ACC Coach of the Year-Jim Larrañaga-University of Miami: The U was projected fourth in the ACC preseason coaches poll and the Hurricanes did not receive a single first place vote. Larrañaga led a Miami team with four fifth-year seniors and a flashy sophomore point guard to the school’s first ACC Championship. The Hurricanes were ranked as high as second in the country and will likely be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Big Ten Player of the Year-Trey Burke-University of Michigan: The Big Ten POY race came down to two players–Burke and Indiana guard Victor Oladipo. There wasn’t a wrong choice but I think that the Michigan sophomore was more deserving. Trey Burke averaged 19.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game this season and had a strong finish to Michigan’s Big Ten schedule by scoring at least 20 points in five of the team’s final six games. He won the game against Michigan State by picking Keith Appling’s pocket in the final 30 seconds and giving Michigan a two-point advantage with a dunk at the other end; he makes Michigan go. While Burke’s efficiency isn’t ideal (20 points on 20 shots and 25 points on 24 shots against Indiana, 19 points on 21 shots against Wisconsin, 19 points on 19 shots against Illinois, etc.), he gets the job done. Both Oladipo and Burke have talented running mates but Indiana has more depth and offensive weapons, including the preseason national player of the year in sophomore center Cody Zeller.
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year-Victor Oladipo-Indiana University: Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft is probably the best on-the-ball defender in the country and he showed the Hoosiers his peskiness on March 5 when he led the Buckeye defensive effort that resulted in 12 Indiana turnovers. However, Oladipo is a more versatile defender. Oladipo can lock down almost any player from a point guard to a power forward. He has had multiple 20+ deflection games this season and has 69 steals (Craft has 60, for a point of comparison). There was no way that Victor Oladipo was going to go home empty handed on both the Big Ten POY and DPOY awards.
Where I disagree:
ACC Player of the Year-Erick Green-Virginia Technical Institute: It’s time to dust off the files containing the arguments about whether or not Alex Rodriguez should have won A.L. MVP in 2003 when the Texas Rangers finished 71-91 and were 25 games out of first place in the A.L. West. This is a similar situation in a different sport but this time there is no discussion. This is blatantly wrong. Green’s Hokies finished dead last in the ACC with a 13-18 (4-14) record. Three of Virginia Tech’s conference wins came against the three teams that are immediately ahead of them in the league’s standings–Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson, whose cumulative record is six games below .500. Yes, Green leads the country in scoring at 25.4 points per game but VT hasn’t accomplished much this season besides knocking off then-No. 15 Oklahoma State on Dec. 1. What’s wrong with Miami’s Shane Larkin, who led the ACC Champion Hurricanes in points, assists, steals and three-point percentage? What’s wrong with Mason Plumlee, who averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game for the No. 2 Blue Devils? The ACC voters were way off in their POY vote.
SEC Player of the Year-Kentavious Caldwell-Pope-University of Georgia: I have a similar beef with the SEC voters that I do with the ACC voters. The Georgia Bulldogs finished 9-9 in the SEC. They tied for eighth place in a power 6 conference that barely has three teams in the current projection of the 68-team NCAA Tournament field that will be released on Sunday. There’s no doubt that Caldwell-Pope is a good player–he is in the top 10 in the SEC in nine of the 13 statistical categories. Plus, he is projected to be a future first round draft pick in the NBA. However, the combination of his occasional struggles with inefficiency and inability to excel against ranked opponents do not make him deserving of the honor. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had difficulties with inefficiency in the beginning (17 points on 21 shots against Souther Mississippi on 11/15), the middle (16 points on 18 shots against Georgia Tech on 12/4 and 19 points on 19 shots against Ole Miss on 2/16) and the end (14 points on 15 shots against Alabama on 3/9) of the season. Coincidentally, Georgia lost all of those games. Also, Caldwell-Pope scored below his 18 ppg average in all five of UGA’s games against ranked opponents. In fact, he averaged nearly four fewer points. Star players step up in big games instead of backing down. Maybe I should just accept the SEC’s POY award as a sign of how bad the conference is this season but I think that Tennessee’s Jordan McRae was robbed. The Vols tied for fifth in the SEC and are only a win or two from making the tournament. McRae led UT in scoring with a 16.2 points per game average but he averaged over 24 in the team’s final seven games. In that stretch, Tennessee went 6-1, demolished No. 25 Kentucky by 30 points, defeated No. 8 Florida and McRae scored over 34 points on two occasions.
During Week 15 of last year’s college basketball season, it was evident that the Kentucky Wildcats were the premier team in college basketball and UK’s freshman center Anthony Davis was the best player in the country. The Wildcats had a 25-1 record, with their only slip up being a 73-72 loss at Indiana early in December that will forever be remembered for the “Wat Shot.” Kentucky lost only one more game, the SEC Championship, the rest of the season and lived up to expectations by winning last year’s NCAA Tournament.
There is no Kentucky this year. In the past six weeks, the No. 1 team has changed five teams. No one has separated from the pack and any team that enters the top five seems to play hot potato with the No. 1 spot by losing. Last week, four of the top five teams–Indiana, Florida, Michigan and Kansas–in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll lost at least once. Kansas dropped consecutive games for the first time since November 21-22, 2005. Every team in the latest AP Poll has at least two losses, the average number of losses per top 25 team is slightly over four and No. 20 Wisconsin has seven.
So what does it all mean?
A) The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee are going to have a difficult time determining the field of the 68 teams that make it to the Big Dance.
B) Once the teams and seeds are finalized, the national championship is truly up for grabs.
Without further adieu, here are my NCAA men’s basketball power rankings for Week 15:
1. Miami Hurricanes (19-3, 10-0)-Miami is the only team in one of the power six conferences to have a perfect conference record. The Hurricanes’ 10-0 record in ACC play has given Miami a two-game cushion over Duke. The Hurricanes have proven that they can run traditional college basketball powerhouses out of the gym as seen by their 27-point win against Duke and 26-point victory over North Carolina.
2. Indiana Hoosiers (21-3, 9-2)-Indiana let an 11-point lead with seven minutes remaining against Illinois slip away, which could been a major concern for the Hoosiers if it wasn’t for IU’s bounce back win at No. 10 Ohio State. The 81-68 victory was Indiana’s first road win over a ranked opponent since 2002 and kept the Hoosiers atop the AP Poll.
3. Michigan Wolverines (21-3, 8-3)-If Ben Brust’s half-court prayer didn’t force overtime in Madison, Wisc. and eventually lead to a Badgers victory, Michigan would likely be No. 1 team in the country. The Big Ten’s abundance of tournament-bound teams has taken its toll on the Wolverines, who are tied for third in the conference with Wisconsin.
4. Duke Blue Devils (21-2, 8-2)-The Blue Devils have finally gotten their feet under them after losing senior forward Ryan Kelly to a foot injury. Duke lost two of its first three games without Kelly but have rattled off five straight wins as the team sits in second place in the ACC.
5. Michigan State (20-4, 9-2)-Don’t look now but the Spartans are tied for first in the Big Ten with Indiana. The Spartans still have to play Michigan twice as well as Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin a second time; if Sparty can survive the gauntlet, they have a shot at a No. 1 seed in March.
6. Florida Gators (19-3, 9-1)-The Gators should not be judged too harshly for their 80-69 loss to Arkansas. Every team has off nights and Florida showed that their lone conference loss was a fluke. They returned to their prior form by beating Mississippi State by 25 on Saturday.
7. Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-2, 10-0)-Barring a horrible loss or two, Gonzaga seems destined for a No. 2 seed with an outside chance to be a No. 1 if the teams in front of them don’t finish the regular season on high notes. The Bulldogs are a major question mark because of their weak conference schedule. They aren’t tested on a nightly basis the way that ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 teams are. Gonzaga played against three ranked opponents and lost two of those matchups, which could hint at an early exit in the tournament.
8. Syracuse Orange (20-3, 8-2)-If Syracuse can settle senior forward James Southerland’s eligibility issue, then the Orange may be the favorite to win the Big East and ‘Cuse could match last year’s Elite Eight appearance.
9. Kansas Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3)-Last week may have been the darkest period in the history of Kansas basketball with three losses. Texas Christian University’s first Big 12 win, an unexpected 62-55 upset of the Jayhawks, was sandwiched by Kansas losses to unranked Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. With four teams within one game of the conference lead, Kansas doesn’t have any more room for error in a wide open Big 12.
10. Arizona Wildcats (20-3, 8-3)-Arizona was one of the hottest teams in the country and arguably the best team out West early in the season with wins against No. 5 Florida, Miami (Fla.) and No. 17 San Diego State during its 14-0 start. However, the Wildcats have started to show their true colors and fade from the spotlight with losses to unranked Oregon, UCLA and California.
Collectively, North Carolina, Kentucky and Illinois have 13 men’s basketball national championships, 38 Final Four appearances and a 260-118 record in the NCAA Tournament. However, all three teams could be in danger of missing the tourney this season. North Carolina is 13-6 (3-3) and tied for fifth place in the ACC. Kentucky is also 13-6 (4-2) and tied for third in the SEC. Illinois is 15-6 (2-5) and tied for ninth in the Big Ten.
I tweeted at several college basketball analysts about what the chances are that the teams meet in the First Four (teams 65 through 68) in Dayton, Ohio in March.
Certainly, I don’t expect these three teams to be in the “First Four,” let alone for all three to make the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but it would make for an exciting day of basketball in Dayton.
Conference play is officially underway in most conferences, which means that it’s time to evaluate whether it’s time to buy, sell or hold stock in some of the country’s top college basketball teams.
The Bulldogs’ two losses came in the team’s first five games and since their loss to Illinois, who is currently ranked eleventh, Brad Stevens’ squad has rattled off nine straight victories, including a win over No. 1 Indiana. Butler is playing their trademark tough defense and the Bulldogs have wins over Marquette, North Carolina and Northwestern in addition to knocking off the Hoosiers. Butler is the favorite to win the A-10 and its stock can continue to rise with a good conference record.
The Rams suffered three early losses to Wichita State, who is likely the second best team in the Missouri Valley, Duke and Missouri. However, VCU rebounded and is 12-3 with favorable chances to win a wide open Atlantic 10.
The Golden Gophers started the season unranked but have won their way to the ninth spot in the rankings. Their lone loss was to Duke, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of considering the Blue Devils’ success this season. Minnesota is on a nine game win streak and has won six consecutive games by double digits, with the latest being a 76-63 home win against No. 18 Michigan State.
In Bruce Weber’s first year as head coach of the Wildcats, Kansas State is off to an impressive 12-2 record. K-State lost to Michigan and Gonzaga early in the season but have put those behind them with wins over Florida and Oklahoma State. The Wildcats will be in the mix of teams competing for second place in the Big 12 behind Kansas.
UK was way overrated at No. 3 in the preseason but the Wildcats have had time to work out some of their kinks in their non-conference schedule. Ryan Harrow gives them a good option at point guard that they were missing early in the season. They lost to Duke and Louisville, two of the top four teams in the country, and Notre Dame in their first true road test. Many of the growing pains are out of the way and a top three finish in the SEC isn’t out of the question as the will compete with Florida and Missouri for the conference title.
The Buckeyes have faced three ranked teams-Duke, Kansas and Illinois-and lost all three games. With six ranked teams in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes will have to win big games, especially on the road, and they haven’t proven that they’re up to the challenge just yet.
The Panthers cracked the AP Top 25 with an appearance at No. 24 but it will be short-lived after losing to Cincinnati and Rutgers in their first two Big East games, which makes then tied for last place in the conference. Pittsburgh had two freshmen in the starting lineup, which could make for a slow start to conference play.
Mick Cronin’s Bearcats reached as high as eighth in the rankings but Cincinnati lost to New Mexico and St. John’s in the team’s last three games. UC has a challenging next matchup when it hosts No. 21 Notre Dame on Monday.
The Badgers entered the season in the AP Top 25 but fell quickly out of the polls after losses to Florida, Creighton, Virginia and Marquette. Wisconsin plays Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State in consecutive games in January, which bodes for a difficult month and a bad start to Big Ten play.
The Blue Devils have passed every test that has been thrown at them this season but they can only move down in the rankings from the No. 1 spot. Duke will be expected to win the ACC but North Carolina State, North Carolina or Maryland all have the talent to upset the Blue Devils in conference play.
Sean Miller’s Wildcats are the best team out West but San Diego State, Colorado and Utah’s close losses have shown that Arizona is vulnerable and it could suffer its first loss to a PAC-12 opponent this month.
The Fighting Illini are a very difficult team to examine. They won by double digits against Butler and on the road against Gonzaga. Then Illinois lost to Missouri and Purdue in a three-game stretch, followed by a dominating win over Ohio State. Illinois is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten but their up and down play gives the impression that they will have their share of impressive wins and tough losses this season.
The Cowboys blew out North Carolina State early in the season but have lost consecutive games to No. 10 Gonzaga and No. 25 Kansas State, which means that Oklahoma State still has room for improvement in the remainder of the season.
The country’s No. 2 team is off to a 15-0 start but it is only a matter of time until the Wolverines lose their first game. The Big Ten schedule for every team is a mine field–one bad step or slip up and Michigan can receive the first blemish on its 2012-13 campaign. However, the Wolverines are one of the best teams in the country and will give Indiana a run for its money to win the Big Ten.
Stay tuned for the next edition of Sports.Eat.Sleep.Repeat.!
Christmas break in college is the ultimate vacation. There is no school work for which one is responsible and there are few responsibilities or expectations. My family spent the day before Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house, which meant that I was given the choice between sleeping on a couch in the family room and the floor of a bedroom. Naturally, I took the couch but that meant that I had to listen to the incessant drone on my grandpa listening to Storage Wars. The sound of the auctioneer rattling off steadily increasing prices and featured buyer Dave Hester’s constant shouts of “YUPPP” had virtually the same effect as Chinese water torture and falling asleep while the TV was on quickly became out of the question.
I checked my phone one last time before bed to see if the Seattle Seahawks managed to drop fifty points on the San Francisco 49’ers and saw that there was one featured game on ESPN’s ScoreCenter mobile app that hadn’t started: No. 4 Arizona v. Miami (FL) in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. I grabbed my Skullcandy noise-cancelling headphones, an early Christmas present that I had received just hours earlier, and said goodbye to the obnoxious catch phrases of Storage Wars and hello to late night hoops on WatchESPN that carried me into the early hours of Christmas Eve.
It has been a lot of fun watching the Arizona Wildcats play this season because of thier coach, Sean Miller, and senior point guard Mark Lyons. Miller and Lyons are one of my favorite coaches and players, respectively, in college basketball after following them for years at Xavier University. Miller was at Xavier from 2004 until 2009 and took the Musketeers to the Elite Eight in 2008. Lyons was on two Sweet Sixteen teams in 2010 and 2012.
The Miami Hurricanes entered the matchup against Arizona with an 8-1 record. It was the ‘Canes’ second game in a 24-hour period after defeating Hawaii, the host school, in a matchup that tipped off at 12:30 A.M. ET on Sunday. Miami’s starting point guard is Shane Larkin, son of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and lifelong Cincinnati Reds shortstop (Class of 2012) Barry Larkin. The younger Larkin is the Hurricanes’ second leading scorer with an average of 14.4 points per game in addition to being the team’s leader in assists and steals.
Miami was voted fifth in the ACC in the preseason and earned more respect from the rest of the conference by defeating No. 13 Michigan State. While the Hurricanes were upset-minded entering the matchup, Arizona proved to have too much talent and depth for Miami to overcome.
While Arizona pulled away in the second half, the Mark Lyons-Shane Larkin matchup was very exciting to watch as both point guards were on the floor for the majority of the game and facilitated their teams’ offenses.
Senior-6’1″ 200 lbs.
Throughout the game, Mark Lyons showed his versatility at the guard position. At Xavier, Lyons typically played off the ball as the shooting guard because Tu Holloway was a better fit at point guard. Since transferring to the University of Arizona, Sean Miller has converted the senior to a point guard but the Wildcats’ offense allows Lyons to be the team’s leading scorer.
Lyons led the Wildcats with 19 points and got off to a hot start early in the game. Two minutes into the first half, the Xavier transfer dribbled down the court in transition, beat Larkin at the top of the key and drove to the rim for an easy layup before Miami’s defense was set. On Arizona’s next possession, he made a spot-up NBA three-pointer to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game.
Lyons did not score again in the first half until there was 4:49 remaining on the clock when he pulled up a few feet behind the three-point line a knocked down a shot in Larkin’s face. On Arizona’s next possession, their point guard used a screen set by Angelo Chol to drive to the basket, where he was fouled and made both free throws.
Mark Lyons’ first points in the second half came at the 17:59 mark after Miami made a layup. Lyons received the inbounds pass and jogged towards the other end of the floor. Then he sped up, crossed over Shane Larkin at the three-point line and scored an uncontested layup. The Hurricanes were still running back on defense and weren’t fast enough to contain him after he blew past Larkin.
Lyons hit his third three-pointer of the game halfway through the second half to give Arizona a 56-37 lead, which was the team’s largest up to that point in the game. It was actually his second three-point attempt in the possession–his first rimmed out but the Wildcats grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it back out to him for a straightaway three.
With six minutes left in the game, Mark Lyons went into takeover mode. He drove down the court after Larkin forced a three-point shot, completed a beautiful spin move in the lane to get by three Hurricanes defenders and laid the ball off the glass for two points. The next time down the court for Arizona, the Wildcats made three passes as Mark Lyons rotated down to the block before receiving the ball near the half-court line. He split two Miami defenders, attacked the lane, used a ball fake and head fake to get them leaning and finally scored on a finger roll after going through all five Hurricanes players. He stared down the camera before Miller replaced him with Nick Johnson, ending his night with 19 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 turnovers. Three of his assists were to a teammate on three-point field goals and the fourth was good look to an open Kaleb Tarczewski for a dunk.
Sophomore-5’11” 176 lbs.
Larkin’s athleticism and quickness showed that he won the lottery of the gene pool by having a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer as a father. The University of Miami point guard needed to have an excellent game if the Hurricanes were to have any chance of winning because they were without Reggie Johnson, a 6’10” 292 lb. forward who is the team’s third-leading scorer and leading rebounder, due to a thumb injury.
The weight on Larkin’s shoulders got a little bit heavier when starter Durand Scott injured his ankle early in the game. Scott remained in the game and managed to score 15 points but he was visibly not at full strength as he was often limping or hobbling on the court.
Miami’s offense typically consisted of four players around the three-point line and one player, usually forward-center Kenny Kadji, in the interior. Larkin was at his best when he penetrated Arizona’s defense and fed the ball to Kadji. Kadji, a 6’11” senior who transferred from the University of Florida after two seasons, was the only Miami player who was having a good shooting night. He was 9-15 from the field and the rest of the Hurricanes were collectively 10-37. Shane Larkin assisted two of Kadji’s nine field goals–an open three followed by a dunk after a slashing dribble drive from Larkin.
Shane Larkin finished with 10 points on 4-9 shooting to go along with his 3 assists and 6 steals. Where Mark Lyons stepped up for Arizona on offense to give them momentum in the game, Larkin came up just short or was countered by the Wildcats.
In the first half, Kevin Parrom made a three-pointer for Arizona to take a 12-11 lead. Immediately after surrendering the lead, Larkin tried to cross over Lyons but lost the ball, Parrom came up with it and went coast to coast for the layup, which shifted the momentum in favor of Arizona. The Wildcats then jumped ahead 17-11.
With seven minutes left in the first half, injured guard Durand Scott was running point with Shane Larkin in the corner. Arizona’s Parrom pressured Scott, forced the turnover and assisted his teammate Nick Johnson on a highlight reel worthy dunk. Larkin should have recognized the danger of having a limping Durand Scott running point and taken control of the offense.
With 1:21 remaining in the first half, Shane Larkin drove to the basket and tried to kick the ball out to a wide open Kenny Kadji for three but sailed the ball over Kadji’s head. Miami was down 37-25 at the time of the turnover and that shot could have cut Arizona’s lead to single digits heading into halftime. With less than one minute on the clock, Larkin missed an open spot-up three-point attempt.
In the second half, Parrom knocked down a three-pointer to extend Arizona’s lead to 16 points. On Miami’s next possession, Larkin missed a three and a jump shot in the span of seconds, which were critical shots in keeping the game from getting out of hand.
By no means did Shane Larkin have a bad game. However, he failed to make the shots to keep Miami in the game and his two first half turnovers came at points in the game when Arizona was going on runs. Miami took advantage of turnover-prone Arizona by stealing the ball 14 times, led by Larkin with 6 steals, but the Hurricanes could not turn forced turnovers into points. Miami shot poorly in every phase of the game with a shooting percentage of 36.5, three-point percentage of 26.3 and a lowly 50 percent completion rate from the free throw line.
Miami was going to need to have a historic shooting performance in order to beat No. 4 Arizona. The Miami Hurricanes were not at full strength and they played one of the best teams in the country in the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats have premier talent at every position and Sean Miller’s squad goes nine players deep. The absence of Reggie Johnson took the life out of the Hurricanes in terms of their rebounding, especially since they were playing against a 7-footer in Kaleb Tarczewski. Arizona had 44 rebounds to Miami’s 19. Kenny Kadji had 19 points and gave Miami an inside scoring option but he only grabbed four rebounds. Miami was playing with only three and a half starters since Durand Scott was operating on a bad ankle.
Mark Lyons outplayed Shane Larkin in Sunday night’s matchup in Hawaii. Even though Lyons plays point guard, he has three years of experience as a shooting guard and has a killer mentality with which Larkin could not compete. Lyons is an incredibly versatile player. He can knock down three-pointers from NBA range, drive to the basket, run his defender into screens and has a repertoire of lethal dribbling moves that makes him capable to score 20 points on any given night. Lyons also benefitted from having great shooters around him–a luxury that Larkin was largely lacking against Arizona. Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Kevin Parrom and Kaleb Tarczewski shoot at least 51 percent from the field and average 6.5 or more points per game. Shane Larkin could not stay in front of Lyons and was embarrassed several times on defense when his opponent decided to take over on offense for Arizona.
I have no doubt that Miami can be a threat in the ACC this season when the team is completely healthy. They can wreak havoc on defense but need Reggie Johnson and Durand Scott to be at full strength in order to competitive on the boards and on offense. Plus, Shane Larkin’s best games are still in front of him. He is only a sophomore and has two years to improve at the most important position in basketball.
The Arizona Wildcats are no longer a secret as they are off to their best start in almost two decades at 11-0. They are playing like the best team out west and have Final Four potential thanks to the addition of Mark Lyons in the offseason.
As a freshman at Indiana University, my allegiance is to the Hoosiers, who currently sit atop the college basketball rankings. Indiana has a 7-0 record and is coming off of a 24-point victory over No. 14 North Carolina. The team’s other statement win came in the Legends Classic championship game against Georgetown. While I would pick IU to win a matchup against any team in the country, I’m going to assume the role of the devil’s advocate and argue that Duke deserves to be ranked number one.
There may not be a team in the history of college basketball that has compiled a more impressive resumé through the first seven games of the season. The Blue Devils have three wins over top five teams to their name. Duke has already knocked off No. 3 Kentucky, No. 2 Louisville, and No. 4 Ohio State. Add in a victory against Minnesota, who is currently No. 21 in the country, and one of the best mid-major programs over the past two seasons, VCU. And their non-conference schedule is not quite over; Duke will play Temple and Davidson, two respectable opponents, before ACC play begins. At this pace, Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad has virtually guaranteed itself a No. 1 seed in March.
IU would be ranked second at no fault of its own. Duke has simply scheduled some of the best competition in college basketball and passed every test with flying colors. Down the road, however, Indiana’s schedule is much tougher than that of Duke. The Hoosiers have ten Big Ten games against teams that are currently ranked and that number could increase if Wisconsin can find its way back into the top 25. The Blue Devils have two games against both North Carolina and North Carolina State but no other team is ranked. Florida State is the next closest team from the ACC to being ranked and the Seminoles are the 37th team in the AP poll.
Without question, Indiana and Duke have proven themselves to be the two best teams in the country. One can only hope that they meet in Atlanta next spring in the Final Four or the national championship game. Coach K vs. Tom Crean. Mason Plumlee vs. Cody Zeller. Seth Curry vs. Yogi Ferrell. Those matchups have March Madness written all over them. In the mean time, the two college basketball powerhouses can only compete in the polls, where they will likely be separated by the smallest of margins.
The majority of the teams that make the NCAA Tournament every spring are from the Power 6 Conferences: the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC. From year to year, the best college basketball conference varies. With three teams in the top five, the Big Ten takes the crown this year.
4. Ohio State
14. Michigan State
DeShaun Thomas-Forward-Ohio State
Big Ten basketball is back. The Indiana Hoosiers are the unanimous preseason number one team with the best player in the country. Ohio State returns junior DeShaun Thomas, who shot 52% from the field last season and doubled his scoring from his freshman year. The Buckeyes also have Aaron Craft, who is arguably the best defender in the country. Only Penn State and Nebraska, which are historically schools focused on their football programs, finished with a record below .500 last season. From top to bottom, the Big Ten has depth in teams and individual players. Minnesota, a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team, has a top prospect in power forward Trevor Mbakwe. Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke is a preseason All-American in many sports outlets after averaging 14.8 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.5 rebounds as a freshman.
6. North Carolina State
11. North Carolina
25. Florida State
North Carolina lost four starters and Duke lost two starters to the 2012 NBA Draft, which hurts the strength of the ACC this year. However, North Carolina State is taking over the reigns as a national championship contender because its top four players are returning from last season. C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood, and Richard Howell all averaged double-digits in scoring last year, when the Wolfpack made a Sweet Sixteen run. They also have the tenth best recruiting class, which is highlighted by shooting guard Rodney Purvis. The bottom of the ACC drops off quickly with teams like Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest, which were significantly below last season.
22. Notre Dame
Louisville was a surprise Final Four team in a region that featured Michigan State and Missouri as the top two teams. The Cardinals return a loaded roster with Russ Smith, Chane Behanan, Peyton Siva, and Gorgui Dieng, which is why they sit at the second spot in the preseason rankings. While Syracuse and Pittsburgh are set to join the ACC in July of 2012, the Big East will still benefit from the Orange’s top ten preseason rank. While ‘Cuse lost Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, and Fab Melo to the NBA Draft, they bring back Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, James Southerland, Rakeem Christmas. They also have the fifteenth ranked recruiting class for this year, with forward Jerami Grant, guard Trevor Cooney, and forward DaJuan Coleman. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who were ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season by the upset-minded Xavier Musketeers and Cincinnati Bearcats, led by their talented backcourt of Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright, are also ranked going into the season. Pittsburgh, Marquette, and Georgetown are all knocking on the door of the top 25.
While the SEC is the perennial powerhouse in college football, it does not have much depth in college basketball. Outside of its top few teams, the conference is dismal. Kentucky is one of the best teams in country once again thanks to the best recruiting class in the nation with four ESPN 100 players. Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, and Willie Cauley-Stein are the next class of potential one-and-dones who were recruited by John Calipari. Senior Kenny Boynton will have Florida in the spotlight this season. The newest school to the SEC, Missouri is ranked fifteenth in the preseason. Tennessee received some attention in the preseason rankings but is still far off from cracking the top 25.
Overall, the Big 12 had a successful 2012 NCAA Tournament. Kansas made the National Championship game and Baylor made the Elite Eight. Three of its six teams lost to the eventual champion Kentucky. Former Jayhawks Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson are now in the NBA, which means that this year’s Kansas squad will rely on Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey to take them back to the promised land. Baylor will be a prominent team on the national level. Texas, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State all received votes for the AP Top 25 but fell short of being ranked. Having Missouri leave for the SEC will hurt them.
Similarly to the SEC, the Pac-12’s top tier is elite and the rest of the conference struggles greatly. Arizona and UCLA are both bringing in top 25 recruiting classes and Xavier transfer Mark Lyons will certainly bolster the Wildcats’ lineup this season. The Pac-12 is looking to improve upon its overall performance last season, where only Colorado and California made the NCAA Tournament.