Mid-Major Power Pyramid: Week Two

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Welcome back to the Pyramid scheming. It's the second edition of the 2012-13 season. Please, feel free to make a comment below on my ignorance, or feel free to direct your anger my way, to my cyberface. If you happened to miss the first edition, I'll go over the changes once more for this season.

As loyal readers of the blog can see, the name has been changed. 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. I'm aware that Gonzaga and Memphis and the like aren't considered mid-majors by most within college basketball, but the sport doesn't have a clearly line of differentiation when it comes to these things -- and with realignment that line actually might get fuzzier.

I got some expected blowback on the new differentiation of which leagues are "power" ones. Namely, I'm omitting the Atlantic 10 from consideration going forward. But what about the awesome MWC!? Plenty of you brought it up. It's a valid criticism, specifically this year, but I'm taking a look at what the leagues will be going forward. The Mountain West is losing San Diego State and Boise State to other leagues, bringing in very-much mid-major programs like Nevada.

People inside of basketball will tell you that the A10 will be closer to the Big East than the Mountain West over the next decade. That's the thinking in lumping in the A10 with the rest of the big powers. That said, there are still unavoidable clashes because certain programs have become bona fide powers despite residing in smaller leagues, most notably teams like Memphis, which is appropriately moving on next year to the Big East, anyway.

Top Tier

1. Creighton (9-1).
Why it's here: The best wins are over Wisconsin, St. Joseph's and Nebraska. They were all blowouts. Creighton's still not a great defensive team, but I do believe, right now, this is the best of the bunch in college basketball. Best of all, they are watchable and near-unstoppable as an offensive unit.

Something you should know: We'll have an interview/piece on Doug McDermott up on the blog later today. He went 6-for-8 in Creighton's 77-61 win over Akron on Sunday. That means he's sunk 17 of his last 24 3-pointers. This after missing his first 12 bombs of the season. If McDermott is going to start drifting toward making 40 percent of his 3's, then I'm not sure how he won't win Player of the Year if Creighton remains elite.

Up next: Saturday at California.

2. Gonzaga (9-1).
Why it's here: You should know that the Pyramid isn't reactionary like the largely meaningless AP and Coaches polls. Teams don't strictly move up or down due to losses or wins. While continued winning or losing will signal movement, one week isn't always definitive of a team's barometric pressure. I demonstrated that last year and will again this year. Take Gonzaga. The Bulldogs lost at home to an Illinois team that many are now thinking can go to the NCAA tournament. Is it such a bad loss? I wouldn't necessarily punish Wyoming for losing at home to Illinois, so why should I Gonzaga? Also, this: I'm going to say this is a Slash impression.

Something you should know: Saturday's loss shouldn't ultimately be too surprising. The Kennel is a great environment but isn't necessarily an intimidating place to play. The Bulldogs haven't had an undefeated season in their joint since 2005-06.

Up next: Saturday vs. Kansas State.

3. UNLV (7-1).
Why it's here: I really hope you caught that game against Cal on Sunday night. The Golden Bears could be a double-digit seed by March, so no scoff there toward Vegas getting a worthy road victory. UNLV -- thanks to the emerging play of Anthony Bennett -- is forming into a nice club. I mean, Anthony Marshall had a bad shot that could've cost his team the W, but Quintrell Thomas had a bailout play. Sometimes that's how basketball is.

Something you should know: Mike Moser left that Cal game with a dislocated elbow. Yeah, don't know what that feels like and hope I never have to. As of the time of publishing, we don't know the timeline for Moser's injury, so I'm rating UNLV based off an assumption that he is not done for the year.

Up next: Thursday vs. D-III La Verne.

A Cut Below

Steve Alford has built up a culture of expectation. (AP)

4. New Mexico (10-0).
Why it's here: It is undefeated, and some might say it should be atop the Pyramid because of that accomplishment. But, in reality, UNM's wins don't truly separate from the three teams above. If the structure of the Pyramid allowed for four teams, I'd make the cutoff after Steve Alford's group here, but you can't fight geometry.

Something you should know: New Mexico's turning into a really good passing team. Sixty-seven percent of UNM's baskets are coming by way of an assist. Only seven other teams can claim that kind of successful sharing.

Up next: Saturday vs. New Mexico State.

5. San Diego State (7-1).
Why it's here: Hasn't lost since season-opener on a ship to Syracuse, which was played under sinking sunlight that caused real glare problems in addition to the obvious: sun affecting shooting due to it being the sun. Steve Fisher's team is undoubtedly among the best outside the power leagues right now, though.

Something you should know: It's gonna be a while before we really know how good SDSU can be. I'm talking more than a month. The Aztecs' next true, interesting game/legitimate test is at home against Colorado State on Jan. 12. ... Yeah. This team's basically a ghost for the next four weeks. Update/correction: SDSU does in fact have the Diamond Head Classic in less than two weeks, and that field is fairly solid. So we'll know more sooner rather than later.

Up next: Saturday vs. San Diego.

6. Wichita State (9-0).
Why it's here: I'm far from being ready to call Wichita State a team on Creighton's level, but I am getting closer to believing this team might actually end up being almost as good as the Shockers club that earned a five seed last season.

Something you should know: Wichita State isn't making more 3s (5.6 to 5.8 per game) and is barely making more free throws (15.9 to 14.9) per contest. To me, that suggests really good things. Getting to 9-0 against a decent schedule and not needing the long bomb or liberal whistle should trend itself to more wins going forward.

Up next: Thursday at Tennessee.

7. Wyoming (10-0).
Why it's here: Undefeated, need we say more? In fact, things got hairy for the Pokes last week, when they were down big to Illinois State in the first half. That one ended 81-67 and resulted in ISU losing out on its spot and representation in the Pyramid.

Something you should know: I've only watched a little tape, but this team is fun to gander at. Inside the arc, this team is doing things really well. Wyoming makes 57.3 percent of its 2s and holds opponents to 38.6-percent shooting from inside the curve.

Up next: Dec. 18 vs. Denver.

8. Boise State (6-2).
Why it's here: I knew I was wildly overrating Boise State when I had it all the way up at No. 2 in last week's Pyramid debut. But I kind of had to because the Broncos knocked off Creighton this year. As we get further into the season, we'll know more of how good this team actually is. Am I still overvaluing BSU? After all, it got pummeled by an improved Utah team last week on the night when that program played in Rick Majerus' honor and memory.

Something you should know: Boise State actually started last season 8-1 ... but finished 13-17. Don't think we'll have a repeat.

Up next: Friday vs. LSU.

Mike Muscala is the best-kept secret in hoops. (AP)

9. Bucknell (8-1).
Why it's here: The Bison aren't getting a lot of love anywhere but here, so let's lay it on thick. Dave Paulsen's team won two more in the past seven days, keeping track and staying ahead of Lehigh here in the Pyramid.

Something you should know: Bucknell is winning its games against D-I teams by an average of 11.4 points per game, all despite only turning teams over a shockingly low 14.1 percent of the time.

Up next: Saturday vs. La Salle.

10. Memphis (6-2).
Why it's here: Geron Johnson has become a big-time factor. If you're unaware of who he is, you should probably read this. Also, at least Memphis didn't mess around at all in tossing aside Ohio last week. The Tigers only have two losses, but there are concerns the team isn't playing as well as it should, or at least that was the case. We'll see what comes on Saturday.

Something you should know: Knowing that a team blocks a shot on 4.5 percent of its defensive possessions doesn't seem like a big number, but it's a really efficient rate. Only Florida, Rutgers, Texas Tech and St. Joseph's are swatting away more balls.

Up next: Saturday vs. Louisville.

Base Blocks

11. Murray State (7-1).
Why it's here: Racers held serve by beating a non-D-I team and taking down Evansville by 12 at home. Not really reason to move them much -- up or down.

Something you should know: Isaiah Canaan went down in a quick, scary moment against Evansville, but he appears to be OK. The win for MSU was its 15th straight on the road. That's damn nice. Steve Prohm's team hasn't lost in a harsh enviro since March 15, 2011, when it felt to Missouri State in the NIT.

Up next: Sunday vs. Western Kentucky.

12. Lehigh (8-2).
Why it's here: This is now the best start in program history through 10 games. The opponents (Fordham, St. Francis of Pennsylvania) weren't great, but a record's a record. Props to Brett Reed's team for overcoming a 1-2 start. Now comes the long break for finals. With no game this week, chances are the Mountainhawks will remain at No. 12 next week as well.

Something you should know: What's a better method for success than making 3s and making frees? This team is 44 percent from deep and 80.5 percent from the stripe. Both stats are good for second-best nationally.

Up next: at North Texas on Dec. 20.

13. Illinois-Chicago (8-1).
Why it's here: The Flames! I went with UIC over about four other schools because, right now, it has only one loss and the best resume otherwise. The Flames' only L came to New Mexico -- a Pyramid team of high esteem -- and it's got a W at Northwestern and just beat Colorado State over the weekend. Hey, good on a Horizon team other than that former Horizon team in getting its all-time Pyramid debut.

Something you should know: The Flames are solid because they don't give it away. Howard Moore's team is getting the ball stolen from it 5.6 percent of the time, the third-lowest (so third-best) percentage in the country.

Up next: Saturday vs. Eastern Michigan.

14. Ohio (7-2).
Why it's here: Clinging to the Pyramid's edge after getting sandblasted at Memphis last week. Followed it up with a 78-61 home win over Oakland. More than anything, I think Ohio right now still is one of the 15 best non-power conference teams out there. It is without question the MAC's best; half that league isn't at .500.

Something you should know: The Bobcats are turning teams over on 29.4 percent of their possessions. That's a rate that, if it stays or improves, will almost definitely mean Ohio will win its league with some ease.

Up next: Saturday vs. Winthrop.

15. Eastern Kentucky (9-0).
Why it's here: Undefeated teams through Dec. 10 -- so, more than a month -- get a spot in the Pyramid. Only right. Now, are they a "fraud" as Goodman suggests? I don't know. What I do know: Whoever loses the game six days from now will be declared a "fraud" by Goodman. That is a damn guarantee.

Something you should know: EKU should be doubted. The Colonels don't have a win inside KenPom.com's 200.

Up Next: Sunday at Illinois.


Outside the Pyramid:

-- South Dakota State fell out after not even keeping it competitive at Minnesota, even though Nate Wolters couldn't play with a bad wheel.

-- Dirty secret: I actually did the Pyramid thinking Charlotte was a C-USA team. Nope. A10. So Eastern Kentucky sneaks in.

 
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