Friday, February 1, 2013

NCAA Basketball 2012-2013: Power Poll February 1

Over the course of the last 7 days since my last Power Poll (PP) was published on Friday January 25 we have not seen too many losses from PP teams – the fifteen teams ranked in the 1/25 edition went a combined 24-6 with no team going 0-2.  Besides New Mexico the other five teams to lose a game over this last week were from power, BCS, AQ conferences – whatever you want to call them.  So with that in mind there will not be a ton of movement in the PP this week, but because of that I will add in some analysis on each ranked team to provide some background on what I am seeing, and hopefully stimulate some conversation here or via Twitter with my readers commenting if they agree or disagree.  Remember folks, if you take the time to read this and want your voice to be heard please email me or leave a comment here – I never ever 100% use an email address for any reason whatsoever unless asked – I do not do blast email marketing, I do not sell or trade email addresses – so please feel confident your email address is in safe hands here if you want to have your voice heard.  And I do give away client level selections if your comments are solid, and well thought out even if I do not agree with them!  So please, let your voice be heard – tell me about your school, why they should be ranked if they aren’t, or why they should be higher in the poll if they are! 
One last twist to this week’s edition which will remain throughout the rest of the season: I am only going to rank teams that I feel deserve it – no matter the # of teams that includes.  So, in this week’s poll that’s 12 schools – I will continue showing 20 schools each entry, but the # of teams that show up in “Next Five” will change depending on the # of teams included the poll. 
With all that in mind, here is the latest PP which includes all action through Thursday January 31:
Current Rank, Team, Record, Last edition’s Rank
#1 Michigan (20-1) [1]: as many of you probably know by now the Wolverines have reached the #1 ranking in the AP poll for the first time since early in the 1992-1993, which was the 2nd & final season the Fab Five were all together (Chris Webber left following this season & was selected #1 overall in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic).  This current edition of Wolverines is also ranked #2 in the USA Today poll (USAT), #7 in the RPI (a lot of which is driven by a non-elite SOS that is ranked #48), and #3 in KenPom (KP).  The biggest issue this UM squad has compared to their competition near the top of the poll is defense – KP only ranks them #31, which is the worst ranked defense from all BCS conference teams until you reach #25 Marquette – the Golden Eagles are ranked #65 defensively (any discussion below re: offense vs. defense rankings will use KP unless otherwise noted).  That is the side of the floor these Wolverines must improve upon if they hope to make a deep run in March.  On Saturday Michigan travels to Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN to face #3 Indiana in a massive game – potentially the biggest game of the regular season.  This arena rocks like nowhere else in the country for huge games – think about the Kentucky game in December of 2011.  With ESPN’s Gameday in attendance, and a 8pm local tip, Assembly Hall should be as juiced as possible & absolutely rocking for this must see TV – we can only hope this game lives up to the hype!  As an FYI the Hoosiers visit Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines on the last day of the regular season, March 10.
#2 Florida (17-2) [4]: arguably no team has pummeled their competition quite like the Gators have for the better part of this season.  Obviously playing in an ULTRA weak SEC (this isn’t football here!) where there are only two other teams ranked in the AP/USAT polls – Missouri, which hasn’t been at full strength for most of the conference season & Ole Miss, who may be the worst 17-3 BCS conference team of all time.  UF is ranked #4 in both the AP & USAT (with a 1st place vote in each) polls, #6 RPI & #1 KP.  The Gators are currently on a 9 game winning streak, and get this: their “closest” games during this streak was a pair of 17pt wins over Air Force (which started this win streak), and @ Georgia – again, back to the original point, they are not only winning but pummeling teams into submission.  Their average margin of victory during the streak is a whopping 26.2ppg!  That is crazy, and even adjusting for a weaker than usual SOS, the Gators are certainly National Title contenders.  Florida hosts Ole Miss on Saturday, still has to play @ Missouri and square off with Kentucky twice, but it is all set up for the Gators to secure a #1 seed by the time the season plays out – and Billy Donovan is one of the best NCAA Tournament coaches considering he is seeking his third National Title, which would tie him with Jim Calhoun & Bob Knight – and he would only trail Mike Krzyzewski (4), Adolph Rupp (4), and John Wooden (10).
#3 Indiana (19-2) [3]: the Hoosiers were #1 earlier this season and now sit at #3 in both the AP & USAT polls, #2 KP, but all the way down at #14 RPI.  A lot of that drop in RPI rating compared to the polls is driven by their conference SOS that ranks just #88 in the country – which seems somewhat counterintuitive since the Big Ten is widely regarded as the top conference in the country this season.  A closer look at the Hoosiers schedule shows to date they have played most of their conference games versus the current bottom half of the conference (5 of their 8 Big Ten games); the other 3 games were at home vs. Michigan State, Wisconsin & Minnesota.  In their final 10 conference games they will play two vs. Ohio State & Michigan, will travel to Minnesota & Michigan State as well; that leaves four games vs. the bottom half of the conference.  As you can see from that breakdown the current weak conference SOS # should rise dramatically during the month of February, which in turn will increase their RPI rank so long as they continue winning.  IU, like UM, is one of the best offensive teams in the country – which should make for a lot of fun tomorrow night when the two hook up for the first of two meetings.
#4 Kansas (19-1) [2]: the Jayhawks, who lost the National Championship game last season, continue playing at an extremely high level despite the loss of multiple key pieces from last year’s team.  KU is ranked #2 AP, #1 USAT, #3 RPI & #7 KP.  KU’s performance is almost the polar opposite of Michigan when examining offense vs. defense comparison – they rank #4 defensively, but just #19 offensively (worst of the Top 11 KP teams).  What makes that spread interesting is typically younger teams play OK offensively since that is more of an individual aspect, but struggle defensively adjusting to the speed & talent of their opponents – something they aren’t used to coming in from the HS level where most could strictly use their athleticism, strength & size to overpower their opponent.  Once they reach the college level it typically takes time to adjust because everyone is the same size, has the same speed, and there is much more of a team element to defense – the adjustment defensively to schemes and footwork typically takes longer.  For that reason it can certainly be argued the Jayhawks will continue improving, and could be a force once again in the NCAA Tournament.  Right now in the Big 12 there is only one other ranked team according to the AP & USAT polls, Kansas State (#18/#21 respectively), whom the Jayhawks beat in Manhattan recently.  I believe the second best Big 12 team is Oklahoma State – and the Cowboys travel to Lawrence tomorrow looking to become the first conference team to beat KU this season.  I wouldn’t count on that occurring (although I feel the Cowboys have a solid shot at covering the 12pts) as the Jayhawks continue their dominance over the Big 12 once again in 2012-2013.
#5 Louisville (17-4) [5]: the Cardinals are coming off a rough patch the last two weeks having lost 3 straight before a Big Monday home win over Pitt 64-61.  Despite those three straight losses Louisville still has the roster, experience, talent & leadership to be a big factor once March Madness rolls around.  Their current rankings obviously took a hit sliding to #12 AP, #13 USAT, #12 RPI & #4 KP.  The KP rankings are probably the most similar to what I am doing here as although I certainly take record into account, I am more looking at how solid I perceive these teams to be; or in other words, how likely are they to reach the Final Four & win a National Title versus where teams should be ranked based on current record.  The fact is the Cardinals still have a top notch defense (in my opinion probably the best in the country, which was a big driver of their NCAA Tournament run last year) which is currently ranked #2 KP only behind Florida (that is not a coincidence either with Billy Donovan playing under & coaching with Ville head man Rick Pitino for many years) – and defense is what ultimately wins championships, and can keep you in games when your offense is “off.”  Having a strong defense increases your margin for error offensively, and that’s supported by the fact I believe the last 10+ teams who won the national championship ranked in the Top 15/20 of KP’s defensive metrics.  In summary, I am not concerned about Louisville at this point – losses can sometimes be a good thing (although three straight is rarely) – which is why they remain in my Top 5 despite going just 1-3 in their last 4 outings.  And for the Syracuse fans that will be upset with Louisville being ranked ahead of Cuse despite the fact the Orange just beat the Cardinals in the Yum Center – I see Louisville as a better overall team, and have discounted Syracuse some as of this moment because of the uncertain status of Southerland, and the injury to Coleman.
#6 Syracuse (18-2) [7]: like #5 Louisville the Orange went down last week at Villanova.  Despite that loss the Orange remain tied at the top of the Big East with a mark of 6-1, which includes a win @ #5 Louisville.  The Cuse are ranked #6 in AP & USAT, and #8 RPI & KP.  The loss of 6th man James Southerland for an indefinite amount of time is a big loss in many areas despite him not starting; the Orange have a history of key 6th men, especially those that can score, which is Southerland’s forte.  Combine that loss with the recent injury to C DaJuan Coleman and the Orange are down 2 men from their typical 6 man rotation – as you can see even when fully stocked the Orange’s rotation isn’t very deep.  Despite these negatives there is a reason they are ranked #6 here: their backcourt of PG So Michael Carter-Williams & All Big East veteran SG Sr Brandon Triche is one of the best in America, while the frontcourt is anchored by veteran Jr CJ Fair, So Rakeem Christmas & highly touted Fr Jerami Grant.  In order to make another deep run come March they will need to get their full rotation back – stay tuned on developments there.
#7 Arizona (18-2) [11]: there were not many, if any, teams that were better than Arizona during November & December.  The Wildcats went 12-0 during those two months, and started their season 14-0 before a tough 4pt loss @ Oregon (undefeated at that time) on January 10.  Since that loss the Cats have gone 4-1 with the lone loss at home to UCLA.  Sitting at 18-2, Arizona is ranked #8 in AP & USAT, #4 RPI & #12 KP.  Arizona’s OOC schedule includes nice wins over CUSA leader Southern Mississippi, SEC leader #2 Florida, ACC leader #13 Miami, Fla & San Diego State – that is 3 conference leaders & San Diego State, who is tied for 2nd in a tough & deep MWC.  The Pac 12 has five teams alive for a berth in the dance (Arizona, Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA & Colorado) – but the Cats only have to face three of those four teams one more time to close their season; the team they miss is current conference leader Oregon, who will thus own a tiebreaker vs. Arizona (based off their 70-66 win over the Cats on January 10) if the two were tied at the end of the regular season.  Arizona has its site set on a #1 seed in the West Region, and if they continue playing solid and find a way to win the Pac 12 regular season, and not get eliminated early in the Pac 12 tournament, there is no reason that goal cannot be achieved.
#8 Ohio State (16-4) [9]: the Buckeyes are very similar to the Spartans as far as record, opponents and performance to date goes.  OSU sits #11 in AP & USAT, #20 RPI & #11 KP – somewhat uninspiring numbers from the computers.  A lot of that is driven by a weak OOC RPI that sits at just #123, which is the lowest OOC SOS of BCS conference teams in the Top 22 of the RPI.  Conference play is where the Buckeyes are going to have to make up that ground they lost in November & December; good thing for them they play in the best conference in the country, the Big Ten.  Although MSU beat OSU in the first meeting between the teams in East Lansing it was a very close game and could have gone either way – however, that loss dropped OSU to just 1-3 vs. Top 25 RPI teams to this point.  The Buckeyes are the only team to beat #1 Michigan so far this season, a 3pt home win in mid-January.  Earlier in the season OSU lost to both #10 Duke & #4 Kansas (both by single digits), but my eye test yielded little difference between that trio of teams.  Ohio State still has to play #3 Indiana twice, travel to Ann Arbor to face #1 Michigan, and host #9 Michigan State – plenty of chances to better their positioning come Selection Sunday.  I believe they are the 3rd best Big Ten team, with a defined gap between them and UM/IU (who are at the top), on the same level as MSU, while ahead of Minnesota & Wisconsin (who comprise the third tier). 
#9 Michigan State (18-4) [8]: Sparty currently sits ½ game behind Big Ten co-leaders #1 Michigan & #3 Indiana, and is the 4th Big Ten team in the Top 9 of the Power Poll.  As far as the polls go MSU is currently ranked #13 AP, #9 USAT, #11 RPI & #16 KP.  What is somewhat concerning looking at their full season is their penchant to play up & down to the level of their opponent: beat #4 Kansas by 3 on a neutral court (but that was way back in the 2nd game of the season, November 13), lost @ #13 Miami, Fla 67-59, lost @ Minnesota 76-63, lost @ #3 Indiana 75-70, beat #8 Ohio State at home 59-56.  That is a record of 2-3 vs. fellow PP teams, and doesn’t take into account their opening loss to UConn, or narrow home wins over Boise State, UL-Lafayette & Illinois, or close road wins over Iowa & Wisconsin.  Truth be told even though at this point the record is there this may not be as good a team as many believe.  There will be plenty of opportunities to prove themselves from here on out with home games remaining vs. Minnesota, #1 Michigan, #3 Indiana & Wisconsin; along with roadies @ #8 Ohio State & @ #1 Michigan.  And we all know what Tom Izzo is capable of come March – many times in the past he led a club into the Final Four that had no business advancing that far when the tournament commenced.  A six game stretch starting February 12th will tell us a lot about this version of the Spartans.
#10 Duke (18-2) [6]: there is some concern in my mind with Duke at this point despite glowing rankings of #5 in AP & USAT, #1 RPI & #5 KP.  Although they are undefeated with F Ryan Kelly in the lineup, their lack of playing true road games early in the OOC portion of the season has led to a 1-2 ACC road record.  What’s more concerning about that record is the fact they lost @ NC State by 8 in a game that was not as close as that final score indicates, they lost by 27 @ Miami, Fla last week, and then picked up their first road win of the season 2 DAYS AGO (January 30) @ Wake Forest by only five, 75-70 – the Demon Deacons are #114 RPI & #132 KP – basically one of the worst BCS conference teams.  The good thing you ask?  They play in the ACC, and there are no more road games vs. likely NCAA Tournament teams unless you consider Maryland, Virginia or North Carolina one.  Duke is not a very deep team this season, nor very experienced or talented in my opinion – but this is a season seriously void of a dominant team; so on the right night, the Blue Devils could beat any of them, with a healthy Ryan Kelly.  Look for Duke to post a solid record, which will lead to a Top 4 seed at worst, and most likely some home cooking early in the tournament – but also look for them to be a prime candidate to be the victim of an upset bid, just like last season when they went down to Lehigh in the first round.
#11 Gonzaga (20-2) [12]: the Zags, per usual, are sporting another extremely strong record in February – but what does that mark truly represent as it compares to other BCS conference teams?  They played three teams that were ranked in either the AP or USAT poll at the time of the game, and they have gone 1-2 in those contests losing at home by 11 to Illinois, beating Oklahoma State by 1 on the road in a furious late comeback, and losing by 1 at Butler two weekends ago (none of those three teams are ranked in this Power Poll and none are even among the “Next Eight” grouping).  What Gonzaga has accomplished is beating quite a few BCS conference teams such as West Virginia by 34, Clemson by 8, Oklahoma by 25, Washington State by 2, Kansas State by 16 & Baylor by 7 – some of those teams aren’t so great, but nevertheless, the overall body of work against BCS conference teams has been solid in my opinion.  And it seems the pollsters agree as the Bulldogs sit at #7 in AP & USAT, while also grading well in the computers checking in at #9 in RPI & KP.  The WCC as a whole is down this season compared to last, and at this point it seems GU will take care of business winning the regular season title.  Even if the Zags were to lose in the WCC Tournament they would certainly receive an at-large bid.  What they are working towards now is twofold: getting a high seed & staying close to home.  It would seem #7 Arizona has the inside track for the #1 seed out West, but Gonzaga should be in play for anywhere between the #2-#4 seed – keeping them close to home for a potential March run.
#12 Miami, Fla (16-3) [13]: the Canes are one of only three BCS conference teams that remain undefeated in conference play, with the other two being #2 Florida & #4 Kansas.  So why are the Canes rated so much lower than those two?  First, keep in mind these rankings are mostly based on how I perceive these teams, ranked in the order of how “good” they are versus what they have “earned” via their current record.  Second, they suffered some poor early season losses, such as a 12pt loss @ Florida Gulf Coast, a 19pt loss to #7 Arizona & a 2pt loss to Indiana State.  Three, they have been much less impressive score wise than the other two schools.  When comparing the pollster’s thoughts to mine it seems they more/less agree: #14 AP, #15 USAT, #2 RPI & #13 KP.  The RPI likes Miami because of their non-conference SOS which sits at #2, driving their overall SOS to #1.  UM only has a pair of games remaining vs. ranked teams, Saturday @ NC State and March 2 @ #10 Duke.  They will certainly at worst be in the mix to win the ACC regular season title, at best they win it outright; as far as way down the line projecting potential tournament seeding I see an upside of a #3 seed, with the downside being a #6 seed depending on how the rest of the season plays out.

Next Eight (in alphabetical order): Cincinnati (17-4) [N5], Creighton (19-3) [NR], Georgetown (15-4) [NR], Kansas State (16-4) [N5] 1-1, Minnesota (16-5) [N5] 1-1, New Mexico (18-3) [#15], NC State (16-5) [#10], UNLV (17-4) [NR]
Dropped out of Power Poll
#10 NC State
#14 Oregon
#15 New Mexico

Games this week featuring Power Poll teams:
Sunday: #1 Michigan @ #3 Indiana
Tuesday: #8 Ohio State @ #1 Michigan

I will release my college basketball Power Poll each Friday of the season, to change it up some from the AP/USA Today release on Monday.  That will make it a little more of a worthwhile read since it will include the games during the week, and will be posted right before the weekend’s action.

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