In case you haven't noticed, the calendar has officially turned to February. This is the time of year when teams should be fine-tuning their engines -- change the oil, replace the spark plugs, that sort of thing -- in preparation for the long stretch run.
Unfortunately, there are a few teams out there who used to be headed in the right direction but have recently run into speed bumps and pot holes. Their alignments have been compromised. Even worse, the wheels are starting to come off.
As your resident Hoop Thinking mechanic, I have taken a closer look at five such teams and am ready to present my findings. Just how bad is the damage? And can they get back in the fast lane? Let's just say I hope this quintet has decent auto insurance:
• If Wisconsin can get
• Speaking of Purdue, the Boilermakers got a huge lift last week when sophomore point guard
• I guess it's time to reassess the argument that Duke is a good defensive team. The Blue Devils allowed Georgetown to shoot a stunning 71.7 percent from the field on Saturday. You can attribute that to Georgetown being a great team (which they are), but remember, N.C. State shot 58.2 percent when it beat Duke on Jan. 20. I'd say that is major cause for concern, no?
• It surprised me that New Mexico was able to knock off BYU without a big game from
• I know it was a "big upset" when San Francisco, which came in with a 7-14 record, knocked off mighty Gonzaga and snapped the Bulldogs' 27-game West Coast Conference winning streak. But to me, the bigger surprise was that something like this hadn't happened sooner. Every game Gonzaga plays in that league is the Super Bowl for its opponent. It is very, very difficult to get emotionally amped each time out, yet for a long time the Zags have managed to do it.
• The worst thing that could have happened for
• This week's
• The Big East has the most teams ranked in the top 16 of the RPI with four. The Big Ten is tied for second with three. You know who it's tied with? The Atlantic 10, that's who.
• In the first half of Sunday's game at Tennessee, Florida attempted 20 two-point shots and six three-point shots, and they led by six at the half. In the second half, they shot 12 two-point shots and 10 three-point shots (making one), and they ended up losing the game by one. I don't think that's a coincidence.
• So let me get this straight: Illinois starts losing a bunch of games, and
• At a time when very few teams have genuine depth, Missouri continues to get more production from its bench than just about anyone. The Tigers actually had more reserves score in double figures than starters during their home win over Oklahoma State on Saturday.
• I don't know what is more befuddling, the fact that
• Would I be too much of a killjoy if I pointed out that South Carolina point guard
• By the way, how great was it to see
• Michigan State is going to be a major factor in the hunt for a No. 1 seed. If the Spartans win the Big Ten by three games and then win the tournament, it's going to be hard to keep them off the top line.
• Siena scores a respectable-but-not-sensational 76.3 points per game, and they are ranked 280th in the country in three-point shooting. Yet their point guard,
• I gotta tell ya, I think it was a very smart piece of scheduling on the part of Georgia Tech coach
• I guess I'm the last one to say this, but I'm starting to believe North Carolina might really miss out on the NCAA tournament. Losing at home by 15 to Virginia? This is not a good start towards being named the program of the decade.
• Safe to say Washington State guard
• I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the difference between emotion and intensity. Nobody exemplifies that balance better than Kansas State, which leads the nation in free throw attempts (intensity) but is ranked fifth nationally in personal fouls (emotion). But my goodness can those guys pursue the ball.
• Now do you understand why I've had such a man-crush all season on Baylor? If you'll recall, I rated them
• I think you can also see why
• Arizona senior guard
• Anyone else notice that William & Mary is tied for fifth in the CAA? Doesn't sound like an at-large team to me.
1. Kansas (2)
Dropped out of my rankings: Clemson (17), Connecticut (19), Ole Miss (20), Northwestern (21), Temple (22), Oklahoma State (25).
I was inclined to drop Duke much further because of how soundly it was beaten by Georgetown, but that didn't seem right considering Georgetown was at home and I had the Hoyas ranked ahead of the Blue Devils going in. Even though Kansas State lost at home to the Jayhawks, I wanted to reward the Wildcats for playing so tough, and also for beating a very good Baylor team in Waco. As for Texas, who Baylor knocked off over the weekend, the Longhorns are in danger of following UConn and North Carolina right out of the polls. But as I wrote at the top, I still believe they will get themselves back on track.
Vanderbilt fans have been on me all season for not ranking their Commodores, so I hope I made it up to them by installing their team at No. 15 on the basis of the win at Tennessee. I probably left the Vols higher than they should be, but I don't think you can make a strong case that the teams ranked behind them are definitely better. You'll also notice that I left Wisconsin ahead of Purdue, even though the Boilermakers beat the Badgers last week. That game was in West Lafayette, and it was darn close. From a rankings standpoint, I call that a wash.
Meanwhile, Xavier is very quietly sitting alone in first place atop a very good Atlantic 10. It's time the Musketeers got a little AP love. I'm guessing that some other teams will notch impressive wins this week that will knock Cornell off my ballot, but the Big Red delivered a rankings-worthy statement against Harvard over the weekend.
The list of teams I considered but left out leads with Clemson, Missouri, UAB and Northern Iowa. UNI gets Wichita State and Southern Illinois at home this week. If the Panthers can win those two, they could very well be back on my ballot next week.