Wednesday November 26th, 2008

The rankings are being served up a day early this week, to beat the Thanksgiving Internet Exodus. If we waited 'til the Maui Invitational was over, there might be a new No. 1, but no one would be around to read about it. Thus we begin, for the second straight week, with the Heels:

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
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1North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Week: 1
Another way in which the Heels are better than your team (in addition to having more NBA players and being a near-lock to win a national title): Tennis legend Jimmy Connors was so amped to see them that he got arrested outside of one of their cupcake non-conference games. Connors was booked last week before UNC's win over UC-Santa Barbara for "refusing to comply with an order to leave an area near the entrance of the Thunderdome following a confrontation," according to the cops. UConn, if you're reading this: Routing Wisconsin and Miami to win the Paradise Jam is impressive, but if you want to take over the top spot, you're going to have to convince Bjorn Borg -- the dude who took over the No. 1 ranking from Connors in 1977 and '79 -- to create an incident on your next road trip. That, or just hope Carolina gets upset by Michigan State next week.
Next three: 11/26 vs. UNC in Maui Invitational, 11/30 vs. UNC-Asheville, 12/3 at Michigan State
 
2Connecticut Huskies
Last Week: 3
The Huskies have led the nation in blocked shots for so long -- seven straight seasons, as you hear on every telecast -- that sometimes you forget that coach Jim Calhoun's defensive forte was once the 2-2-1 three-quarter-court press. He sells a $39.99 DVD on the press, which, according to the retailer, "allows your team to press and create turnovers without giving up defensive position!" It was worth at least 40 bucks against Wisconsin in the finals of the Paradise Jam, where UConn forced 22 turnovers and ran away with the game, 76-57. Huskies guard Jerome Dyson told the Hartford Courant that they felt the Badgers "only had one guy who could handle the ball." That guy was point guard Trevon Hughes, and even he was flustered, giving the ball away five times.
Next three: 11/29 vs. Bryant, 12/1 vs. Delaware State, 12/4 at Buffalo
 
3Louisville Cardinals
Last Week: 2
In June, recruiting expert Clark Francis told SI.com's Seth Davis that the freshman class of 2008 was "the worst class I've seen in the 25 years I've been doing this." Francis' comment has held up, for the most part, in the first few weeks of this season. USC's DeMar DeRozan, a.k.a. "THE BEAST IN THA STREETZ!!" was the guy who I thought would be the best rookie, but he's averaging single-figures and has yet to even hit a three. B.J. Mullens has been disappointing at Ohio State. Jrue Holiday has yet to have a breakout game for UCLA. The star rook, by far, has been Louisville's Samardo Samuels, who's averaging 21.0 points (on 77.3 percent shooting) through the Cards' first two games. Granted, these games were against Morehead State and South Alabama, but 77.3 percent is still 77.3 percent. The kid is a beast in the post.
Next three: 11/30 vs. Western Kentucky, 12/6 vs. Indiana State, 12/7 vs. Ohio
 
4Duke Blue Devils
Last Week: 5
Every time Duke comes to Madison Square Garden, as it did last week for the 2K Sports Classic, I'm amazed by the number of fans wanting cell-phone pictures of the Blue Devils during warmups. There was no star like J.J. Redick around, but gawkers still clogged up the aisles around press row to take their photos. There are some cultures, apparently, in which a person can gain enhanced status by having an iPhone background image of Greg Paulus. Of course there was also a guy, seated about 10 feet away from me, who yelled "You suck, Paulus!" repeatedly during the game, unfairly neglecting to show the senior point guard any sympathy for playing hurt (he had a nasty shooting-hand injury) or losing his starting role to Nolan Smith. All of this, I guess, is appropriate for a Duke neutral-site game, where the worshippers and the haters collide.
Next three: 11/28 vs. Duquense, 12/2 at Purdue, 12/6 at Michigan
 
5Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last Week: 8
One lame thing that people like to say when they've just seen a really good college basketball game in November or December is "that felt like an NCAA tournament atmosphere." I suspect a bunch of people were saying that after the Irish beat Texas in a beautifully played semifinal of the Maui Invitational on Tuesday -- one that included Luke Harangody banking in a three from just inside halfcourt to beat a shot-clock buzzer, and finishing the game with 29 points and 13 boards. It's a weird thing how, in a league that's so incredibly loaded this year, he has no real competition for Big East Player of the Year. Who else is going to win it when 'Gody puts up 20 and 10 every night? Jonny Flynn at Syracuse is clutch, but his numbers don't come close. Hasheem Thabeet isn't consistent enough offensively. Pitt's big three of DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields sort of cancel each other out, and the same thing is true at Marquette. Louisville's Terrence Williams is phenomenal but isn't a huge scorer. So it's Gody again, like it or not.
Next three: 11/26 vs. UNC in Maui Invitational, 11/30 vs. Furman, 12/2 vs. South Dakota
 
6Pittsburgh Panthers
Last Week: 6
DeJuan Blair sat out of Tuesday's win over Belmont with "right knee swelling." His problem may have been mixing dancing with basketball. After going for 27 points and 18 boards in just 21 minutes against Indiana (Pa.) U on Saturday, Blair described the game thusly: "Today was a party, I guess, and I was the only one dancing." I'm curious to see how much dancing Blair does against Mississippi State swat-meister Jarvis Varnado in the Legends Classic title game (if the Bulldogs can get there). I call that matchup Blocks vs. Backside.
Next three: 11/28 vs. Texas Tech in Legends Classic, 11/29 TBA in Legends Classic, 12/3 vs. Duquesne
 
7Purdue Boilermakers
Last Week: 7
When we checked in on the Boilers in October, we said that 6-10 center JaJuan Johnson looked like their most improved player. Specifically, we said that Johnson "was more confidently executing the kind of quick, explosive offensive moves that could make him a double-digit scorer. Johnson averaged 5.4 points last year and has nearly doubled that in Purdue's first four games, averaging 10.5. My only concern, now, is about his rebounding. Why is a 6-10 guy averaging only 2.8 boards per game? Why are five shorter guys on his own team, three of them guards, averaging more boards than he is? A showdown with Oklahoma beast Blake Griffin looms in the NIT Season Tip-Off, and given that Griffin averages something like 43 rebounds a game, Johnson could get manhandled.
Next three: 11/26 vs. Boston College in NIT Season Tip-Off, 11/27 vs. TBA in NIT Season Tip-Off, 12/2 vs. Duke
 
8Tennessee Volunteers
Last Week: 11
When Vols point guard Bobby Maze's version of Young Jeezy's I Put On hit YouTube -- and was covered extensively by Mr. Gary Parrish and a number of blogs -- I had a suspicion that it would be all he was known for in Knoxville. As in, he'd turn out to be That Mediocre Juco Point Guard Who Did An Internet Rap, but wouldn't help the Vols be a top-10 team. I was wrong. Through three games, B-Maze has proved he's not only a guy who can rhyme Cameron Tatum with potatoes, but also a floor general who can put up a 6.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Or Put On a 6.3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Either way, it's good.
Next three: 11/27 vs. Siena in Old Spice Classic, TBA in Old Spice Classic
 
9Michigan State Spartans
Last Week: 12
Does any other major-conference powerhouse have a non-league schedule that rivals Michigan State's? The Spartans, who kick off the Old Spice Classic against Maryland on Thursday, will likely face Gonzaga and then either Tennessee or Georgetown in that tournament ... and they're also guaranteed to face North Carolina, Kansas and Texas before season's end. I couldn't find another school in the rankings with six ranked opponents outside of conference play. Texas, with five, was the runner-up in the Insane Scheduling Standings: The point-guard-less 'Horns have to play Notre Dame, UCLA, Villanova, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Arkansas on top of their Big 12 slate.
Next three: 11/27 vs. Maryland in Old Spice Classic, TBA in Old Spice Classic
 
10Oklahoma Sooners
Last Week: 15
I was happy that the Sooners drew UAB in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off, for two reasons:

1) It gives me an excuse to bring up the end of that Blazers-Wildcats game. Awful Announcing titled its post on the affair "Arizona Could Be The Dumbest Team Ever," and after seeing Kyle Fogg and Jamelle Horne intentionally foul UAB on separate occassions with the score tied 71-71 in the final seconds, believing the Blazers had the lead, there's no way you can call that headline an exaggeration. It's essentially the Sarah Palin Turkey Pardon of basketball videos.

2) Because I think UAB actually has a shot at winning the whole tournament, despite being a total afterthought in the bracket. If that happens, well, you heard it here first.
Next three: 11/26 vs. UAB in NIT Season Tip-Off, 11/27 vs. TBA in NIT Season Tip-Off, 12/4 vs. USC

 
11Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last Week: 13
An NBA scout (from an Ian Thomsen column) on why Tyler Hansbrough won't get selected higher than the Zags' Austin Daye in the upcoming draft: "[Hansbrough] won't get taken in front of Daye because people will see Hansbrough as a finished product -- albeit a very good one -- who doesn't have the upside and skill set of someone like Daye. An NBA team might win more games with Tyler six years from now than with Daye, who is thin and soft as butter. But you know how we all think: We all want upside. That's the nature of our game right now."

Daye, despite being butter-soft, is listed at No. 4 in DraftExpress' 2010 mock, while Hansbrough is listed at No. 21 in 2009. Wooden Awards don't buy you much draft stock these days.
Next three: 11/27 vs. Oklahoma State in Old Spice Classic, TBA in Old Spice Classic

 
12Marquette Golden Eagles
Last Week: 14
'Twas weird to look at the national leading scorers on Tuesday morning and see the Golden Eagles' Wesley Matthews at No. 2, right behind Davidson's Steph Curry and his 35 points per game. Matthews averaged just 11.3 points per game last year but jumped to 26.0 through Marquette's first three games. What's his secret? As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Todd Rosiak writes, "the key has been a change in offensive systems. Gone are the thick playbook and sometimes complex schemes favored by Tom Crean, replaced by the motion-based offense favored by Buzz Williams. No longer are Matthews & Co. expected to occupy spots on the floor dependent upon where Crean placed them, and resetting if something goes awry. ... Instead, players are now being asked to move and cut based mostly on reads and instinct."

Matthews, we take it, is an instinctual guy.

Next three: 11/28 vs. Northern Iowa, 11/29 vs. Dayton, 12/2 vs. Central Michigan

 
13Xavier Musketeers
Last Week: NR
Dante Jackson's halfcourt buzzer-beater to sink Virginia Tech in the Puerto Rico Classic was the shot of the year so far ... but it was hardly the first time the Hokies have had their hearts broken at the buzzer. Seth Greenberg may be the most cursed coach in America, judging by this list of YouTubes:
  • Nov. 12, 2005: The infamous "own-goal" tip-in creates an upset loss to Bowling Green
  • Dec. 5, 2005: Duke's Sean Dockery does the exact same thing Jackson did, and the Hokies cry.
  • Dec. 23, 2007: Wake Forest's Ish Smith lulls the Hokies to sleep, then beats the buzzer
  • March 15, 2008: Tyler Hansbrough sinks game-winner from the baseline in the ACC tournament, invents Psychotic Celebration Dance at Hokies' expense
    Next three: 11/29 vs. Miami (Ohio), 12/3 vs. Auburn, 12/10 vs. Ohio
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    14Davidson Wildcats
    Last Week: NR
    Jimmy Patsos is the frontrunner for Power Rankings Coach of the Year, which is awarded based on one's ability to produce absurd news stories at a high volume. Earlier this season the Loyola (Md.) coach pulled a Ricky Byrdsong and sat in the stands during a loss to Cornell, as a reaction to a technical foul and a perceived threat that he might be ejected if he said anything further. ("It was a strange situation," he said then.) Patsos actually topped that stunt on Tuesday, by having his team hold Davidson's Stephen Curry, the national scoring leader, to zero points by double-teaming him at all times. Like, not just when he had the ball, but AT ALL TIMES, which led to Curry literally standing in the corner of the court while his teammates played 4-on-3 and pulled off a 30-point victory. "We had to play against an NBA player tonight," Patsos said. "Anybody else ever hold him scoreless? I'm a history major. They're going to remember that we held him scoreless or we lost by 30?" Davidson coach Bob McKillop was not amused, saying, "It seemed to me they were willing to risk the game at the expense of locking Steph up. When you put two people on somebody and you do it for 30 minutes and at the end of the game, you have to wonder what the reasons for that are."
    Next three: 12/6 vs. N.C. State, 12/9 vs. West Virginia in Jimmy V Classic, 12/13 vs. Chattanooga
     
    15Syracuse Orange
    Last Week: NR
    From a commenter on 'Cuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician, after point guard Jonny Flynn hit two clutch threes to send the CBE Classic final against Kansas into overtime: "Flynn has big balls. Huge ones. Bigger than any elephant. If an elephant has big balls. I don't know." Either way, Flynn looked solid in the first Orange-Jayhawks meeting since the 2003 national title game, correctly convincing coach Jim Boeheim to use plenty of man-to-man D, and outplaying Sherron Collins down the stretch to engineer an 89-81 win. Will the 'Cuse make this ranking look silly by losing to, say, Cornell next week? Maybe. But for now, they deserve it.
    Next three: 11/28 vs. Virginia, 12/1 vs. Colgate, 12/3 vs. Cornell
     
    16Texas Longhorns
    Last Week: 10
    What happened to Dogus Balbay? There was some thought that the Turkish redshirt freshman would take over the point-guard position vacated by D.J. Augustin ... but Balbay is averaging just 1.0 points and 0.7 assists in three games thus far, while junior Justin Mason, who's not a true point, has become the 'Horns' main assist guy, averaging 4.8. Texas coach Rick Barnes once described Balbay as a "roadrunner" but has said he's now playing too timidly, taking just five shots in 48 minutes on the floor and not creating much offense for his teammates. With the hellacious non-conference schedule the 'Horns have planned, there isn't much freedom to ease Balbay into the position. I wouldn't be surprised if Mason remains the answer for the long haul.
    Next three: 11/26 vs. Oregon in Maui Invitational, 11/30 vs. Rice, 12/4 vs. UCLA

    On the cusp: UCLA (purgatory after that Michigan game), Georgetown, Memphis, Baylor, Arizona State, UAB, Wake Forest, Villanova, St. Mary's, Wisconsin, and all the other teams you were considering sending e-mails about to say, "BECAUSE YOU LEFT [my team] OUT, YOU LACK ANY CAPACITY TO EVALUATE BASKETBALL." (If you still feel like sending e-mail, I'm here.)

    Got a different view than Luke?

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