While Syracuse, Kansas, and Kentucky are battling atop the rankings, some other less talked about teams are quietly moving up and making their case for some national recognition. Teams like New Mexico, Temple, and Maryland are playing their best basketball at the right time and looking forward to making some noise in the NCAA Tournament.
#10 New Mexico (27-3) – The Mountain West leading Lobos cracked the top 10 in the latest poll, moving up two spots from #12. The Lobos have a great resume headlined by their rpi of 7 and schedule strength of 51, but their most impressive aspect of their resume is the Lobos 7-2 record against teams in the rpi top 50. New Mexico has to overcome the critics that say they play in a weak conference and played a weak out of conference schedule, but I am confident that come tournament time the Lobos of New Mexico will silence their critics.
#16 Temple (24-5) - The underappreciated Owls lead the surprise conference of the year, the A-10. Temple has been ranked since week 6 because of their more than credible body of work which consists of a rpi of 19, a strength of schedule of 69, and a 6-3 record against teams in the rpi top 50 including a win against Villanova. The Owls are led by their strong guard play with Brooks and Fernandez having a hand in a majority of the Owls points. The NCAA Tournament is all about the guards and I believe that Temple could stir some things up in March.
#23 Maryland (21-7) - The second place Terps in the ACC are finally back in the top 25 after a lengthy hietus. The Terps are back in the rankings after their double overtime win in Blacksburg in which ACC Player of the Year candidate Greivis Vasquez had 41 points to lead all scorers. The Terps are on a 5 game winning streak and have won 7 0f their last 8 overall, their only loss coming to Duke who they play Wednesday in College Park for the ACC crown. The Terps can definitely polish their resume with a win against 4th ranked Duke, but they have already pretty much locked up their NCAA Tournament bid. Maryland has a rpi of 25, a strength of schedule rank of 29, and 4 wins against the rpi top 50. As far as both the ACC and NCAA tournaments go, Maryland will go as far as Greivis Vasquez will take them.
This year’s field of 64 is on the verge of looking a lot different
from years past, primarily because many of the so-called lock teams
like UCONN and UNC have had a down year so far. Not only have some
power teams been on the decline this year, but power conferences like
the Pac-10 have also had their struggles. This has allowed conferences
like the A-10 which usually gets only 1 or 2 teams in the NCAA
Tournament the opportunity to get 3 or 4 teams in this year.
I can’t think of a more underrated, underappreciated, and overlooked conference than the A-10. Temple is the lone representative in the rankings for the A-10 conference, sitting at #21. But what the A-10 lacks in respect in the top 25 rankings, it gains in overall NCAA resume recognition. The A-10 currently ranks 6th in overall conference rpi and 7th in strength of schedule, ahead of conferences like C-USA, Mountain West, and the Pac-10. The A-10 also has 6 teams ranked in the top 45 in terms of rpi along with 6 teams ranked in the top 50 in terms of strength of schedule. To wrap up my case for the A-10 lets look at the projected NCAA tournament field as of today. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the A-10 has 6 teams in the tournament. That’s tied for second most by a conference with the ACC and Big East and is more than the Big Ten, SEC, and Mountain West.
The Pac-10 as a whole has been absolutely non-existent this year. Granted the conference did lose 9 of their top players to last year’s NBA draft, but with highly touted teams like Arizona and UCLA and above average teams like Oregon, USC, Cal, and Washington the Pac-10 has almost always recovered from one season to the next. To put into perspective how down the Pac-10 is this year lets look at the rankings. At this time last year the Pac-10 had 3 teams ranked in the top 25, this year the Pac-10 has zero. The Pac-10 also had 6 teams in the NCAA tournament last year and this year according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi the Pac-10 currently has only the automatic bid that is awarded to the team that wins the conference tournament.
Now before I come off as just another UNC hater I would liked to point out that I understand that the Tar Heels lost 4 starters to the NBA draft and obviously that’s a lot of stat stuffing and experience to replace. With that being said, the Tar Heels always bring in 5-star recruits with NBA potential and continue to roll along, but not this year. UNC freshman like Dexter Strickland, the Wear twins, and John Henson have played average basketball at best and pale in comparison to star freshman across the country like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry, Avery Bradley, Derrick Favors and others. The Tar Heels and coach Roy Williams are in a downward spiral they’ve never seen before. UNC stands at next to last in the ACC with a 2-7 record in league play and a 13-11 record overall. The Tar Heels have lost 8 of their last 10 games and are currently riding a 4 game losing streak. To make matters worse, star forward/center Ed Davis has a broken wrist and will miss at least a month. Sorry UNC fans, looks like you’ll have to wait ’til next year.