be an excellent battle, and if Lucas struggles to create shots in the lane, the onus will be on Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers to have big scoring nights.

Next three: 12/19 vs. IUPU-Fort Wayne, 12/22 at Texas, 12/30 vs. Texas-Arlington

The next 16: 17. UConn. 18. Gonzaga. 19. UNLV. 20. Ole Miss. 21. Wisconsin. 22. Texas A&M. 23. Illinois. 24. Memphis. 25. Seton Hall. 26. Ohio State. 27. Northwestern. 28. Missouri State. 29. William & Mary. 30. Dayton. 31. Georgia Tech. 32. Temple.

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

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