The JW Top 25

The JW Top 25
Jan 29, 2007, 07:50 pm

#2 North Carolina - (19-2, 5-1; win @Wake Forest, win @Arizona; NC)
#9 Duke - (18-3, 5-2; win over Clemson, win over Boston College; NC)
#13 Virginia Tech - (16-5, 6-1; win @Miami, win @Georgia Tech; +8)
#23 Clemson - (18-4, 4-4; loss @Duke, loss to Virginia; -4)
On the Cusp: Virginia

The story here isn't the Tar Heels destroying just about everybody – that was a given. What really jumps of the page is Virginia Tech’s excellent play. The ACC plays an unbalanced schedule and there is quite a large difference between the top and the bottom of the conference, so certain teams (Boston College) have a better record than their play would indicate. But not the Hokies. Virginia Tech has already breezed through the most difficult part of their schedule, and it would take a monumental collapse to keep Seth Greenberg’s club from dancing this year. A pair of games with NC State plus a home date with Miami should be wins, and two games against Virginia could end up deciding 3rd (or maybe even 2nd) place in the ACC.

As far as the rest of the conference goes, Virginia got a huge win over Clemson on Sunday by going on a 15-0 run to end the game and win by 1. This game single-handedly pushed the Cavaliers to the upper tier of the conference, and knocked the Tigers out of it. The dynamic lead guard duo of JR Reynolds and Sean Singletary had a terrible preseason, but has once again scorched the nets since the start of conference play, averaging a combined 42 ppg, while shooting 49% from the field, 88% from the line, and 45% from beyond the arc. If Reynolds and Singletary can keep up this level of play, Virginia is going to be very formidable in March. If Virginia can take all the positive momentum and knock off Duke at home on Thursday, a spot in the Top 25 is likely.

As far as disappointments go (beyond the usual struggles of Georiga Tech, Maryland, and Florida State), Clemson has cooled off a bit after an undefeated run made the Tigers the team everybody was talking about. Clemson has now lost four of five, the last two coming in heartbreaking fashion to upper-tier conference foes. The loss to Virginia on Sunday was particularly disheartening, as late into the second half Clemson appeared well on its way to putting the Duke nightmare behind them with an easy home victory. But Virginia came roaring back behind timely outside shooting from Reynolds and Adrian Joseph, while Clemson struggled with missed free thows and turnovers down the stretch. Oliver Purnell should still be able to get this team back on track, and this week (@Georiga Tech, Florida State) should give us a good indication of how much the two heartbreakers will impact Clemson’s season.

This week in the ACC:

Tuesday: Maryland @Florida State – Maryland tries to build on last week’s thumping of Georgia Tech, but the Terps haven’t gotten it done on the road. The Seminoles struggled to beat Wake Forest at home on Saturday, and with trips to Duke and Clemson in the works, a loss here would be a catastrophic blow to Leonard Hamilton’s Tourney aspirations

Thursday: Duke @Virginia – In what is probably the most important game of the week, Duke and Virginia will battle it for what could easily amount to 2nd place in the ACC. The Blue Devils were able to make it through last week unscathed thanks to the phenomenal play of Josh McRoberts, but lost to Georgia Tech in their only other conference road test thus far.

Saturday: Clemson @Georgia Tech –Both teams are in desperate need of the big win this game would provide. Perhaps the advantage goes to the Yellow Jackets, as Tech nearly won at Clemson earlier in the year and the Tigers have all week to sit around and stew over last week’s events.


#5 Kansas - (18-3, 5-1; win @Baylor, win over Colorado; +1)
#7 Texas A&M - (17-3, 5-1; loss @Texas Tech, win over Oklahoma; -2)
#16 Oklahoma State - (18-3, 4-2; win over Oklahoma, win over Iowa State; NC)
On the Cusp: Texas

This year’s Big XII is proving to be as week as advertised in the lower half, so quality wins are at a premium and there is opportunity for a team or two to sneak into the tourney through the back door. Bob Knight and Texas Tech appear capable, after successfully defending their home court against Kansas and Texas A&M in the same week. Surprisingly, it wasn’t senior Jarrius Jackson leading the way. Tried and true Jayhawk killer Darryl Dora scored 19 huge points against Kansas, while Martin Zeno led the way against the Aggies with 22. One might be thinking that with a 4-2 record and a pair of Top 10 wins, the Red Raiders are deserving of a spot in the JW Top 25. But unfortunately, the two “upset” wins were bracketed by road losses to Baylor and Missouri. The Red Raiders have Texas at home and a trip to Oklahoma this week, so we’ll find out quickly if Texas Tech was just a flash in the pan.

Much has been made of all the unfamiliar faces patrolling Big XII sidelines this winter, and the newbies have certainly taken a few licks over the first half of conference play. Only Bob Huggins at K-State has .500+ record (4-2), but the Wildcats’ best win so far is @Missouri. Speaking of the Tigers (2-4), Mike Anderson’s Big XII initiation was particularly rough, as Missouri lost four straight to open conference play. But they have been playing better as of late, with wins over Colorado and Texas Tech plus a down-to-the-wire loss at Kansas over the last three. Jeff Capel’s Oklahoma squad has competed as consistently any of the newcomers’, but the Sooners (3-4) don’t have a good conference win to their name just yet.

This week in the Big XII

Wednesday: Texas @Texas Tech – There is a clear-cut Top 3 in the Big XII at the moment, and Wednesday night’s intra-state showdown should give the winner a clear-cut advantage for that spot behind Oklahoma State. The Longhorns are 5-1 in the conference, but lack quality wins for the resume and have their work cut out for them with a brutal schedule down the stretch

Saturday: Texas A&M @Kansas – Without a doubt the game of the week and perhaps the game of the year in the Big XII, Texas A&M and Kansas are nearly polar opposites when it comes to team makeup and team chemistry. Billy Gillispie won’t employ a single Top 50 recruit on Saturday night, but he will roll out a experienced-senior laden lineup and employ a methodical, halfcourt-based gameplan that could drive the youthful, flashy, open-court thriving Jayhawks nuts. Kansas hasn’t looked anything like a Top 10 team in recent games, and will have to find that extra gear (see: Florida, Oklahoma State) to win this one. On the other hand, Texas A&M has yet to nail down an impressive road win.

Big East

#6 Pittsburgh - (19-3; 7-1, win @Cincinnati, win over St John's; +2)
#11 Marquette - (19-4, 6-2; win over Seton Hall, win @South Florida; +3)
On the Cusp – Georgetown, Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova

This conference is a mess, with only Marquette and Pittsburgh worthy of Top 25 status at the moment. Notre Dame continues to show in the major media polls because of their impressive non-conference accomplishments, but wins over Maryland and Alabama might not be the resume builders they looked liked they were come tourney time. Now the Fighting Irish must go on the road for three straight, and considering that they have yet to win on the road in conference play, Notre Dame is probably a lot closer to the bubble than most people think. The same thing can be said about a very young West Virginia team. Meanwhile, conference mainstay Connecticut is in freefall, and Jim Boeheim’s Orange are on the verge of following. DePaul was a sentimental sleeper headed into the season, but the Blue Demons have now lost three straight and continue to shoot themselves in the foot with inconsistency and mental mistakes.

Despite all the disappointment in the Big East this year, a handful of teams do still have a chance to joint Pitt and Marquette in the top tier. Georgetown as won four straight against sub-par competition, but will get another chance to jump into the conference title fray with an @Louisville, Marquette, West Virgina, @Villanova stretch in early February. Louisville could finally be moving out of the Fransisco Garcia-Taquan Dean era after winning four out of their last five and a long-awaited Juan Palacios sighting, but the Cardinals must prove it on the road first. Finally, Villanova is just 3-4 in conference but all the losses have been on the road against upper echelon Big East teams. Freshman PG Scottie Reynolds is averaging 21 ppg over the last seven and five of the next six are at home. Unfortunately, the schedulemakers didn’t do Jay Wright any favors this year – games against Pittsburgh, Louisville, Marquette, Georgetown and Syracuse remain.

Would you have ever guessed that the nation’s 3rd and 4th best offenses (according to are Pittsburgh and Georgetown? Most people think of both teams as defense-oriented, but the connection being made is actually with the slow pace they play. Pittsburgh ranks 311th in the nation in tempo, while the Hoyas are crawl in at 329th.

This Week in the Big East

Monday: Pittsburgh @Villanova – The Wildcats have defended their homecourt admirably in Big East play thus far, but they haven’t faced a team like the Panthers yet either. I get the feeling that Villanova is going to make some noise before the end, and a home win tonight would really get the ball rolling on that front.

Wednesday: Connecticut @Depaul – This game deserves note because one of these two teams actually walks away with a win. Neither team was expected to light the world on fire, but most projected both to make the field of 65. Whoever loses this one is pretty much finished. The game will feature numerous talented players, so it should be fun to find out which team ends up giving another game away.

Saturday: Louisville @Villanova – This is probably the most important Big East game of a weekend in a conference that is a little light on headline matchups. Louisville should be sitting pretty at 6-2 and searching for that first significant road win, while Villanova could be in dire straights if they can’t pull of an upset tonight against Pitt.

Big Ten

#3 Wisconsin - (21-1, 7-0; win over Michigan, win @Iowa; +1)
#8 Ohio State - (18-3, 6-1; win @Northwestern, win over Michigan State; -1)
#24 Indiana - (15-5, 5-2; loss @Illinois, win over Michigan; NR)

Don’t expect much drama in the Big Ten between now and March, as Wisconsin and Ohio State really can’t prove themselves any more than they already have against this weak field. The Badgers look a little better every week – Alando Tucker is having a season for the ages, and there is quality depth everywhere. Guys like Michael Flowers, Marcus Landry, Joe Krabbenhoft, and Greg Stiemsma are not usually roleplayers. Meanwhile, Ohio State continues to scare in stretches but hasn’t slipped up since the early loss to Wisconsin.

The middle of the pack appear s to be solidifying, with Indiana getting the nod over Michigan State and Michigan for now. The Hoosiers are playing well going into Wednesday’s visit from Wisconsin, having pushed Ohio State, given Illinois a game in Champaign, and knocking of Michigan at home. Michigan State’s time is now. The Spartans nearly knocked off Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday, but now face a road trips to Illinois and Purdue, home-and-home’s with Wisconsin and Michigan, and visits from Ohio State and Indiana over their final nine games. Sheesh.

Michigan’s record looks nice, but the Wolverines have yet to secure anything even remotely close to a quality win. Last week’s loss @Indiana was a killer, and it looks like Indiana’s return trip could be Tommy Ammaker’s last good chance for a resume builder.

This week in the Big Ten

Tuesday: Michigan State @Illinois – Illinois has been quite schizophrenic this season, but remains a very tough out on their home floor. Michigan State has a rough stretch coming, but has been playing better with the return of freshman wing Raymar Morgan. A W in Champaign would be a huge boost as the true gauntlet begins for Tom Izzo & company.

Wednesday: Wisconsin @Indiana – This may be Wisconsin’s toughest test before the late February rematch in Columbus. The Hoosiers are hard-nosed, balanced, and shooting the ball very well at the moment. Kelvin Sampson has the horses to go after the Badgers in the half-court, and Indiana is also in desperate need of a signature win to polish off the at-large resume.

Saturday: Ohio State @Michigan State – The Spartans nearly shocked Ohio State on their home floor last weekend, and you can be t that Tom Izzo will have a few more tricks up his sleeve with a second chance six days later. The Buckeyes are a ridiculously hot-and-cold team, sometimes involving Greg Oden and other times forgetting about him, sometimes coming out of the gate on fire only to let the opposition back in the game late, and sometimes sleepwalking through entire games only to wake up at the last minute.


#4 UCLA - (19-2, 7-2; win @California, loss @Stanford; -1)
#10 Oregon - (19-2, 7-2); loss @Washington, win @Washington State; NC)
#14 Washington State - (17-4, 6-3; win over Oregon State, loss to Oregon; -2)
#15 USC - (16-6, 6-3; loss @Stanford, win@California; -4)
#19 Arizona - (14-6, 5-4; win over Arizona State, loss to North Carolina; -6)
#22 Stanford - (14-5, 6-3; win over USC; win over UCLA; NR)

That’s right – six Pac-10 teams currently reside in the JW Top 25, and all six have earned their places. Everybody was ready to hand the conference title to UCLA on a golden platter, but the Bruins winning the Pac-10 is far from a foregone conclusion. Any of the six ranked teams are more than capable of bringing home the hardware. Something will have to give this week, with the Socal schools hosting the Oregon schools, and the Washington Schools making the trip to Arizona.

It was quite shocking to see a young North Carolina team waltz into Arizona and run the Wildcats off their own floor. Arizona hasn’t lost very many home games over the past two decades, and how many of those were because the Lute Olson’s team couldn’t keep up? Common sense dictates that the Wildcats will bounce back at this point, but history tells us that the Olson teams featuring the balance and defensive aptitude to make a run in the Tourney show these attributes off before March.

Some teams just find ways to win, and the Oregon Ducks would certainly qualify so far this year. Ernie Kent has managed to squeeze clutch play after clutch play out of a roster that came up short in nearly tight situation they found themselves in a year ago. Aaron Brooks is a First-Team All-American at the moment, and the likely Pac-10 player of the year. Brooks embodies the turnaround of the Ducks as a whole, evolving from crunch time goat to buzzer beating hero seemingly overnight.

This Week in the Pac-10

Wednesday: Washington State @Arizona, – This crucial matchup features two teams smarting for different reasons. Arizona was mentioned above, while Washington State became Oregon’s latest victim after blowing a big lead in the closing minutes at home on Saturday night. The Wildcats nearly knocked off Washington State earlier in the season, but one has wonder if this is the same basketball team it was a couple of weeks ago. The winner of this game can probably look back at the recent bumps in the road and smile – the loser will have serious catch-up to play in the conference race.

Wednesday: Oregon @UCLA
Saturday: Oregon @USC

These two games really speak for themselves. Both will be tremendous tests for Oregon, but the Ducks have found success on the road as of late. Brooks & company only need to win one of two to maintain their standing in the JW Top 25.

Saturday: Stanford@California The Cardinal are suddenly the latest “it” team to come out of the Pac-10, and while the much-ballyhooed Lopez twins have been phenomenal, it was sophomore duo Anthony Goods and Lawrence Hill that made the difference in the breakthrough win over UCLA. Now Stanford must back up the hype by coming away with a win in their regional rivals’ building.


#1 Florida - (19-2, 6-0; win @Mississippi State, win @Auburn; NC)
On the Cusp: Vanderbilt, Georgia

The SEC is feeding on itself this year, with a surprisingly strong middle of the pack ruining the party for many conference favorites. With Tennessee and Alabama collapsing behind injuries to key players and LSU failing to live up to lofty preseason expectations, the door is truly open in this conference – but it isn’t going to be easy for anybody.

The SEC East is cooking, with defending champs cruising along, three teams currently at 5-2, and Tennessee, a mainstay in early-season Top 25’s, suddenly 2 ½ games out of fourth place. Georgia has defended its home court admirably with wins over Kentucky and LSU, but now goes @Tennessee, @Vanderbilt, Florida over the next three. Kentucky’s record is also skewed by an easy schedule over the first half of conference play. But Vanderbilt may be the story of the SEC thus far. The Commodores are putting together an NCAA-Tournament worthy resume, winning back to back games @Kentucky and @LSU, while also rocking Alabama and taking down rival Tennessee. The wing duo of Derrick Byars and Shan Foster is lighting it up, and major credit has to go to Kevin Stallings for once again remaining competitive despite the lack of recruiting sway.

It has also been interesting to note the resurgence of Auburn, which has found success doing things the typical ACC way. Jeff Lebo doesn’t have much size in the frontcourt or a legit go-to scorer, but he does have a deep rotation of players who attack opponents with all-out ferocity whenever they are on the court. The young Tigers have struggled on the road, but have already taken down Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Alabama at home.

This Week in the SEC

Wednesday: Alabama @LSU – Both teams are reeling, and in desperate need of a win to keep pace. Ron Steele just isn’t up to speed, and don’t expect the Crimson Tide to play at a level consistent with expectations until he is. Still, the Crimson Tide were able to beat LSU at home earlier in the season.

Saturday: Georgia @Vanderbilt – Vandy has been nearly impossible to beat at home recently, and the Bulldogs will be on the second leg of a crucial road trip (@Tennessee on Wednesday). This game could decide who gets to play second fiddle to the Gators the rest of the way, and while Georgia already picked up a decent road win @Arkansas, knocking off the Commodores on that raised floor would be something that plenty of good teams haven’t been able to do this season.

Saturday:Kentucky @Arkansas – It hasn’t been a good stretch for Tubby Smith, with his Wildcats losing at home to Vandy and falling on the road @Georgia. The schedule is about to get nasty, so picking up a road win @Arkansas would be a huge lift. But the Hogs will have a lot to say about that, fresh off nearly running away from Alabama on Saturday. Steven Hill is playing at the highest level of his career, and Stan Heath has numerous players who can shoulder the scoring load on a given night. This game should tell us a lot about where these two teams stand in terms of Tourney worthiness.


#12 Nevada - (19-2, 7-1; win over Louisiana Tech, win over Utah State; +3)
#17 Butler - (19-2, 7-1; win@Loyola-Chicago, win@Detroit; +3)
#18 Memphis- (17-3, 7-0; win over Tulsa, win over Southern Miss; +4)
#20 Air Force - (19-3, 6-2; win over TCU, loss @BYU; -2)
#21 Southern Illinois - (17-5, 8-3; win over UNI, win over Illinois State; NR)
#25 Virginia Commonwealth (18-3, 10-0; win @George Mason, win @Drexel; NR)
On the Cusp: Creighton

The JW Top 25 includes 6 non-BCS schools this week, with several schools starting to separate themselves from the rest of their conference and the incumbents holding down the fort for the most part.

Finally, some separation in the Missouri Valley. Southern Illinois has taken control of the standings, after win @Creighton, and home victories over UNI and Illinois State. The Salukis are sitting pretty at 8-3, but still must go to Wichita State this week and Missouri State middle of next month. The Bluejays are actually tied with Southern Illinois at 8-3, but go on the road twice this week and trip to Southern Illinois in two weeks. Still a pair of wins this week against Drake and Bradley, and Creighton is likely pushing for a Top 25 spot. Hopefully the committee will reward all of the MVC teams deserving of bids this season, unlike last year when Creighton and Missouri State both got shafted.

While Butler and the MVC schools continue to shine, at-large candidates are very hard to find in the “traditional” two bid leagues. Obviously Air Force, Nevada and Memphis fit the bill, but even the heavyweights are lacking in quality wins. The A-10 is lack s team with a credible at-large resume, despite a substantial amount of young talent within the conference. One would think that Xavier might be able to sneak in the bubble falls just right, but the Musketeers are still very likely to win the conference. One WAC team certainly in the running is New Mexico State, currently 17-4 and leading the conference after beating Nevada last week. The schedule is a bit lean and losses to Loyola-Marymount and Louisiana Tech certainly aren’t going to help the cause, but if Reggie Theus’ crew can get through an upcoming three game stretch of @Utah State, @Fresno State, @Hawaii unblemished, maybe the Lobos have a shot.

I was surprised to see Virginia Commonwealth still sitting outside the Top 25. The Colonial is a very tough league, and perfection ought to be rewarded at this stage in the season. Many will probably point to Drexel big man Frank Elegar missing last weekend’s conference-topping showdown, but the game was @Drexel so it ought to count for something. My view is that if we have teams like Butler and Air Force inside the Top 15, VCU has to at least be included in the poll.

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