February 27, 2009 6:22 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
The State of College Basketball is a relatively new ratings system that uses a lot of good basketball sense, per-game team performance ratings and degradation of older results to rank the teams from No. 1 to 344 (here's the long-winded version). In its overall form, it retroactively picked three of the Final Four in a simulation of 2006-07, did okay as a predictor last season, and enters 2008-09 ready for more. For our purposes here, it gives the world's only hype-free, non-voting, computer poll of teams in the lower 22 and a half (we include the A-14) conferences. This is the full chart, and this is a recording.
1. Butler (Horizon League), 100.041, 24-4 (14-3)
The Bulldogs hang on at the top spot for the third straight week, after rebounding well from a two-loss stretch that had most everybody wondering if a team that starts three freshmen had finally come back to reality. A strong roadie in a hostile environment always turns that kind of conversation off, and Butler's 75-63 BracketBusters win at Davidson served as a nice introduction between the new players and casual fans around the country. The Bulldogs followed that up with the kind of standard blowout that's marked the Horizon season, a 78-57 thrashing of Youngstown State Thursday night. A win in a very Un-Senior Day on Saturday against Cleveland State would clinch the No. 1 seed and tourney hosting duties.
2. Xavier (Atlantic 10), 98.333, 23-5 (11-3)
The Musketeers also used a strong road performance to erase recent negative efforts. A 68-54 wire-to-wire winner over Saint Joseph's put the X back atop the A-14 by a full game, putting three straight away defeats squarely in the rear-view. One very, very positive sign from the past week is that Xavier underturnovered both opponents, by six against GW and by a pair at SJU. That's the first back-to-back like that since mid-January for a team that still stands 13th in coughs (14.9 topg). A huge home game and a Revenge Bowl against Dayton looms next Thursday, while the team takes a week off.
3. Utah State (Western Athletic), 94.794, 26-3 (13-1)
Despite a 75-64 loss at No. 4 Saint Mary's last weekend, the Aggies still have enough index points to keep a slight lead ahead of their BracketBuster vanquishers. The profile still looks good, with national top 12 figures in field goal percentage (49.9 percent, 4th), offensive efficiency (1.147 PPP, 2nd), ball control (11.2 topg) and assist/turnover ratio (1.434:1, 7th). Along with three double-figure scorers up and down the height chart, we like their chances in one-and-done situations. USU came out strong against Hawaii in its WAC return, crushing Hawaii by 20 back at the Spectrum on Thursday, and will try their road mojo again at rival Nevada on Saturday evening.
4. Saint Mary's (West Coast), 90.517, 22-5 (9-4)
With four straight wins after a four-out-of-five losing stretch that followed point guard Patrick Mills' hand injury, the Gaels have fully adjusted to life without their most famous player. And if persistent reports that he's coming back for some or all of the WCC tourney, the team might end up stronger for the experience. While it's unfair to expect an at-large berth (repeat after me: there is no injury exception), the strength of the frontcourt alone could pull SMC through... recall that the Gaels outrebounded Gonzaga by 14 in that two-point near-miss in Moraga on Feb. 12. The team's still locked in a No. 2-seed battle with Portland, and will have to wait on tiebreakers if both teams win or lose on Saturday. The Gaels will play at Loyola Marymount (3-26, 2-11).
5. Creighton (Missouri Valley), 89.377, 24-6 (13-4)
Up two spots are the surging Bluejays, winners of nine straight heading into the Valley's final weekend and boasting a perfect February record (8-0). No question that a better handle has helped this team, which hasn't turned the ball over more than any opponent during this streak. Another good sign for March is that Creighton is winning at any speed during this stretch: a BracketBuster slog against George Mason, an uptempo win at Northern Iowa, a midtempo snoozer at Missouri State. A weekend win over Illinois State, and the Jays will have wrapped up the No. 1 seed, erased a four-game gap against UNI, and will stand as the first and hopefully final champions of the Bizarro Valley.
6. Siena (Metro Atlantic), 88.600, 22-6 (15-1)
The Saints have lost twice this calendar year, at Kansas and Rider, and they've won 12 of 13 games. Will that be enough to get the MAAC its first at-large bid since Manhattan 1995 should Siena lose on its home floor at elimination time? Who knows what the bubble will look like two weeks hence. As it stands now, Siena can finish strong at Niagara and Canisius this weekend, or lose and give the rest of the Met hope beyond tourney futility. Just enjoy Kenny Hasbrouck while you can, he's easily been the most consistent performer of Siena's Big Three. The 6-3 senior has averaged double figures in every game so far this year.
7. Dayton (Atlantic 10), 85.174, 23-5 (9-4)
UD drops two spots this week, due to a rough road trip out at Saint Louis and Rhode Island. They were caught in a slog against a team that clearly has their number at SLU, shooting just 31 percent in their worst offensive performance since league play began. Then they shot 55 percent at URI, but couldn't pull out the win in overtime. The next week is put up or shut up for the slumping Flyers, with a home date with Temple and that aforementioned superroadie at X. We'll know better next week if our faith in this team is truly warranted.
8. Temple (Atlantic 10), 82.687, 17-10 (9-4)
Another two-spot slide here, as the Owls committed one of the index's favorite points-dockers: a home drop to a nearby conference rival. In a low-flow 70-63 loss to La Salle, Temple had all the chances they needed to open some daylight early in the second half, but let it slip away in a horrible display of outside shooting (7-for-24 from 3). The talent's there, the wins have been impressive, but horrid losses to inferior teams (Long Beach State, UMass, La Salle) bring the team focus into question. It's fine if you don't mind getting in the old-fashioned way, which this squad is definitely built to do. But can it follow through?
9. North Dakota State (Summit League), 82.530, 22-6 (15-2)
After a loss at home to Southern Utah on Feb. 14 that could end up costing it the Badlands regular-season title, NDSU won three straight -- including a road Buster at Wisconsin-Milwaukee that established its Horizon-quality chops -- to jump back into the TS-22 top 10. The squad could win its first BLC title in its first street-legal try with a victory in the G!O!T!N! showdown-throwdown against three-time Dance dandies Oral Roberts. Bison Fever!
10. Rhode Island (Atlantic 10), 82.326, 21-8 (10-4)
The most intriguing player in the A-14 race is Rhode Island, which has put together a late run of five straight wins to place itself in the top-seed conversation. Longtime readers might remember last year, when I dismissed the Rams' 14-1 start as high-tempo smoke and mirrors, which got me plenty of hate mail (e and otherwise) from fans of a school just down the road from TMM Headquarters. When it turned out I was right, I even got some apologies, which was very classy. I'm here to tell you today that this team is better. The Rams don't play overheated high-possession ball anymore, they shoot the 3 wonderfully (40.6 percent), and convert possessions into points at one of the country's highest rates: 55.2 percent of the time, they score at least one point. And they've shaved seven points off their points allowed from last year; a lot of that's because they turn opponents over a league-best 22 percent of the time nowadays.
The Next 12:
11. Wisconsin-Green Bay (Horizon League), 81.366; 12. Illinois State (Missouri Valley), 80.392; 13. Cleveland State (Horizon League), 78.956; 14. Davidson (Southern), 78.819; 15. Niagara (Metro Atlantic), 78.600; 16. Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial), 76.731; 17. George Mason (Colonial), 76.643; 18. Weber State (Big Sky), 76.007; 19. Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), 73.856; 20. Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), 71.697; 21. Oakland (Summit League), 71.369; 22. Stephen F. Austin (Southland), 70.372.
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