By Stephen Barston
* In parentheses are the team’s record and their previous ranking
Michigan State (8-2, #2): Despite a tough 2-point loss recently to Indiana, the Spartans played well without leader Jack Feeley. PK Brannigan and many of his teammates stepped up when needed and ended the season on a high note with a double-digit win over UCONN. With the highest overall point differential this season (+78), look for Michigan State to ride their momentum into a little playoff run.
2. Stanford (7-3, #5): Stanford’s week was capped off by a 5-point win over Duke, continuing their win streak into the playoffs. The chemistry on this team cannot be matched by any other opponent, with the points coming from everyone on the roster, led by offensive distributors Nicky Wildish and John Mackie. The Cardinal have made an impressive case for #1 and might just keep on winning come playoff time.
3. Texas (8-2, #1): Following their week with two losses, Texas snapped their skid with a much-needed win over North Carolina. They may score a lot with George Reed finding a way to balance points and assists, but their defense has also allowed the most points out of any top 4 team this year. If the Longhorns can avoid getting down early as they have in their two losses, they should be able to find the wins again.
4. Syracuse (7-3, #3): Syracuse, out of any of the top 4 teams, has scored the fewest total points, yet their defense has been absolutely incredible. They have a +60 point differential on the season, led by stifling defenders Daniel Traver and Andrew Mathew. Jamie Schofield and Timmy Lochtefeld need to keep attacking the basket, drawing fouls, and finding buckets for ‘Cuse.
5. Kentucky (6-4, #6): Kentucky has found the right time to get hot, riding a 5-game win streak into the playoffs. It wasn’t long ago that the Wildcats were looking for their first win, but Pete Archey and Robby Arrix scoring on the inside and lockdown defense from TJ Adiletta has given Kentucky a multi-dimensional squad that opponents should watch out for in the future.
6. Duke (5-5, #4): A tough loss to Stanford shouldn’t concern the Blue Devils so much. If they can play like they did in their win over UCONN last Wednesday, neutralizing the other team’s offense, finding Matt Sherwood down low, and orchestrating the offense from the fast break, Duke should be able to beat Georgia Tech in the first round and give the other teams a run for their money.
7. North Carolina (5-5, #8): A loss to Texas on Sunday was unfortunate for the Tarheels, but all signs point to UNC looking good for the playoffs. Before that loss, they had three straight victories, scoring an average of 52 points per game during that run. Philip Rech’s dynamic scoring and Nick Murphy’s second-chance buckets have UNC set on offense, but their defense could use some improvement before their playoff game vs. Missouri.
8. Missouri (5-5, #9): Coming off a surprise win over Syracuse and an impressive victory over Indiana, Mizzou seems to be peaking at the right time. As I have mentioned before, their fast break offense is incredible, with Jack Duggan and Michael Maccarone making a speedy pair that can run the floor well. If Charlie Burke continues to play solid D and hits shots when needed, and if Jack McCann can knock down some 3’s, the Tigers will be my sleeper pick for the playoffs.
9. UCONN (5-5, #7): Two straight losses heading into the playoffs concerns me, but I can only assume Conor Davey and Liam Donoghue won’t let that happen anymore during the postseason. Ferocious defense all throughout the lineup, especially from Connor Gonzalez-Falla, makes UCONN look like a possible surprise. If Julien Noujaim shows up, it simply solidifies their chances for a title run.
10. Indiana (2-8, #11): A big loss to Missouri is showing the same flaws the Hoosiers had at the beginning of the season. They give up too many rebounds and second-chance opportunities to their opponents, and rely a lot on the three-pointer. If they can improve this and Matt Pettit can feed the ball down low to Cooper Drippe, Indiana will find the form they had in their surprise win over Michigan State and possibly beat UCONN.
11. Georgia Tech (2-8, #10): A 7-game losing streak for the Yellow Jackets has been mainly due to a reliance on three-pointers. If they can consistently feed Dolan Gregorich down low and the Drakes and Sean Edgar continue to play stingy defense, Georgia Tech may be able to find another win, this time in the playoffs, where it all counts.
12. Georgetown (0-10, #12): Despite the fact that the Hoyas still haven’t found the win column, there are some positive signs. Fast break opportunities were widespread in their loss to Kentucky, yet they just need to focus on capitalizing on the opportunities. If they can cut down on the fouls and play with some sort of confidence and passion, Georgetown might find that elusive first win. As they often say, in the postseason, everyone starts with a clean slate. Let’s see if Georgetown can capitalize on that.