Friday, January 25, 2008

The MTAC Power 16

The Week That Was: Saturday produced the first major shakeup we have seen this season from the top tier. Almost out of nowhere, UCLA was stunned at home by USC and somehow, Maryland went into Chapel Hill and knocked off #1 North Carolina 82-80. This was the same Maryland team who had lost earlier in the year to Ohio and American at home. Not to be out done, Texas A&M which came into the weekend ranked #9, lost two straight, including a thrashing at the hands of sizzling hot Kansas State. Memphis ascended to the top spot in both the AP and coaches polls, while continuing to play inferior competition. Kansas moved up to #2 while gutting out a road win at Missouri and pounding Iowa State at home.

The Pac-10 continues to show why they are the deepest conference in the college game. It seems every Thursday and Saturday, there are at least three legit matchups of teams that are or should be ranked. Look at this week: USC beat UCLA. UCLA won at Oregon. Arizona State was the hottest team in the league at this time last week, but they stubbed their toe at Stanford and at home against Washington. Washington State had an impressive win over Oregon, but then went to Arizona on Thursday and got thumped. Arizona meanwhile won at Cal after losing to Stanford two days earlier. Other than Oregon State, anyone can beat anyone on any given night. Speaking of Oregon State,
head coach John Jay was fired one day, and head case C.J. Giles was kicked off the team the next. The is the second program he has been dismissed from in two and a half years; Kansas being the other.

Other Notables: Cleveland State moved to 7-0 in conference after disposing of Valparaiso at home, before heading on the road for a four game trip. They lost their first of those game at Wisconsin Green Bay 59-50, but the national media is starting to pick up on their turnaround. Both's Pat Forde and the AP's Tom Withers had nice things to say about the program in the columns......Baylor beat Texas A&M in five overtimes. The teams combined to shoot over 100 free throws and eight players fouled out. Baylor Guard Curtis Jerrells who scored a game high 36 said after the game: "I'm tired."......Virginia Tech Freshman Guard and second leading scorer Jeff Allen was suspended by the ACC for two games for sticking his arm and bumping an official. He claims it was inadvertent. You be the judge.....Friday was the 20th anniversary of Pitt's Jerome Lane tearing down a backboard while ESPN's Bill Raftery screamed the now famous phrase "SEND IT IN JEROME!"

Down to Two: With North Carolina and UCLA losing this week, are we seeing a separation again, this time by Memphis and Kansas, the two remaining unbeatens? I don't think you can say that, especially judging the competition Memphis has in Conference USA. I still believe UCLA's defense will keep them in the running for a Final Four spot all year long. You cannot discount North Carolina's offense. They can outscore anyone, but questions about their defense remain. The team that is kind of under the radar, believe it or not, is Duke. Can they challenge this group?

Team of the Week: Baylor Bears (16-2) - Coming off a week where they just won back to back road games over Nebraska (beat Oregon earlier) and #14 Texas A&M (in 5 OT's), the Bears look like a legitimate Big 12 title contender. The turnaround at this program since the Patrick Dennehy tragedy and Dave Bliss cover up is nothing short of astounding. Scott Drew has assembled a team of quality big time recruits, like Australian Guard Aaron Bruce, Curtis Jerrells, and double-double guy Kevin Rogers. This year he brought in highly recruited LaceDarius Dunn to go with veteran Henry Dugat and former McDonald's All-American Tweety Carter and has interchangeable parts in the backcourt. Five players average in double figures, and Carter comes off the bench at 9.2 points a game. How many of you have Baylor at the top of the Big 12 when the season started? Circle February 9th on the calendar, the Bears visit Kansas.

#1 Kansas (19-0, #1 last week) - We were on this one early folks. After watching them not have their best game at Missouri, their hated rivals, and still control the game, then see them thrash Iowa State a few days later, we are sure this is the most talented and deepest team in the country. Example, Brandon Rush was a putrid 2-14 against Missouri, yet five others scored at least eight points to pick up the slack. Darnell Jackson and Darrell Arthur's post play is the biggest difference between this year and last year's team. If a loss is on the horizon, its this Wednesday at Kansas State. This Week: Nebraska, at Kansas State

#2 Memphis (18-0, #3) - They beat whoever is in front of them, usually by 25 or more. Not their fault their conference is so poor. The good news is that with smart scheduling, John Calipari has a test for them this weekend. Gonzaga comes to town Saturday. That said, this is not one of the better Gonzaga teams you will see and the game is at home, though the Bulldogs have won six straight. Like Kansas, if a loss happens, it could come this week. This Week: Gonzaga, at Houston

#3 UCLA (17-2, #4) - How do you lose at home, yet move up in our power rankings? Easy. he loss to USC was an aberration. How else do you describe a poor shooting Trojan team coming into Pauley and shooting 61% from the field and throwing a junk defense at them, completely befuddling Ben Howland? This was also a rivalry game. What we were very impressed by was their win at Oregon Thursday. Kevin Love was booed every time he touched the ball in his return to his home state, yet scored 28 and grabbed 16 boards. If that isn't a slap in Oregon's face, nothing is. This Week: at Oregon State, Arizona State

#4 North Carolina (19-1, #3) - Dropped below UCLA because their home loss was much worse than UCLA's. There is no excuse to continue to give up 80 plus points to inferior opponents. Maryland exposed the Heels lack of three-point shooting when they needed big ones, as well as their lack of physical play outside of Tyler Hansbrough. They won the game because Bambale Osby, James Gist, and Point Guard Greivas Vasquez wanted it more. As a response, they dropped 98 on Miami including 35 from Hansbrough. This Week: Boston College

#5 Tennessee (16-2, #5) - Some may drop them from their perch, but these are Power Rankings. Yes, they lost at Kentucky and played very poorly down the stretch, blowing a 10 point second half lead. They were uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball and Chris Lofton became a chucker when they didn't need him to be. No team relies on the three more than the Vols, and when you shoot 7-26, you aren't going to win on the road. One disturbing sign is being outrebounded by a soft UK team by 11. Wayne Chism and Brian Williams have to be effective in the post for Bruce Weber's club to be as good as they can be. This Week: Georgia, at Alabama

#6 Duke (16-1, #8) - While I do think this team is better than most think, i am not about to anoint them the #3 spot where they sit in the polls currently. You cannot be a top three team with essentially no post game. That said, they played a whale of a game, dropping 93 on a good Clemson team, then went to Virginia Tech, a place they notoriously have problems, and beat them by 17. This is one of Coach K's better coaching jobs, but it helps that the ACC looks like a three bid league. This Week: At Maryland, NC State

#7 Indiana (17-1, #7) - The Hoosiers keep on rolling along, winning the games they are supposed to. They exploded in the second half in knocking off Penn State by 16 and completely shut down Iowa Wednesday night holding them to 43 points. Meanwhile, Eric Gordon has shown no signs of hitting the Freshman wall. That said, this is a huge week for IU with underrated UConn coming in Saturday followed by a trip to Madison which will decided the leader in the Big Ten, If you haven't seen the Hoosiers play, make sure you get a peep on one fo the smoothest cats going, Jamarcus Ellis. Our boy Mark P loves the photo of Tommy Coverdale and AJ Moye. This Week: Connecticut, at Wisconsin

#8 Georgetown (15-2, #9) - You know we are no fans of the Hoyas, but you cannot argue with a 5-1 record in the Big East. A good bounce back week, thrashing Notre Dame and escaping against Syracuse by two, a game they probably should have lost. Scoring only 64 points in an overtime game is a concern. We just don't think they have the offensive horses to be considered an "elite" team. This Week: Providence, at Depaul

#9 Washington State (16-2, #6) - There is no shame in going down to Tucson and losing, but like Georgetown, they look like a team that cannot win any game that becomes about offense. Their margin for error is a lot smaller than most top teams because they don't have that star power, so they must win games at the defensive end. Thursday night they had no answer for Arizona's Chase Budinger and Jerryd Bayless. However, the depth of the Pac-10 will help them come tournament time. This Week: at Arizona State, Cal

#10 Michigan State (17-2, #11) - Good news for Sparty fans and bad news for the rest of the Big Ten: Drew Neitzel is waking up. After struggling most of the season, he nailed five threes against Minnesota and followed it up with six against Northwestern in two road wins. That 36 point outing and loss at Iowa seems months ago, doesn't it? This Week: Michigan, Illinois

#11 Wisconsin (16-2, #14) - Two more workman-like wins over Northwestern and Michigan, where they didn't have their best, but managed to pull it out. That is a sign of a well coached team. One major thing the Badgers have going for them is in this ridiculous Big Ten schedule, they get both Indiana and Michigan State just once each, both in Madison. The Big Ten title will run through Mad-Town, the bets college town in America. This Week: at Purdue, Indiana

#12 Texas (15-3, #12) - We know they won both of their games this week, but could they have been any less impressive. Struggling on the road at Oklahoma State in a hostile territory is one thing, but trailing to sad sack Colorado by eight at halftime in Austin is a cause for concern. Another concern is the mysterious disappearance of PF Gary Johnson. All of a sudden Rick Barnes is back to playing just five guys. This Week: Texas Tech, at Texas A&M

#13 Pittsburgh (16-3, #13) - Like Washington State, there is no shame at losing on the road to a hot team in Cincinnati by three. Losses on the road are going to happen, especially when you are without your starting guards and playing a six man rotation. They came back strong at St. John's, burying them by 24 behind Sam Young's 26. This Week: Rutgers, Villanova

#14 Mississippi (17-2, #10) - We go out on a limb and out them as our #10 team last week and they go out and lose to a banged up and average Auburn team? That's the thanks we get? I guess its never easy to win on the road against a team that nails 52% of its threes, but what was more disturbing was the Rebels reliance on the deep ball themselves. With a clear advantage in the post, the still shot 31 triples. This is a huge week for Andy Kennedy's club. We will know f they are for real by this time next week: This Week: at Mississippi State, Vanderbilt

#15 Baylor (16-2, NR) - You have gotta love a team who can go to five overtimes on the road and win, having four guys foul out. The bears backcourt depth rivals any in the country and if they can get anything in the post next to Kevin Rogers, they will be an extremely tough out in March. Once again, props to Scott Drew for this amazing turnaround in Waco.

#16 Xavier (16-4, NR) - We had to have an A-10 team in here. This conference has spent the early portion of the conference season beating each other up, but by far the most impressive win was Xavier's domination of a very talented Dayton team. They played amazing defense, holding Dayton to 30% and 43 points. Meanwhile, they are one of the best three point shooting teams in the country. They are a very dangerous team. This Week: at UMass

On the outside, looking in:

Stanford - Call them team #17 after beating both Arizona Schools

Drake - We are a buyer. Their best week so far knocking off fellow MVC unbeaten Illinois State and third place Creighton.

Butler - Still smarting from the loss to Cleveland State, but continue to take care of business.

Clemson - We know they lost to Duke in Durham for the 10,000th time in a row, but they showed a lot of heart. Clearly the third best team in the ACC.

St. Mary's - Can we get to the Gonzaga game already?

Vanderbilt - Was the double OT loss at Kentucky validated when UK took down Tennessee?

Kansas State - Don't look now, but Michael Beasley and company are streaking at 4-0 in the Big 12 and welcome Kansas Wednesday in the biggest game in Manhattan in more than a decade.

Falling....can they get up?

Villanova - Just when you think they have turned the corner, the lose badly at 0-6 Rutgers. That is what we and the tournament selection committee calls a bad loss.

Louisville - See Villanova, but replace "Rutgers" with "Seton Hall."

Dayton - We should give them a pass, but losers of two straight in conference and the complete shutdown of Brian Roberts have us concerned.

Texas A&M - No shame in losing to Baylor in five OT's, that 20 point loss at K-State on the other hand.....Anyone seen the great DeAndre Jordan lately? The Freshman Wall has.

Arizona State - A week after jumping on their bandwagon, we are back off after back to back losses to Stanford and Washington.

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