The newness has worn off, the season is in full swing. Conference play has tipped off. The contenders and pretenders appear to be aligning themselves in their correct slots as 2013 moves away from the initial calendar flip and fastbreaks toward the NCAA Tournament.
With that, we present our initial Midweek Madness for college basketball – a power rankings potpourri that offers a look at the major schools, the mid-major schools and the top players in the country.
So, without further ado, and before teams tip off tonight …
Louisville, 15-1. The Cardinals lost to Duke back in late November, struggled against mid-major Illinois State the next time out and they don’t exactly overwhelm with the “wow” factor. But they’re solid, they’re experienced and they’re looking every bit the part of a repeat Final Four participant with PG Peyton Silva directing the way.
Duke, 15-1. As noted above, the Blue Devils already one-upped our top team. Their lone loss was at North Carolina State. They’re very good, and big man Mason Plumlee makes them a solid play, if not a given, every time they step on the floor – whether high-scoring G Seth Curry is healthy or not.
Kansas, 15-1. The Jayhawks lost to Michigan State in their second game of the season, but they’ve been money ever since – even when they’ve been pushed. They really struggled in back-to-back home games against Temple and Iowa State to start 2013, but they survived and their size, headed by 7-footer Jeff Withey, makes them a difficult matchup every time out.
Michigan, 16-1. The Wolverines lost for the first time on Sunday, on the road at Ohio State, but they are loaded for bear to face the Big Ten and beyond thanks to a backcourt of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Syracuse, 16-1. The Orange are so deep that losing top shooter James Sotherland to academic issues doesn’t even seem like it’ll faze them. Their lone lose came to a Temple team playing its best and SU not.
Gonzaga, 16-1. The Bulldogs – hard to believe now – lost to Illinois at home in December, but they’ve been strong throughout. Not only do they merit mention at the top here, but they seriously contend for top-5 status, period, in any poll. Junior 7-footer Kelly Olynyk is emerging into a star who surprises opponents with his nimbleness. Can we really call Gonzaga a mid-major anymore anyway?
Butler, 14-2. We’re sticking “old school” with the labeling here – any non-BCS conference affiliation equals mid-major. Hence, the Bulldogs remain in play, even with the jump to the Atlantic 10. Both of their losses – to Xavier and Illinois, were blowouts, but they beat Indiana when the Hoosiers were ranked No. 1. Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke has been a fabulous fit.
Virginia Commonwealth, 14-3. The Rams, led by Treveon Graham, are a turnover-forcing machine and the most maddening team to watch in the entire game, constantly creating havoc on both ends of the floor. When all is said and done, don’t be surprised if this is the best “David” out there.
San Diego State, 14-2. The Aztecs’ losses came against top-10 opposition in Syracuse and Arizona. They’re strong, up and down the lineup and have special talent in swing man Jamaal Franklin, who averages a double-double.
Creighton, 17-1. The Bluejays got handled by Boise State back in late November, but they’ve been spotless of late as returning All-American Doug McDermott is cementing his place for postseason honors yet again.
Doug McDermott, Creighton, junior F. Ahh, thought it was just a case of no respect to the pride of the Missouri Valley Conference, huh? Well, maybe, but there is no denying how good D-Mac is. A year after being named a first-team All-American, he’s averaging 24 points and 7 boards per game. He’s legit.
Mike Muscala, Bucknell, senior C. The Bison are NCAA-bound with the big fella in the lineup. More telling, they’re likely to make some noise because of him. On pace to finish his career with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, he averages 19 and 11 per game in those respective categories.
Khalif Wyatt, Temple, senior G. The wild-card in this bunch, he gives new meaning to “old school” style with his slow-down, herky-jerky, off-balance act all over the floor. He pumped in 33 points against Syracuse and 26 at Kansas. When he’s on, no one dominates a game like this guy. No one.
Mason Plumlee, Duke, senior C. He’s big, he can move, he can play and he’s a Blue Devil – sounds like any POY selection committee’s dream. He averages 17 points and 11 rebounds per game for a probable Final Four entrant.
Trey Burke, Michigan, sophomore G. He averages 18 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds per game, and is as well-rounded as that reads. He is the top player on arguably the country’s most talented team.