Monday, February 1, 2010

February Fast-Forward: Who Will Get The #3 Seeds?

At this point in the college basketball season, the top teams are pretty well established and identified as potential top seeds for the postseason NCAA tournament in March.  The polls are fairly good indicators of this consensus, as they generally have the same few teams pegged in the top spots. According to a combination of the AP and USA Today polls and RPI rankings, the best teams to this point have been Kentucky, Kansas, Villanova and Syracuse; close followers include Michigan State, Duke, West Virginia, Purdue, Georgetown and Kansas State.  Beyond these top ten, however, it's considerably more difficult to say which teams can best compete with the best competition. Here are a few teams to watch out for in the coming month.

Texas (AP #6, ESPN/USA Today #6, RPI #19; 18-3, 4-2 Big XII)
Many fans would rank the Longhorns in the same flight with the aforementioned Top Ten, but a home loss to AP #24 Baylor this past Saturday and a close win at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi earlier in the season prove that this team is not indomitable. Rick Barnes' squad is 2-3 against current top 25 schools, and with six Big XII road games still to play, including the end-of-season rematch against Baylor, seniors Damion James and Dexter Pittman will have to continue to carry the load to combat the inexperience of their young backcourt.

BYU (AP #12, ESPN/USA Today#12, RPI #17; 21-2, 6-1 Mountain West)
The Cougars are undefeated at home this season, and their only two losses have come against Utah State (16-6, first place in the Western Athletic Conference) and league rival AP #23 New Mexico. BYU can shoot the lights out--they rank in the top five nationally in field-goal shooting, free-throw shooting and 3-point shooting--and that can only help them come tournament time.  With junior point guard Jimmer Fredette pouring in 21 points per game and averaging five assists as well, this team could cement a #2 or #3 seed in March if they continue their stellar play into February.

Temple (AP #15, ESPN/USA Today #15, RPI #15; 18-4, 6-1 Atlantic 10)
Despite losing 2009 All-A10 guard Dionte Christmas to the professional ranks, the Owls are still contending for the A-10 regular season title because of guards Ryan Brooks and Juan Fernandez (28 PPG and 6 APG combined) and big man Lavoy Allen, who's averaging a nice double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.  Temple boasts a victory over cross-town rival #3 Villanova and a plus-minus record of 8-2 (eight road wins, 2 home losses) among the accomplishments on their resume, but with Xavier, Charlotte, Rhode Island and Dayton all gunning for the two-time defending A-10 champs, a three-peat will be very difficult.

Wisconsin (AP #16, ESPN/USA Today #16, RPI #14; 16-5, 6-3 Big Ten)
The Badgers are known for playing well at home, and this season has been no different--all of their losses have come on the road.  They split their games with conference rivals AP#20 Ohio State and AP#10 Purdue and have played well considering their strength of schedule ranks 14th nationally. If they can beat Michigan State in Madison and get past Michigan this Saturday, senior guard Trevon Hughes (16 PPG) and company have a good chance of running the table and setting themselves up in prime position for a #3 seed in March Madness.

New Mexico (AP #23, ESPN/USA Today unranked, RPI #13; 20-3, 6-2 Mountain West)
If you had to guess which conference had two 20-win teams as of this past weekend, there's a good chance you would not have said the Mountain West.  The Lobos, who are neck and neck with BYU for the conference lead, have four players averaging double-digits in points per game and enjoy a distinct home advantage because of the notoriously high decibel levels in University Arena (aka "The Pit"). If junior do-it-all Darington Hobson can maintain his balanced performance (15 PPG, 8 RPG, 4 APG) through the coming month, his team might be able to sweep the season series from the Cougars (they play in Provo on February 27th) and gain the top spot in the conference tournament.

Vanderbilt (AP #21, ESPN/USA Today #23, RPI #9; 16-4, 5-1 SEC)
Led by senior guard Jermaine Beal (14 PPG), the Commodores also have three other players that score more than 10 PPG. Their downfall is that the aren't very deep, and with games against #14 Tennessee, #1 Kentucky and AP #18 Mississippi still to play (the latter two in a three-day span), the next month could tax this team to exhaustion.  If they can stay healthy and get through February at .500 or better, the 'Dores could still have a chance at the #2 seed in the SEC East, meaning they wouldn't have to face John Calipari's Wildcats until the SEC tournament championship. If they make it that far, they've got a great shot at #3 seed in March.

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