The JW Top 25

The JW Top 25
Jan 22, 2007, 11:34 pm
1. Florida (17-2; win over Mississippi , NC) – Nothing new to report here. The Gators had better rest up, because February is absolutely absurd. (1/24 @Mississippi State, 1/27 @Auburn)

2. North Carolina (17-2, 4-1, wins @Clemson, over Georgia Tech, +1) – Clemson and Georiga Tech are both likely NCAA Tournament-bound. And the Tar Heels didn’t even break a sweat. This team has a couple of gears that have only been glimpsed – they might not get there, but much like Roy Williams’ last championship team, this group is so talented that it doesn’t need play its best to win it all. The difference would be the 2007 Heels’ inexperience. This Saturday @Arizona should be an absolute treat, and a true test for the nerves of the youngsters (1/24 @Wake Forest, 1/27@Arizona)

3. UCLA (15-1, 4-1; wins over Arizona State, Arizona, +1) – I don’t get the sense that UCLA is playing its best ball, but I do think they will be in March. And not playing your best ball and still managing to beat Arizona is still pretty stinking good. (1/25 @Stanford, 1/28 @California)

4. Wisconsin (19-1, 5-0; wins over Purdue, @Northwestern, +1) – Much has been made of “Wisconsin basketball” over the years. Normally, this is a phrase that would imply the Badgers overcoming a lack of talent by slowing the game down and playing tough defense. Unfortunately for the rest of the Big Ten, Bo Ryan suddenly has plenty of talent and a near-excessive amount of depth. There may be a conference road loss or two in the cards, but this team is pretty much locked into a top 2 seed either way. (1/24 Michigan, 1/28 @Iowa)

5. Texas A&M (16-2, 4-0; win over Oklahoma State, +2) – If you saw Saturday night’s showdown against OSU, you realize how good this team is. The defense is downright suffocating, and Billy Gillispie has plenty of different wrinkles to throw at opponents on the offensive end. This ranking might be jumping the gun a bit (but not if the Aggies come away from Lubbock with a win this week), but at the moment, Texas A&M is clearly the best team in the Big XII. (1/24 @Texas Tech, 1/27 Oklahoma)

6. Kansas (16-3, 3-1; win over Missouri, loss @Texas Tech, -4) – Right when it appears that the young Jayhawks have it figured out, last week happens. After barely coming out of Hilton Coliseum with a win, Kansas did everything it could to lose to visiting Missouri, and then actually did blow one @Texas Tech. The defensive intensity just isn’t there like it was at points earlier in the season. This week won’t prove anything either way, but Bill Self better figure something out because the Aggies are in town on February 3rd. (1/24 @Baylor, 1/27 Colorado)

7. Ohio State (16-3, 4-1; wins over Northwestern, Iowa, +1) – Don’t expect the Buckeyes to be challenged much between now and February 25 when the Badgers are in town (@Northwestern, Michigan State)

8. Pittsburgh (17-3, 5-1; win over Connecticut, loss to Marquette) – It was a bit surprising to see Pitt fall at home, but these things happen in conference play. The Panthers probably won’t be ranked much lower than this the rest of the way. (1/24 @Cincinnati, 1/27 St John’s)

9. Duke (16-3, 3-2; wins over Wake Forest, @NC State, +3) – No, blowout wins over conference bottom dwellers probably don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but I still take the Blue Devils over Oregon on a neutral court. But with the absurd schedule the rest of the way, Duke really can’t hide from here on out. (1/25 Clemson, 1/28 Boston College)

10. Oregon (16-1; wins @Arizona State, @Arizona, +3) – For all the talk of the Ducks being a Top 5 team, I’m just not seeing it. This is a solid team getting phenomenal play from several individuals, but it remains to be seen if Ernie Kent’s crew can keep it up on the road. The next two weeks bring trips to Washington and SoCal, and 2-2 would be a monumental success. (1/25 @Washington 1/27 @Washington State)

11. USC (15-5, 5-2; wins over Arizona, Arizona State, +9) – Sure, the Trojans have five losses, and sure, 9 spots seems like a lot for a home win over a team now on a 3-game losing streak. But this is a team that continues to prove they can beat anyone in the Pac-10 and legitimately contend for the conference crown. Change one whistle and one shot, and Tim Floyd is undefeated in conference play. Their #25 ranking in the national poll is an absolute travesty, as would any ranking outside the Top 10 next week should the Trojans leave NorCal with a pair of wins (1/25@Stanford, 1/27 @California)

12. Washington State (16-3, 5-2; win over Washington, +6) – The pollsters continue to undervalue the Cougars, and the Cougars continue to win. Washington State usually manages to catch a visiting powerhouse on an off night, but this isn’t typical Cougar basketball. If Tony Bennett’s bunch sweeps this week (a very likely scenario), expect the Kyle Weaver puff pieces to start appearing in droves. And if you were counting, yes, that is four Pac-10 teams in a row (1/25 Oregon State, 1/27 Oregon State)

13. Arizona (13-5, 4-4; losses @USC, @UCLA, -4) – To preserve their Top 10 status, the Wildcats needed to win one last week. But it doesn’t make too much sense to drop Arizona much further than this, because both games were competitive and it is pretty clear that this team is still very good despite the defensive issues. A win over the Tar Heels this Saturday would erase all bad memories of the past week and a half. (1/24 Arizona State, 1/27 North Carolina)

14. Marquette (17-4, 4-2; wins @Louisville, @Pittsburgh, +11) – How do you jump 11 spots in the polls? Taking down the top team in the conference in their building two weeks after appearing to be all but finished usually does the trick. After an uninspiring stretch of play, Dominic James is back and playing like the best point guard in the country. When the Golden Eagles get hot from the outside, they will rarely lose. Now the schedule gets a bit easier until the middle of February. (1/24 Seton Hall, 1/28 @South Florida)

15. Nevada (17-1, 5-1; win over Fresno State, loss @New Mexico State, -4 – Last weekend’s loss to the Aggies is being portrayed as a big upset, but really shouldn’t be. New Mexico State is a very good basketball team with legitimate at-large hopes. The Wolfpack will be fine, but the poor defensive efficiency (#114 nationally, according to is a bit worrying.

16. Oklahoma State (16-3, 2-2; win over Texas, loss @Texas A&M) – One can’t penalize the Cowboys too much for losing @Texas A&M. The win over Texas was one for the ages, but doesn’t help the Cowboys out all that much in this poll. Mario Boggan continues play at a National Player of the Year-esque level. (1/22 Oklahoma, 1/27 Iowa State)

17. Alabama(15-3, 2-2; loss @Vanderbilt, win over Georgia, -7) – Let’s get one thing straight – the #17 team in the country doesn’t lose by 17 to Vandy and need all sorts of luck to hold off Georgia on their home floor. Still, there really is nobody else to put in this spot. Two wins are needed this week to stop the decline, and that isn’t going to be an easy task. (1/23 @Auburn, 1/27 Arkansas)

18. Air Force (18-2; loss @Utah, win over San Diego State, NC) – A conference slip-up was inevitable, and the Utah loss probably isn’t as bad as the Utes’ poor record would indicate (they have beaten Washington State and Virginia as well). Like conference champs always do, Air Force bounced back nicely against the most talented team in the conference. (1/16 @Utah, 1/20 San Diego State)

19. Clemson (18-2, 4-2; loss to North Carolina, win over Boston College, NC) – The Tigers are very clearly legit, and a spanking from the Tar Heels doesn’t change that. Of course, the win over Boston College also loses some of its luster since Sean Williams was already gone. Think Mays, Hamilton, Hammonds, & Company aren’t licking their chops at the thought of putting the press on Greg Paulus at Cameron Indoor? I’m not saying Clemson is going to beat Duke on the road, but it could be a rough matchup for the Blue Devils…(1/25 @Duke, 1/28 Virginia)

20. Butler (17-2, 5-1; wins over Youngstown State, Wisconsin-Green Bay; NR) – The Bulldogs are back, thanks to two emphatic home wins and a host of ranked teams that continue to lose. Now Butler heads back out on the road, where they should continue to be tested. (1/25 @Loyola-Chicago, 1/27 @ Detroit)

21. Virginia Tech (14-5, 4-1; loss @Florida State, win over Maryland, +2) – There is no shame in losing on the road to a team like the Seminoles, and though the Hokies once again showed a propensity to exasperate in the clutch, they pulled out another win. Late Jan / early Feb holds some winnable games and Virginia Tech appears to be in good shape overall. (1/23 @Miami, 1/28 @Georgia Tech)

22. Memphis (15-3, 5-0; wins over UAB, @East Carolina, NR) – Last week I said I’m not buying the Tigers, and that is still the case. But there was a severe lack of qualified teams this week, and the Tigers picked up another pair of emphatic conference wins. This team is going to have to do something special to move into the Top 20, but I suppose there is nobody else deserving for this spot at the moment (1/24 Tulsa, 1/27 Southern Miss)

23. Syracuse (15-5, 4-2; win over Cincinnati, loss @St John’s, -8) – Now this was a terrible week of basketball. Just squeaking by against Cincy of all teams, and then following that up with a horrible loss to St John’s. I struggled with whether to drop the Orange out of the poll altogether and go with Notre Dame in this spot, but the Fighting Irish’s 15 point loss to Villanova isn’t doing much for me either. Conveniently, the two teams meet next Tuesday. (1/27 @Louisville)

24. Tennessee (14-5, 1-1; loss @Auburn, win over South Carolina, -8) – Things could get out of hand with Chris Lofton out. Winning a single game on the road this week could be a tall order without the conference’s leading scorer, but the JW Top 25 takes pity on the Volunteers for one last week. (1/24 @ Mississippi, 1/28 @Kentucky)

25. Notre Dame (16-3, 3-2; loss @Villanova, win over South Florida, NR) – The Fighting Irish aren’t here because of their play this past week, but because beyond the half dozen-or so MVC teams that I can’t really differentiate between, there really isn’t anybody else to deserve it. I doubt Notre Dame lasts very long in the polls, but they are a better bet than anybody else to hold this spot. With two wins, they might actually deserve it. (1/23 @St John’s, 1/27 Villanova)

Dropped Out: Missouri State, LSU, Texas

On The Cusp: Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois, Indiana, Creighton, Virginia Commonwealth, LSU

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