Happy Valentines Day!
I don’t have any love puns for you. Like most holidays in this pandemic, it has been hard to tell one from another. I know it is cold, freezing cold at CR HQ, and that is just about the only thing that is different than the previous weeks. This power ranking has looked mostly the same for a while also. The top teams hadn’t moved too much and the only real shuffling was among the clearly flawed teams in 9-14. That is typical, as those teams rely so much on individual talent and hot-shooting that they can look decent and awful depending on the night.
The best teams rely on steady defense, good game planning, execution, and yes, talent so they can smooth out the effects of bad shooting and make this unpredictable game more predictable.
We learned some things about UAB, which had looked real good and showed that it not only was better than the bottom half of the league, but better by a good margin. We wrote in the first edition of this power ranking that they had yet to play anyone and that was a concern, but just a concern and not a worry. Louisiana Tech hosted the Blazers for two and, having played WKU, Marshall, and NT — all really good squads — they were unfazed by the Blazers. UAB looked shocked to be defended so stoutly, but bounced back in the second game to lose respectably. We learned how good both teams are. The Blazers took a tumble in this week’s rankings, and Tech went up one spot.
The top five are real contenders and if any of them won the league I would not be surprised. Teams ranked sixth-through-eighth have a shot if things go really well, but they are probably in line for just an upset tournament win but nothing major. Everyone else is just there to fill out the bracket and will be handled quickly come tournament time.
CR’s POW: Kenneth Lofton, La Tech, 34 points, 19 rebounds in two games vs UAB. UAB’s Andy Kennedy said he was the difference.
1. LA Tech 17-6, 10-4
The Bulldogs had the second-toughest conference strength of schedule according to Kenpom coming into the UAB matchup. It stands to reason that they simply were not shocked to play a good team, especially at home. A ridiculous 17-3 run put them up 19 points in the first game late, while the second game was just holing UAB at bay the entire game (UAB led only once, at 2-0). It was an impressive performance in that they took down the division leader so easily. It was the kind of stuff that we have seen from Tech all season — they have a tough defense, play bully ball, and have enough dynamic scoring to get a variety of buckets when they need it. The schedule gets easier here — Middle and Rice — but any good coach will get more worried because the standard of play can drop when the opposition is weaker.
Last week: 2nd
2. North Texas 12-6, 8-2
We did not expect a challenge from Southern Miss against NT in Hattiesburg and we were not surprised. The Mean Green held 19 point leads at one point in both games. The NT defense was simply too much for the young Eagles, and the offense looked crisp for the most part. If you wanted to sweat the details, you can complain about the three point shooting (.280, .300) in the two games. I think you just take the wins, and prepare for the big matchup vs WKU coming up next. NT has a real shot to take the top of the division — and perhaps the top of the league — with their next run of games. They are tough, to be sure, but also in Denton. No excuses.
Last week: 3rd
3. WKU 15-4, 8-2
The Hilltoppers handled business in two games against Rice. They led by 14 at one point in the first game, and 24 in the second. Charles Bassey dominated again, and probably will win the league’s POW, but he did it against Rice and not the CR #1 team so that is our sticking point. WKU has a big matchup — something like revenge for the finale against NT in Denton last year that cost them the regular season title — against the Mean Green coming up.
Last week: 4th
4. UAB 16-4, 9-3
The Blazers have fallen from the top, to fourth. There are a number of advanced stats that tell me I should put UAB even lower, below Marshall. One reason I am not doing so, is that the Blazers have a really good defense. They were punched in the mouth, sure, but losing (even twice) to Tech is not an embarrassment. They have ODU and NT on the schedule (to say nothing of a rejuvenated UTSA) and we will see how they respond to this little setback.
5. Marshall 12-5, 6-4
The Herd have impressed against the league’s weaker teams (FIU, Middle) and were beat by the good ones (Tech in one, most of another, and WKU twice). They also mixed in a disappointing loss to a mid-level squad (ODU). I want to believe in the Herd. The upcoming schedule will help us figure out what this team is. I don’t know if the defense, which was promising for a while, can do the job against the best in the league when it matters but they have lots of talent and have the potential to turn it back on when tournament time comes.
6. ODU 11-5, 7-3
The Monarchs are good enough to pull off a win if you let your guard down, but they sure are not threatening on paper. They play at least one game down to the wire seemingly every weekend, and mix in a head-shaking performance in there as well. Beating CLT by a ton was impressive, especially as some were thinking the packline was going to mess up ODU a bit. The Monarch offenses are never good, or fun to watch, but they have enough well-coached players to beat someone good.
7. UTSA 12-9, 8-6
The balm for the Roadrunner woes was Florida. UTSA won four games straight against Florida teams, including this weekend against FAU, and averaged mid-80s. The scorers were scoring against the bad teams and all feels good right now. The schedule stiffens a bit coming up, and we will likely see a back-to-earth return for the Runners here. Still, having some good feeling in a rhythm game is valuable. This might carry the squad over CLT and UAB, who knows.
9. Rice 12-10, 6-8
Rice has been losing a ton but no one thinks they are a bad team. That is because they aren’t bad, just not as good as UAB, NT, and WKU. Swap the UTSA and Rice schedules (or UAB’s for that matter) and I think you see a winning record for the Owls. Rice has the toughest conference strength of schedule according to KenPom, and it shows. Unfortunately it does not get any easier — Marshall and Tech (away!) are next up.
9-14: UTEP, CLT, USM, FAU, Middle, FIU
These teams are bad. They have talent and potential and all that good stuff but if you watch them you inevitably find a point where you say “oh yeah no wonder they lost so much”
UTEP: FIU had to travel 1 billion miles to El Paso and is a bad team. Solid, if expected wins
CLT: Awful performance in the second game after a tough loss in the first game.
USM: Just do not have the discipline to play 40 minutes against a good team.
FAU: Outshot UTSA from three in the first game and still lost
Middle: It was never going to happen against Marshall
FIU: The worst offense and the second-worst defense in the league