You think you watch a lot of games? Finch watches games in his sleep. No, really -- his DirecTV feed is piped into his eyelids.
You think you travel a lot? Puh-leeze. Finch's frequent flyer miles have frequent flyer miles. When he walks into any hotel, the bellhops shout his name, like the bartenders used to do when Norm walked into Cheers.
Finch, you see, is an NBA scout. Only, he's not just one scout, he's several scouts rolled into one, an amalgam of conversations I've had with five NBA scouts over the last week to get their assessments of 56 college players who could be available in this year's NBA draft. Since NBA scouts are not permitted to be quoted talking about underclassmen, I granted my scouts anonymity so they could be candid. Then I combined their quotes together to sound like it came from one person, an invented character named Finch.
The name Finch is the creation of my highbrow colleague Alex Wolff, who affixed it to an anonymous NBA scout whom Alex followed several years ago for a story he wrote in SI. Alex called his scout Finch because that was Scout's surname in
I've done this exercise for several years now, but this year it was easier to develop a consensus. That reflects Finch's general opinion that this is a weak draft with respect to both the collegians and the European imports. Most of Finch's opinions boiled down to, "Yeah, I like him OK, but he's not gonna be our franchise player." So keep that in mind as you read through these reports.
(Incidentally, my weekly AP ballot plus follows the quotes from my scouts.)
Allow me, then, to present the Book of Finch (in alphabetical order). He really, really knows what he's talking about. Just ask him.
1. Texas (2)
Dropped out: Wichita State (24)
This is the least that I've had to alter my ballot in quite some time, but it's also the first time in a while that I have made a change at the top. There is a very strong case to be made that Ohio State should still be ranked No. 1, despite the loss at Wisconsin. I have to admit I went with Texas partly out of a desire to shake things up a little. But the main reason is I believe Texas is playing the best basketball right now by a smidge. That doesn't mean the Longhorns are the best team or will win the NCAA title, but right now they're playing the best.
By the time you read this, the AP poll will have been released, but I would guess in advance that each of my top four teams will garner some first-place votes. You could certainly make a strong case for any of them. At any rate, they are solidifying their chances at a No. 1 seed, and that is far more important than being ranked No. 1.
I'm probably ranking Villanova too high after their two losses last week. Yes, the Wildcats lost to Rutgers, but it was on the road and was decided by a freak four-point play. And yes, they lost to Pitt at home, but the Panthers were ranked higher, and 'Nova had to play the game without Corey Stokes. (Then again, Pitt was playing without Ashton Gibbs, so that was a wash.) If Villanova loses at either DePaul or Seton Hall, I'll make sure to lay the hammer on 'em next week.
I got several questions on Twitter this weekend asking if I was going to drop Kentucky from my rankings. You have to rank them behind Vanderbilt, but dropping them out would be too harsh. I seem to have a higher opinion of Kentucky than most people. Everyone harps on their road woes, but every one of Kentucky's SEC road losses have been close. (Three of the five came down to the final possession.) I don't know if this team will ever get over the hump, but it's darn close.
I don't know if my fellow voters are going to be as forgiving as I am of Utah State, which lost its first WAC game of the season at Idaho last Wednesday. Maybe it's just because of
I thought about dropping out Texas A&M, but I figured that wouldn't be right after the Aggies won two road games last week -- in overtime at Colorado, and by three points at Texas Tech. That left Wichita State as my only dropout of the week thanks to its loss to Southern Illinois. It came down to Xavier and St. John's for that last spot, but when I compared their resumes it wasn't as close as I anticipated. St. John's has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, including three ranked in my top ten -- Duke, Notre Dame and Georgetown. Plus, St. John's won on Sunday at Cincinnati, where Xavier got blitzed by 20 on January 6.