Friday, January 11, 2008

The MTAC Power 16

A week goes by and again, nothing really changes at the top. We almost did, with North Carolina escaping at Clemson in OT, but it's not like Clemson is Appalachian State. You had the game of the week in Knoxville Wednesday night as Tennessee outlasted Ole Miss on a Tyler Smith up and under with 4.2 seconds left. We also saw St. Louis set back offenses decades, scoring just 20 points in a loss to George Washington. When your leading scorer nets a whopping five points, that's usually not a good sign. Longtime University of Detroit Coach Perry Watson took an indefinite leave of absence, likely a victim of burnout. The saga of Arizona Coach Lute Olson and his marriage took another strange turn, as his wife has filed reconciliation papers. Meanwhile, his team, coached in the interim by Kevin O'Neill, lost twice in the past week without PG Jerryd Bayless and are now 10-5 and headed to Houston this weekend. The Cougars will be favored.

Team of the Week: Vanderbilt (16-0) - beat UMass 97-88, beat South Carolina 80-73. We've killed them for weeks, but at 16-0 and beating two legitimate teams in a row, I guess I have to buy into them for the time being. The one thing the Commodores have is star power. Both Shan Foster and AJ Ogilvy will be first team all SEC in '08. "Foster is the best player I've seen all year," said UMass coach Travis Ford. They are also getting great point guard play from Jermaine Beal. Last year, pretty much every time we named a team of the week, they would lose their next game. Vandy plays at desperate Kentucky Saturday.

#1 North Carolina (16-0, Last week #1) - won at #19 Clemson 90-88 OT, beat UNC-Asheville 93-81. It was a Wayne Ellington superstar performance at Clemson that kept the Heels undefeated. This was not a great week for the Heels as they struggled to put away a UNC-Asheville team as well after surviving the Tigers. For the first time this year, we've seen some vulnerabilities from UNC. If they are undone in the tournament, it will be on the defensive end, where they are just average at best. This Week: NC State, at Georgia Tech

#2 Kansas (15-0, #2) - won at Boston College 85-60, beat Loyola 90-60. We would have moved them up to #1 had BC not lost to Robert Morris mid-week. Kind of took some of the luster off that road win. Many experts, including ESPN's Andy Katz said the thrashing of BC was the most complete performance from any team this season. The real concern in Lawrence is the passive play of Wing Brandon Rush. Luckily, Sherron Collins is back 100%. Mario Chalmers (strained groin) will be back for the big road game at Nebraska. This Week: at Nebraska, Oklahoma

#3 Memphis (14-0, #3) - The Tigers have begun the stretch of games where they won't be the least bit tested. Conference USA is so weak, that really, the only chance Memphis has to lose is on the road at Houston. Until in-state rival Tennessee comes to town in a few weeks, we can just let them be. Worth mentioning is the unearthing of little used G Jeff Robinson. He has now become a part of the rotation after scoring 20 in 12 minutes against Siena. This Week: at Marshall, at Rice

#4 UCLA (15-1, #4) - Won at Cal 70-58, beat Washington 69-55. Ben Howland gets it. The next game is the most important game. He never overlooks the next team. It's a good thing, he has the big Washington State showdown Saturday and his squad dominated Washington. A concern though for Saturday: PG Darren Collison left Thursday's game with a hip injury and didn't return. The good news? Sixth man Russell Westbrook is good enough to hang with anyone. This Week: Washington State

#5 Washington State (14-0, #5) - Won at Washington 56-52, Won at USC 73-58. Wazzu is off to their best start in 91 years. In the midst of their brutal three game swing, but took the first two. The Cougars are really looking like a better version of last year's squad thanks to PF Aron Baynes. They did, however, receive a scare this week when reserve Stephen Sauls collapsed in practice Monday and was hospitalized. This Week: at UCLA, Oregon State

#6 Tennessee (14-1, #8) - beat Mississippi 85-83. After a nine day layoff, played an inspired performance against a tough Ole Miss club. We moved them up for two reasons: 1. Michigan State and Georgetown did not impress last week. 2. Have as much talent as any team in the country. Kansas and Memphis included. Tyler Smith's 21, 6, and 5 performance showed his untapped potential to go next to sharp-shooters Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith, versatile transfer JP Prince, and big man Wayne Chism. This Week: at South Carolina, Vanderbilt

#7 Michigan State (14-1, #6) - beat Minnesota 65-59, beat Purdue 78-75. A rather lackluster week for the Spartans who I was stroking big time in this space seven days ago. Today, I'm not so sure. There is no excuse for struggling with two below average teams at home, especially when you outrebound both clubs by 10 plus. Against Purdue, they shot 61% and needed a late Travis Walton jumper to win. Strange. This Week: at Iowa, Ohio State

#8 Georgetown (12-1, #6) - Won at Rutgers 58-46, won at Depaul 76-60. Two more snoozer wins over sub par competition. However, both were on the road. The Depaul game marked the awakening of big Roy Hibbert who had been in the witness protection program after averaging a measly eight points per game in his previous six contests. The guy to watch for on this team is Freshman Austin Freeman, who is a perfect fit for JT3's offense. This Week: Connecticut, at Pittsburgh

#9 Indiana (13-1, #10) - beat Michigan 78-64. Moved them ahead of Duke for one big reason: DJ White. His 21 point, 22 rebound performance at Michigan showed that he is finally playing up to his All-American potential in the post. Nobody can stop Eric Gordon on the perimeter. The Devils do not have the inside presence the Hoosiers do, and both teams have plenty of guys who can fill it up from outside. Speaking of Gordon, he gets his first shot to torch Bruce Weber and Illinois who we jilted last year. This Week: Illinois, at Minnesota

#10 Duke (12-1, #9) - beat Cornell 81-67, won at Temple 74-64. A sixteen day layoff had the Devils looking sloppy, but they still won both games with relative ease before heading into ACC play. Coach K has his best balance in years with five guys averaging in double figures, with PG Greg Paulus just behind at 9.1. They did receive bad news this week losing both C Brian Zoubek and G Martynas Pocius to injury. Zoubek was Duke's only true low post player, besides offensively challenged Lance Thomas. This Week: Virginia, at Florida State

#11 Texas (13-2, #11) - beat St. Mary's 81-62. At first glance, you gloss over the St. Mary's 19 point win, but you shouldn't. St. Mary's is an NCAA Tournament lock with quality players. The Horns dismantled them. You will see this team getting better each week now that Freshman PF Gary Johnson is fully entrenched in the rotation. He had 15 and six in 26 minutes in his second game back. He allows fellow PF Damion James the ability to face the basket and opens up more shots for AJ Abrams and DJ Augustine. Trust us, this is a team on the rise. This Week: at Missouri

#12 Texas A&M (14-1, #12) - beat LSU 79-53. While LSU is clearly down, it still counts as good non-conference win. Every game we get deeper into the season is an opportunity for stud Freshman DeAndre Jordan to grow. The real surprise this year for the Aggies has been the steady transition from All-American Acie Law to Donald Sloan at the point. Their non-conference schedule wasn't great, so we will see how they are now that the Big 12 season is beginning. This Week: Colorado, at Texas Tech.

#13 Vanderbilt (16-0, #16) - beat UMass 97-88, beat South Carolina 80-73. Our team of the week. Four of the next five are on the road, including trips to Mississippi and Tennessee. We will see what they are really made of. My guess? They come out 3-2. This Week: at Kentucky, at Tennessee

#14 Butler (15-1, NR) - beat Valparaiso 73-65, won at Loyola-IL 66-55, beat Wisconsin-Green Bay 74-65. You know, we really had no business overlooking the Bulldogs for the likes of Pittsburgh, Marquette, and Arizona. Butler can beat you with threes as they always do, but the difference this year is the inside play of Matt Howard. The 6-8 Freshman bypassed Indiana for Butler because it was a better fit for him. Howard has responded, averaging 12.9 ppg and 5.5 boards. This Week: UW-Milwaukee, at Cleveland State

#15 Mississippi (13-1, NR) - lost at Tennessee 85-83. How does a team play one game, lose, and move up in our ratings? Simple, we watched them play and came away very impressed. They have staying power too. They showed the ability to run with Tennessee, something not many teams can do. Freshman PG Chris Warren came in with little fan fare, yet is averaging 16 points per game. Dwayne Curtis and Kenny Williams are beasts on the glass, and Florida transfer David Huertas is a great glue guy. This Week: LSU, Florida

#16 Dayton (13-1, NR) - beat Rhode Island 92-83. We've been on the Flyers from day one, but they needed one more quality win to completely sell us. The pasting of Rhode Island did it. The next two weeks will prove a lot with games against UMass and Xavier. Brian Roberts will become a household name in March. Mark our words. This Week: at St. Louis, UMass.

On the outside, looking in:

Xavier - coming on strong, could replace Dayton next week as our top A-10 team.

Marquette - Shouldn't have to apologize for road loss to West Virginia.

Arizona State - put themselves in the conversation with the win over Arizona.

Pittsburgh - Gave them the spot last week out of the goodness of our hearts. Nice road win at South Florida.

Wisconsin - Right there in the conversation in the four seed line. 3-0 in the Big Ten after beating Illinois.

Falling...can they get up?

Arizona - Blame the Jerryd Bayless injury. They have lost two straight and are now 10-5.

Boston College - Losing at home to Kansas is one thing, losing to Robert Morris is another.

BYU - Looked like a top 15 team two weeks ago, but bad losses at Boise State and Wake Forest have changed our minds.

Syracuse - Losing SG Eric Devendorf for the season was a blow, but won six straight (against cupcakes) before bad loss at 7-8 Cincinnati.

USC - The OJ Mayo show has translated into an 0-3 start in the rugged Pac-10 where they currently reside in the basement.

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