The State of College Basketball is a 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 pretty well as a predictor for the last two seasons, and enters 2009-10 ready to rock. For our purposes here, it gives the world's only hype-free, non-voting, computer poll of teams in the lower 24 conferences. This is the full chart, and this is a recording.
1. Northern Iowa
(Missouri Valley), 144.082, 20-2 (11-1)
Are the Panthers the best team in Hoops Nation? You better Farokhmanesh
believe it! With a slim three-point revenge win
over Wichita State on Thursday, UNI improved its profile considerably. The Shockers are the RPI's No. 48 team at the moment, and along with that Dec. 12 blowout of No. 46 Siena, the Valley's top team now holds a 2-1 record over the Top 50. All of those Top 50 wins could disappear in an instant, but for the moment this is an at-large kind of team and the key to a two-bid Valley. The Panthers have Southern Illinois (5-7) at home this weekend, followed by a roadie to Drake and Bradley (both 6-6)... staying in the moment for a second, UNI won't play a team with a positive MVC record until Feb. 16, when Creighton comes calling.
(Horizon League), 142.343, 18-4 (11-0)
While Northern Iowa still has to fight through a tough Valley, it appears that Butler is on cruise control in the Horizon. The Bulldogs survived their four-game road trip with a quartet of wins in Chicago and Wisconsin, and now get to go up against Detroit, Wright State and Loyola with the benefit of their home fans behind them... a luxury not afforded them since all the way back on Jan. 16. With all the talent that Brad Stevens has assembled -- players like Matt "Monsterizer" Howard
and Gordon "Spankmaster" Hayward
-- he's still had trouble getting everybody to have a good game at once against a quality opponent. That's the missing element right now, and it'd be nice to see all cylinders firing (at least once) before March.
3. Rhode Island
(Atlantic 14), 140.724, 18-3 (6-2)
While they've been eclipsed in the standings by Charlotte and Xavier, our computer model still feels that URI is the A-14's most dangerous team. The scoring is balanced, the losses have been against only the best teams (Avg. RPI Loss: 32), and the Rams have done a good job overcoming halfcourt shooting defense deficiencies with a lot of open-court steals and forced turnovers. A quick snack this weekend with struggling UMass coming to town on Saturday, and then a real make-or-break stretch: Richmond at home (Wed.), then Temple on the road next weekend. We'll know what URI is really made of then.
(Atlantic 14), 97.552, 16-6 (8-1)
The Musketeers looked tired and bored the two times I saw them in eyeballvision (at Butler and La Salle), but it seems that they've gained one thing that' not quantifiable by statistics or handwritten notes: motivation. The X has spent the last couple of weeks delivering bruising beatdowns to the league's bottom feeders, ripping down every loose rebound and hurting the bottoms of nets from Amherst to Ohio (four straight 50 percent-plus nights from the floor). A huge showdown at eternal rival Dayton -- a team that came within four points of ending a generation-spanning Cincinnati curse on Jan. 16 -- looms on Saturday.
5. Temple (Atlantic 14), 96.596, 19-4 (7-1)
Our third and final team in the A-14 logjam is Temple, which has won eight of nine. They, too, are helping to create the crucial separation between bid-worthy teams and Atlantic City also-rans, delivering hard blows to La Salle and Duquesne in the past week. (So much for the oversized league eating itself... it's just eating its own tail, which is perfectly acceptable behavior as far as the Committee is concerned.) The Owls are 4-2 against the RPI top 50, boast an Average RPI Loss of 32 (tied with URI for 16th in the nation), and present opponents with the most punishing halfcourt defense in the conference: just 38 percent of shots get past the rim.
6. Saint Mary's (West Coast), 95.073, 19-3 (6-1)
With four current starters in double figures, beastmaster Omar Samhan in the middle, and a resistance to key injuries, the Gaels are keeping that multi-bid fever alive in the WCC. Junior Mickey McConnell, who grew up fast last year when Patty Mills was injured, has developed into one of the best PG's in Hoops Nation, with a 2.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, a roll full of dimes (5.7 apg), and keen 3-ball skills (54 percent from ye netherlands). What SMC could use right now, though, is a win over Gonzaga, you know? And they'll get a chance next Thursday to avenge the close home loss on Jan. 14. And we'll be there, whoo!
7. Virginia Commonwealth (Colonial), 93.123, 16-5 (8-4)
Swept by up-and-comer Northeastern, dumped by a hard-charging Drexel team in early January. Still, the computron ranks the Rams sliiightly ahead of the in-league competition. Mostly because this is the CAA team with the best wins (URI, Richmond, and the split with William & Mary), and because they're getting efficient scoring from up and down the size chart. They don't like playing energy teams, and sometimes it gets a little too Larry Sandersy out there -- they do look a little lost sometimes when he gets in foul trouble. But many questions will be answered this weekend when they play...
8. Old Dominion (Colonial), 92.643, 18-6 (10-2)
ODU got the sweet BracketBuster matchup with Northern Iowa, and you've still got to consider the Monarchs as the true best team in the conference. There's Gerald Lee, and a bunch of sizable forwards who can bang, and they win a lot of games based on rebounding and defense alone. A win over VCU this weekend would bolster a CV that includes wins over Georgetown and Charlotte (an ugly blowout there).
9. Cornell (Ivy League), 92.020, 18-3 (4-0)
While a lot of the 36-point difference in last weekend's blowout over Harvard was mostly tacked on at the end, it was definitely effective for national statement purposes. The Big Red is now nationally thought-of, and has plenty of time to withstand the media crush because, well, they take five days off per week. Oh, and because the rest of the league is horrible. Expect more fireworks this homestanding Yale-Brown weekend, and more talk of how this is the best Ivy team ever, in history, definitively. (Goes to show that a lot of people like overheated hype instead of research. This team's place in history will be decided within six weeks; patience, everyone.)
10. Utah State (Western Athletic), 91.310, 17-6 (7-2)
If you stayed up late to watch the late National Pixelvision Day game, you saw that the Aggies are back, baby! Did they ever leave? Take out a few bad road trips, and this is the same team that was picked to run roughshod over the Wickity. Massive underscheduling keeps the two-bid WAC talk to an absolute zero, but the run away best shooting team in the conference is starting to click on all cylinders heading into the regular season's home stretch. Tomorrow marks another chapter in the long and poisoned history of the USU-Nevada saga, as the Aggies look for a season sweep at home.
The Next 14:
11. Siena (Metro Atlantic), 90.985; 12. Richmond (Atlantic 14), 89.875; 13. Dayton (Atlantic 14), 88.902; 14. Charlotte (Atlantic 14), 88.185; 15. Wichita State (Missouri Valley), 88.182; 16. Portland (West Coast), 87.423; 17. Harvard (Ivy League), 87.120; 18. Louisiana Tech (Western Athletic), 87.054; 19. Northeastern (Colonial), 86.418; 20. William & Mary (Colonial), 84.533; 21. Murray State (Ohio Valley), 83.802; 22. Nevada (Western Athletic), 82.057; 23. Kent State (Mid-American), 81.142; 24. Pacific (Big West), 81.059.
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