NCAA Top 25 Poll
By Kevin Duffy
It’s the midway point of the college basketball season, and that means its time to break down what we’ve seen so far. This week, I’m dishing out an MVP award for each team, along with a Player to Watch and a Game to Watch for the second half of the season.
Team (Record) AP Poll Rank / ESPN/USAToday Rank
1. Memphis (15-0) 2,2
MVP: Derrick Rose [img_assist|nid=3532|title=Derrick Rose - AP Photo/Lance Murphey|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=454|height=336]
Rose ties everything together quarterbacking a balanced Tigers attack with 14.7 and 4.3 assists. His defense and passing make him indispensible. Though it can be argued that either Dorsey or Chris Douglas-Roberts are the team's MVP. CDR is Memphis’ go-to player in the clutch (that is, if the Tigers ever actually need a clutch shot) and is a match-up nightmare for most opposing swingmen. And the team is twice as lethal defensively with Dorsey on the floor.
Player to watch: Doneal Mack
Mack is scoring 8 points a game in just 13 minutes of action. He has given Memphis the shooter off the bench that it needed when three-point specialist Jeremy Hunt graduated last year. If Mack can keep up the sharp-shooting, Memphis is as close to as a complete team as we’ve seen in years.
Biggest Game: vs. No. 6 Tennessee (February 23)
2. North Carolina (17-0) 1,1
MVP: Tyler Hansbrough
"Psycho T" is not only the MVP of his team, but of the entire NCAA as well. Hansbrough’s 21.1 points and 9.9 rebounds may be impressive, but its his leadership and unrivaled intensity and competiveness that make him such a special player.
Player to watch: Danny Green
Green may be as vital to Carolina’s success as anyone. He is one of the most versatile players in the country, and is getting better every game. Green notched his first double-double of the season when he scored 13 points and grabbed 14 boards in a 90-68 rout of NC State last week.
Biggest game: vs. No. 5 Duke (February 6)
3. Kansas (16-0) 3,3
MVP: Darrell Arthur
It’s nearly impossible to pick an MVP on such a well-balanced team (even the fans can’t decide), but statistically Arthur is having the best season. The long-armed 6-foot-9 forward leads the Jayhawks in scoring with 13.4 points per game and is second to Darnell Jackson in rebounding at a clip of 5.7 per contest.
Player to watch: Sherron Collins
Kansas’ fearless floor leader is still working his way back from a fractured foot, but once he gets back to 100 percent, the Jayhawks will be very, very difficult to knock off.
Biggest game: at No.17 Texas (February 11)
4. UCLA (16-1) 4,4
MVP: Kevin Love
If there was any question as to the most valuable Bruin was, there isn’t anymore. UCLA’s fantastic freshman torched Washington State for 27 points and 14 rebounds, upping his season averages to 16.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest. He has become a potential First-Team All-American.
Player to watch: Russell Westbrook
Westbrook stepped in as the starter when Collison was hurt early on. Now he's become the 6th man giving tremendous energy and usually playing starters minutes. He leads the Pac-Ten in assists with 5.3 per game. His 12.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and on ball defense have been vital to the Bruins success and he's a prime reason UCLA has an excellent shot to bring a national title back to campus this spring.
Biggest game: vs. No. 25 Arizona State (January 31)
5. Duke (13-1) 7,5
MVP: DeMarcus Nelson
The Blue Devils hurt you from the three-point line with a host of shooters, but it all starts with Nelson. Duke’s long-armed swingman hasadded additional muscle that enables him to score on the interior and rebound with taller players. While he hasn’t totally shouldered the scoring load, he serves as the team’s lockdown defender, leading rebounder, and primary ball handler in some cases. Kyle Singler also deserves strong consideration for his consistency and versatility.
Player to watch: Nolan Smith
Smith’s athleticism and burst gives Duke a nice complement to perimeter shooters Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer. His continued progress is essential to Duke’s postseason success.
Biggest game: at No. 2 North Carolina (February 6)
6. Tennessee (14-1) 6,7
MVP: Tyler Smith
Smith lacks great scoring numbers, but he's the glue that holds everything together for the Vols. His amazing versaility makes the Vols an extremely dangerous team, and a 2.7 a/to ratio is absolutely scintilating for a small forward. Whatever the team needs, he can deliver, including a last second basket Saturday which sealed the victory against Ole Miss.
Player to watch: JP Prince
After missing the first nine games of the season, Prince has shined after working his way into a role in a crowded backcourt. The athletic Arizona transfer has scored in double figures in all but two games he’s appeared in, highlighted by a 23-point performance in a tight win vs. Xavier.
Biggest game: at No. 1 Memphis (February 23)
7. Washington State (13-1) 8,8
MVP: Kyle Weaver
Though he is just third in scoring, Weaver contributes 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game for the one-loss Cougars. His all-around game makes him the most important player on the team.
Player to watch: Aron Baynes
Wazzou’s fiery 6-foot-10 270 lb pivot man will have to show up big against teams with strong interior players. Though the 8 points and 7 rebounds vs. UCLA looks formidable, Baynes got eaten alive by Kevin Love. In order for the Cougars to contend, Baynes must do a better job holding his own.
Biggest game: vs. No. 4 UCLA (February 4)
8. Indiana (14-1) 9,10
MVP: Eric Gordon
Not much explanation needed here. Gordon is toe-to-toe with Michael Beasley for “best freshman,” and he just may be the best pure scorer in the entire country.
Player to watch: Armon Bassett
In case Gordon ever goes cold (highly unlikely), Bassett will need to be there to pick up the slack. The 6-foot-1 sophomore can stroke it from deep with the best of him. He averages 10.4 points per game and knocks down 50 percent of his long-range attempts.
Biggest game: vs. No. 11 Michigan State (February 26)
9. Texas A&M (15-1) 10,9
MVP: Josh Carter
I decided this one with a series of inny-minny-miny-mo between Carter, Joseph Jones, and DeAndre Jordan. The sweet-shooting Carter, who averages a team-high 13.6 points per game, is truly lucky to have edged out his teammates.
Player to watch: Dominique Kirk
Carter, Jones, and Jordan may have the numbers, but Kirk is the glue that holds the Aggies together. He has tournament experience and will know where to get the ball in the clutch.
Biggest game: vs. No. 3 Kansas (March 8)
10. Michigan State (14-2) 11,11
MVP: Drew Neitzel
Raymar Morgan will make a serious push for Big 10 Player of the Year, but he is not the most valuable player on his own team. Neitzel’s ballhandling, shooting, and leadership have keyed Morgan’s 17.6 points per game and State’s 14-2 start.
Player to watch: Durrell Summers
State’s dynamic freshman has been productive when given playing time, as he averages 7.1 points in just 14.1 minutes of action. If he can work himself into a consistent role, Neitzel and the Spartans will benefit greatly from Summers’ athleticism on the wing.
Biggest game: at No. 9 Indiana (February 16)
11. Georgetown (13-2) 5,6
Note: NBADraft.net’s poll was compiled after Georgetown’s Monday night loss to Pitt.
MVP: Roy Hibbert
Hibbert’s three from the top of the key saved the game on Saturday vs. UConn, but his 12 points and 10 rebounds weren’t enough to knock off Pitt on Monday. At 7-foot-2 he should average more than 6.5 rebounds per game, but his presence on the offensive end makes the Hoyas offense run effectively, and thus he deserves to be MVP of the team to this point.
Player to watch: Austin Freeman
DaJuan Summers has slid into Jeff Green’s role from last year, but Freeman’s ability to stretch a defense from the wing was something the Hoyas didn’t have last season. His play will be key down the stretch for Georgetown.
Biggest game: at Louisville (February 9)
12. Butler (16-1) 12,12
MVP: Mike Green
AJ Graves is the big name. Mike Green is the best player. Butler’s 6-foot-1 senior guard averages 15.4 points, 4.7 assists, and an impressive 5.8 rebounds per game.
Player to watch: Matt Howard
At 6-foot-8 225 lbs, Butler’s freshman forward will have the task of defending much bigger and stronger post players for an undersized Bulldogs squad. So far, so good---Howard averages 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds for the top mid-major in the land.
Biggest game: vs. Wright State (February 28)
13. Vanderbilt (16-1) 16,14
MVP: Shan Foster
Foster (20.4 ppg) is poised to capture the SEC Player of the Year and lead the Commodores deep into another NCAA Tournament.
Player to watch: Ross Nelter
Andrew Ogilvy gives Vandy a presence on the interior, but in order to hang with the big boys, the ‘Dores will need to get a lot out of 6-foot-9 240 lb senior forward. Right now, he averages a stellar 7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest.
Biggest game: at No. 6 Tennessee (January 17—this Thursday)
14. Marquette (13-2) 13,13
MVP: Dominic James
James has always been explosive, but this year he is shooting the ball much better than before and not turning the ball over. He has increased his free throw percentage by 5 percent and is knocking down 38.8 percent of his three-point attempts. Last season, James converted just 27.2 percent of his long-range tries.
Player to watch: Lazar Hayward
Marquette’s three-guard attack can take them far, but if the Golden Eagles want to return to the Final Four, the 6-foot-6 Hayward must continue to score and defend against much bigger opponents.
Biggest game: at Connecticut (January 20)
15. Dayton (12-1) 14,18
MVP: Brian Roberts
The 6-foot-2 Flyer guard made a name for himself on the national stage after a 31-point outburst against Pitt a few weeks ago. Roberts, who currently leads the A-10 in scoring at a clip of 20.1 per game, has a very good chance to land himself on the first or second All-American team.
Player to watch: Charles Little
At 6-foot-6 237 lbs, Little is guilty of false advertising. His size and intensity will be extremely valuable when Dayton faces bigger and more athletic teams in tournament play.
Biggest game: at No. 21 Xavier (January 24)
16. Pittsburgh (14-2) 15,16
MVP: Sam Young
Young is the midseason frontrunner for Big East Player of the Year. After Mike Cook and Levance Fields went down, many people, including me, wrote Pitt off. But Young (18.4 points, 7 rebounds per game) has kept Pitt alive and in position to contend for the Big East title after a 68-60 victory over Georgetown on Monday.
Player to watch: DeJuan Blair
At 12.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, Pitt’s huge freshman is picking up right where Aaron Gray left off. Blair made a name for himself with a 15-point 20-rebound nationally televised performance against Duke at Madison Square Garden.
Biggest game: at No. 14 Marquette (February 15)
17. Texas (13-3) 19,19
MVP: DJ Augustin
DJ Augustin has played out of his mind leading Texas to a 13-3 record. The Longhorns were able to go into Westwood and beat the UCLA Bruins on their home floor. Augustin has easily been the top point guard in the country thus far. Damion James has also been terrific especially recently.
Player to watch: Justin Mason
Mason won’t be asked to score much, but he will be asked to upgrade the team’s woeful perimeter defense. Augustin and Abrams will take care of most of the scoring, so it’s up to Mason to focus and lock down the opponents best perimeter scorer each game.
Biggest game: at No. 9 Texas A&M (January 30)
18. Xavier (13-3) 20,20
MVP: Drew Lavender
Lavender has come on strong in just his 8th season in college basketball. (Ok, its his 5th). Xaiver’s pint-sized point guard leads perhaps the most dangerous offense in college basketball with 12.4 points and 5.1 assists.
Player to watch: Josh Duncan
The Musketeers’ physical senior forward plays only 20 minutes per game, but still averages 10.1 points and 5.1 boards per game. His size and athleticism will come in handy when Xavier plays a team that slows the tempo.
Biggest game: vs. No. 15 Dayton (January 24)
19. Wisconsin (13-2) 17,17
MVP: Brian Butch
The former McDonald’s All-American has finally emerged as a viable force inside for the Badgers. Butch’s 13.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game warrant serious consideration for a spot on the All-Big Ten First team.
Player to watch: Trevon Hughes
After playing sparingly as a freshman, Hughes has burst onto the scene in a big way during his sophomore campaign. Wisconsin’s 6-foot-2 scorer out of Queens dominated Illinois in a 70-60 win last week, pouring in 22 points and snatching 6 steals on the defensive end.
Biggest game: vs. No. 8 Indiana (January 31)
20. Arizona State (13-2) 22,25
MVP: James Harden
The best Arizona State recruit, Harden has taken the Pac-10 by storm in his freshman campaign. The highlight so far: A 26-point 9-rebound performance in the Sun Devils win over in-state rival Arizona last week.
Player to watch: Ty Abbott
Abbott is living in the shadow of Harden, but he’s having an impressive freshman season as well. The three-star recruit out of Phoenix is third on the team in scoring, sporting a 10.3 ppg average thus far.
Biggest game: at No. 4 UCLA (January 31)
21. Ole Miss (14-1) 18,15
MVP: Chris Warren
Warren’s name doesn’t come up often in the conversation of sensational freshmen, but it should. The 5-foot-10 170 lb guard is averaging a team-high 15.8 points and 5.1 assists per game. He saves his best for when his team needs it, also, as Warren notched a season-high 24 points in a well-played loss to Tennessee last week. Not bad for a three-star recruit.
Player to watch: David Huertas
The Rebels three-point specialist is taking a ton of long-range shots, but he’s not making them. Huertas will have to increase his 30.9 percent conversion rate for Ole Miss to hang with the top teams in the SEC.
Biggest game: vs. Florida (January 16)
22. Rhode Island (15-2) 23,21
MVP: Will Daniels
Daniels is battling Dayton’s Brian Roberts for A-10 Player of the Year. Right now, Roberts has the slight edge because his team defeated URI, but at 19.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, it is difficult to argue against Daniels, who went for 28 in a close win vs. Duquesne last week.
Player to watch: Keith Cochran
Just a sophomore, the explosive Cochran gives URI the energy and depth off the bench that it will need to take on the athletic major conference teams it will face in the NCAA Tournament.
Biggest game: vs. No. 15 Dayton (February 2)
23. Clemson (13-3) 24,23
MVP: K.C. Rivers
Rivers has enjoyed a stellar junior campaign at 15.6 points and a remarkable 7.1 rebounds per game, but he was nowhere to be found in the Tigers disappointing loss to UNC-Charlotte last week (6 points on 3-10 shooting).
Player to watch: Terrence Oglesby
Talk about a lightning rod. Oglesby averages 11.9 points in just 17.9 minutes per game. I’m no math major, but that means Clemson’s lights-out freshman would average 26.6 points per game if he played the full 40 minutes.
Biggest game: at No. 5 Duke (January 19)
24. Florida (15-2) NR,NR
MVP: Nick Cathales
Yet another freshman MVP. Cathales has kept the Gators afloat so far, as he’s been Florida’s most important player in nearly every aspect of the game. He’ll have to keep up his gaudy stat line of 15.2 points, 5.9 assists, and 4.6 rebounds for Florida to have a chance at contending in the SEC.
Player to watch: Marreese Speights
Speights has the size and skill to be a dominant force in the SEC. The numbers are there (14 points, 7.6 rebounds in 21 minutes per game), but Speights needs to prove he can do it against the better teams and consistently.
Biggest game: at No. 6 Tennessee (February 5)
25. Baylor (13-2) NR, NR
MVP: Curtis Jerrels
Don't look now but the Baylor Bears are off to their best start in years. Curtis Jerrels is the best point guard in the country that nobody knows about. His speed and strength makes him extremely difficult to stop off the dribble. They beat Notre Dame and a three point loss to Washington State early in the season showed that this team can hang with the big boys.
Player to watch: Henry Dugat
Dugat is 6-0 160 pounds of sheer excitement. His drives to the basket can be Iverson-esque due to his amazing body control and level of difficulty. Dugat provides a spark plug for this team with his great toughness, quickness and scoring ability. At 13-2, and with strong guard play (Aaron Bruce, LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter included), this team appears primed to make a run at a tournament spot.
Biggest game: No 19 Texas (February 17)