RTC Top 25: Week FifteenPosted by Walker Carey on February 24th, 2014
The story of last week in college basketball was previously-unbeaten Syracuse suffering its first two losses of the season. On Wednesday, the Orange were stunned at home in overtime by Boston College – a team that entered the game with a 6-19 overall record. Hoping to dust off Wednesday’s disaster, Syracuse traveled to Duke on Saturday for a rematch of February 1’s instant classic. The Blue Devils prevailed in the rematch thanks in large part to a controversial charging call that went against Syracuse and led to coach Jim Boeheim’s ejection in the final 10 seconds of the game. Duke’s victory was much needed for the Blue Devils’ slim hopes in the ACC race after it had suffered its fourth conference loss on Thursday at North Carolina. Atop the Big Ten standings, Michigan was able to gain a one-game lead in the loss column over second-place Michigan State after the Wolverines completed their season sweep of the Spartans in Sunday’s 79-70 victory in Ann Arbor. The conference race in the AAC became even tighter Saturday when Louisville knocked off Cincinnati to trim the Bearcats’ conference lead to merely a half-game there. Both teams will be tested this Saturday, as the Cards will travel to Memphis and the Bearcats will travel to Connecticut. As the season continues into its final stretch, it will be very interesting to see how these conference races end up shaking out. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.
- Florida Is The New #1 Team. The 25-2 Gators were chosen by seven of our eight pollsters as the new #1 team in this week’s RTC25. Billy Donovan’s squad is now 14-0 in the SEC and has not lost a game since December 2. The Gators can run their conference mark to 16-0 this week, as they figure to be comfortable favorites in Tuesday’s road game at Vanderbilt and Saturday’s home contest versus LSU.
- Virginia Continues to Roll. The Cavaliers are now 14-1 in ACC play and are all alone at the top of the conference standings. Virginia has rolled off 11 consecutive ACC victories following its lone conference setback at Duke on January 13. Tony Bennett’s squad hits its home hardwood twice this week, as it hosts Miami on Wednesday before Saturday’s showdown with Syracuse that will have significant implications on the conference race.
- Two New Teams. #23 New Mexico and #25 Oklahoma enter the RTC25 after perfect weeks. The Lobos have now won nine of their last 10 games after scoring a road victory over UNLV on Wednesday and throttling #15 San Diego State in Albuquerque on Saturday. The Sooners were quite impressive in their only action of the week, topping Kansas State by 13 points in a game they led by as many as 27 points in the second half.
Poll Defenses. RTC pollster Brian Otskey took the opportunity to defend his choice of ranking Arizona as his #1 team over Florida: I moved Arizona back up to the top spot in my poll because it has the look of a team adjusting well to life without Brandon Ashley. It also helped that Florida was not all that impressive last week but the Wildcats went into Salt Lake City and Boulder and came away with two quality victories. It is not easy to win at those venues and Arizona became the first Pac-12 school to sweep the trip to Utah and Colorado this season. Arizona has the nation’s best adjusted defensive efficiency and since losing Ashley its adjusted offensive efficiency has actually improved from No. 47 on February 13 to No. 31 today. That was thought to be an area of concern after losing Ashley, but Arizona is showing signs of adapting nicely. I expect the Wildcats to continue that progress and enter the NCAA Tournament as the nation’s best team.
RTC pollster Shane Connolly took the opportunity to defend his decision of ranking Michigan State higher than Michigan even though the Wolverines lead the Big Ten and have beaten the Spartans twice: Michigan State has been one of the biggest rankings enigmas the last few months. The slew of injuries and ensuing inconsistent results makes it hard to nail down just how good this team is. While the head-to-head match-ups between the in state rivals both went the way of the Wolverines, I still believe in this Spartan team. It’s important to remember that Adreian Payne missed the meeting in East Lansing and I never like to punish a team too much for losing on the road to good teams. For Michigan it was encouraging to see a strong performance from the recently inconsistent Nik Stauskas, but I want to see him string a few more together before launching Michigan in my top 15.
Game of the Week. #4 Syracuse vs. #9 Virginia. When the Orange travel to Charlottesville on Saturday, much will be at stake in terms of the ACC race. The 14-1 Cavaliers currently lead the 12-2 Orange in the conference standings. Something to watch in this game will be Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis’ ability to distribute the ball and make plays against a Virginia defensive attack that is number one in the country in points allowed.
Keep Tabs On. #25 Oklahoma vs. #5 Kansas; Memphis vs. #7 Louisville; Connecticut vs. #14 Cincinnati; VCU vs. #11 Saint Louis; #24 Texas vs. #25 Oklahoma.
Conference Call: Big Ten (5), ACC (4), Big 12 (4), AAC (2), SEC (2), Big East (2), Pac-12 (2), Mountain West (2), Atlantic 10 (1), Missouri Valley (1).