By Matt Norlander
I love Marchuary. You see those games over the weekend? Lots of shift and results of note. Felt like March. But it’s February. Hence: Marchuary. Sounds terrible, but let’s roll with it. Tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day, so I had to dress up the graphic nice and romantic for you. I’ll have Valentine’s Day-themed post coming, too. It’s already done, but I’d rather save it for the 14th and all, you know?
It’s now, officially, less than a month until Selection Sunday, which means we’ve got only three more editions of the Power Pyramid remaining. I’m always taken aback by how fast February moves, as if someone’s TiVo’ing the season and got two arrows boo-booping through out of angst and anticipation for the real show in March. I still maintain the teams here, a good cluster of them, will be heard from and do damage in this year's bracket. Let's see who's in the top 15 this week.
1. UNLV (22-4). A Sentence: A one-week break and UNLV returns to the top, where it’s likely to remain the rest of the regular season. A Statistic: Ask a coach the two things he wants out of his team more than anything — aside from the obvious of making as many baskets as possible. The two things? Don’t let the other team get offensive rebounds and don’t turn the ball over. UNLV is so good because Mike Moser is the third-best d-boarder in the nation (27.9 percent), and starting 1 Justin Hawkins is top-10 in turnover percentage, only coughing it up on 8.2 possessions for every 100. The Schedule: at TCU, Tuesday; at New Mexico, Saturday.
2. Saint Mary’s (23-3). A Sentence: The reason why I’ve enjoyed tracking non-BCS teams so much this year, you can make the argument six or seven teams were the best, and Saint Mary’s is still in the thick of that discussion. A Statistic: Is it Rob Jones, not Matthew Dellavedova, who’s the most valuable Gael? Jones is top-three in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and assists for this team. The Schedule: vs. Loyola Marymount, Wednesday; at Murray State, Saturday.
3. San Diego State (20-4). A Sentence: As far as I’m concerned, barring a real collapse, SDSU locked up an at-large Saturday with how it played against UNLV. A Statistic: Despite this good year, SDSU is not on KenPom.com’s good side. It started out the season as the No. 54 team, it’s never been better than 48, and as of today it’s 56th. The Schedule: vs. New Mexico, Wednesday; at Air Force, Saturday.
Ron Swanson Approves
|Temple is looking pretty these days. (US PRESSWIRE)
4. Murray State (24-1). A Sentence: Tennessee State did a great job getting that win Thursday night, but TSU is no world beater, and so Murray has to take a hit this week. A Statistic: Looking ahead, regardless of who reps the Ohio Valley in the NCAAs this year, there’s history on the line. After going 19 years between wins in the Big Dance, the Ohio Valley’s now had a team win a game three years in a row. It’s never happened in four straight seasons. You’d think chances are fairly decent with the year Murray State’s had. The Schedule: at Southeast Missouri State, Wednesday; vs. Saint Mary’s, Saturday.
5. Temple (19-5). A Sentence: I’m claiming Temple as my own now, considering I never kicked it out of the Pyramid and it’s clear Dunphy’s 8-2 A10 team is just as good as last year’s group. A Statistic: Yes, the Atlantic 10 had been pretty muddied up until this past weekend, but the Owls are now in control, and here’s why they should get a good seed. With an SOS of 21 according to KenPom, I think a five or a six is in store (this is me assuming they lose only one more game before the NCAAs). The Schedule: at St. Bonaventure, Wednesday; vs. Duquesne, Saturday.
6. Wichita State (22-4). A Sentence: Been awesome to watch the Shockers play themselves into the role of trendy mid-major sleeper. A Statistic: Joe Ragland has a true shooting percentage of 69.3, which is the second-best in the country. Yeah, that’s awesome. And he’s only behind Ricardo Ratliffe (73.1). Here’s the kicker: Ratliffe’s a big who bolts himself to the paint. Ragland a 6-foot guard who throws it up from everywhere. Truly remarkable. The Schedule: vs. Missouri State, Wednesday; at Davidson, Saturday.
7. Gonzaga (20-4). A Sentence: The Zags have been building to something very nice all season, but I get the feeling most won’t fall for this team until it reaches the Sweet 16 again. A Statistic: And on that note, only twice in the past 10 years have the Bulldogs made it to the second weekend, never beyond the Sweet 16. They’ve become a March staple but to me it feels like a bit of crying wolf these days whenever anyone really tries to prop up Mark Few's team as a serious March threat. The Schedule: at Santa Clara, Thursday; at San Francisco, Saturday.
|We've loved Gonzaga all season long, but can this year be different from others? (US PRESSWIRE)|
8. Oral Roberts (23-5). A Sentence: If you can believe it, the first regular-season conference title should be wrapped up this week, when ORU beats IUPU Fort Wayne and wins the Summit. A Statistic: ORU is a top-15 KenPom team in effective field goal percentage, free-throw percentage, two-point percentage and block percentage. No one else is so elite in four offensive categories. This team is no joke whatsoever. The Schedule: at IUPU Fort Wayne, Wednesday; vs. Akron, Saturday.
9. Harvard (21-3). A Sentence: I saw this squad in person Friday night, a night before it lost to Princeton, and I’m selling on them for now. A Statistic: I mentioned the loss at Princeton. Harvard snake-bitten at Jadwin, where it hasn’t won since 1989. The Schedule: vs. Brown, Friday; vs. Yale, Saturday.
10. New Mexico (20-4). A Sentence: I still say there’s an MWC Power Three, even if everyone else is giving all the love to San Diego State and UNLV. A Statistic: If the Lobos can’t get widespread respect, it may be due to the team’s turnover ways. UNM gives it away now 21.3 percent of the time, more than any Pyramid team. The Schedule: at San Diego State, Wednesday; vs. UNLV, Saturday.
11. Creighton (21-5). A Sentence: I didn’t have any issue with Greg McDermott getting aggressive with his son during Saturday’s loss to Wichita State. A Statistic: Creighton averages 80 points per game, which is top-10 in the nation. But in its five losses? 64.6. The Schedule: at Southern Illinois, Tuesday; vs. Long Beach State, Saturday.
12. Southern Miss (21-4). A Sentence: I’d say Southern Miss needs two more wins this week, and then it’s about as close to a lock as a C-USA can be. A Statistic: Southern Miss is 8-2 through its first 10 Conference USA games. It’s never had a start this good in-league. The Schedule: vs. Tulsa, Wednesday; at Houston, Saturday.
13. Virginia Commonwealth (22-5). A Sentence: Well, well, well, look who just showed up at the party. A Statistic: Since they’re new to the Pyramid, you probably want to know what they do best. The answer: turn teams over. Shaka Smart’s teams gets a TO on 27.3 percent of opponents’ possessions, third-best in the country. The 15.7-percent steal rate is No. 2 in the nation, behind East Tennessee State. The Schedule: at George Mason, Tuesday; vs. Northern Iowa, Friday.
14. Middle Tennessee State (23-4): A Sentence: I know this: Kermit Davis’ team is going to be a formidable 13 or 14 seed. A Statistic: With 15 points and seven rebounds per game, LeRon Dendy (formerly of Iowa State) has been among the best transfer stories this season nobody’s paid attention to. The Schedule: vs. Florida Atlantic, Saturday.
15. Long Beach State (19-6). A Sentence: The 49ers made the inaugural Pyramid on Nov. 21, then promptly fell out … until making their grand return this week. A Statistic: Why’d LBSU get put back into the rankings this week? They’re undefeated in conference play — something no other Pyramid team can lay claim to. The Schedule: at Creighton, Saturday.
Roaming outside the Pyramid:
♦ Out this week: Cleveland State, Iona. In: Virginia Commonwealth, Long Beach State.
♦ It was appropriate last week’s two teams who didn’t feel like they belonged, Cleveland State (14) and Iona (15) promptly got the boot this week.
♦ And Ohio, who has been as close to inclusion as any team, essentially ruined its chances with back-to-back losses.