Well, consider me gobsmacked. I would have never believed we’d reach a point this season that Xavier wasn’t included in that there graphic. But X got X’ed after falling to Gonzaga at home on New Year’s Eve. I’m inclined to let the Muskies back in once they have a couple games rolled together that shows just how good they can be—because Xavier’s ceiling is Final Four-worthy.
Let’s get to other matters, namely, the teams actually involved in this week’s top 15. I said it last week, and of course since I have control over such matters, it’s coming true — we’re seeing more shifting in the Pyramid now that teams are playing quality, beatable opponents on a regular basis. I’d put some serious distance between No. 1 and No. 2 now, as much as I like the boys in Cambridge, Mass.
What I really like about the Pyramid is all the teams I see listed I can see winning in the NCAAs. Even teams not involved (Xavier, VCU, BYU) have win-a-game potential. Strong crop this year, even if that recognition hasn’t picked up nationally yet.
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|Anthony Marshall and Vegas are looking better each week. (AP)|
1. UNLV (15-2). A Sentence: There is now no doubt: Vegas is the clear-cut No. 1 non-BCS team in hoops. A Statistic: UNLV is in the top half of every significant tempo-free category except one, free throw rate. Scoring 1.13 points per possession negates a need to earn dues at the stripe, though. The Schedule: at Cal State Bakersfield Thursday.
2. Harvard (12-1). A Sentence: I don’t think it dodges the debris the rest of the way, but the talk of Harvard getting to The Tournament with just one loss will ramp up now since the Ivy lacks a proven team. A Statistic: Harvard has 19 (!!) players on its roster. The average Ivy team has 17.6 players with a right to a jersey. This can happen because no players are on scholarship. It’s also ironic that Ivy institutions feel a need to be so inclusive. The Schedule: at Fordham Tuesday; vs. Dartmouth Saturday.
3. New Mexico (12-2). A Sentence: A huge jump for the Lobos this week, up from No. 9, because I like to take shotgun on the bandwagon before the crowd flags down the ride. A Statistic: New Mexico finds itself among the best of the Mountain West, which is an outstanding 85-25 and without any team even flirting with the .500 line. The Schedule: vs. Houston Baptist; vs. North Dakota.
Ron Swanson Approves
4. Creighton (11-2). A Sentence: The Birds lose to Missouri State but beat Wichita State — so let’s just leave them be on their branch. A Statistic: Creighton is a better passing team than how its viewed. Bluejays are doling out 19.9 assists per game. Almost the best in the United States. The Schedule: vs. Drake Tuesday; at Bradley Saturday.
5. Iona (10-3). A Sentence: I can’t completely bail on the Gaels, but getting handled at Hofstra was too much to overlook. A Statistic: Friendly Monday reminder that Iona, with 20 dimes per game, is still the most opportunistic passing team in college hoops. The Schedule: vs. Siena Tuesday; vs. Niagara Friday; at Marist Sunday.
6. San Diego State (12-2). A Sentence: Wake me Jan. 14, when UNLV comes to town. A Statistic: How about a troubling lack of a statistic? The Aztecs don’t lead the Mountain West in one major category at the moment. No other Pyramid team inhabits that personality flaw. The Schedule: vs. NAIA San Diego Christian Thursday.
|Steve Prohm has coached the Racers to 14 straight wins in his first season. (AP)|
7. Murray State (14-0). A Sentence: You Racers, I love what you’ve done, but the schedule gets so easy going forward, I don’t know how good this team actually is. A Statistic: Murray State is undefeated. The Schedule: vs. Eastern Kentucky Wednesday; at Austin Peay Saturday.
8. Gonzaga (11-2). A Sentence: Yes, Gonzaga’s a tournament team again, but does anyone have any grip on what this team is or its ceiling?. A Statistic: You’ve heard about how Florida needs to feed Voltron inside, but Robert Sacre is the one who will take all the touches he can get. The big man’s free throw rate is at 93.3 percent, a country mile ahead of any other big man in that category. The Schedule: vs. Pepperdine Thursday; vs. Santa Clara Saturday.
9. Saint Louis (12-2). A Sentence: Too much to ask SLU to go to New Mexico and get a win, but the Dayton game upcoming smells like more trouble. A Statistic: Brian Conklin, a 66.1 eFG shooter, is the best twine-tickler nobody even thinks of talking about. The Schedule: at Dayton Wednesday; vs. George Washington Saturday.
10. Ohio (12-1). A Sentence: Team is a five-point loss against Louisville — a game Ohio should have won, no question — from being undefeated. A Statistic: Point guard D.J. Cooper is great for how he distributes, but also great for his 2.5 steals per game. The Schedule: vs. Robert Morris Monday; at Bowling Green Saturday.
11. St. Joseph’s (10-4). A Sentence: I feel the need to prove the Pyramid doesn’t work the same way the polls do; a 10-4 team in this spot does that, I hope. A Statistic: St. Joe’s should have defeated Harvard Saturday. It blew a lead and couldn’t handle Kyle Casey. The Hawks’ Carl Jones remains the A10’s leading scorer, but he will not do it all himself going forward. The Schedule: at Duquesne Wednesday; vs. Charlotte Saturday.
12. Saint Mary’s (13-2). A Sentence: I was skeptical of SMC all season, but they wait it dismantled BYU Thursday convinced me this team is deserving of getting their graphic above. A Statistic: The Gaels can chase after the ball when they don’t have, snaring 76.9 percent of defensive rebound chances—only Ohio State and Tulane are more determined. The Schedule: at San Diego Thursday.
13. Temple (9-3). A Sentence: Huge week for Temple, which likely jumps way high or gets kicked out of the Pyramid due a pair of home game that can really boost the Owls’ profile. A Statistic: Temple has the No. 16-ranked SOS according to KenPom. That’s the toughest of any Pyramid team. The Schedule: vs. Duke Wednesday; vs. Dayton Saturday.
14. Wichita State (10-3). A Sentence: Lost by seven at home against, Creighton, but I’ve got to see another loss in the next two weeks before booting the Shockers. A Statistic: WSU is only Valley team with a top-25 tempo-adjusted offense and defense. The Schedule: at Evansville Wednesday; at Southern Illinois Saturday.
15. Middle Tennessee State (13-2): A Sentence: MTSU’s resume just edges out VCU, who’s the metaphorical No. 16 this week. A Statistic: The Blue Raiders are new to the Pyramid. What sticks out to me about them: they’re the fourth-best team at getting to the free throw line (53.6 percent of their possessions result in a foul shot), yet they’re miserable when they get freebies (62.8 percent). The Schedule: at Troy Thursday; vs. Louisiana Lafayette Saturday.
Roaming outside the Pyramid:
♦ Out this week: Northern Iowa, Xavier. In: Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee State.
♦ BYU has potential but so much to prove. Team will not win the WCC in its first year that’s for sure.
♦ VCU can make its move in a big way the next two weeks. Shaka’s guys doing more with less.
♦ Southern Miss and Wyoming, I hear you calling my name.