Handicapping the new rankings

BY foxsports • February 14, 2011

By Zac Jackson
FOX Sports Ohio
February 14, 2011

NOTE: This blog was published Monday morning, prior to the afternoon release of the new rankings. New rankings have been noted.

Because Ohio State lost at Wisconsin over the weekend, there might be a new No. 1 in college basketball later today when the new rankings are released. Being No. 1 right now means a whole lot of nothing, but it makes for good discussion.

So, let's discuss. And analyze. And I'll throw in a bonus team, too, since from where I sit we are looking at six teams who have a legitimate shot to eventually win this thing. Rankings listed are from last week's Associated Press poll.

#1 Ohio State (24-1, new ranking #2 AP/#3 Coaches Poll)

REASON FOR A MOVE: The loss, even though it was the Buckeyes' first. It's just the nature of the beast. I expect Ohio State to still receive first-place votes -- and deserve them -- but not to actually be No. 1.

BODY OF WORK: OSU lacks the quality wins of the other contenders but still was impressive in handling its business until Saturday. An interesting road immediately ahead (Michigan State Tuesday night, followed by rematches with Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin) gives the Buckeyes a chance to bolster their quality wins.

CONCERNS GOING FORWARD: The Buckeyes are still the nation's most complete team, but they're not deep. And, rip me all you want, but the Big Ten is not a top conference this year and we don't know how OSU will handle more athletic opponents in the postseason. You just don't lose Robbie Hummel, Al Nolen and go through the things Michigan State has gone through and remain a top conference. OSU's path through conference play, though challenging, has not been as challenging as most others.

VEGAS SAYS: At 7/2, OSU is the second choice to win it all. It opened the year at 20/1.

SEED PROJECTION: Barring a collapse down the stretch, the Buckeyes will be a No. 1 seed and play in Cleveland on the NCAA Tournament's first weekend.

#2 Kansas (24-1, new ranking #1 in both polls)

REASON FOR A MOVE: This is the biggest example of why the rankings mean so little. Kansas is a real contender and has a nice mix of athleticism, size and experience. The Jayhawks have just one loss on the season -- but that one loss was a convincing one, on its home court, to Texas. With Texas and Pitt playing so well and Ohio State's record now matching Kansas there's no way the Jayhawks could be No. 1, right? Well, it's not that simple.

BODY OF WORK: Kansas has some good wins (Arizona, UCLA, Memphis, Baylor, Missouri) but not any great ones. The Jayhawks wouldn't see Texas again until the Big 12 tournament final and really have only two interesting regular season games left, tonight at underachieving Kansas State and at Missouri in the season finale.

CONCERNS GOING FORWARD: No one is going to forget that loss to Northern Iowa last year, but more pressing is a lack of close games and freshman guard Josh Selby's battle with nagging injuries. The other way to look at it? Maybe Kansas doesn't need to hit its stride until March.

VEGAS SAYS: At 11/2, Kansas is currently the third choice behind Duke (3/1) and Ohio State.

SEED PROJECTION: Still very much in the mix for a 1 seed but probably behind Pitt, Texas and OSU right now.

#3 Texas (22-3, new ranking #3 AP, #2 Coaches)

REASON FOR A MOVE: The Longhorns are the nation's hottest team, probably the nation's best defensive team and over the last three weeks have played like the nation's best team. They're very, very fast, unselfish and clicking. My best guess is either Texas or Pitt takes over the top spot when the poll is released.

BODY OF WORK: One bad loss way back in December; also lost close ones to Pitt and UConn. Winning at Kansas isn't ever easy, and two weeks from now the wins over North Carolina and Michigan State might look better than they do right now.

CONCERNS GOING FORWARD: Just that coach Rick Barnes' tournament history isn't exactly sparkling, and two of its most important players -- Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson -- are freshmen. Older, stronger guards have given Joseph fits in big games.

VEGAS SAYS: 8/1 to win it all, currently the fourth choice. That's pretty darn good value.

SEED PROJECTION: Most certainly a 1 seed if this roll continues, and here's what's really trouble for future opponents. If Texas keeps playing this well it will likely play its regional games in San Antonio in trying to qualify for the Final Four in Houston.

#4 Pitt (23-2, new ranking #4)

REASON FOR A MOVE: Trending upward and looking like a tough out. Pitt plays some serious defense and just won road games last week at West Virginia and Villanova without injured leading scorer Ashton Gibbs. Impressive -- and worthy of the top ranking.

BODY OF WORK: This is where Pitt really shines, having defeated Texas, UConn, Georgetown and Syracuse before last week. Its losses are to Tennessee and Notre Dame, the team that just missed this list of six.

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