Color me confused. I didn’t expect this much rotation and shift in the Power Pyramid during its penultimate posting. (The last edition is next Monday, and then it goes in the freezer throughout the conference tournaments, sure to return around Thanksgiving.) But here we are, with multiple top-level teams in the rankings suffering back-to-back losses and generally regressing since the calendar turned to February.
For most of this season we had a lot of talented teams winning a high rates and creating separation between themselves and most teams in their conferences. Now we’re seeing the mean creep in, and few teams are going to get to March with four losses or less. At the mock selection process last week in Indianapolis, a number of these squads weren't viewed in high favor by the committee. That doesn't necessarily have to be the case, so long as Middle Tennessee State, Drexel and Oral Roberts all reach their conference title games.
1. Wichita State (24-4). A Sentence: Go back and check the first Power Pyramid, you’ll see I’ve championed the Shockers from the get-go. A Statistic: At one point this season, Wichita State had 2.56 years of experience on this team, per KenPom. Now it’s at 2.51. The Shockers have actually figured out how to get younger, and I think we all know the answer lies somewhere in Gregg Marshall’s hair. The Schedule: at Illinois State, Wednesday; vs. Drake, Saturday.
2. Murray State (26-1). A Sentence: I’ll contradict my SDSU sentiment and say, despite the 59 KenPom ranking, I think Murray State has Sweet 16 potential in those bones. A Statistic: All five Racers starters score more than 1.1 points per possession — that’s just sexy. The Schedule: at Tennessee State, Thursday; at Tennessee Tech, Saturday.
3. Temple (21-5). A Sentence: It’s actually reached a point where Temple’s being criminally underappreciated, so I’m doing what I can by putting them this high in the Pyramid. A Statistic: When he was snaring 34.6 of defensive-rebound opportunities in early December, Michael Eric was the best on that end of the floor in the country. Now it’s 28 percent and he’s no longer elite, despite the fact he’s still critical to this team’s big-picture legitimacy. The Schedule: at La Salle, Wednesday; at St. Joseph’s, Saturday.
Ron Swanson Approves
4. New Mexico (22-4). A Sentence: At this point, if you’re detracting from New Mexico then I’m going to go ahead and assume chocolately desserts aren't your bag either. A Statistic: Rankings-wise, UNM is a much better team from 3 (39.5 percent is 16th-best) than 2 (49.7 percent is No. 100 in D-I). The Schedule: at Colorado State, Tuesday; at TCU, Saturday.
5. UNLV (22-6). A Sentence: I’m actually loving the fact UNLV’s tripping a bit here, because now fewer people think this team is capable of reaching the second weekend (suckers!). A Statistic: UNLV’s first three losses came in a span of 64 days. The next three losses took two weeks. The Schedule: vs. Boise State, Wednesday; vs. Air Force, Saturday.
6. Gonzaga (21-5). A Sentence: Just when you want to believe in Gonzaga, it goes out and reminds you that it’s still plenty fallible (loss at San Francisco, but still, this team's talented). A Statistic: At least the Bulldogs have remained aggressive. They’re 48-percent free-throw rate is top-five in the nation, where Gonzaga’s been sitting all season. The Schedule: vs. BYU, Thursday; at San Diego, Saturday.
7. Harvard (23-3). A Sentence: Don’t let the three losses trick you into thinking this team is better than five-loss 2010 Cornell. A Statistic: Harvard’s deep, and that’s great, but it’s also been healthy. Seven vital players on the team have played in every game so far. The Schedule: vs. Princeton, Friday; vs. Penn, Saturday.
|Bruiser Flint's Dragons are closing in on 20 straght Ws. (AP)|
8. Saint Mary’s (23-5). A Sentence: Like UNLV, SMC lost back-to-back games this week and has dropped three of four. A Statistic: I’m looking at where a lot of teams have gotten better or worse in a stat as opposed to two or three months ago. Saint Mary’s used to be the third-best defensive rebounding team in the country. Now it’s 18th (73 percent). The Schedule: at Portland, Thursday; at San Francisco, Saturday.
9. Oral Roberts (25-5). A Sentence: If ORU’s anything worse than a 12, and if it wins the Summit title, then it’s a screw job by the committee. A Statistic: What remains most impressive about ORU is the fact it doesn’t have a player taller than 6-9, yet it’s most efficient at blocking. The Schedule: at Southern Utah, Saturday.
10. San Diego State (20-6). A Sentence: I should’ve sold on SDSU last week, because now it’s lost three straight and the frontcourt issues become more glaring as the games go by. A Statistic: The average KenPom rating for SDSU on the year. What do you think it is? I’ll give you a second here. … OK, it’s actually 57. Right now, the Aztecs are 61. Always been too low for my taste, but I wonder if this is a sign that SDSU will be hard-pressed to reach the second weekend. The Schedule: vs. Wyoming, Wednesday; vs. Colorado State, Saturday.
11. Creighton (23-5). A Sentence: That win over Long Beach State, I think, was about as great of a way to stop the bleeding as the ’Jays could have asked for. A Statistic: One of my favorite stats to track this season was Creighton’s shooting. They’ve remained, all year, long, the best eFG team in the country. At 58.7, they cling to the lead by .4 over Denver. The Schedule: vs. Evansville, Tuesday; at Indiana State, Saturday.
12. Virginia Commonwealth (23-6). A Sentence: It might be tough to believe, but I don’t see VCU with a chance at an at-large (I know, where have you heard this before?) unless it reaches the CAA title game. A Statistic: This is fodder for a post I’m doing later this week (so none of you bloggers reading this can take it), but VCU of 2011 is the opposite of VCU of 2012. Last year’s offense and defensive adjusted rankings: 32 and 86, respectively. This year: 91 and 28. The Schedule: at UNC Wilmington, Wednesday; vs. George Mason, Saturday.
13. Middle Tennessee State (24-4): A Sentence: All one-loss conference teams that are above .500 in non-con play deserve the courtesy of a look; MTSU will be 17-1 if it wins two more. A Statistic: The Blue Raiders are so good because they’re weak league allows eight player to shoot better than 50 percent in eFG%. The Schedule: at Louisiana Monroe, Thursday; at Western Kentucky, Saturday.
14. Drexel (23-5). A Sentence: New to the Pyramid, can the Dragons get in without a CAA title? A Statistic: The Dragons get in during the second-to-last go-around of the Pyramid because they’re the best Pyramid team at defending shots, allowing 42.9 percent effective field goal percentage from opponents. The Schedule: vs. James Madison, Wednesday; at Old Dominion, Saturday.
15. Southern Miss (22-5). A Sentence: I’m doing my best not to overreact to a two-point loss at Houston. A Statistic: And yet, I know if Southern Miss makes the tournament there’s now no chance I’m taking them to win a game. They’re 43.6 percent from the field from 2-point range. That’s putrid — and USM isn’t a top-100 defense as is. Smoke and mirrors, I’m afraid. The Schedule: at UTEP, Wednesday; vs. Rice, Saturday.
Roaming outside the Pyramid:
♦ Out: Long Beach State. In: Drexel.
♦ With one more week to go, chance for tossing teams in and out is slim-to-none. Would take some bad losses on Drexel, MTSU, VCU and Southern Miss’ behalf to get expelled.