This week's SB Nation Power 16 has a new author, but the same team on top. Behind Kansas, Syracuse slips, Michigan State avoids punishment, and Baylor, Ohio State, and New Mexico make debuts.
1. Kansas Jayhawks (7 first place votes) (Last Week: 1)
Record: 21-1 (7-0 B12)
Pomeroy Rating: #1
SB Nation blog: Rock Chalk Talk
The Jayhawks sealed a near-consensus No. 1 ranking in the AP and Coaches Polls after going in to Manhattan and pulling out an 81-79 overtime win over Kansas State. As someone who has tended to think that the biggest danger the Jayhawks face in the tournament is becoming too Sherron Collins-oriented, even I have to give a full salute to the bucket (and one) Collins dropped to win the game over KSU.
That said, Kansas very nearly gave away their spot at the top when they were taken to overtime by... Colorado? Tempting as it is to call it the top-line curse--no one seems eager to hold on to that No. 1 ranking--in truth, it's just another example of how difficult it can be to win on the road in the Big 12. Remember, this is the conference that opened this season by going 114-1 in games played at home.
If Kansas fans are concerned about anything, it's likely the recent play of the phenomenal Xavier Henry, who may be hitting something of a freshman wall. Over his past four games Henry is just 8 for 27 from the field, averaging just 5.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, with 6 assists against 10 turnovers. With Tyshawn Taylor struggling to develop into the dynamic college contributor most thought he would be when he signed, Xavier Henry has been a big part of Kansas' excellence. He's too big, strong, and talented to struggle for long, and all Kansas fans should really care about is that he's ready to roll for March. I wouldn't bet against it.
2. Villanova Wildcats (4) (LW: 3)
Record: 20-1 (9-0 BE)
Pomeroy Rating: #13
The Wildcats jump Syracuse in our power rankings thanks to wins over... Notre Dame and Seton Hall? Of course not. Chalk Villanova's gain to Syracuse's near-loss to Big East cellar dweller DePaul. Truth be told, I'm inclined to say we don't really know just how good Villanova is this season. They're clearly very good, but I'm reserving judgment until I see how the Wildcats play on the road this coming Saturday and Monday at Gerogetown and at West Virginia. Win one, and I'll nod with approval. Win both, and we'll all be on notice.
While in most years I'd wonder about Villanova having its fair share of struggles with the brutally physical defense typically on display throughout the conference, the relatively undersized, offense-oriented Wildcats have been benefiting from the conference's dirty little secret: this year's Big East is not a good defensive conference. True, Syracuse, West Virginia, Georgetown, and Pitt all play solid D, but those are the four big road games left on Villanova's schedule. Like I said: I'm withholding judgment.
3. Syracuse Orange (3) (LW: 2)
Record: 22-1 (9-1 BE)
Pomeroy Rating: #3
SB Nation blog: Nunes Magician
What does Syracuse do after narrowly squeaking out a win over DePaul that sends the team sliding down SB Nation's Power 16? I'm happy to say, they appear prepared to do exactly the same thing any good fan would do: change clothes.
Mock the tribute to patch-quilting all you like: the 'Cuse recognize they may need a change of mojo and are being proactive about it. (Don't even pretend you've never changed shirts at halftime of a particularly brutal outing for your team. You have.)
If the uniform change doesn't do it, the other thing Syracuse might take a look at is shooting fewer threes. Though they're connecting at an excellent 38.3% on the year, they're making 59.5% of their twos (tops in the nation); in a slower paced game (the contest with DePaul featured just 61 possessions) in which the threes aren't falling, Syracuse will be vulnerable if they settle for jumpers.
4. Kentucky Wildcats (2) (LW: 4)
Record: 21-1 (6-1 SEC)
Pomeroy Rating: #10
SB Nation blog: A Sea Of Blue
Back on track after the shocking upset to South Carolina, the Wildcats retain their spot in the Power 16 with a pair of home wins over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. I was impressed with how pedestrian Kentucky made a very sold Vandy team, but the win over Ole Miss inspired a less enthusiastic reaction from A Sea of Blue, who ask: "Are The Wildcats Heading In The Right Direction?" (Or, "It's the turnovers, stupid.")
Considering the score of the game, I was expecting to be impressed with the play, but I must say I wasn't overall, just from watching it. It seemed like Kentucky turned the ball over every third time down the court, had trouble guarding the three again and just generally didn't do the little things.
The turnovers are what are helping these teams to stay within shouting distance of Kentucky. If UK could operate with 18% turnovers or less for most games, I'd say the 'Cats would be almost impossible to beat right now. It is the high turnover percentage that is making it possible for teams to stay in games rather than being obliterated by 20+. In fact, forcing Georgia into high turnovers was a big reason Kentucky didn't lose vs. the Dawgs -- they helped make up for the fact that Georgia out-shot the 'Cats in that game.
The good news, as A Sea of Blue points out, is that Kentucky is so thoroughly dominating opponents on the glass that if they can cut down on the turnovers, they may just be the unstoppable force they often appear to be.
5. West Virginia Mountaineers (LW: 8)
Record: 18-3 (7-2 BE)
Pomeroy Rating: #4
SB Nation blog: The Smoking Musket
With apologies to West Virginia fans expecting to read in this space about, well, West Virginia, this seems like the right place to mention just how many bad breaks Louisville has suffered this year. Including this past Saturday, when West Virginia needed every last bit of help from the officials to steal a win from the Cards:
But hey, that's Louisville's problem, and West Virginia followed up Saturday's fortuitous win with a convincing 19-point stomping of Pittsburgh at home. And though they haven't always looked the part, if West Virginia were to take out Villanova this coming Monday night, they'd find themselves in the thick of the discussion for a #1 seed in the tournament.
6. Michigan State Spartans (LW: 7)
Record: 19-4 (9-1)
Pomeroy Rating: #23
SB Nation blog: The Only Colors
How do you move up a spot in the Power 16 after getting thoroughly licked by Wisconsin? Time your worst game of the year for a week when almost everyone behind you suffers a setback of their own. Really, that's the only explanation after a game that led The Only Colors to this:
So, in sum: If it's any consolation, Michigan State, yours wasn't even the worst loss of the week!
7. Purdue Boilermakers (LW: 9)
Record: 19-3 (7-3)
Pomeroy Rating: #8
SB Nation blog: Hammer And Rails
Meanwhile, maybe voters have been slow to forgive Purdue for losing to Northwestern three weeks ago, but since then they've won five in a row, including a 60-57 home win over the same Wisconsin team that thumped Michigan State, and a 78-75 win over Indiana on Thursday night.
8. Georgetown Hoyas (LW: 13)
Record: 16-5 (6-4 BE)
Pomeroy Rating: #16
SB Nation blog: Casual Hoya
Apparently, everyone was really, really impressed with Georgetown's win over Duke. That, or they failed to notice that the Hoyas just lost at South Florida on Wednesday night. Hey, it's a Power Poll: we needn't mechanically move the pieces up and down based on one week of games.
That said, what's going on in South Florida right now? The Bulls have shocked the nation with four straight wins, the latter two over Pittsburgh and Georgetown, to scratch their way to 5-5 in Big East play, despite being outscored on a per-possession basis. The Hoyas, meanwhile, return to the Verizon Center to try and knock off Villanova for a second straight Saturday win over a Top 10 team. Wonder if POTUS will drop by again:
9. Texas Longhorns (LW: 5)
Record: 19-3 (5-2 B12)
Pomeroy Rating: #7
SB Nation blog: Burnt Orange Nation
So Michigan State gets a pass for Wisconsin, and Georgetown gets a pass for South Florida, but Texas gets hammered for dropping an overtime game to a very solid Baylor squad? What gives? YOU BIASED, TEXAS-HATING FOOLS!
Okay, the bias thing may be me, and honestly, if the 'Horns had dropped Monday night's contest in Stillwater, I'd not have blamed anyone for leaving them off the Power 16 ballot altogether. Instead, freshman Jordan Hamilton exploded for 27 points to lead Texas to an impressive 72-60 win. With His Errorness finally looking more like His Airness, the Longhorns could be poised for a strong stretch run. All eyes will be on Austin this coming Monday night, when the 'Horns battle the top-ranked Jayhawks. Texas fans are hoping the trend of the past six years continues, when the home team has emerged the victor.
10. Kansas State Wildcats (LW: 10)
Record: 18-4 (5-3 B12)
Pomeroy Rating: #9
SB Nation blog: Bring On The Cats
Just when you think you've got Kansas State and the Big 12 figured out--brilliant at home, beatable on the road--the Wildcats screw everything up by going 2-2 over 4 games, with the wins coming on the road (Baylor, Nebraska) and the losses on the road (Kansas, Oklahoma State). How does Frank Martin feel about that?
11. BYU Cougars (LW: 11)
Record: 22-2 (7-1 MWC)
Pomeroy Rating: #6
SB Nation blog: Vanquish The Foe
Speaking of losing control of one's emotions, if you missed BYU's 82-69 win over Utah this past week, it got ugly towards the end:
If the Cougars run the rest of the regular season table, as Ken Pomeroy's projections suggest they will, the Cougars will enter the Mountain West tournament at 29-3 with a 2 seed well within their grasp. That means taking care of business at home against New Mexico, who downed the Cougars 76-72 last weekend in Albuquerue.
12. Duke Blue Devils (LW: 6)
Record: 18-4 (6-2 ACC)
Pomeroy Rating: #2
SB Nation blog: Duke Basketball Report
Yes, the Blue Devils struggled badly at Georgetown, but hold your celebration, haters. Duke destroyed Georgia Tech on Thursday night and, like BYU, the smartest guy in the room has the Blue Devils favored in every game the rest of the way, and if you think the ACC regular season champ isn't getting a one-seed, I've got some real estate for sale that I'd like to talk to you about. (Email me!)
Two of those games will be against North Carolina, of course, which means two opportunities for Dick Vitale to ruin your evening, but also two good excuses to check out the brand new Blue vs Blue blog, which launched this week and will cover nothing but... you guessed it: Carolina versus Duke.
13. Baylor Bears (LW: Not Ranked)
Record: 17-4 (4-3 B12)
Pomeroy Rating: #17
Fun fact about the team no one should want to see in their bracket: John Wall was awfully close to heading to Baylor to play for Scott Drew. Sure, Drew's a dirty S.O.B. who hired Wall's AAU coach to Baylor's staff as a "Director of Player Development," but Drew is proving this year that he can coach a little basketball, too. With wins over Texas and Iowa State last week to surge to 17-4 on the year, the Bears are no longer off anyone's radar, but to hold their position in the rankings the Bears will need to try to ride the momentum from their win in Austin to pick up a pair of road games this week at A&M and Nebraska.
14. Tennessee Volunteers (LW: 14)
Record: 17-4 (5-2 SEC)
Pomeroy Rating: #25
SB NATION BLOG: Rocky Top Talk
After consecutive losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt, the Vols got back on track this week by surviving Florida 61-60 behind a clutch jumper from Scotty Hopson:
And though it wasn't especially pretty, Tennessee did what it does best against LSU on Thursday night: find a way to win.
15. Ohio State Buckeyes (LW: Not Ranked)
Record: 17-6 (7-3 B10)
Pomeroy Rating: #11
SB NATION BLOG: The Buckeye Battle Cry
Voters were impressed with Ohio State's 22-point home win over Minnesota, but even more than that, I suspect voters are beginning to get bullish on the Buckeyes because of Evan Turner, who is averaging 23 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game against ranked opponents this year. Don't hand John Wall that Player of the Year trophy just yet.
16. New Mexico Lobos (LW: Not Ranked)
Record: 20-3 (6-2 MWC)
Pomeroy Rating: #35
Voters were impressed by New Mexico's win at BYU, but this is a team that's lost to by 9 to Oral Roberts, 12 to San Diego State, and 10 to UNLV (at home). Call it redemption week for the Lobos, then: they'll host San Diego State this Saturday, followed by a road trip to UNLV. They'll need to win both to maintain momentum in the rankings.
No. 12 Gonzaga
No. 15 Maryland
No. 16 Temple
I'm still a bit stunned by how well Syracuse has been playing and they are still seemingly flying well under the radar for being one of the most dominant clubs in the country. If I had to choose one team to put my money on to win it all at this point, it may be the Orange. No one in the nation matches up well with Wes Johnson and they've got just enough help inside and outside to make a deep run.
What team has beaten three teams who were ranked in the top-five at the time of the game? Wisconsin. What team lost to Wisconsin-Green Bay? Wisconsin. What am I supposed to make of the Badgers? Easy. The Kohl Center is one heck of a place to try and go into a win, but make Wisconsin play anywhere else and they're very mediocre.
I really wanted to put a second ACC team on this list - I mean, ACC basketball > SEC basketball, right? - but our league keeps shooting itself in the foot. Just when I think that team could be Maryland, they fall back to earth against Clemson. Florida State? Pummeled by Duke. Georgia Tech? Lost to FSU. Clemson? Lost to BC. Wake Forest? Lost to Georgia Tech. I'm pretty close to just giving up on the ACC this year.
Syracuse is the team to beat this year. The emergence of Wesley Johnson has completed the team to a point where the only team that can beat Syracuse.....is Syracuse. Kansas has looked sketchy at times, and great at others. They very well may face another early exit in the post season tourney. Also watch Kansas State moving up. The 'Cats were solid when they beat Texas, and are getting better. If they can stop turning the ball over, they will be an Elite Eight team or better.
While I have the Mountaineers higher than the Bears, I'd be willing to throw down a sizable wager on Baylor playing deeper into the tournament than West Virginia if the odds were right.
The Mountain West Conference is not getting enough love. BYU and New Mexico have five total losses, and one of those is to the other. They both look like Sweet 16 teams to me, and possibly Elite Eight with the right draw. Also, Baylor is extremely underrated for the wins it has and how few losses it has. I've been high on the Bears all year, so the Texas win did not surprise me at all. That was an extremely good quality win for K-State, I might add.