College Top 25 Recap
A Top-25 breakdown for the week of January 27-February 1.
by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
February is an interesting and fun month for college hoops. With conference play in full swing, we see a few teams separate themselves from the rest of the conference while teams that have been in the middle of the pack all season get hot and win several games in a row heading into Tournament play. Fans also see dramatic basketball. Teams are now really starting to feel the grind of the season and upsets and near-upsets are common throughout the country. This is the time that separates the contenders from the pretenders. A lot of great games took place over the last week, catch up on all the Top 25 news and action below…
1. Kentucky (22-1, 8-0)
Could this be the best defensive team that Calipari has ever coached (yes, that includes the Nets)? The young, but super talented and defensive minded ‘Cats have been romping through the SEC. They haven’t faced any tough competition since January 21st against ‘Bama—a game they won 77-71. After dismantling LSU 74-50 in the Bayou, Kentucky hosted Tennessee on Tuesday and beat up on them to the tune of 69-44. Freshman Anthony Davis has been playing tremendous basketball, leading Kentucky in both points (13.5) and rebounds (10.2) per game. Davis also leads the country in blocks, averaging an incredible 4.7 per—could he be the best defensive center college basketball has seen since Marcus Camby? It’s tough to argue against it. Kentucky plays a weak South Carolina team this weekend then gets a true test as they host No. 11 Florida next Tuesday. With such a young team, Calipari has to be sure to keep his guys focused and not get caught looking ahead to the Gators.
2. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1)
‘Cuse has looked like a different team with center Fab Melo stuck on the bench due to academia issues. Without Melo patrolling the paint, the Orange look much less confident on defense and their vaunted 2-3 zone has become much less effective without the big man threatening every shot inside. Syracuse got away with one against a tough, but hard-lucked West Virginia team. Coach Boeheim takes his team south to Manhattan this weekend for a matinee game against St. John’s, a team that always plays better at the Garden. If Syracuse doesn’t come ready to play they will have a tough time against the upset minded Johnnies who have been playing improved basketball over the last two weeks. But, they should have Fab Melo back as his issue was resolved today. After their bout against St. John’s, the Orange get a few days off before a huge showdown in DC against G’Town next Wednesday.
3. Ohio State (19-3, 7-2)
The Buckeyes proved, once again, that they are the toast of the Big Ten with a 15-point drubbing of Michigan on Sunday. But, the Buckeyes can’t get too comfortable, they have a big matchup with Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon which will either tie the two teams for the conference lead or vault Ohio State to a one and a half game lead. After they play Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have a few days off before hosting the underachieving but upset minded Purdue Boilermakers. Thad Motta’s crew is heading into a crucial part of the season; they have a chance to build on their four-game winning streak and can really separate themselves from the rest of the Big Ten in hopes of locking up a number one seed in March.
4. Missouri (20-2, 7-2)
After being upset by Oklahoma State, the high octane Tigers responded nicely with wins over Texas Tech and Texas. The Tigers have a huge game coming up this weekend with a marquee matchup against eighth ranked and Big 12 leading Kansas. Despite leading the team in scoring, Marcus Denmon has not been shooting the ball particularly well as of late. The senior guard went 4-15 (1-6 from long range) in their win against Tech and 3-12 (0-3) for just 6 points in Mizzou’s victory over Texas. Denmon has seen his shooting percentage dip to 44 percent and is shooting 37 percent from long range. I’m sure Denmon is more concerned with victories than individual stats, but if he does not start to shoot better, the Ls may start racking up in a loaded Big 12.
5. North Carolina (19-3, 6-1)
The Tar Heels currently rank 1st in the nation in points and rebounds per game and fourth in assists. After a slip up against Florida State, Carolina has re-asserted itself and has won 4 straight over middle of the pack ACC teams. The Tar Heels have a matchup this weekend at Maryland before they play bitter rival Duke next Wednesday in what should be a fun, close game. Senior forward Tyler Zeller has been playing out of his mind lately; Zeller had 21 and 17 against NC State, 17 points against Georgia Tech and 18 and 18 against Wake. Zeller has been a force and has been the best frontcourt option for the Tar Heels who have one of, if not, the best front lines in the nation.
6. Baylor (20-2, 7-2)
Baylor is certainly making a habit of winning close games. This can be taken one of two ways: either they are allowing teams they should be blowing out to hang around orthey are gutting out hard fought conference games against competitive Big 12 teams. I’ll go with the latter. When you’re sitting at the top of the Big 12, you play with a bulls-eye on your back and get the opponent’s best effort every time you step on the court. On Saturday, the Bears played a tough Texas Longhorns team who crawled back late in the game to make it close. But, thanks to Perry Jones’ career high 14 rebounds and Pierre Jackson’s clutch play, the Bears grinded out another close victory at home. Last night, Baylor continued the trend. Playing at Texas A&M, a team that has given them fits recently, Coach Drew’s squad pulled off another 3-point victory thanks to another clutch three-pointer from Pierre Jackson. The Bears may find themselves in consistent nailbiters, but it will only benefit them come March. The next two games should be close ones as well—the Bears play an Oklahoma State team that beat Missouri last week, and then have a very important rematch with conference rival Kansas.
7. Duke (18-3, 5-1)
The always consistent Blue Devils once again find themselves battling UNC for tops in the ACC. Duke put away a pesky St. John’s team 83-76 on Saturday afternoon at Cameron Indoor thanks to Mason Plumlee’s 15 point, 17 rebound effort. Duke may have won the game but Coach K could not have been pleased with his team’s overall effort. The Blue Devils were up by as much as 22 in the second half but allowed the upset minded Red Storm to get back in the game getting as close as 4 points before Duke finally put them away. Duke has a chance to regroup and refocus with games against Virginia Tech and Miami before their always hyped showdown with instate rivals North Carolina.
8. Kansas (17-4, 8-1)
The Jayhawks were upset by Iowa State out in Ames on Saturday, their first loss in 11 games. After that tough loss, Kansas quickly regrouped and beat up on Oklahoma, defeating them 82-64. The next two games will determine just how good this Jayhawk team is. They face Missouri and Baylor in consecutive games, two of the best teams not only in the Big 12, but the entire country. Of course, going into battle with guys like Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor will keep them confident. But, both of these games are on the road and they will have to bring their ‘A’ game to lead their teammates to victory.
9. Michigan State (17-5, 6-3)
The Spartans dodged a bullet when Draymond Green’s knee injury turned out to be nothing more than a sprain. If Sparty had lost Green, they would have been in serious trouble. The senior banger is leading the team in both points and rebounds with averages of 14.9 and 10.3—but his true importance to the team cannot be measured with numbers. He is their leader and who the rest of the team looks to when they are down and need a bucket. The Spartans lost a heartbreaker to the up and down Illini in what was an ugly game all around. State has a few days to get healthy before taking on bitter rival Michigan a game where revenge will certainly be on the mind—the Spartans lost to the Wolverines by one point in January. After their game with Michigan the Spartans get a break against Penn State before taking on Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back games.
10. Murray State (21-0, 9-0)
How far can the Racers climb up the polls? The only unbeaten team in the nation has been tearing through their conference, winning their last two games by 17 and 15 points respectively. The real question is just how good is this team? Except for Memphis, they haven’t really beaten anyone worth noting and the second best team in their conference has an overall record of 12-9. Will they be able to hang in March? Based on recent history, they probably have a shot. Murray State has an experienced team and as we know experience is huge come Tournament time. The Racers have games against Southeast Missouri State and Tennessee-Martin coming up and barring a total collapse (and a loss against St. Mary’s), they have a legitimate shot at finishing the regular season unscathed.