SD: Sell - I must say, the Wildcats held up through the start of the Pac-10 season better than I thought they would, mostly because freshman point guard Jerryd Bayless bounced back so quickly from an ankle injury. But now that sophomore guard Nic Wise has been lost to knee surgery, Arizona's already-thin bench has become nonexistent. Chase Budinger is in the midst of a shooting slump (16 for 51 in his last four games), which has led to three losses the last two weeks. Looking at the schedule, I could easily see Arizona going 2-4 down the stretch. That might not quite put them out of the tournament, but it would give them a low enough seed that they'd be hard-pressed to advance.
MTAC: Hold - We are with Davis about the injury to Wise being devastating, but they have three pieces that on any given night, can be the best player on the floor; Bayless, Budinger, and Jordan Hill. True, they have zero depth, but with Wise back and the right draw, they can potentially go deep. We are a sucker for Bayless.
SD: Sell - If you haven't seen this team play yet, make the effort. Few squads play more rhythmic, efficient, team-oriented basketball than Butler, and though most of the love gets showered on the guard tandem of Mike Green and A.J. Graves, forwards Pete Campbell and Matt Howard are also having stellar seasons. Still, even the most ardent Butler fan would have to concede this is not the eighth-best team in the country. Even while making it this far with only two losses (both on the road) in the underrated Horizon League, Butler is barely out-rebounding opponents. I wouldn't be surprised if they win a game or two in the NCAA tournament, but the Elite Eight? Not gonna happen.
MTAC: Sell - Continue to escape in games they should be dominating. Take Wednesday at 14-13 UIC for example. This is a game they should win by 10 and they needed late free throws to win by 5. A.J. Graves has struggled with his shot of late and don't tell me a team with a dominant big man wouldn't abuse them in the post.
SD: Buy - Holy Hasheem, Batman! This team has gotten real good real fast. We always knew the Huskies had some talent, but they were so inexperienced and (gulp) soft that you had to wonder if they would ever figure it out -- especially after a loss at home to Providence on Jan. 17. The Huskies started to turn the corner by blowing out Marquette in their next game, but it was their 68-63 win at Indiana on Jan. 26 that truly galvanized this team. Playing without suspended guards Doug Wiggins and Jerome Dyson, UConn had to band together and outhustle its opponents to win. With Wiggins back, the Huskies haven't lost that mindset, which enabled them to overcome their doldrums and escape South Florida in overtime last weekend. And remember, Dyson comes back in a couple of weeks, and since he wasn't gone because of an injury, you should expect him to get up to speed real fast. Then, look out.
MTAC: Buy - Jim Calhoun for Coach of the Year, anyone? Thabeet can control the lane against anyone defensively and A.J. Price will be the first team all Big East PG. They are quick, athletic, and have shown they can play with anyone. This is a team on the upswing, winners of 10 in a row. A no-brainer here.
SD: Buy - I was going to rate the Blue Devils a Hold, but after a stumble at Wake Forest on Sunday night, I've been convinced otherwise. There's nothing wrong with a flat conference road performance in mid-February, and this team has displayed more toughness (particularly on defense) than I had previously recognized. What's more, the Blue Devils get North Carolina at home in three weeks. If Duke can sweep the Tar Heels, it would put the Devils on the coveted Raleigh-Charlotte path to the Final Four. (FYI - this was written before last night's loss to Miami)
MTAC: Sell - When you are one-dimensional and the shots aren't falling, you are very suseptable to an early flame out. Not to mention the great Duke D we've all heard so much about continues to get torched by inferior talent. They are looking like signs of starting to wear down.
SD: Sell - Devout Hoop Thoughts readers won't be surprised at my continued skepticism of the Hoyas. After their loss at Syracuse last Saturday, the Hoyas dropped to 12th in the AP poll, but you could make a case that right now they are the third- or fourth-best team in the Big East. You have to respect a team's ability to win ugly, but the Hoyas' lack of scoring punch has caught up with them as they have lost two of their last three. The good news is that Jonathan Wallace, who has been in a horrendous shooting slump for most of the Big East season, finally broke out for 26 points on 9 for 10 shooting in the loss to the Orange. If he keeps that up, you may want to scoop this team up in early March, but right now this stock is not worth the price.
MTAC: Sell - Readers of MTAC know, we think the Hoyas have been, and still are, highly overrated. What is so great about them anyways? They do nothing well, and Roy Hibbert hasn't done anything to make us think he has improved this year offensively. Plus, run him ragged and he'll become a non-factor.
SD: Buy - Surprised, huh? Consider first that you may want to wait a few days before buying the Hoosiers because their stock is going to plummet in the next few days. With Kelvin Sampson likely out by the end of the week, this will feel like a program in turmoil -- but then again, you saw how the players responded against Michigan State last Saturday night. The reality is, almost regardless of whom Indiana plays, it will have two players (D.J. White and Eric Gordon) who are better than anyone on the opposing roster. And if Dan Dakich is named Sampson's interim replacement as expected, there's no reason he can't maintain some sense of continuity.
MTAC: Buy - To us, there is nothing better than an angry team playing for something or somebody when March rolls around. All you need to know is Eric Gordon and D.J. White may be the bet inside/outside duo in the country. If they can get anything from Lance Stemler, DeAndre Thomas, Kyle Tabor, or Mike White next to D.J., they'll be in great shape.
SD: Buy - The Jayhawks only have two losses and both are respectable: at Kansas State and at Texas. It's a little disappointing that Sherron Collins' nagging injuries have kept him from being a dominant player, but Mario Chalmers has become as close to a go-to scorer as KU has had the last three years and the Jayhawks' quartet of bigs is as good as any frontline group in the country. The only thing this program has lacked in the NCAA tournament the last couple of years is luck. With a No. 1 seed virtually assured, I think the road ahead will hold plenty of good fortune.
MTAC: Buy - Come on, what else were we going to say? There is no reason for this team to not go to Final Four. They have the depth, the talent, and experience. No excuses this time around.
SD: Sell - Okay, so you lost a ton of faith following my advice the last time around. K-State can't possibly keep rising, can it? Yes, Michael Beasley is the real deal, and on any other team Bill Walker would be the best player (or at least the best friggin' freshman). But you need to have stellar guard play to do well in the NCAA tournament, and in that department the Wildcats simply don't measure up. I also question the emotional maturity of this team. Remember, they followed up their big upset over Kansas by losing at Missouri against a team that was depleted by suspensions. That doesn't bode well for the crucible of March.
MTAC: Hold - We were this close to selling, but we are blinded by the talent of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker and remember what Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara were able to do as Freshman in the tournament. That said, the recipe for beating them is to play a sagging zone and limit Beasley touches.
SD: Hold - I said last time around that the Cardinals were the easiest Buy on the board. They have vindicated my faith by winning 11 of their last 13 games. Now, however, I am dropping in a note of caution. The Cardinals have climbed back into the top 20, and though they're tied for first in the Big East, I'm not sure they'll stay there. They've vastly improved their shot selection and are doing a better job getting David Padgett his touches, but they still have too many areas of inconsistency to make me believe they're capable of making a deep run in the tourney. Witness Earl Clark's performances last week: three points against DePaul, 20 against Providence.
MTAC: Sell - Since when did David Padgett become the second coming of Wilt Chamberlain? The way the media talks about this guy, you'd think he was a first team All American rather than a fifth year journeyman Center. Pitino can coach with the best of em, but the truth is other than Terrance Williams, there just isn't a lot to love with this team. Healthy or not, we say Sweet 16 tops.
SD: Sell - This is one team that hasn't been overrated or underrated all year. The Golden Eagles have five Big East losses, but there's not a bad one in the bunch. They've got road wins over Wisconsin, Seton Hall and Cincinnati, and they picked up a much-needed statement win over Pittsburgh last Friday. But the problem with Marquette -- still -- is they have not developed an inside presence to complement their perimeter talent. Ousmanne Barro, a 6-10 senior, has been a major disappointment, and Marquette's other two forwards (Lazar Hayward and Dan Fitzgerald) are basically just tall guards. The Eagles' three-point shooting remains suspect, but their occasional ability to get hot, combined with the consistent toughness on defense, gives them a chance to beat just about any team they play.
MTAC: Sell - Dominique James is having a so-so year. Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews really haven't improved over the last 12 months, and they still get nothing from the front court. We haven't bought this team from day one and we are sticking to that.
SD: Buy - Even if the Tigers lose to Tennessee on Saturday (which I predict they will do), they are still going to go into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. Though you have to be scared by their atrocious foul shooting (12 for 22 against UAB, including 1 for 8 down the stretch), that's not enough to depress their value at this point. This team has much more savvy than people give them credit for, and if Chris Douglas-Roberts isn't on your first-team All-America list then you haven't been paying attention. Yes, Memphis is susceptible against a zone defense, but so few teams play zone fulltime that if they tried to install it during the NCAA tournament, they won't execute it well.
MTAC: Buy - They do have a ton of talent and other than potentially losing to Tennessee Saturday, there is no other loss on their schedule until the Sweet 16 at least. What separates them from being a sell, where I was leaning a few weeks ago, is Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose. They are two superstars who can take over a game at any time. We won't pick them to win it all, we promise you that, but a Final Four appearance is a very strong possibility.
SD: Sell - When I rated the Spartans a Hold, they were ranked No. 6 in both polls. Since then, they've lost road games at Penn State, Iowa, Purdue and Indiana, and all of their important trend lines are headed south. Raymar Morgan had six 20-plus games before Jan. 27. He's had none since and scored just three points in the loss to Indiana last Saturday. Drew Neitzel continues to struggle at times (3 for 17 combined in those losses to Penn State and Purdue), and prized freshmen, Chris Allen and Durrell Summers, are barely getting off the bench. If the Spartans aren't committing a ton of turnovers, they're going into troubling lapses on defense. There's still plenty of time to turn things around, and you know with Tom Izzo at the helm that always remains a strong possibility. But for the time being I don't I like what I'm seeing.
MTAC: Sell - They have had plenty of chances to take control of the Big Ten, but if you can't beat Iowa and Penn State on the road, then get blown away by two of the three teams you are chasing (Purdue and Indiana), then how are you going to fare in the tournament? Davis is right about Allen and Summers by the way. They were supposed to be vital cogs of Izzo's machine.
SD: Buy - While I have stepped gingerly off the Tar Heels' bandwagon for now -- they are no longer my official pick to win the national championship, and no I haven't come up with a replacement -- I continue to be impressed with their resilience. Most teams couldn't survive losing their starting point guard, much less their top two point guards, yet even without Ty Lawson and Bobby Frasor this team managed to scrape out close wins over Clemson and Virginia before blowing out Virginia Tech last Saturday. I am going to have a tough time picking between Michael Beasley and Tyler Hansbrough for national Player of the Year, but I don't know that I've ever seen a player who can impose his will on the game like Psycho T. Now that Duke stubbed its toe at Wake, the Heels, presuming they get Lawson back soon, have a chance to steal a No. 1 seed.
MTAC: Hold - We cannot judge this team until we see what they will be like when a healthy Ty Lawson is back in the lineup. Without him, they can be beaten by anyone. Hansbrough is still unstopable in the post and they can score in bunches. The defense still is a major concern and this team has all the makings of pulling a classic Roy Williams early-exit routine: average three point shooting and below average D.
SD: Hold - You can't blame me for rating the Boilermakers in my last report, can you? They had just suffered a pair of embarrassing losses to Wofford and Iowa State, their one quality win came at home against a Louisville team that was racked by injuries and they were heading into the Big Ten season with a starting lineup that featured three freshmen and two sophomores. The Boilermakers have played smart, efficient basketball while putting together an 11-game winning streak, and they have climbed to No. 14 heading into Tuesday's showdown at Indiana. Still, the Boilermakers are now flying at an unfamiliar altitude. I can't help but wonder if this callow bunch might find the air a mite thin.
MTAC: Hold - We still don't know what to make of the Baby Boilers. We know we love Robbie Hummel's game and at Mackey Arena, they seem unbeatable. They did show their youth at Indiana in a rivalry game, but their lack of post presence scares us.
SD: Buy - A radio host suggested to me the other day that the Vols were flying under the radar. That's hard to imagine given that they're ranked No. 2 with just two losses, but it does seem Tennessee isn't automatically lumped into the national championship conversation with the likes of Memphis, Kansas and UCLA. That should change regardless of whether the Vols win in Memphis on Saturday. Spurred by a rotation that can go 10 deep, the Vols are the most relentless defensive team in the country. For all of the attention that has been paid to Chris Lofton regaining his shooting touch during SEC play, his backcourtmate, 6-2 senior JaJuan Smith, is the real game-changer when he's knocking down long-range shots.
MTAC: Buy - We picked them at the beginning of the year to win it all and we aren't back away from that....yet....Other than Texas, nobody has a more impressive resume. Their only two losses have been to Texas and Kentucky. What Davis says above his right. They are deep and their style can wear anyone out.
SD: Hold - This was a very close call, because the Longhorns are a very good team and have a pretty favorable Big 12 schedule down the stretch. But seeing as they are ranked No. 7 in both polls, it's hard to imagine they could ascend any higher. And while they are capable of reaching the Final Four, they are also uniquely susceptible to an early-round upset. Texas is lacking in size and depth, which leaves them vulnerable to foul problems. More worrisome is that, until exploding for 27 points in the win over Texas A&M on Monday night, D.J. Augustin had been showing signs of wearing down. In 11 Big 12 games, Augustin has been on the bench for a grand total of 11 minutes. During the six contests prior to Monday, he had shot 21 for 86 from the field, including 7 for 33 from three.
MTAC: Buy - How can we put a hold on the hottest team west of UConn.? Damion James is playing like a man possessed and the way Connor Atchley is shooting from deep (a five with sick range), the Horns are peaking at the right time. The only thing that holds them back is their depth, but they have the best shooting strating five in the country. Yes, better than you Duke.
SD: Buy -My only reservation about the Bruins in the past has been their health. They've had more than their share of nagging injuries this season, but aside from Michael Roll still not being available, they're as intact as they've been all year. Darren Collison has re-established himself as the best point guard in America, Kevin Love is arguably the best center in the country and the Bruins' defense is as tough as ever. And no, I am not concerned by the hiccup at Washington last week. Remember, Florida also stubbed its toe a couple of times in February last year and things turned out okay.
MTAC: Buy - You cannot discount a team that has back to back Final Four's on their resume and plays some of the best defense you will ever see. Love, Josh Shipp, Collison, and glue guy Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are all winners. This team gets to the elite eight at a minimum.
SD: Hold - In my last report, the Badgers were fresh off a stunning upset at Texas, and I wondered if they would hit a reality check in the Big Ten. Well, they're just one game behind Purdue in the conference race and still gaining steam. The thing I like about this team is they never lose games they should win. I wish they were a little more potent from three-point range, but there's also something to be said for not being overly reliant on trifectas. And just to let you know how enamored I am with this team's toughness, I am strongly considering naming my next dog Krabbenhoft.
MTAC: Sell - We still don't know how Bo Ryan does it with such little talent. Last year, they were a #2 seed and almost lost in the first round to a more athletic Texas A&M-CC club, before getting worked two days later by UNLV. We see a similar fate with this year's version of the Badgers. They lack a go to guy on offense as well. That usually doesn't bode well come March.