|NCAA Basketball Power Rankings|
Illinois Fighting Illini (17-0)
If you think life as No. 1 is all peaches and cream, think again. Exhibit 1: Dee Brown says he has the feeling that, "Our fans want to see us lose." Exhibit 2: To avoid distraction, Bruce Weber turns down ESPN's request to film The Season in Champaign. Exhibit 3: Weber, upset that his team lost first-place votes in the latest AP poll, says after Wednesday's rout of Penn State: "I don't think anyone respects us. They didn't think we could beat Wake. It's been less than two weeks since we beat [Cincinnati] by 20 and they've gone on and killed people." Weber can take solace that I'm sticking with the U of I and not jumping (yet) on the bandwagon of my No. 2 team ...
Next two: at Northwestern 1/15, vs. Iowa 1/20.
North Carolina Tar Heels (14-1)
It's good to see that the fun police have deemed the adverb "freakin'," as used within a quote, fit for print. It appeared in both the AP game story and the Charlotte Observer from Wednesday's UNC-Georgia Tech game, which I attended. See, afterward, Roy Williams told reporters that "Georgia Tech is a big-time freakin' team," a PG-13 quote that was not diluted to a G rating. But this is all pretty trivial. Everyone knows the big-time freakin' team in the ACC isn't the Jackets, it's the squad that Williams is coaching. And the big-time freakin' squad he used to coach? It's coming up next in the rankings.
Next two: at Wake Forest 1/15, at Clemson 1/19.
Kansas Jayhawks (12-0)
A call to arms for Jayhawk fans (or vigilantes): Help find the person who burglarized the Langford residence in Fort Worth, Texas, on Sunday while Keith's mother, Charlene Taylor, was in Lexington, Ky., watching her son beat the Wildcats. Among the stolen goods were two of Langford's Final Four rings and two Big 12 championship rings. This was a crime committed by someone with inside information, who knew Taylor was going to be on the road that day. Shameful. The number for Crime Stoppers in Fort Worth is (817) 469-TIPS.
Next two: at Colorado 1/15, vs. Nebraska 1/19.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons (14-1)
When did wrist-wraps become the new "in" injured look, replacing the Shaq-backed Icy Hot Sleeve? Because Wake's Justin Gray and UNC's Raymond Felton, both of whom play with wrapped-up wrists, are enjoying unprecedented shooting success. Gray, who suffered his "injury" on Jan. 2 against Virginia, hit 11 3-pointers and scored 55 points in his next two games. And Felton, the No. 2-ranked 3-point shooter in the ACC, has made 17 of his past 24 attempts from beyond the arc despite his athletic-tape mummification. The dinged-up guards will duel on Saturday in Winston-Salem.
Next two: vs. North Carolina 1/15, at Florida State 1/18.
Oklahoma St. Cowboys (12-1)
Tuesday's win over Missouri was the 767th victory of Eddie Sutton's career, tying him on the all-time win list with his legendary mentor, the late Henry Iba, for whom the Cowboys' arena is partly named. Before walking off the court, Sutton pointed a finger in the direction of the heavens as a tribute to one of the game's greatest coaches. Sutton now needs 19 more wins to move into the top five and catch Lefty Driesell ... so if Oklahoma State can just win its remaining 14 regular-season games, then roll through the Big 12 tourney, he'll have that milestone taken care of by the time the Cowboys reach the Sweet 16.
Next two: vs. Iowa State 1/15, at Texas 1/17.
Syracuse Orange (16-1)
The Syracuse Post Standard did a lengthy interview with Gerry McNamara on his shooting philosophy, as the Orange's gunner is six 3s away from breaking Preston Shumpert's school record of 249. G-Mac's best (and most boastful) quote, when asked about how far his range extends: "I think, comfort-wise, I could shoot it from half court. Past half court is when I change the mechanics of the shot. I'm not saying I'll pull up for a shot from half court regularly. ... But anything past half court is a stretch."
Next two: at Providence 1/15, vs. Georgetown 1/18.
Duke Blue Devils (11-0)
Say what you will about the undefeated Dukies. Until Shavlik Randolph returns (and that should be soon) they're as thin as Kate Moss' animated likeness on Family Guy, but they're much, much better off than the team they beat Thursday night, N.C. State. These two postgame quotes paint extremely contrasting pictures of two programs that were on similar footing in the preseason: 1) Coach K: "I really love my team and they are so much fun. They're not [Christian] Laettner or [Elton] Brand, but they make plays." 2) Herb Sendek: "I think our team is going through a tough stretch. I think we're all frustrated."
Next two: vs. Virginia 1/16, at Miami 1/19.
Boston College Eagles (13-0)
Unlike G-Mac, the undefeated Eagles can't shoot worth a lick from long range -- they're last in the Big East at 29.9 percent. Their frontcourt, however, is only getting stronger. Craig Smith and Jared Dudley are known commodities, but the emergence of freshman Sean Williams could give BC another boost. Williams was 7-of-7 from the floor in a win over Providence on Sunday, scoring 16 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and drawing this lofty comparison from Friars coach Tim Welsh: "He's kind of got an [Emeka] Okafor look to him." This is no stretch; both Williams and Okafor are 6-foot-10 post products out of Houston.
Next two: at West Virginia 1/16, vs. Villanova 1/19.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (11-3)
Now we enter the two-month period in which the Zags, a prominent national squad during the non-conference season, slips back into the relative obscurity of the West Coast Conference. SI.com's Seth Davis pointed out earlier this week that WCC is stronger than ever this season, but Gonzaga was punished severely for its loss to upstart St. Mary's on Sunday, falling to No. 16 in the AP poll and No. 20 in the Coaches' -- well behind three teams it has beaten: Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech and Washington.
Next two: vs. Pepperdine 1/15, at San Francisco 1/20.
Texas A&M Aggies (12-1)
Soooo ... Billy Gillispie's Aggies, who started the season 11-0 but received very little respect -- because they had merely beaten two lesser A&Ms (Prairie View and Alabama), an A&T (North Carolina) and, for icing on the cupcake, a Permian Basin (Texas) -- weren't a fraud after all. Not even close. A&M (Texas, that is) hung with Kansas on the road last week and on Tuesday pulled off one of the biggest wins in school history, knocking off No. 10 Texas in College Station. This is an Aggies team, mind you, that did not win a single Big 12 game in 2003-04. Memo to the engraver of the Big 12 Coach of the Year award: that's Gillispie, three Is, one E, at the end.
Next two: at Texas Tech 1/15, vs. Oklahoma 1/18.
Washington Huskies (14-2)
Washington assistant coach -- and former UCLA point guard -- Cameron Dollar went on a locker-room tirade after the Huskies lost to the Bruins last Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. An overturned chalkboard, flying Gatorade bottles and a multitude of stinging words were used to make his point: The Huskies should not have yielded 95 points to Dollar's alma mater. It was too late to fix what happened in Westwood, but UW took the defensive message to heart on Thursday night in a win over Oregon, holding the Ducks to just 56 points, and their leading scorer, Aaron Brooks, to just nine before he fouled out.
Next two: vs. Oregon State 1/15, vs. Washington State 1/23.
Kentucky Wildcats (11-2)
While freshman Rajon Rondo was dropping a career-high 18 points on Vanderbilt on Wednesday, fellow McDonald's All-American Joe Crawford was looking for a way out. Crawford's transfer plan became public on Tuesday; the former Detroit Renaissance star was upset over his lack of playing time. His list of possible destinations includes Michigan State, Illinois, Arizona and Oklahoma, but coach Tubby Smith has yet to release Crawford from his national letter of intent. If Smith stands firm and doesn't give the OK, Crawford could lose an extra year of eligibility -- on top of the normal one -- for transferring.
Next two: at Georgia 1/15, at Ole Miss 1/19.
Oklahoma Sooners (12-2)
If 100 college basketball fans were asked this question: If you were building a team from scratch and had a choice of the following two front lines, would you select UConn's Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva, or Oklahoma's Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout? ... I think 90 of them would choose the former duo. But when the Huskies visited Norman on Monday, it was Gray, not Boone or Villaneuva, who looked like the NBA-bound big man on the floor, scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Bookout added 11 points and seven boards in OU's 77-65 win, while Boone had just two points and three boards. Villanueva chipped in with 13 and 14, but couldn't make up for Boone's disappearance.
Next two: at Baylor 1/15, at Texas A&M 1/18.
Arizona Wildcats (12-3)
My feelings about keeping the Wildcats on this list are ambivalent -- they did go and lose to an average Stanford team -- but to be honest, I can't find any better candidates. If you, on the other hand, have strong feelings for Arizona, then I suggest you take the time to send someone a Salim Stoudamire e-postcard. I can't think of a better way to express your love.
Next two: vs. UCLA 1/15, at Oregon 1/20.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (11-3)
I think I've found a strong candidate for the season's Most Misleading Stat Line, put up by the Jackets' Luke Schenscher against UNC on Wednesday: 13 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Sounds solid, right? However, Schenscher failed to get position again and again on the defensive glass, allowing the Heels to grab 17 offensive rebounds in the first half alone. He was tentative on the other end, often opting to kick out offensive rebounds rather than look to make a post move. One first-half stretch was especially harsh: With 9:46 left and the Jackets trailing 21-8, Schenscher let Sean May streak by him on a secondary break for a layup; shooting free throws 16 seconds later, the big Aussie received some harsh words from Jarrett Jack for the defensive lapse while the UNC student section chanted "Carrot Top."
Next two: at N.C. State 1/16, vs. Virginia Tech 1/22.
George Washington Colonials (11-2)
A hearty welcome back to the Colonials, who edged out Michigan State for the final slot, for the simple reason that they beat the Spartans. Easy enough. Duquense coach Danny Nee, who was quoted in the 16-hole of the Power Rankings back in December, returns to justify my decision. "I'm almost positive [GW is] a top-10 or top-15 team," Nee told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after the Colonials downed his Dukes on Jan. 8. "They're going to win a lot of games and they have a chance to do something special later on in the year."
Next two: vs. UMass 1/15, at La Salle 1/19.
Dropped out: Iowa, Texas, Arkansas.