That’s Debatable: Home StretchPosted by rtmsf on February 4th, 2011
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Week’s Topic: We’re heading into the home stretch of the season, merely five weeks and change from Selection Sunday. We have a pretty good idea about the contenders and pretenders this season, but give us one team that you look to make a strong push to finish off the season and one team that you expect to tail off the rest of the way.
Andrew Murawa, RTC contributor
For the better part of the last month or two in my MWC Check-ins, I’ve been promising good things to come for New Mexico. With underrated veteran leadership at the point in Dairese Gary surrounded by a group of talented athletes, it was just a matter of waiting for the parts here to gel into a cohesive unit. With Drew Gordon now comfortable in his new digs (he’s scored in double figures in seven straight games and averaged almost 13 rebounds over that span), Philip McDonald and Kendall Williams providing talent on the wing and a pared-down rotation of talented role players, the Lobos are on the move. They dug an awful big hole early in conference play, but they could be a scary team to line up against come the MWC Tournament. As for a team ready to tail off, I’ve never been in love with this year’s Arizona squad. Yes, Derrick Williams is as good as anybody in America, but if opposing defenses can control him and make his teammates win ballgames, the Wildcats could fade fast.
Brian Otskey, RTC contributor
I would have picked Washington to finish strong (they still might) but their embarrassing loss at Oregon State on Thursday scared me away. Instead, I’m going with North Carolina, the team I originally picked to be the surprise team of the second half. The Tar Heels blasted Boston College on Tuesday and have won nine of their last ten games. North Carolina is ranked sixth in defensive efficiency and looks like a safe bet to get to 12-4 in the ACC as a result. With Harrison Barnes looking like the player we all thought he would be and Kendall Marshall now starting, Roy Williams has to be optimistic heading down the home stretch. As for my team that will fade, I’m looking at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers lost their point guard, Al Nolen, to injury and he was the key to their team’s success. Without him, Minnesota will have difficulty scoring. They don’t play great defense and will struggle in their three remaining road games, currently owners of a 2-5 road record. Their schedule isn’t all that difficult but the slide has already started, having lost two in a row. I expect the Gophers to fall towards the NCAA bubble.
Matt Patton, RTC contributor
I think Notre Dame is destined to tail off pretty soon. The Fighting Irish been playing well over their heads this season, and I’m not very confident in their ability to win in hostile environments. Give tons of credit to coach Mike Brey, who totally reworked this team after Luke Harangody left last year, and Ben Hansbrough, who started living up to the family name. Don’t get me wrong, Notre Dame is still a very good team, but it’s not a top ten team. Contrarily I think Wisconsin is very underrated right now (ironically the Badgers lost to Notre Dame on a neutral site early in the season). They are undefeated at home with two certified stars in Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor. This team doesn’t make mistakes, and it’s nearly impossible to come from behind against them between their deliberate (read: slow) pace, ability to avoid turnovers and incredible free throw shooting (81.8%, really?).
Ned Reddick, RTC contributor
Even though a lot of UNC fans seem to think we have an anti-UNC bias on this site I am actually going to pick the Tar Heels here as a team that will make a strong push towards the end of the season. This doesn’t necessarily mean I think UNC will make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament (I don’t), but the ACC is soft this year and their only games that I would assume they will lose are against Duke, which are rivalry games and I don’t think the Blue Devils are that great without Kyrie Irving. So even though the Tar Heels are nowhere near the top ten team that some predicted at the start of the season they should make their way up from being a borderline top 25 team to being a solid one (maybe even peaking around #15) as their younger players mature and they develop a steady rotation with Larry Drew II’s departure opening up more minutes for Kendall Marshall. As for my team that will tail off I’m going to have to go with Louisville even though I think Rick Pitino has done a solid job managing a team that doesn’t have a true star. In the end I don’t think the Cardinals have the firepower to be a top 25 team after going through a brutal February against the Big East. They should still be a NCAA Tournament team, but they will take their lumps against a difficult Big East schedule and might fall out of the top 25.
Tom Wolfmeyer, RTC contributor
The school I think you’ll see moving quickly up the rankings in the next month will be Utah State. The Aggies are currently 21-2 and 10-0 in the WAC, and they should probably roll through that conference unbeaten. The only possible hiccup will be a game at St. Mary’s during the BracketBusters, but if they can win that one, expect them to steadily rise while all the power conference teams around them lose games. This will be especially true when pollsters look at their resume and realize that their only two losses this season came at the hands of BYU and Georgetown. The team I expect to falter is Kentucky. A popular pick to make a push up the rankings as recently as a week ago, the Wildcats have not shown a capability to beat SEC teams on the road, and they still have their toughest three trips ahead of them — at Vanderbilt, Florida and Tennessee. The Wildcats have great computer numbers, but like Washington, that’s largely a factor of home blowouts without consideration of a 3-4 record in hostile environments. Expect UK to have a six- or seven-loss conference slate when it’s all said and done, certainly more than good enough for an NCAA bid, but far short of where they probably should have been in a paper-thin SEC.