Thursday January 21st, 2010

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
9Brigham Young Cougars
Last Week: 7
When the Cougars moved up to 14th in the AP poll this week, there was some debate on the Web over whether that ranking was too lofty. FoxSports' Jeff Goodman blogged that BYU "hardly [has] the resume of a top-15 club," and he's right about the Cougs not having a marquee victory: their best three wins are over Arizona State, UNLV and UTEP. While I bumped them down a few spots to accommodate Kansas State and Tennessee's moves into the top 10, I still like their efficiency (third overall in ratings) and momentum (14 wins in a row) and was really impressed by that UTEP victory, in that it came in El Paso without star guard Jimmer Fredette. The blog Vegas Watch did a nice analysis this week that combined efficiency numbers and point spreads, and while it deduced that BYU was far from the country's third-best team, its formula did put the Cougs at No. 10 -- right about where I feel comfortable putting them in these Power Rankings.

Next three: 1/23 at San Diego State, 1/27 at new Mexico, 1/30 vs. Utah
10Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: 6
Right after I moved the Panthers into the top six of my rankings, their defense began to look pedestrian. Prior to Saturday's overtime win over Louisville, they'd allowed more than 1.1 points per possession in just one game all season -- a 16-point loss to Texas in the CBE Classic. Pitt yielded 1.13 PPP to the Cardinals, and then on Wednesday, gave up a season-worst 1.17 PPP to Georgetown. No surprise, then, that the Hoyas were the first Big East team to knock off the Panthers this season. By no means do I think Jamie Dixon's team is doomed; I just hope they realize (and quickly) that they have a lot less margin for defensive error this season. Their team defense might actually be stronger than last year, but the offense is nowhere near as efficient as it was when DeJuan Blair was shooting 59.3 percent from the field and leading the nation in offensive rebounding. I don't think Pitt is ever going to survive a night where an opposing team's guards go 7-for-7 from three-point-land, as the Hoyas' starting backcourt did on Wednesday.

Next three: 1/24 at Seton Hall, 1/28 vs. St. John's, 1/31 at South Florida
11Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 8
After Wednesday night's embarrassing, 14-point loss at N.C. State, Duke is still the only team in the AP top 10 that lacks a true road win. They've been killers at Madison Square Garden (3-0) and the United Center (1-0), but no so much at Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and Sidney Lowe's House. The breakdown of road wins by top-10 teams is as follows:

Texas (3): Rice, Arkansas, Iowa State
Kentucky (3): Indiana, Florida, Auburn
Kansas (3): UCLA, Temple, Nebraska
Villanova (3): Marquette, Louisville, Rutgers
Syracuse (4): Seton Hall, Rutgers, West Virginia, Notre Dame
Michigan State (3): The Citadel, Northwestern, Iowa
Duke (0)
Tennessee (2): Memphis, Alabama
Pittsburgh (3): Syracuse, Cincinnati, UConn
Kansas State (1): Colorado

Pitt and Syracuse, I would say, have the best away resumes, while K-State's is the second-worst after Duke's.

Next three: 1/23 at Clemson, 1/27 vs. Florida State, 1/30 at Georgetown
12Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Week: --'s Michael Rothstein debuted his Player of the Year straw poll this week, with a panel of 45 writers who vote on various national awards. Kentucky's John Wall was No. 1 by a landslide, earning 32 of 45 first-place votes and appearing on all but three ballots. (How can anyone leave Wall off of a ballot?) Texas' Damion James was second and Ohio State's Evan Turner was third; they were followed by Notre Dame's Luke Harangody, Syracuse's Wes Johnson and Duke's Jon Scheyer.

The gap between Wall, James and Turner shouldn't be so large; James has been so remarkable since Dec. 19 that he'd actually be first on my ballot right now, followed by Wall and Turner. I think the Turner campaign is going to pick up steam in the next few weeks, too. He was the leader in the race before he broke two vertebrae in his back on Dec. 5, and miraculously returned a month later, somehow putting up numbers similar to his pre-injury games. He's averaging 18.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists, and Ohio State is 11-2 with him in the lineup.

Next three: 1/23 at West Virginia, 1/27 at Iowa, 1/31 vs. Minnesota
13Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last Week: --
Sad week in Zag Land, with the passing of former coach Dan Fitzgerald at the age of 67, from what was presumed to be a heart attack. The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review's John Blanchette wrote an excellent obit on Fitzgerald, calling him the "godfather not only of Gonzaga University's remarkable and unprecedented rise as a college basketball power, but of the game itself in Spokane." I'm curious to know how many younger hoopheads are aware of what Fitzgerald did for that program -- because most of the under-30 crowd, like myself, had their introduction to the Zags in the 1999 NCAA tournament, falling in love with the team in its run to the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed. Fitzgerald had stepped down just two years earlier, with a career record of 252-171. He was responsible for the Zags making their first-ever NCAA tournament in 1995, and he had assembled a staff of three future-star assistants: Dan Monson (who left for Minnesota after the '99 run), Mark Few (who took over in 2000) and Bill Grier (now head coach at San Diego).

"[Fitzgerald] put down the foundation for all of us," Monson said. "Without him, Mark, Billy and I would never have come to Gonzaga. When you talk about the 'Zag way,' the tradition, the Kennel Club, the way Gonzaga acts and plays, he was the foundation of all that. He was the cornerstone of Gonzaga basketball. He'll always be the founding father."

Next three: 1/21 vs. Pepperdine, 1/23 vs. Loyola Marymount, 1/28 at Santa Clara
14Georgetown Hoyas
Last Week: --
My Monday column on the Big East covered Chris Wright's status as a bellwether for the Hoyas. Coming into Wednesday's game at Pitt, they were 12-0 when their junior point guard scored in double-figures, and 1-3 when he didn't. After a poor showing in a loss to Villanova, Wright exploded for 27 points against the Panthers, and, guess what? Georgetown left the Petersen Events Center with its first win over a top-10 team this season. Of Wright, Pitt's Jermaine Dixon said, "He's a quick guy. And when someone can shoot the three as well as he can, and drive the basket as well as he can, and finish over 6-10 guys, it's definitely hard to guard somebody like that." Dixon didn't mention anything about Wright's ability to dance, but don't doubt that, either -- his skills are showcased in this YouTube.

Next three: 1/23 vs. Rutgers, 1/25 at Syracuse, 1/30 vs. Duke
15Temple Owls
Last Week: 15 bracketologist Andy Glockner gave the Owls a No. 4 seed (along with BYU, West Virginia and Wisconsin) in his latest Field of 65 on Monday, as did the folks at the Bracketology 101 blog. Only twice in Temple's history has it had a higher seed: in 1988, when it was a No. 1 in the East and lost to Duke in the Elite Eight; and in 2000, when it was a No. 2 in the East but lost to Seton Hall in the second round. When the Owls were using John Chaney's Rover zone, they frequently outperformed their seed, going to the Elite Eight as a No. 11 (2001), a No. 6 (1999), a No. 7 (1993) and a No. 10 (1991). Fran Dunphy's team is playing great man defense now, and the only opponent they've allowed to score more than 1.09 PPP is Kansas.

Next three: 1/23 at Fordham, 1/27 at Charlotte, 1/30 vs. La Salle
16Wisconsin Badgers
Last Week: 10
The Badgers have seen a huge drop-off in offensive quality since losing star forward Jon Leuer to a broken wrist on Jan. 9, but they remain ranked because of their resume (wins over Maryland, Duke, Marquette, Ohio State and Purdue) and the fact that they've gutted out victories over Northwestern and Michigan to remain in second place in the Big Ten. The scoring issue, as the Capital Times' Rob Schultz astutely pointed out on Wednesday, is lack of post touches, which are the most important part of UW's swing offense. Leuer, a 6-10 forward with a strong mid-range game, had been taking a team-high 30.7 percent of the Badgers' shots when he was on the floor, and with him in the lineup for their first four Big Ten games, only 41.2 percent of their shots were from outside the arc. With Leuer out, 50.3 percent of UW's shots have been treys. That's not the ideal approach when your team ranks 177th nationally in three-point percentage, but without another decent scoring option on the interior, they've had to resort to long-range offense.

Next three: 1/24 vs. Penn State, 1/28 at Purdue, 2/2 vs. Michigan State

The rest: 17. Georgia Tech. 18. Purdue. 19. West Virginia. 20. Mississippi State. 21. Vanderbilt. 22. Butler. 23. Virginia. 24. Arizona State. 25. Wake Forest. 26. Ole Miss. 27. UAB. 28. Northern Iowa. 29. St. Mary's. 30. Siena. 31. Wichita State. 32. New Mexico.

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

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