Friday, January 18, 2008

The MTAC Power 16

The Week That Was: We were looking at the schedule for this past week and we figured a shakeup was inevitable. Thursday was a big day for big losses: As predicted last week, #7 Tennessee ripped #14 Vanderbilt in a game that was the lock of the year. Rapidly rising Louisville took apart #13 Marquette by 20, once again rendering the polls meaningless. Nobody will tell you Marquette is a better team right now than Rick Pitino's Cardinals. Arizona got their prayers answered Saturday as Freshman PG Jerryd Bayless returned to the lineup after missing three games to an ankle injury. Promptly, the Cats three game losing streak ended and Bayless scored 33 in their 15 point win at Houston. The bad news was it wasn't a conference game. Thursday's four point loss at Stanford was. Arizona now sits at 1-3 in a very tough Pac-10.

Other notables this week: Oklahoma's star Freshman and sure fire NBA player Blake Griffin sprained his knee five minutes into their loss at Kansas. He will miss at least four weeks......The Atlantic 10 continues to impress us and make us scratch our heads at the same time. Just when we think Xavier and Dayton distinguish themselves as 1 and 1A, they both have head scratching losses to Temple and UMass respectively. #21 Rhode Island has lost two of three including Thursday's
loss at St. Louis, the same team who seven days earlier scored 20 points in a game. There will be no more entertaining conference east of the Pac-10 than the A-10 this year.....Nobody knows it, but Drake is the class of the MVC at 16-1, 6-0.

The Power of Four: The ranks of the unbeaten were whittled down to three - Memphis, North Carolina, and Kansas. Vanderbilt, who this space predicted would lose this week (we just picked the second loss),
lost a double OT thriller at Kentucky before getting bounced again by Tennessee. In the biggest game of the week, Washington State was completely dominated by UCLA in Pauley. The score was deceiving as the Cougars nailed a crazy seven threes in the last minute ad a half. UCLA and the three unbeatens seem to be in a league of their own right now.

Team of the Week: Your Cleveland State Vikings (13-5). After beating Wright State on the road by 12 to move to 5-0 in the Horizon League, they returned home for the biggest game at the Wolstein Center in more than a decade. With over 5,000 fans in attendance,
The Vikings stunned #12 Butler 56-52 in a program defining win for Gary Waters. The crowd stormed the floor. Junior leader J'Nathan Bullock, who has been around for the lean years, couldn't hold back his exuberance. "This is the biggest victory so far in my collegiate career and we hope for many more. It was a beautiful feeling to have the students rush the floor and push us to victory." Said Waters: "What we're trying to do is establish a foundation. It [the win] will help people understand that there are some good things going on at Cleveland State." The Vikes will have their mettle tested right away. After second place Valparaiso visits Saturday, they hit the road for four straight against the Wisconsin (UWGB, UWM) and Chicago (Loyola, UIC) schools. FYI - last weeks team of the week was Vandy. They proceeded to lose two straight.

#1 Kansas (17-0, Last Week #2) - KU jumps to the #1 slot in our poll on the strength of two absolutely dominating performances at Nebraska (by 21) and against Oklahoma (by 30) at Allen Fieldhouse. The key was coach Bill Self calling out his star wing Brandon Rush for his passive play. Rush proceeded to put together his best two games of the season back to back. He had 19 against Nebraska (16 in the first half) and 16 against OU. "That's the last time he's going to say anything to me about being aggressive," Rush said after his 19 in Lincoln. Can anyone derail the Jayhawk express? Watch out for Saturday's game in Columbia. This Week: at Missouri, Iowa State

#2 North Carolina (18-0 #1) - Dropped back a notch after a third straight less than impressive performance in their escape job at Georgia Tech. While Tech has played Kansas and Indiana tough, they are a middling under .500 team. Tyler Hansbrough is so consistent. It seems like he goes for 25 and 12 every night and whenever they need a basket, he either gets it, or goes to the line where he shoots 80%. The problem is still on the defensive end. They can be scored upon by just about everyone. That is the one major difference between KU, UCLA, and the Heels. This Week: Maryland, at Miami

#3 Memphis (16-0, #3) - It's been two weeks of the Conference USA season and we are already bored. Another night, another 25 point win. There really isn't much to talk about when you get a week of Marshall and Rice. They have superior talent, but will they get complacent waiting for the last February game with Tennessee, otherwise known as their first loss? This Week: Southern Mississippi, at Tulane

#4 UCLA (16-1, #4) - What a performance they put on last Saturday against Washington State. They came out ready to lock down the Cougars and that is just what they did. Nobody hedges better on defense than the Bruins. Kevin Love put on a clinic getting WSU Center Arron Baynes into foul trouble while lighting him up for 27 and 14. We just love watching Russell Westbrook play. They perimeter shooting still concerns me, but bar none, they are the best defensive team in the country. This Week: USC, at Oregon

#5 Tennessee (16-1, #6) - The Vols had perhaps the best week of any of the contenders, blowing out South Carolina on the road and Vanderbilt at home. Wayne Chism is playing excellent ball in the post. His 18 and 18 against Vandy was a sign of things to come the rest of the way from him. The Smith's, Tyler in particular, are getting better and better as we get into conference play. This is a team nobody will want to play in March because of their style. The one concern is SG Chris Lofton who still hasn't snapped out of his season long shooting slump. This Week: Ohio State, at Kentucky

#6 Washington State (14-1, #5) - Shouldn't have to apologize for losing to UCLA in Pauley. They should apologize for how poorly they started the game. It took them seven plus minutes to get their first field goal, they had no answer for Kevin Love in the post, and were completely manhandled physically. Derrick Low and company showed a lot however bouncing back with a 23 point win against lowly Oregon State. The Pac-10 schedule is so brutal that they will be ready come March. One thing is for sure, not many teams will play as smart as the Cougars. This Week: Oregon, at Arizona

#7 Indiana (15-1, #9) - Making the move up two spots, although they did nothing this week to deserve this bump. So why? They struggled with Illinois at home (62-58) and at Minnesota (65-60), true. But in the ends of both games, they showed a ton of mental toughness and got big stops defensively that they needed. Teams are starting to really clamp down on Eric Gordon and this has opened up the post for DJ White who has played like a lottery pick. He is averaging 16 and 10. This Week: Penn State, Iowa

#8 Duke (14-1, #10) - Two nice wins for the Devils over UVA and Florida State. The latter was an all out physical war, which noted cheap shot artist Greg Paulus was right in the middle of. When they are hitting their shots, they are hard to beat. The post is going to be a problem all year, but they know that already and that is why you see so many four out, one in looks from them. They could be in trouble when Clemson and their big beasts James Mays and Trevor Booker arrive in Durham Saturday. I smell a loss coming from them soon. This Week: Clemson, at Virginia Tech

#9 Georgetown (13-2, #8) - They drop for a myriad of reasons: 1. Needing a fluke Roy Hibbert three to beat UConn at home where the Huskies forced their style on the Hoyas. Something JT3 pride's his teams on. UConn's next game was a home loss to Providence. 2. Losing to a Pittsburgh team by nine who was playing without its starting guards. 3. Other than Jonathan Wallace, who on this team can knock down a jumper? 4. We haven't bought them all year and still don't. This Week: Notre Dame, Syracuse

#10 Mississippi (15-1, #15) - Their big push has a lot to do with both they have done positively and what the teams around them have done negatively. They played to the horn with Tennessee in Knoxville, then won two close games against LSU (bad) and Florida (good). Their post players - Dwayne Curtis and Kenny Williams - are as rugged as you will see. They will go as far as PG Chris Warren takes them. This Week: at Auburn

#11 Michigan State (15-2, #7) - We figured after three straight poor performances out of the Spartans was enough. Then they went to Iowa City and scored 37 points in a loss to a sub .500 team. So Ohio State came to town, you'd figure they would come out fired up, and they did. The problem was they nearly blew a 21 point lead before escaping by six. This team just doesn't impress us. PG Drew Neitzel hasn't played like the preseason All-American he was voted to be. This Week: at Minnesota, at Northwestern

#12 Texas (13-3, #11) - One game this past week, a loss at Missouri. Sometimes you tip your hat to the other team and say good game. Mizzou shot 60% from the field and fed off the raucous Columbia crowd. That said, we still like this team with the emergence of Damion James as a legitimate scorer in the post to go with the firepower of D.J. Augustine and A.J. Abrams. They have three losses: at Michigan State, Wisconsin, and now at Mizzou. None are considered bad losses. This Week: Colorado, at Oklahoma State

#13 Pittsburgh (15-2, NR) - Welcome back Panthers. Talk about a tough team. They've made no excuses since losing Mike Cook and Levance Fields and keep playing hard. The improvement of SG Keith Benjamin has been they key to their success. They completely outplayed Georgetown on Big Monday. Freshman Dejuan Blair went 15 and nine on Roy Hibbert, will holding him to just three field goals. We love this team's grit. They will need it with this tough week ahead. This Week: at Cincinnati, at St. John's

#14 Wisconsin (14-2, NR) - The Bo Ryan express keeps rolling along. Another year, another 4-0 start while staying under the radar. They destroyed both Illinois and Penn State and continue to play great defense. Their balance on offense is key. "A lot of it is we just make the extra pass. We have a lot of guys on our team that can make plays and just be productive," said Center Brian Butch. This Week: Northwestern, Michigan

#15 Louisville (13-4, NR) - There is no team in the country that is charging harder than the Cardinals, who finally have their team 100% healthy. C David Padgett looks like a new man and is playing to his potential for the first time in five years. They have won nine of 10 including a 20 point pasting of Marquette. Said coach Rick Pitino "In another two weeks we're going to be really good." We don't doubt it, Rick. This Week: at Seton Hall, at South Florida

#16 Texas A&M (15-2, #12) - We probably shouldn't have dropped them this many spots, but I look at the teams above them. Pittsburgh has shown a ton of toughness and would out-muscle the Aggies if they played. Wisconsin beat Texas in Austin. Louisville could play with anyone right now. The Aggies got roughed up by an average Texas Tech team. Granted, it was in Lubbock, but the Aggies showed that if a team can take away DeAndre Jordan in the post and Josh Carter isn't making shots from the outside, they are extremely vulnerable. They could easily lose both games this week. This Week: at Kansas State, Baylor

On the outside, looking in:

Xavier - Was penciled in at #14 until the completely out of character loss to Temple. We still think they have a great shot to go deep.

Arizona State - James Hardin and company are 4-0 in the Pac-10 and 14-2 overall after their double OT win at Cal.

Drake - 16-1, 6-0 in the Missouri Valley speaks for itself.

Butler - A loss to Cleveland State isn't good for the resume, but they won't lose more than one more game in conference.

Dayton - They'd be #17 if we went that deep. Loss at UMass isn't a bad one.

Stanford - Love how they play D. But can they score enough?

Falling....can they get up?

Vanderbilt - We called it. Lost back to back to a 7-8 Kentucky team and Tennessee. After a walkover against LSU, they must go to Florida and Ole Miss.

Marquette - Seems as though they get exposed whenever they run into a team on their level.

Villanova - Sound the fraud siren. Nothing up front for the Cats next to Dante Cunningham.

Arizona - A big week for the Cats. At 1-3 in conference, they cannot afford a loss at Cal before welcoming the Washington schools. The good news is PG Jerryd Bayless is back.

Arkansas - You seem to be on the right track, then you lose at home to South Carolina. Not good. What Would Corliss Williamson think?

No comments: