Monday, February 6, 2012

My look at the Top 25 (part I - with bonus book review)

Ok I admit it - that Gopher loss to Iowa has completely drained me of my caringnessitude about this season.  I'll be back if they beat Wisconsin, but right now I don't see anything in this team that makes me believe they're going to snag an NCAA bid, and that's the whole point of the season.  That's why I took a nap on Sunday instead of watching them play Nebraska - I couldn't bear to watch another road implosion.  Luckily and happily for me, they ended up winning which is good.  Now it's time to play an extremely overrated Wisconsin team and if they can't win this one, that'll pretty much do it for the season.  I may write a preview and I may not, but you know what you're getting from the Badgers anyway.  Instead, I'm going to focus on the National Picture a bit, and give my thoughts on the Top 25.  I did this last year and it was a big hit with me and I don't really care about anyone else.  These are the rankings in the ESPN/USA today poll, not my personal rankings.

1. Kentucky Wildcats.  I think there are four teams this year that are head and shoulders above everybody else in terms of pure talent (Kentucky, Missouri, Baylor, and UNC) but Kentucky is head and shoulders above the other three who are head and shoulders above the rest and they're playing up to their talent this year.  Only loss is that 1-pointer at Indiana, and they've won 8 of their last 10 by at least double digits.  You're always at risk in the tournament with a young team and a coach who is 95% recruiter/5% game coach, but Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones, and Darius Miller have been there before and can give you some leadership where Calipari fails.  They also only go 6.5 deep even with all the blowouts so that's a concern (and I have no idea why Cal isn't giving more run to some other guys in these big wins to help hedge against possible foul trouble in a tournament game when you need someone to step in).  Plenty of worries here, but I'm going to have an awfully hard time picking anybody else as my national champion come bracket fill-out time. 

2.  Syracuse Orange.  I didn't list the Cuse as one of those top-4 talented teams this year but that's no slight to them because I think they do the best job of playing as an overall "team" (along with Mizzou).  Now that the Fab Melo situation has been figured out they've got a rare mix of players where they can dominate you in the paint, on the perimeter, or slashing to the hole and with their athlete's this year Boeheim's zone might be one of his best ever.  Opponent's do kill them on the offensive boards which can spell doom in a tight one, and I'm having trouble buying them completely because they lack any single win you can point to and say "holy shit Cuse is the goods", but they aren't 23-1 by accident.  Probably the one top team where I'm just not quite sure what to think.

3.  Ohio State Buckeyes.  Ohio State is a team I think is flying a little bit under the radar right now, as much as that's possible for a team ranked third in the country.  They beat Wisconsin this weekend in a slow-it-down, plodding game and just a couple of weeks ago beat Indiana in a more uptempo game.  Their ability to win without having to dictate the pace of the game is a huge positive, not to mention that in William Buford and Jared Sullinger they have what might be the best inside-outside scoring duo in the country right now.  They're a bit suspect from a big man stand point outside of Sullinger and, as usual, don't have much depth, but unless DeShaun Thomas shoots them right out of a game they have a great chance at another Final Four berth.

4.  Missouri Tigers.  One of the only teams I consider both supremely talented and supremely "team-y" for lack of a better term, Mizzou would be my clear pick to take the whole thing in March if it wasn't for damn Kentucky.  The Tigers have a reputation as a high-scoring, fast-paced team and they are high-scoring, but they score a ton of points not because they play so fast (105th in the country in tempo) but because they're so efficient (#1 in offensive efficiency).  Simply put, they make a lot of shots (#2 in the country in effective FG%) and they take a lot of shots because they rarely turn the ball over (#4 in the country) - thus they score a ton of points and force you to keep up.  They have the best back court in the nation and although they look a little weak on the front line since they only really have one true forward in Ricardo Ratliffe, their win going into Baylor and taking on maybe the best front court in college tells me everything I know - it's either going to be Missouri or Kentucky cutting down the nets at the end.

5.  North Carolina Tar Heels.  Probably the second most talented team in the NCAA behind Kentucky, but they seem to missing every single intangible quality possible - nothing new for a Roy Williams led team.  There's no leadership, no hustle, no killer instinct, and no drive.  I know they only have three losses, but in two of those they were absolutely crushed (by UNLV and Florida State).  And really, outside of the season opening win against Michigan State on a boat do they have a really good win?  Wisconsin is overrated, Texas is terrible, and although Long Beach is a very good mid-major that's still all they are.  I can't really guarantee an early exit because there is so much talent here, but Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, and Tyler Zeller are all quite types who are looking for someone to follow - one of them needs to become THE guy or we're looking at a non-sweet 16 team here.

6.  Baylor Bears.  I have a feeling this is going to be the trendy pick for the Final Four (say they're a two seed) to come out of whatever region they end up in and it's tough to argue with - their two losses have been to Missouri and Kansas and that's it.  One underrated aspect of Baylor is they are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country at 74.2% (35th in the nation) and that's helped them win a lot of close ones (six wins over major conference foes of 5 pts or fewer) and could be a difference maker in March.  The big worry is although Pierre Jackson has helped them out with the ball-handling this year Baylor is still one of the worst teams in the country in turning the ball over, and as we know one bad game and you're done.

7.  Florida Gators.  I still think Florida is a Final Four contender because they have such a good back court, but neither Patric Young nor Erik Murphy has become a consistent inside force and that's what they'll need to make a run because despite being perimeter oriented they aren't very good defensively.  Erving Walker has settled down and become less chucker and more distributor and he's really allowed Boynton and Beal to flourish.  I would love to see a Florida/Missouri match-up - the over/under would be about 170.

8.  Murray State Racers.  Please.  They've played nobody, and I mean nobody.  Their strength of schedule is 251, and non-conference it's 119.  The only teams they've played that are "real" teams are Memphis (won by 4), Southern Miss (won in double OT), and Dayton (won by 17) and there's a good chance non of them make the NCAA Tournament, which would make Murray State 0-0 against NCAA Tournament teams.  It's a cute team and a cute story, but not only have they not played anyone they aren't even beating the bad teams all that convincingly.  They shoot over 40% from three so you can't completely write them off, but I have a pretty strong feeling they're a first game loss.

9.  Duke Blue Devils.  Same year same basic soft Duke team where all you really need is a strong inside dude who can push their finesse big guys around and some guards who can get said big man the ball as well as defend the three.  It's why they lost to Florida State and why they lost to Miami on Sunday.  Mike Kryzkyzkewski loves pansies - it's true.

SIDE BAR:  I just finished up reading this book - The Last Great Game by Gene Wojciechowski who, to the best of my knowledge, is not related to that little Duke wiener, and I rather enjoyed it despite half the book being about Duke.  That might have been the best part, because it basically proved that Christian Laettner really was an asshole, Bobby Hurley really was a whiner, and that Duke team was one of the least likeable teams in the history of history.   The Kentucky half of the book is even better, since I was young enough at that time I didn't really realize how crazy it was that UK was even in that position considering the massive sanctions they were under in the few years prior.  To get Pitino from the NBA, keep several of their recruits from fleeing despite the team being banned from the postseason, and for Pitino to get a recruit the caliber of Jamal Mashburn despite him knowing he couldn't play in the tournament is all just crazy.  And Wojo (this one, not the annoying little rat) either has really old notes or a lot of these guys have incredible memories, because he paints a very vivid and detailed picture.  Really, if you dig on college hoops books - as I do - I put this right up there with Feinstein's best work.

10.  Kansas Jayhawks.  The Jayhawks are interesting because even though I'm not necessarily impressed with them so far this year, they are the only team other than Kentucky who ranks in the top 10 in Ken Pomeroy's both offensive and defensive efficiency ratings.  Maybe I should be, but I always worry about team's that are so reliant on two players (Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor use a combined nearly 60% of KU's possessions).  I know that those two are worthy of that kind of reliance - both are probably top 10 National Player of the Year candidates right now - but a bad game from either of them probably dooms them. 

11.  Georgetown Hoyas.  Georgetown certainly wasn't supposed to be here after losing three starters from last year's team, but Henry Sims has really stepped up in his senior year (tripled his scoring and doubled or nearly doubled everything else) and they've gotten major contributions from some unheralded freshmen and have ridden their defense to a surprising 18-4 record.  And that's really all I got, because watching a Georgetown game makes me sleepy.

12.  Michigan State Spartans.  I could be wrong, but I think this might be one of Izzo's best teams.  Sure, they've lost a couple road games in the Big Ten but that's to be expected.  Don't forget after they lost to UNC and Duke to open the season they went on a 15-game winning streak which included wins over Florida State and Gonzaga, as well as Indiana and Wisconsin if you're impressed by that sort of thing.  The emergence in the second part of the season of Keith Appling has taken a lot of pressure off Draymond Green who is a lot better when he can concentrate on rebounding and facilitating the offense and let his points come naturally rather than having to carry the full offensive load.  Looking at this group and with Izzo's March history they could be a Final Four team with the right draw.

13.  St. Mary's Gaels.  I didn't even realize St. Mary's was all that good this year, but the whitey whitersons are 11-0 in the WCC (and don't forget, BYU is here now too) and are 6-2 against the RPI Top 100.  And Matthew Dellavedova doesn't just have one of the coolest names and sexiest hair in the NCAA, he's one of the best all-around guards as well.  I really need to catch one of their games this year before the tournament (maybe the Bracket Busters game against Murray State) so I can really evaluate them but it's clear they can light it up, and that always makes 'em dangerous.

14.  San Diego State Aztecs.  Even more surprising than G-Town being ranked highly is SDSU being up here because they lost almost everything from last year's team and it was looking like it'd be another case of a mid-major having everything come together and then crashing down after graduations/early defections, but Jamaal Franklin has gone from bit player to superstar, while Chase Tapley has gone from afterthought to star and SDSU is 6-1 in a tough Mountain West and already has wins over the other two major players in UNLV and New Mexico.  Next week is a monster because they play the Rebels Saturday and New Mexico the following Wednesday so if they handle that it may be time to start looking at them as a legit Final Four contender.

15.  Creighton Blue Jays.  These guys are really annoying because everyone is slobbering all over them, but what I see is a terrible defensive team playing in a way down Missouri Valley whose only significant non-conference win is over the aforementioned SDSU.  They're going to be somewhere in that 4-7 range for a seed and I have a feeling they're going to end up being a pretty trendy Sweet 16 pick (or more).  It could happen, because they do have a player of the year candidate who could carry them in Doug McDermott and they can really shoot the lights out, but if they end up going against a 13-10 seed who can score with them they could be a first round casualty - Iona or Oral Roberts would be a terrible matchup for them. 

So that's part 1.  I was going to do it all at once but then I got about 8 teams deep and I was all like oh god this is a lot of teams.  So I'm cutting her off at 15 for now.  I might do the next 10 (+ some notables who received votes) tomorrow night but I might go out to the bar instead.  Hell, I might be do both because I'm just crazy like that.

Also on the numbers me, Snacks, and Old Man split we had 8-7 for the Super Bowl so if Bradshaw doesn't score and the Giants instead kick a field goal two win 18-17 we would have won BOATLOADS divided by three.  But alas, I sit here.  Still poor.

1 comment:

Bored said...

Regarding the book, any chance that you could type a chapter every night so we would have something interesting to read?