|Guy Landry Edi, left, and Elias Harris can't contain their excitement over Norlander's Pyramid scheme. (US Presswire)|
The Pyramid graphic is still in the shop, getting an overhaul and needs one more week before it gets unveiled. That said, I couldn't wait another seven days before unsheathing Year 2 of the Power Pyramid. And if you were around to mock and hate me over these vapid rankings last season, you'll notice the name change.
This was once known as the Non-BCS Power Pyramid, but that couldn't last. The BCS connotation has more to do with football. And even now, football's phasing out of the BCS era -- sort of.
So, how to re-name it? We still don't -- and never will -- have a real moniker for the programs separated by the soggy line that differentiates big leagues from the level below. So, the only word that really expresses what we mean when we talk big boys vs. small guys is "power," whether it be programs or leagues. So there you have it. The Non-Power Power League Pyramid. God, someone play the Kanye already.
And I did make an executive decision going forward. With the import of VCU and Butler into the Atlantic 10 for this season, I'm declaring that league one of the Strong Seven -- in addition to the Big Six that we all know so well. At this point, the A-10 is positioning itself to be, minimally, a three-bid league. And any league that can be counted on for that many NCAA tournament berths must be considered a power. I'm not talking TV revenue or widespread interest. I'm talking quality of league bolstered by the collective within, and the A-10 is worthy of sitting at the table with the Big East, Big 12, etc. There's an argument to be made it will routinely fall fifth or sixth amid the Strong Seven.
So that means all Atlantic 10 teams are now not eligible for the Pyramid. It's better this way. That said, there are still unavoidable clashes, because certain programs have become bona fide powers despite residing in smaller leagues, most notably the No. 1 and No. 11 team in this week's Pyramid. Nothing you can do; at least Memphis is moving on next year to the Big East.
OK, I'll shut up. Here's my dart-toss for the initial Pyramid. Get down with NPPLP, peeps.
1. Gonzaga (8-0).
Why it's here: By far, the best nonmajor-conference team in the country. It almost feels like cheating including Gonzaga on the Pyramid. Going forward, should we exempt them? The Bulldogs have future pros and pure college guys, a mixture of power, speed, shooting, crafty ability and responsible court behavior. However, December is bringing a litany of tests.
Something you should know: The Bulldogs have top-10 offense and defenses, according to KenPom.com's metrics, meaning they score more and allow fewer points per possession than almost anyone else. It's still early, though, so we'll see how it plays out. (Mark Few has never had a top-10 team in both O and D.) But if that's not enough for you, Gonzaga's 85.3 points per game is fifth-best in the country. Few's team is one of the most enjoyable watches through the first month of the season.
Up next: Wednesday at Washington State; Saturday vs. Illinois.
2. Boise State (6-1).
Why it's here: Well -- it gave the No. 3 team its only loss of the season to date. Plus, Derrick Marks is turning into a mid-major star. The Boise State sophomore guard threw down 35 against Creighton.
Something you should know: Boise State's only loss came by four points at Michigan State. The Broncos are looking good so far, for sure, and doing this a year ahead of schedule.
Up next: Wednesday at Utah.
3. Creighton (7-1).
Why it's here: One of the best offenses and one of the best offensive players in the country. Creighton is going to run away with the Missouri Valley title. It's going to be a single-digit seed, and it's going to have a decent shot at reaching the second weekend. Beyond Doug McDermott, the Bluejays have playmakers with Greg Echenique, Grant Gibbs and Ethan Wragge.
Something you should know: Coach Greg McDermott sought an improved defense team, and so far, that's the case. The Bluejays have kept four opponents -- including A-10 favorites St. Joe's -- in the 50s. And Creighton's giving up .93 points per possession (good!), an improvement from last year's 1.03.
Up next: Thursday at Nebraska; Sunday vs. Akron.
A Cut Below
4. UNLV (5-1).
Why it's here: A good team, one that I picked to go to the Final Four, but one we're still waiting to see more from. The tests are coming. Its best win is against Iowa State. Ranking them this high now purely on potential and preseason bias. That's always legitimate, right?
Something you should know: Dave Rice's team is defending the 3-point line to a 21.6-percent clip. Serious perimeter defense. The country's best, in fact.
Up next: Tuesday at Portland; Sunday at California.
5. San Diego State (5-1).
Why it's here: Because I believe SDSU is really good, and I barely judge it off the loss on the ship to Syracuse, played in the sun and amid quirky conditions. The Aztecs beat UCLA with some ease, though I'm not sure how much we can take from beating UCLA these days (these years, even) either.
Something you should know: The Aztecs should probably foul as they please and see where it takes them; opponents are making only 53 percent of their foul shots against SDSU, the lowest percentage in college hoops.
Up next: Monday vs. Texas Southern; Thursday vs. UC Santa Barbara.
6. New Mexico (8-0).
Why it's here: Steve Alford's team has victories against Davidson, Connecticut and George Mason. The Lobos are a physical bunch who take a lot of foul shots because of their aggressiveness.
Something you should know: Tony Snell has something of a green light from deep, even if he's not a great long-distance shooter. Snell, the team's best player, is averaging five 3s per game, way above anyone else on the team.
Up next: Wednesday vs. USC; Saturday vs. Valparaiso.
7. Wichita State (8-0).
Why it's here: Best wins are over VCU and Iowa, but really getting to this point is surprising considering how much WSU lost from last season. The Shockers had to replace four senior starters who took up huge portions of minutes, offense and production, of course.
Something you should know: Gregg Marshall has not allowed more than one point per possession to be scored since his first year at Wichita State (2007-08), and that's going to continue, easily, this season.
Up next: Saturday vs. Northern Colorado.
|Wyoming is part of a loaded MWC that will send at least three teams to the NCAAs this year. (US Presswire)|
8. Wyoming (8-0).
Why it's here: In his second year with the program, Larry Shyatt is building a good one in Laramie. The Pokes haven't played a gruesome schedule, but they have gone 8-for-8, including a convincing W over Colorado this past weekend.
Something you should know: Larry Nance's son, Larry Nance Jr., plays for Wyoming. Larry Nance Sr. is most well-known for being the first person to win the NBA's dunk contest. I have not yet seen Larry Nance Jr. dunk. OK, moving on.
Up next: Tuesday at Illinois State; Saturday vs. D-II Panhandle State (Okla.).
9. Bucknell (7-1).
Why it's here: Wins over Purdue and George Mason combined with the play of Mike Muscala, the lanky, Euro-ish big man who will give Lehigh's C.J. McCollum a run for his money for Patriot Player of the Year.
Something you should know: Absolutely miserable team at turning you over. The Bison rank last in the nation, forcing mistakes only 13.8 percent of the time.
Up next: Tuesday vs. Kent State.
10. Ohio (6-1).
Why it's here: Just lost to Robert Morris, a solid mid-major, but the team is feisty defensively and D.J. Cooper is probably having a better all-around year to date than where he was last season. We'll see where it goes in the next couple of weeks. Unless Cooper is running the show, Ohio doesn't stand much of a chance in the long-term.
Something you should know: Ohio's doing this, remember, with a new coach. Jim Christian was at TCU for a coupe of years and before that ran the show at Kent State. He's the one who got them to the 2002 Elite Eight. People have correctly pointed out it was Stan Heath who coached that group; Christian was an assistant.
Up next: Wednesday at Memphis; Saturday vs. Oakland.
|Josh Pastner's in a tough position, as locals are expecting big things for the Tigers this season. (US Presswire)|
11. Memphis (4-2).
Why it's here: Because it's Memphis and the Tigers clearly have talent and I'm too kind in giving them the benefit of the doubt. Do-or- ... lose out on Pyramid love ... time comes in two days.
Something you should know: I secretly despise Gary Parrish's affection for scarves and hipster glasses.
Up next: Wednesday vs. Ohio; Saturday vs. Austin Peay.
12. Illinois State (5-2).
Why it's here: First-year coach Dan Muller has seen his team lose the last two games to Northwestern, on the road and in overtime, and Louisville, on the road and in the final seconds. Both three-point losses. The Redbirds are easily deserving to be in the conversation with the two Valley teams listed above.
Something you should know: ISU is making 59 percent of its 2-pointers, bested nationally only by undefeated Eastern Kentucky and -- Creighton.
Up next: Tuesday vs. Wyoming; Saturday vs. Western Michigan.
13. Murray State (5-1).
Why it's here: Without Zay Jackson -- the guy who tried to, at best, maim a man with his car -- the Racers are still a formidable team, the Ohio Valley's best and still boast Isaiah Canaan, preseason All-American. The Racers' only loss has come to Colorado, a team I'd be shocked to see miss this year's NCAA tournament.
Something you should know: This team is a bunch of chuckers! More than 46 percent of Murray State's shot selection comes from 3-pointers, a plus-11-percent hike from last year's discipline.
Up next: Tuesday vs. NAIA Bethel (Tenn.); Saturday at Evansville.
14. Lehigh (6-2).
Why it's here: Believe it. We have two Patriot teams in the Pyramid. Lehigh doesn't have a win over a solid team, but it has six dominating Ws against teams it should be beating down. Having seen the team twice on TV this season, I'm sold at this point that Lehigh belongs. The defense needs work, but the offense is unquestionable, led by future NBAer C.J. McCollum.
Something you should know: Brett Reed's team is making 45.1 percent of its 3-point shots. That's No. 1 in the country.
Up next: Tuesday vs. Fordham; Saturday at St. Francis (Pa.).
15. South Dakota State (6-2).
Why it's here: Only losses are a last-second one on the road to a good Alabama team and on the road to Hofstra, before Hofstra lost a quarter of guys to approximately $20,000 in a burglary. I'm also influenced here because I've seen the Jackrabbits in person this year, and they are a sprite group with a lot of offensive options, better threats than half the teams above them in this Pyramid.
Something you should know: Road games at Bama, Hofstra, Minnesota, Montana, Belmont and New Mexico make up for one of the toughest schedules of any Pyramid team. SDSU will need to win minimally go 2-2 in the upcoming stretch to remain on board.
Up next: Tuesday at Minnesota; Thursday vs. NAIA Dakota State (S.D.); Sunday vs. Cal State Bakersfield.