NCAA Power 16 Rankings

Tue, 01/04/2011 - 4:54am

2011 is here and the conference season is upon us. No more cupcake filler home games, it’s time to separate the contenders from pretenders. As we enter the New Year, Duke, Ohio State and Kansas retain their hold on the top three spots, but how long can they remain unbeaten? Last week’s number six slot belonged to Georgetown, but one week later they find themselves 1-2 in the Big East and out of the Power 16. That could be a familiar story as the grind of conference play begins. Onto the first Power 16 of 2011:

Rank (Last Week)
1. Duke (1)
The Blue Devils have had little trouble since losing Kyrie Irving to injury a month ago. A major reason for their continued success is the play of Nolan Smith. The Senior Guard is averaging 20.7 ppg and 5.7 apg in the six games without Irving.
2. Ohio State (2)
Along with Duke and Kansas, the Buckeyes are among the most complete teams in the nation. It’s tough to find any deficiencies with this team. Jared Sullinger gives them a huge interior presence, while Jon Diebler, William Buford and David Lighty provide solid perimeter play. A not so obvious key to Ohio State’s success has been the play of Freshman PG, Aaron Craft. He has been a steady hand at the PG position, while also providing solid defense. He may be the key to a deep tournament run for the Buckeyes.
3. Kansas (3)
KU has an interesting road game to close out its non-conference season at Michigan this Sunday. Bill Self’s squad has picked up were it left off in the 2009-10 regular season by showing that it is one of the favorites to win a national title. Much like last year’s team, this KU club is well-rounded and has shown very few weaknesses.
4. Pittsburgh (4)
Jamie Dixon’s club began the Big East gauntlet in fine fashion with a beat down of one of the conference’s elite teams, UConn. The depth and balance of this team makes them our favorite to claim the Big East crown.
5. Syracuse (5)
The Orange picked up two solid wins against Providence and Notre Dame to open its Big East schedule. Rick Jackson led the way against the Irish with strong interior play on both sides of the floor in the second half. The Senior Forward may be one of the most improved players in the country this year.
6. Missouri (8)
Mizzou is seemingly finding its stride entering Big 12 conference play. They’ve won eight straight since losing to Georgetown in OT, including a dominant performance against a good Old Dominion team last Thursday. Marcus Denmon has been leading the way, averaging 18.8 ppg in the month of December.
7. Villanova (10)
The Wildcats picked up a big non-conference win against Temple last Thursday behind a strong performance from Sophomore Guard Maalik Wayns. However, it’s still tough to get a read on this team as they followed up that solid win with a lackluster performance against Rutgers in their Big East opener. Jay Wright will be searching for more consistent play as Nova enters the meat of its schedule in January. One thing to note about the Wildcats is that they are playing much better defense this season allowing 0.88 points per possession versus 0.94 last year.
8. San Diego State (9)
Steve Fisher’s team is one of the best stories of the non-conference season. They begin Mountain West play with road games at TCU and Utah before UNLV comes to town for a huge match up. Keep your eyes on the Mountain West this season, because San Diego State, BYU and UNLV are all potential Sweet 16 teams.
9. Connecticut (6)
After suffering a difficult loss at Pitt, the Huskies nearly laid a huge egg at home against Big East bottom-feeder, South Florida. Once again Jim Calhoun’s club relied heavily on Kemba Walker and Alex Oriakhi. Despite their strong start, it’s difficult to envision this team finishing in the top four of the Big East.
10. Kentucky (11)
Who saw that 23-point 14-rebound performance coming from Josh Harrellson? The Senior Center was huge in UK’s dominating performance at Louisville. Coach Cal’s young ballclub is getting better and they’re the clear-cut favorite in a weak SEC.
11. Purdue (13)
Give Matt Painter a lot of credit for his team’s tremendous start following the loss of Robbie Hummel. It will be interesting to see how the Boilers hold up through a rugged Big Ten schedule while having to rely heavily on E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. They get two bottom-feeders in Penn State and Iowa this week, which should run their conference record to 4-0.
12. BYU(15)
The Cougars finished their non-conference slate 14-1. Their reward? A Mountain West opener on the road at UNLV. This could be the game of the week and it will go a long way in determining the winner of the MWC. BYU hasn’t won against UNLV in Vegas since 2005.
13. Texas (NR)
The Longhorns boast impressive wins away from Austin against Illinois, North Carolina and Michigan State. Rick Barnes’ team will have one more opportunity for a big non-conference win when they host UConn this Saturday. We mentioned Syracuse’s Rick Jackson as a candidate for college basketball’s most improved player, but Texas’ Jordan Hamilton has to be mentioned as well. He’s been a leader for this young Longhorns’ team.
14. Vanderbilt (NR)
The Commodores make their initial appearance in our Power 16 after a close call against a good Marquette squad. Kevin Stallings’ team has played well despite injuries to several key rotational players over the past few weeks. Leading scorer, John Jenkins, is expected to return for Vandy’s conference opener against South Carolina this Saturday.
15. Texas A&M (NR)
Despite back-to-back sluggish performances against weak mid-majors, the Aggies move into our Power Rankings for the first time this season. Mark Turgeon’s team boasts solid, but close, wins against Temple and Washington although the rest of their non-conference schedule was less than impressive. We’ll get a better feel for this team in a couple of weeks when they get Missouri, Texas and Kansas State in consecutive games.
16. Illinois (NR)
The Illini got an excellent start to the Big Ten schedule by knocking off Iowa and Wisconsin. Mike Davis posted one of his best performances of the season with an 11-point 14-rebound effort against the Badgers. Bruce Webber needs that type of production from the Senior Forward, because the Illini currently rank 203rd in the country in defensive rebounding percentage.

Dropped out: Georgetown (6), Louisville (12), Minnesota (14), Arizona (16)

Email questions or opinions to Josh [email protected].

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