Louisville (9-4) - Our preseason #8 has been ravaged by injuries and suspensions, especially in their frontcourt. Juan Palacios and David Padgett have essentially both missed the majority of the season. But even with them, they have been the biggest disappointment in the country by far. Both played in the home loss to a very average Cincinnati team on January 1. The disappearance of PG Edgar Sosa's game hasn't helped.
Arkansas (10-3) - We probably over-ranked them at #13, but we had high hopes for the Hogs. Losses to a bad Providence team by 16 and at Oklahoma may be excusable. A home loss to Appalachian State isn't. This is a veteran club with Sweet 16 talent, but they have no quality wins heading into conference play. Their last chance comes today at 11-1 Baylor. PG Gary Ervin never curbed his turnover problem, and that is a big reason they are underachieving.
Kentucky (6-6) - We was just kidding when we ranked them #23. This team has yet to adapt to Billy Gillispie's defense first system. They've been smoked by Gardner-Webb at home (84-68), at Indiana by 19, lost at home to UAB, at home to San Diego by nine, and were waxed by Houston on the road (83-69). A website titled Billy G Sucks has appeared. I guess the honeymoon in Lexington is over. Their next four games all look like potential losses as well (Louisville, at Mississippi State, at Florida, Tennessee).
But lets not dwell on the negatives. There is a lot to love about this season. We will now unveil the first installment of the MTAC Power 16:
#1 North Carolina (14-0) - Best Win: 73-63 over BYU in Vegas. Roy Williams has what he loves, an quality eight man rotation with interchangeable parts. If need be, he can go a little deeper. Nobody can stop the best big man in the country, Tyler Hansbrough. Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson have steadily improved during their Sophomore campaigns. The loss of backup PG Bobby Frasor to a torn ACL hurts, but he has veteran Quinton Thomas in reserve. Next Chance for a Loss: We'd say at Clemson Sunday, but the Heels own the Tigers and have for years. We will go with February 6th vs. Duke
#2 Kansas (13-0) - Best Win: 76-72 over Arizona. Call us homers, but this is Bill Self's best Kansas team and his best shot to win it all. Sure Brandon Rush is playing at about 80% on his rehabbed knee and Sherron Collins is still rounding into form after missing a month with a broken foot, but there is gobs of talent in Lawrence. The key has been the play of Darnell Jackson in the post. He may be the most improved player in the country and gives KU the post presence next to Darrell Arthur that opens up the perimeter for Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, Rush, and Collins. Next Chance for a Loss: at Nebraska January 12th.
#3 Memphis (12-0) - Best Win: 85-71 over Georgetown. Perhaps the deepest team in the country and a team who's schedule has been maybe the best. That will all change as they enter the Conference USA season where only Houston looks like a viable tournament team. Freshman PG Derrick Rose has come as advertised and is a team first guy, unlike his buddy in LA OJ Mayo. Chris Douglas-Roberts is playing All-American ball at the two guard. Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier are handling all comers in the post, and John Calipari has five other options off the bench who could all start for 75% of the teams in the country. Next Chance for a loss: at Houston January 30th.
#4 UCLA (13-1) - Best Win: 68-63 over Michigan State in Kansas City. The best in the West, still the Bruins. They have been banged up the entire season. PG Darren Collison missed the first seven games with a bulky knee and is just getting back to 100%. Three point specialist Michael Roll has missed significant time, as has Mustafa Abdul-Hamid. Sophomore F James Keefe had to have the redshirt removed Thursday night because the Bruins are so thin up front. that said, Freshman C Kevin Love has been all that and more and given the Bruins a real post threat, something they sorely lacked the last two seasons. Josh Shipp has stepped into the scoring role vacated by Arron Afflalo, and Russell Westbrook has been a godsend as the third guard. Next Chance for a Loss: Washington State January 12th
#5 Washington State (12-0) - Best Wins: at Baylor 67-64, at Gonzaga 51-47. Here by a smidge over Michigan State because of the two impressive road wins (don't laugh, Baylor is 11-1). They can win in the 70's or the 50's. Their backcourt has been the key, both PG Kyle Weaver and SG Derrick Low have been great, but it's been the emergence of PF Aron Baynes that has made them a viable Final Four candidate. They play a strict eight man rotation, all are veterans. We will see what the Cougs are made of; their next three games are at Washington, at USC, and at UCLA. Next Chance for a Loss: at USC Jan 10th.
#6 Michigan State (12-1) - Best Wins: at BYU 68-61, Texas 78-72. We will admit, We were selling this team in November, but now I'm a buyer. They made it through a brutal pre-conference schedule with one loss (to UCLA) and should benefit from the weak Big Ten slate. They jump of Raymar Morgan to stardom has been a huge part of their success, but don't discount the contributions of the lunch pail group up front, Goran Suton, Marquise Gray, and Drew Naymick. Freshman PG Kailin Lucas has allowed has allowed Drew Neitzel to play off the ball more and the Spartans are reaping the benefits. Don't forget, they play stifling D. If they end up with a #1 or #2 seed in the Midwest, the regionals are in Detroit. Next Chance for a Loss: February 16 at Indiana
#7 Georgetown (10-1) - Best Win: at Alabama 70-60. To be honest, we don't know why we have them above Tennessee, since the Hoyas have pretty much no quality wins and were dominated in their only matchup with a tournament team (Memphis), but we still think they are too mentally tough. Roy Hibbert's game hasn't exploded like they had hoped, but the emergence of Freshman Chris Wright and Austin Freeman off the bench has us thinking they will be primed for a deep run. But Hibbert only averaging 12 and six is a concern. Next Chance for a Loss: at Pittsburgh January 14th
#8 Tennessee (12-1) - Best Wins: at Xavier 82-75, at Gonzaga 82-72. Still our favorite team to watch and a pick to go to the Final Four. Bruce Pearl's club is playing an exciting brand of Basketball and getting better. They have found an unsung her on big man Brian Williams, who has been unearthed with the suspension and then heart condition to Duke Crews. The eligibility of J.P. Prince, a transfer from Arizona, has brought another dimension to the offense as well. They can go 10 deep and usually do with their full court pressure. Reason to be worried? Senior All American SG Chris Lofton is mired in a season long shooting slump. Next Chance for a Loss: Mississippi January 9th
#9 Duke (10-1) - Best Wins: 77-73 over Marquette in Maui, Wisconsin 82-58. Had the Devils not been exposed against a more physical team in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, they'd be in our top six. That said, Coach K spent the summer learning the Phoenix offense under Mike D'Antoni and it has paid off. The Devils have the athletes and the shooters to play into that system. Freshman SF Kyle Singler has been exactly what Coach K thought he'd be, an instant impact, duel threat offensively. Sophomore SG Gerald Henderson is as much improved as any player in the country. Combo G Jon Scheyer has adapted well to his sixth man role and the Devils are getting great production from Freshmen Taylor King and Nolan Smith off the bench. Their bugaboo is still a complete lack of post presence. Next Chance for a Loss: NC State January 31st
#10 Indiana (12-1) - Best Win: at Southern Illinois 64-51. Lets start with Eric Gordon. The Fabulous Freshman makes scoring 25 points look like a walk in the park. Fellow Freshman Jordan Crawford has shown he can run the point if need be, or play off the ball. Armon Bassett is a superb talent who has spent the season in and out of Kevin Sampson's dog house. PF DJ White is finally playing up to his massive potential. So why are we a tad skeptical? They have played literally nobody outside of Xavier, who thumped them on a neutral court by 15. Next Chance for a Loss: at Wisconsin January 31st
#11 Texas (12-2) - Best Wins: at UCLA 63-61, Tennessee 97-78. Two weeks ago this team was in the top five, but back to back losses at Michigan State (nothing wrong with that) and at home to Wisconsin (something is wrong with that) pushed them back to reality. The positives? Their statrting five is as talented as any in the country. All five guys can shoot from deep. DJ Augustine could be a first team All-American PG. PF Conner Atchley is one of the most unheralded players in the country and is a tough guard with his perimeter skills. PF Damion James is a double-double machine. The Negative? The have no depth. None. Freshman Gary Johnson has just been cleared to play after sitting out a year with a heart condition. He immediately will get minutes. Next Chance for a Loss: Saturday vs. St. Mary's
#12 Texas A&M (13-1) - Best Win: Ohio State 70-47 in New York. Here's another intriguing team that we don't really know much about. Call them the Indiana of the Big 12. There's a lot to like. Freshman C DeAndre Jordan (10.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg) is raw, but his athleticism is tough to stop. Playing next to Joseph Jones is a big plus for Jordan as Jones draws a ton of attention himself. Donald Sloan has taken over at the point and handled it smoothly. They have more depth than the teams of the last two years with Acie Law and company. How Josh Carter shoots from deep will be the difference between a deep run or an early flame out. Next Chance for a Loss: at Kansas State January 19th
#13 Marquette (11-1) - Best Win: at Wisconsin 81-76. We know they have a terrific backcourt in Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, and Dominic James, but it's been the emergence of PF Lazar Hayward that has made the Golden Eagles more viable. He is averaging over 13 points and six boards a game. But make no mistake, they live and die with their backcourt. The jury is still out on them however. Their schedule hasn't exactly been stellar. Next Chance for a Loss: Saturday at West Virginia
#14 Arizona (10-3) - Best Win: Texas A&M 78-67. Don't ask us why, but we are very intrigued with Kevin O'Neill's team. He has the cats doing something they have rarely done in the past; playing tough defense. Freshman PG Jerryd Bayless has had the biggest impact of any Freshman point man not named Derrick Rose. Couple that with the emergence of PF Jordan Hill ( a budding star) and the sweet shooting of SF Chase Budinger, and this team has the makings of a Final Four caliber squad with the right draw. Just remember who told you that first. Next Chance for a Loss: at Houston January 12th
#15 Pittsburgh (12-1) - Best Win: Duke 65-64 in New York. This ranking probably won't last long, but is an ode to what they accomplished to this point. Yes, they got pounded at Dayton by 25, but it was coming off the emotional double OT win over Duke where they lost starting SG Mike Cook to a torn ACL. In that Dayton game, starting PG and the heart of this team, Levance Fields, broke his foot and is out two months. They still have monster Freshman PF Dejuan Blair, who now must shoulder the scoring load. Keith Benjamin and Ronald Ramon will also have to play 35 plus minutes in the backcourt through the Big East gauntlet. But we love any team coached by Jamie Dixon. Next Chance to Lose: Sunday at Villanova
#16 Vanderbilt (14-0) - Best Win: at Depaul 91-85. Yes, they are undefeated, but they get little love from us because of the cupcake schedule. When your best win is against 5-7 Depaul, that says it all. They are getting incredible production from Shan Foster and unheralded Aussie Andrew Ogilvy. They average just under 40 points per game between them. Jermaine Beal has been steady at the point, and Ross Neltner is doing the dirty work in the paint. Still, I can't jump on the bandwagon yet. The SEC is so soft that this team could end up a #2-3 seed with 28 wins. Its very conceivable. Next Chance for a Loss: Saturday vs. UMass