By Matt Norlander
Hope your Holiday season continues to go well — this week in between Christmas and New Year’s is always odd in that so many get the week off, but there’s still plenty goings on going on. We won’t slow here with a lot of basketball ahead. I did this week’s Pyramid today, Dec. 26, at Mom and Dad’s house, gifts still under the tree and dogs tearing apart at opened boxes.
I’m loving that nearly everyone’s got two games awaiting them this week, as the pace of conference season takes hold of the sport. I do still have Xavier ranked, because I think X is one of the 15 best non-BCS teams in college basketball. The rules of the polls don’t apply here. This is more about a general acknowledgment of a team’s ability with some credence to opponents played and beaten than just a move up/move down if you win or lose. That said, continuing to win almost always helps a cause.
1. Iona (10-2). A Sentence: I’ve been driving the Iona bus for about a month now, and you’re all welcome to take a seat. A Statistic: With 2.42 years of experience, no Pyramid team is older than Iona. The Schedule: at Hofstra Thursday.
2. UNLV (13-2). A Sentence: Enjoying UNLV’s run because now it’s starting to look like this team can realistically snag a 5 or 4 seed. A Statistic: Further testament to why Vegas should be ranked this high, look at the games played. Fifteen is more than anyone in the Pyramid. The Schedule: vs. Central Arkansas Wednesday; at Hawaii Saturday.
3. Harvard (10-1). A Sentence: Well, well … lookie there at that big game coming up this week, meaning there’s potential for serious Pyramid swappage. A Statistic: How often does a bench player get involved in more than 28 percent of a team’s action? Quite rare, but the Crimson’s Jonah Travis, a freshman, is plenty involved when his name gets called. The Schedule: at Boston College Thursday; vs. Saint Joseph’s Saturady.
Ron Swanson Approves
4. Creighton (10-1). A Sentence: You’ll see this line in my Valley primer this week: If his name was Jimmer McDermott, a lot more people would be talking about his remarkable season. A Statistic: The past four seasons, the Valley’s only had one tournament team. Creighton will lead the way in getting the MVC at least three bids this year. The Schedule: vs. Missouri State Wednesday; at Wichita State Saturday.
5. Saint Louis (11-1). A Sentence: Now’s the time, the next 16 days, for SLU to definitively make its statement on being a no-questions-asked at-large team. A Statistic: Billikens are beating teams by an average of 70-53 right now. The Schedule: vs. Texas Southern Tuesday; at New Mexico Saturday.
6. San Diego State (9-2). A Sentence: Could/should be punished for playing such terrible teams at this point in the season. A Statistic: With a healthy assist rate of 58.9 percent and 5.4 assists per game, sophomore Xavier Thames is the Mountain West’s best point guard right now. The Schedule: vs. D-III Redlands Friday.
7. Murray State (13-0). A Sentence: Either no Murray State fans are reading the slave labor I put into the Pyramid each week (because I haven’t gotten any complaints about where the MSU placed), or Racers fans are incredibly well-reasoned. A Statistic: The Racers have three players averaging more than 1.2 points per possession. That’s hard-to-find formula for big success. The Schedule: at Eastern Illinois Friday.
8. Gonzaga (9-2). A Sentence: It’s nearly reaching the point where Gonzaga is underrated, but that will soon pass if it beats Xavier this week and beeps loud and clear onto the radar. A Statistic: It’s not often a freshman leads Gonzaga in scoring, but 6-1 Kevin Pangos, at 14.5 PPG, is doing it. The Schedule: vs. Portland Wednesday; at Xavier Saturday.
9. New Mexico (10-2). A Sentence: No ranked team here has a tougher week ahead than New Mexico, which I think I’ll have to slot around fifth if it goes 2-0. A Statistic: The 50th-tallest team has the fourth-best block rate (5 percent). The Schedule: at New Mexico State Wednesday; vs. Saint Louis Saturday.
10. Wichita State (9-2). A Sentence: I maintain we’ve yet to see the best of this team. A Statistic: You saw the Iona stat above — Witchy State is second-oldest in the Pyramid at 2.38 years of experience. The Schedule: at Bradley Wednesday; vs. Creighton Saturday.
11. St. Joseph’s (9-3). A Sentence: It’s a pleasure to research and read up on this team in purely a basketball sense. A Statistic: Few teams work players as much as the Hawks use Carl Jones, who takes up 91.6 percent of available minutes. The Schedule: vs. Morgan State Wednesday; at Harvard Saturday.
12. Temple (7-3). A Sentence: With Juan Fernandez not playing up to his skill level, it’s now official: Outside of Temple fans, Ramone Moore is the most undervalued player in the country. A Statistic: The Owls have the second-best 3-point defense in the country, allowing 23.3 percent of bombs to fall. The Schedule: vs. Buffalo Wednesday; at Delaware Friday .
13. Ohio (11-1). A Sentence: Have been waiting for the chance to include Ohio for a while; it’s worthy. A Statistic: The Bobcats are 11-1 for the first time in 70 years. The Schedule: vs. Kennesaw State Friday.
14. Northern Iowa (10-2). A Sentence: Falling 76-59 to the Bobcats last week only means UNI does a tumble and allows Ohio to pop into the picture. A Statistic: Anthony James is taking great care of the ball, only turning it over 8 percent of the time, which is No. 21 in the nation, per KenPom. The Schedule: at Illinois State Thursday; vs. Evansville Sunday.
15. Xavier (9-3): A Sentence: The Pyramid doesn’t run its rules the way the polls do, so it’s simple: Beating Gonzaga Saturday clearly means X should stay, and if it loses, then see ya. A Statistic: The team is no longer shooting well, falling below the 50-percent mark in effective field goal shooting last week. The Schedule: vs. Gonzaga Saturday.
Roaming outside the Pyramid:
♦ Out this week: Cleveland State. In: Ohio.
♦ Saint Mary’s and BYU are going to have to prove it in conference play. Schedules too weak and both lost to Baylor last week. Can’t get them in.
♦ This will be the last week where you see a lot of consistencies between each week in the Pyramid, I think. Conference play and intra-Pyramid matchups will mandate some shifting and moving a lot going forward.