The JW Top 25

The JW Top 25
Feb 12, 2007, 06:05 pm
1. Florida – (23-2, 10-0; wins @Georgia, @Kentucky; NC) – Saturday’s near collapse shows that this team is far from invulnerable, but it is still hard to argue with two road wins against upper echelon conference foes. This could easily be an undefeated SEC slate for the Gators, though Tennessee may have something to say about that in two weeks. (2/14 Alabama, 2/17 @Vanderbilt)

2. North Carolina – (22-3, 8-2; wins @Duke, over Wake Forest; +1) – Perhaps the Heels have finally learned their lesson about playing defense. Trailing by a significant margin in the second half, Roy Williams decided to bench his freshman phenoms in favor of last year’s starting lineup. The strategy worked. The easy baskets disappeared for the Blue Devils, and Tywon Lawson finished them off upon re-entering the game. Lawson is playing as well as anybody in the ACC right now. (2/13 Virginia Tech, 2/17 @Boston College)

3. UCLA – (21-3, 10-2; win over USC, loss @West Virginia; -1) – Yes, losing to West Virginia is disappointing. But it wasn’t entirely unexpected, as the Mountaineers are a completely different team at home and Darren Collison was on the shelf. His replacement, freshman Russell Westbrook, shot 1-11 from the floor. The Bruins have a chance to nail down the conference title this weekend @Arizona. Given that the ‘Cats actually gave UCLA a couple of weeks ago, this one has a chance to be a classic. (2/15 @Arizona State, 2/17@Arizona)

4. Wisconsin - (10-1, 24-2; wins @Penn State, over Iowa) – Nothing new to talk about here; two weeks until the Big Ten conference title is decided. The Michigan State game could be dangerous, with the Spartans desperately in search of a key win. (2/14 Penn State, 2/17 @Michigan State)

5. Texas A&M – (21-3, 9-2; wins over Texas, @Nebraska; NC) – I’m just waiting for an excuse to move this team higher. With the way Josh Carter is playing, Billy Gillispie can easily bring home a national championship trophy in addition to the national coach of the year award that ought to be a formality at this point. The Aggies still have three dangerous road games left (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas), but I would be surprised if this team lost before the conference tournament. (2/13 Texas Tech, 2/17 @Oklahoma)

6. Pittsburgh – (22-3, 10-1; wins @West Virginia, over Providence; NC) – I really don’t like the Panthers over Ohio State and Kansas, but they’ve accomplished enough to stay ahead of those two squads for another week. As UCLA’s trip to West Virginia proves, a 13-point win in the Mountaineers’ building shouldn’t be discounted. But Pitt has their two toughest conference games remaining, going to Georgetown in two weeks and Marquette to close out Big East play. (2/12 Louisville, 2/17 Washington)

7. Ohio State – (22-3, 10-1; wins over Michigan, Purdue; NC) – It is fairly safe to say that Greg Oden is rounding into form. After all the talk about his lack of domination, his numbers look quite reasonable for a freshman 7-footer. His mobility is coming back, and his impact on the defensive end is undeniable. Yet his presence in the lane has forced Thad Matta to do things a bit differently on the offensive end, and I’m not sure if the Buckeye backcourt is quite fully adjusted to the suddenly clogged lane. (2/14 @Penn State, 2/18 @Minnesota)

8. Kansas – (21-4, 8-2; wins over Kansas State, @Missouri; NC) – Julian Wright’s 31 point, 12 rebound performance against Missouri should be a lesson to anybody that can’t quite understand how players such as Wright or Joakim Noah can be lottery picks while averaging fairly pedestrian numbers. Kansas doesn’t need Wright to score big every night out, but he is clearly capable of it. Kansas’ balanced scoring makeup doesn’t make Wright any less of a prospect, and the same goes for Noah. Both players continue to prove that they are capable of playing at an All-American level, and this will be reflected on draft night. Numbers must be put in context, and Wright’s are very good considering the abilities of his teammates and the fact that Wright’s biggest strengths don’t exactly jump out and you from the box score.

9. Washington State – (21-4, 10-3; wins over Stanford, California; +1 – Kyle Weaver for Pac-10 Player of the Year? Crazier things have happened. The schedule is tough down the stretch, but I wouldn’t put it past the Cougars to take three of @Washington, @Oregon, UCLA, and USC. (2/14 @Oregon)

10. Georgetown – (18-5, 8-2; wins @Louisville, Marquette; +10) – This team is for real, and Saturday proved it. The Hoyas are now in sole possession of 2nd place in the Big East, and have a great chance to make a run at the title with Pitt coming to town at the end of Feb. Roy Hibbert is absolutely at the top of his game, and looks more like a lottery pick every time out. But Villanova is tough at home, and that comes first. (2/12 West Virigina, 2/17 @Villanova)

11. Nevada – (22-2, 10-1; win @Fresno State; +1) – I don’t like having the Wolfpack ranked this high, but they are the best team for this spot at the moment and deserve to be the first non-power conference team ranked. Nick Fazekas has bounced back nicely from the injury, and blew up for 33 and 15 against the Bulldogs.

12. Southern Illinois – (21-5, 12-2; wins over Bradley, Creighton; +1) – The Salukis just keep on winning, but now get to prove that they deserve this ranking. Coming away from this weak unscathed would be impressive indeed. Saturday’s game at Butler should be a “first one to 40 gets the win” type of blockbuster. (2/13 @Missouri State, 2/17 @Butler)

13. Marquette – (21-5, 8-3; win over Rutgers, loss @Georgetown; -4) – Marquette really shouldn’t have been expected to win @Georgetown, but the teams behind them all had good weeks. The schedule down the stretch is full of tests, so we’ll know even better what the Golden Eagles are about by March. Big man Ousmane Barro fought valiantly against Roy Hibbert, and has been playing some very good basketball of late. (2/14 @DePaul, 2/17 Louisville)

14. USC – (18-7, 8-4; loss @UCLA; -3) – The Trojans were oh-so-close to a Top 10 appearance, but faded down the stretch against the Bruins. While there isn’t any NCAA Tournament experience here, I still wouldn’t want to play this team in March. The next test takes place @Arizona. (2/15 @Arizona, 2/18 @Arizona State)

15. Memphis – (21-3, 11-0; wins @UAB, over Tulane; +1) – Memphis is rolling over the C-USA, which may or may not mean anything. A win this weekend could be very important for seeding. Who would have expected contributions from Jeremy Hunt like last weeks’ 30-point outburst against UAB? (2/14 @Tulsa, 2/17 @Gonzaga)

16. Butler – (19-8, 12-2; win @Cleveland State, loss @Wright State; -2) – No shame in losing in the building of your conference rival, and all will be forgotten as long as the Bulldogs take down visiting Southern Illinois this weekend (2/13 Florida Gulf Coast, 2/17 Southern Illinois)

17. Arizona – (17-7, 8-5; win @Oregon State, win @Oregon; NR) – Well that was fast, wasn’t it? The Wildcats have reeled off 3 in a row, and are now a sweep of the visiting southern California schools away from being right back in the Top 10. What an outstanding game for Chase Buddinger in the huge win over Oregon on Saturday… (2/15 USC, 2/17 UCLA)

18. Indiana – (17-6, 7-3; win over Illinois; +4) – The Hoosiers bounced back nicely after the disappointing loss @Iowa. This week isn’t easy however, with trips to Purdue and Michigan in the works. A split would keep Kelvin Sampson’s club in the Top 25. (2/14 @Purdue, 2/17 @Michigan)

19. Boston College – (18-6, 9-2; wins @Miami, @Florida State; +4) – I’m not sure what else Al Skinner’s squad can prove this year. Jared Dudley and Tyrese Rice might be the most underrated duo in the country, and a win over Duke should be enough to get the Eagles a significant jump in the rankings. Much has been made of BC’s tough schedule down the stretch, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Al Skinner found a way to win three out of the final five. (2/14 Duke, 2/17 North Carolina)

20. Oregon – (20-5, 8-5; win over Arizona State, loss to Arizona; -5) – The Ducks have suddenly lost four of six, with one of those the near-miraculous comeback win @Washington State. Teams are doing a much better job of slowing down Ernie Kent’s high-powered offensive attack, and Oregon’s late-game magic appears to have worn off at least a little bit here late in the season. Nonetheless, the Ducks have a manageable schedule down the stretch. One win this week against the Northern California schools should leave them in great shape for a 3-game homestand to close out the regular season (2/15 @California, 2/17 @Stanford)

21. Air Force – (21-4, 8-3; loss @San Diego State, win @New Mexico; -2) – It was looking pretty bleak for the Falcons after 20 minutes @New Mexico State, but they managed to pull it together and come away with a nice road win. This weak should be easier, but games against UNLV and BYU to close out February will probably decide the MWC race. (2/14 Utah, 2/17 Colorado State)

22. Virginia Tech – (16-7, 7-3; win over Virginia; +3) – You tell me what to do with this team, because I’m just about done trying to figure the Hokies out. The blasting of in-state rival Virginia (somehow not televised) just doesn’t equate with getting blown out by NC State and Boston College on the same home court last week. I don’t have a clue what will happen this week, but I do know that if I was Seth Greenberg, I would be worried more about a second loss to NC State than a second victory over UNC (2/13 @North Carolina, 2/18 @NC State)

23. Kentucky – (18-6, 7-3; win over South Carolina, loss to Florida; NR) – The Wildcats are clearly playing better basketball, even if they couldn’t come all the way back against Florida on Saturday. This is the week we find out what Kentucky is made of, with a potentially nasty Tennessee-Alabama road trip. The winner of the first game is my pick to finish 2nd in the SEC East, and I’ve got to say that I wouldn’t bet against the Volunteers at this point. (2/13 @Tennessee, 2/17 @Alabama)

24. Virginia – (17-7, 8-3; win @Maryland, loss @Virginia Tech; -6) – Last week we learned just how spectacular a duo Sean Singletary and JR Reynolds can be. This week, we remembered what roller coaster ride Dave Leitao has been on this season. Singletary and Reynolds combined for 34 points against the Hokies, but the rest of the team finished with just 23. I still think it is ridiculous that the ACC’s 3rd place team with wins over Arizona, Gonzaga, Clemson, Duke and Maryland (twice) isn’t ranked. They shouldn’t have problems with Florida State at home, but who really knows with what is going on the state of Virginia these days. (2/13 Longwood, 2/17 Florida State)

25. West Virginia – (19-5, 7-4; loss to Pittsburgh, win over UCLA; NR) – John Beilein may have locked in another trip to the dance with the win over UCLA, which I have mixed feelings about. I’m just not sure the Mountaineers are going to beat somebody that’s anybody away from home. West Virginia can prove me wrong tonight against G’Town, but home wins against Seton Hall and Cincy between now and March probably assure this team a bid. (2/12 @Georgetown, 2/17 Seton Hall)

Dropped Out: Duke, Vanderbilt, Creighton

On the Cusp: Creighton, Missouri State, Tennessee, Clemson, Winthrop, Villanova, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Stanford, Texas

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