Getting To Know Ed Davis

Back in the summer of 2007, I was getting ready to start my first post college job, a job at the University of Connecticut, where I’d just finished my undergraduate work a few months before. I worked in the athletic department, as an entry level guy in the ticket and marketing department.

When I started the job in late May, I quickly realized the whole situation was both a gift and a curse. On the one hand, having worked in the department as an undergrad, I knew many of my new co-workers, and had a pretty good understanding of what my responsibilities would be, even before my first day. How many people can say that as they get ready to start a new job? I didn’t even have to move apartments, at least not right away.

On the other hand, I was an adult now, living near a college campus, my old stomping ground. Just a few months before, my only care in the world was trying to figure out which bar had the best deal on Thursday night’s, and now I was a professional in the same place where many of my good friends were still students. Suffice to say, some were even on the Tommy Boy six-year plan.

I distinctly remember the conflict of interest coming to light one night in June, when my old neighbor invited me over to watch the first game of the NBA Finals. She was friendly with a few players on the basketball team- a group of guys I’d be working closely with once the season started- and I wasn’t entirely comfortable hanging out with them in a social setting. She wasn’t sure if they’d come over or not, so I decided to swing by.

Of course right on cue, within a minute or two of me getting there, a player showed up with someone- who was clearly a basketball player- that I wasn’t particularly familiar with. Turns out, it was one of the most sought after high school senior’s to be in the country, Ed Davis.

At 17, Davis didn’t carry himself like a McDonalds All-American, but more like a little brother tagging with his big bro to watch the game. He sat quietly in the corner, intently following the action on the screen, seeming to enjoy LeBron James’ first NBA Finals game. Then again, you didn’t really know if he was enjoying himself or not, since he didn’t say anything. Davis only spoke when spoken to, but when we did finally sneak a few words out of him, it turned out he was not only insightful, but you could tell how passionate about the game he was.

What I’ll always remember about that night though, is that after not saying a word to me the entire evening, when I got up to leave, Davis was quick to say goodbye, and tell me how nice it was to meet me. This to someone he’d met only hours before. I couldn’t help but appreciate the poise of a 17-year-old to say that to his senior. I don’t know if I’d have done the same at his age.

I hadn’t thought much about that day with Davis these past few years, as he went to North Carolina and won a National Championship as a key role player his freshman year. The only time he crossed my mind was when I wondered if maybe he was the missing piece that could have propelled UConn to the title in 2009, instead of playing the same role as a Tar Heel.

But for the first time in a long time on Thursday, I did think back to that night in June 2007, as I watched that quiet kid I met in June 2007, become a man on a June night in 2010. He walked to podium with poise to shake David Stern’s hand, and answered Mark Jones’ questions insightfully.

I don’t know what Davis’ NBA future holds for him, but I do know one thing: He was a good kid at 17, and it seems like only maturity has changed him now.

The Raptors got a good basketball player in the 2010 NBA Draft. They got a good person, too.

Reflecting On The 2010 College Basketball Season

Hey college hoops fans! It’s hard to believe, but it’s already been a week since Butler’s miraculous NCAA Tournament run ended one Gordon Hayward half-court three from upsetting the three-time National Champion Duke Blue Devils.

Having had seven days to swallow, digest and reflect, let’s go ahead and look back at the 2009-2010 season, while also looking ahead to what’s in store for 2011.

Best Games of 2010:

1. National Championship Game: Butler vs. Duke: Whether you believed the pregame hype that Butler was a major underdog heading in or not – you probably shouldn’t have, considering they’d already beaten Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State in the tournament – there’s no doubt that the Bulldogs left an indelible impression on the whole college basketball world.

Duke may have won the National Championship, but Butler is the team we’ll always remember from the 2010 season.

And believe me, it’s going to be sooner, rather than later that we see the Bulldogs back in a Final Four.

2. NCAA Tournament Second Round: Northern Iowa- Kansas: I was lucky enough to catch a replay of this game within the last week on CBS College Sports, and let me tell you, Kansas did not “lose,” this game, as much as Northern Iowa went ahead and took it from them.

The Panthers played incredible defense against one of the nation’s best teams, got to every loose ball, and Ali Farokmanesh’s corner three left us with the shot of the tournament.

This game was everything that makes a one-and-done tournament so great, a plucky underdog, playing out of their mind and beating a team that many thought to be unbeatable. And much like the National Championship, we’ll remember this one for a long time.

3. SEC Championship Game: Mississippi State-Kentucky: Who said the SEC is just a football conference?

Coming in, we knew what was on the line in Nashville when these two teams played: For Mississippi State it was “win or go home,” and for Kentucky, the Wildcats were trying to wrap up a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

And what we got was a thriller and instant classic. Mississippi State would take a lead. Then Kentucky would make a run. Then back would come Mississippi State, and it was actually they who held a three point lead with just five seconds to go.

At that point pandemonium struck, as the Bulldogs elected to gamble, and fouled Eric Bledsoe, who calmly sunk the first free throw to cut the lead to one. Then, like something out of a cheesy basketball movie, Bledsoe missed the second on purpose, leading to a mad scramble, and DeMarcus Cousins put back lay-up to tie the game with just one-tenth of a second left on the clock

The two teams went to overtime, and Kentucky barely survived.

This game was our truest indicator, that March had in fact arrived.

Five Players We’ll Never Forget:

1. John Wall, Kentucky: He may have been one-and-done, but there’s no doubt that Wall changed the culture, and the perception of Kentucky nationally.

We all know everything he did, so there’s no need to go into great detail here. Simply put he was mesmerizing and captivating on the court, while cordial and humble off of it. And for all the talk about Wall using Kentucky as a “pit stop,” on the way to the NBA, many forget that Wall had over a 3.0 GPA in his first semester at Lexington.

John Calipari is going to be at Kentucky for a very long time. But he may never have as complete a player and person, as he did in John Wall this year.

2. DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky: For all the talk about Wall, it was actually Cousins, who became the favorite son of the entire state of Kentucky this season.

Cousins also became everything that is so rewarding about watching, following and covering college basketball. He came to Kentucky as a kid who’d rarely had any discipline in his young life, and struggled through the first few months of the season on the court, as for the first time he simply wasn’t, the biggest, baddest player on the court.

But Cousins also matured and adjusted, while embracing both his teammates and coaches, in the process, making a strong case for himself as SEC Player of the Year.

Cousins of course will go on to be a top five pick in this upcoming NBA Draft. But ask any resident of Kentucky, and they’ll tell you all the same: Even after just one year, he’ll always be a Wildcat.

3. Wes Johnson, Syracuse: Forget the fact that Johnson was the Big East Player of the Year. That was almost secondary to everything he did off the court at Syracuse this season.

Because after years of having selfish stars fill this roster (Eric Devendorf, we’re talking to you), it was Johnson who simply embraced being a college basketball player, and cherished putting on a Syracuse uniform.

Not only did Syracuse exceed every realistic expectation as a team in 2010, but the culture around the program changed as well, from drab and “professional,” to energetic, exciting and most importantly fun. And it happened because of Johnson.

4. Omar Samhan, St. Mary’s: Most fans didn’t get to know Samhan until the NCAA Tournament, but once they did, he was pretty hard not to love. Not only did Samhan talk the talk in the opening two rounds of the tourney, but he walked the walk too, combining for 61 points and 19 rebounds in two wins over Richmond and Villanova.

Yes, the season ended with a loss to Baylor, but Samhan is a guy we won’t soon forget. He also caught the attention of many NBA scouts during St. Mary’s run in the tournament, meaning this likely won’t be the last we hear from him by any means.

5. Ali Farokmanesh, Northern Iowa: We’ll be seeing his shot in highlights as long as the NCAA Tournament is played. I promise you that.

Best Storylines:

1. Butler’s Run to the National Championship Game: The Bulldogs beat UCLA, Ohio State and Xavier in the regular season, and Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. Please don’t call them a mid-major.

And mid-major or not, nothing can be taken away from Butler, which took us on one of the most exciting NCAA Tournament rides in recent memory.

With Brad Stevens signed to an extension, and most of the team returning, why can’t they go all the way in 2011?

2. Speaking of Butler, How About the Emergence of Other Non-Traditional Schools: With the “one-and-done,” rule limiting the ability to the traditional powers to build depth, and nurture experience, there were a number of non-traditional schools who stepped out of the woodwork and became national names, all as North Carolina, Arizona, UCLA, UConn and Indiana moved away from the spotlight.

Throughout the course of the year, Temple, Northern Iowa, Richmond and UTEP spent time in the top 25, joining mainstay’s like Gonzaga, Butler and Xavier. Not to mention St. Mary’s and Cornell made it to the Sweet 16 once tournament time rolled around.

With the country’s top teams continually stripped of their talent, expect this to be a trend that’ll only continue.

3. The Return to Prominence For Kentucky: College basketball’s best fan base has been waiting a long time for a season like this, and boy did they embrace it. From Midnight Madness, to filling Madison Square Garden against UConn in December, all the way through the SEC Tournament in Nashville and NCAA Tournament, Big Nation followed their Wildcats through the highs and lows of one of the most exciting season’s in program history.

The only question is, that with as many as five players leaving early, what does coach John Calipari have in store for an encore?

The Biggest Storylines Heading into 2011:

The NCAA Tournament’s Possible Expansion: No matter what your thoughts are, this thing is going to happen, if not next year, than no later than 2014 when the NCAA’s current television contract expires.

Love it or hate it, we might have no choice but to embrace a 96 team tournament.

Can Duke Repeat?: This one is a lot more likely than you think.

We know that Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas are graduating, but if Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith decide to return, there is no doubt this will be the team to beat heading into 2011.

Duke will remain big up front with the return of Miles and Mason Plumlee, and expect an increased role for former high school superstar Ryan Kelly down low. Add in McDonald’s All-American point guard Kyrie Irving, and sharp-shooting transfer Seth Curry, who averaged close to 20 points a game at Liberty University two years ago, and we might be looking at…gulp… a dynasty in the making.

3. What About North Carolina?: The Tar Heels will add the nation’s No. 1 ranked recruit- Harrison Barnes- to an already stacked front court, that will feature John Henson, Tyler Zeller and the Wear twins. Even without Ed Davis (Who declared for the draft Monday), this will be the deepest group of big guys in college basketball.

But with all that, the $64,000 question is whether or not someone will emerge at the point guard position. Larry Drew can’t be much worse than he was this past season, but Roy Williams brought in Kendall Marshall as an insurance plan anyway.

This team will be back in the NCAA Tournament in 2011 (Especially if the field is expanded), but how far they go, will be based largely on who is handling the ball, and how well they’re doing it.

4. Where Will Super-Recruit Brandon Knight End Up?: The two time National High School Player of the Year is set to make his announcement Wednesday, and all indications are that he’ll end up at Kentucky.

Could Knight be John Calipari’s fourth straight one-and-done point guard? While he doesn’t have the natural athleticism of John Wall or Derrick Rose or the physical strength of Tyreke Evans, he is smart, and steady, and as good of a player as we’ll see in next year’s freshman class.

And we might have no choice to enjoy him, if 2011 is indeed his only year on campus.

Teams To Look Out For in 2011:

Memphis: Everyone expected that Josh Pastner would need some time to get Memphis back on top after Calipari left Beale Street right around this time last year. But nobody expected him to do it this quick, except for maybe Pastner himself.

The second year coach will welcome the No. 1 ranked recruiting class to Memphis next year, headlined by three top 15 players: guard Joe Jackson, and forwards Jelan Kendrick and Will Barton.

Memphis will be back in 2011. Don’t be surprised if it’s all the way to the Final Four.

Florida: The Gators made it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time this year since winning the title in 2007. Don’t expect their next trip to take so long.

Florida didn’t have a one senior on their roster this year, and don’t have a single player who is expected to seriously consider heading to the pros. And when you add in tough and rugged McDonald’s All-American Patric Young, the Gators will officially have their bite back in 2011.

Notre Dame: Remember how good Notre Dame looked when Luke Harangody went out with an injury toward the end of the season? Could they look even better in 2011 without him entirely?

Watch out for forward Tim Abromaitis. He might be a dark horse Big East Player of the Year candidate.

Players To Look Out For In 2011:

William Buford, Ohio State: Anyone who said that Evan Turner was single-handedly carrying Ohio State this year wasn’t watching the Buckeyes very closely.

Buford averaged over 14 points a game, and proved to be a much more natural scorer than Turner over the course of the season. He could have a monster year in 2011 as “the guy,” in Columbus.

Kris Joseph, Syracuse: The Canadian import was arguably college basketball’s top bench player in 2010, as he averaged just under 11 points a game, despite making just a handful of starts this season.

With Wes Johnson turning pro, expect an expanded role for Joseph. Ask any Syracuse fan and they’ll tell you that the 6’7 junior to be simply got better each and every time he stepped on the court in 2010. He should continue to do exactly that with increased minutes.

Perry Jones, Baylor: Jones will only be a freshman in the fall, so don’t feel bad if you’re not familiar with his name yet. And no need to worry, you’re going to get to know him awfully quick.

Simply put, Jones is a 6’10 freak, a guy that can run the floor like a guard, and finish with the authority of a power forward. He also has a nice little jump shot in his arsenal as well.

Basically, he’ll be the best player Baylor’s ever had, the second he steps on the court. How long he stays at the school however, remains to be seen.

Luke Babbitt, Nevada: Babbitt is a former top 25 recruit and Ohio State commitment, who ultimately changed his mind and stay play at the University of Nevada close to home.  So far, it’s paid off big-time, as he averaged 21 points and nine rebounds a game in 2010, while winning the WAC Player of the Year award.

Babbitt is seriously considering entering the pros, but if he does decide to return to Nevada, this could be the mid-major team to watch next year.

New Coaches in New Places:

Steve Lavin, St. Johns: The Johnnies wanted a coach with some name recognition, and they certainly got one with the former UCLA head boss.

And for Lavin, this looks like a match made in heaven. St. Johns returns nine seniors to a team that got vastly better at the end of this past season, had some big wins late, and who had realistic NCAA Tournament expectations whether Lavin, Norm Roberts or I was coaching them.

This could be the start of something great for St. Johns in New York.

Oliver Purnell, DePaul: Purnell comes to DePaul from Clemson, where he led the Tigers to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. What a steal for DePaul right? I’m not so sure.

The truth is, that for all the NCAA Tournament appearances, Purnell has never actually coached a team who has won a game once they’ve gotten there, as this was the fourth straight year Clemson lost in the first round. The program also had a knack for flaming out down the stretch after hot starts.

To me, this whole situation reeks of Purnell wanting to get out of town, before Clemson might have forced him out of town in a year or two.

Steve Donahue, Boston College: While Boston College’s decision to fire Al Skinner was puzzling to say the least, they absolutely hit a grand slam by hiring Donahue away from Cornell.

For Donahue, the move made sense as well, as he lost the core of his team which had made three straight NCAA Tournaments, as Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale and Jeff Foote were all seniors.

An interesting side note to this hire, is that Donahue now goes to Boston College, which can offer him a lot of things that Cornell couldn’t, including inclusion into the ACC. Something else that Donahue will have access to for the first time: Athletic scholarships. He was only allowed to offer academic one’s in the Ivy League.

(For Aaron’s thoughts on all things college basketball, and sports in general, please follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres)

NCAA Tournament Recap

It seems like it was only yesterday that the NCAA Tournament was set to get underway, with 65 of college basketball’s best teams brimming with confidence, and hoping that they would be the last team standing in Indianapolis on April 4.

Well, after two weeks of some of the most exciting hoops action in recent memory, we’ve whittled those 65 teams down to just four, as we’re just a few days from tipping off the Final Four from Indianapolis on Saturday.

So how did we get here? Let’s take a look back at the best and brightest from this past weekend, while also looking ahead at the four teams that will be vying for this year’s National Championship.

Best Game: Xavier-Kansas State, Sweet 16, Thursday:

While the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament had more good games than you could count, the second weekend had one that stood taller than all others: Thursday night’s Sweet 16 West Regional game between Xavier and Kansas State.

For those who missed it, this game had everything this tournament is supposed to be about. Two teams doing whatever it took to win. Star players stepping up and making great plays. Buzzer beaters. Defensive stands. Great coaching. Oh, and by the way, the best announcer in the game – Gus Johnson – was courtside to call the action for us.

Most importantly, this game showed exactly what makes this tournament so great. The NCAA Tournament isn’t a best of seven, but a best of one, meaning if you lose today, you go home tomorrow. And you saw that from these two teams.

Best Team: Butler

I tweeted this on Saturday afternoon, but it’s worth repeating: If you’d given me 50-1 odds on Butler making the Final Four before this weekend started, I wouldn’t have taken it. Maybe not even 100-1, after the Bulldogs barely got by Murray State in the second round.

Well, this past weekend, Butler looked like a totally different group. They were the best team in Salt Lake City, and proved it, by beating the No. 1 seed Syracuse Orange, and followed it up with an even better win over Kansas State to gain their Final Four spot.

What was maybe most impressive was how Butler got it done. On Thursday, the Bulldogs couldn’t have thrown the ball into the ocean, as they shot just 6 for 24 from three, and didn’t look comfortable on offense all evening long. But they stepped up defensively, forced 18 turnovers, and gutted out a win.

On Saturday, it was the exact opposite. Sure their defense was good, but it was the offense that carried the team. They shot 46 percent from the field, and outrebounded the rugged K-State Wildcats 36 to 27.

Now they head back to their hometown of Indianapolis for the first Final Four in school history. We can only imagine what this team will be capable of with a home court advantage!

Best Player: Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia

Here’s the truth: If you don’t appreciate West Virginia superstar Da’Sean Butler, then you don’t appreciate the game of basketball.

The guy does everything. He scores (17.4 points a game). He rebounds (6.3 a game). He makes his foul shots (78 percent). He plays great defense. He dives on the floor for loose balls. He does everything for his team that a leader should do.

And in this NCAA Tournament he has saved his best for his biggest games, as it was his 18 points (including 4 of 8 from three) that led West Virginia to their shocking Elite Eight victory over Kentucky. Butler was the Mountaineers emotional leader, spiritual leader, and the leader in the box score, like any great player should be.

And now, West Virginia is going to their first Final Four since 1959. Who knows where they’d be without him.

Most Surprising Player: Lance Thomas, Duke

Look, it’s easy to rip the guys on Duke. Everybody does it. They’re America’s bad guys, a team that everyone seems to enjoy watching lose.

But to give the Blue Devils a little bit of credit, on Sunday, they did everything needed to win. They made open jumpers, played great defense, and made foul shots when they mattered.

Most of all though, they proved that yes, even they, the Duke Blue Devils, can get tough when needed. And against a rugged Baylor Bears front line, Lance Thomas stood out above all others.

Looking at the stat line, Thomas’ numbers might not jump right out at you. Seven points and nine rebounds is pretty ho-hum right?

But it was Thomas who made two of the biggest plays of the game, when on back-to-back possessions he got offensive rebounds, and kicked them out to Nolan Smith for two game-clinching 3-pointers. He also played a big chunk of his minutes in the middle alone, as center Brian Zoubek was out most of the game with foul trouble.

For all the talk about Duke’s “Big Three,” Smith, Jon Scheyer, and Singler, it was Thomas who was arguably the MVP of the game on Sunday. Duke survived a miserable night shooting from Singler (0-10 from the field). But they couldn’t have survived without Thomas.

The Storylines You’ll Be Hearing About All Final Four Week:

1. The Return of Coach K to the Final Four: Coach K is one of the best ever in his chosen profession. But he hasn’t been to a Final Four since 2004, an eternity in Duke basketball circles. Well, he’s back, with what he calls the “Closest team he’s ever had.” Can he get his first championship since 2001 as well?

2. Speaking of Coaches: Brad Stevens of Butler may have the best story of any coach this weekend. After graduating from DePauw University back in 1999, Stevens went into a corporate career in marketing, before deciding after just a few months that it wasn’t for him. He ultimately latched on at Butler, where he started as an unpaid volunteer assistant, sleeping on the floors of the office, before working his way up, and getting his break as a head coach just seven years later. Now he’s in his first Final Four.

Told you he had a good story!

3. Then There’s West Virginia’s Bob Huggins: While at Cincinnati Huggins was one of college basketball’s most controversial coaches, and left the Queen City after being forced out by school president Nancy Zimpher (Read the part about her and Huggins on Wikipedia. Fascinating stuff).

Of course for all the controversy, Huggins is also one of the sport’s biggest winners, and currently ranks fourth amongst all active coaches in wins, behind only Coach K, Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun. And since returning to his home state, and alma mater, he has quietly turned them into a National Championship contender. Huggins has been one of the best coaches in the game for year’s, but never seems to get the credit he deserves. Well that time has finally come.

4. The Final, Final Four Coach: Is Tom Izzo the best coach in college basketball? It’s hard to argue as this will be his sixth trip to the Final Four since 1999. Six! For comparison’s sake, this will be Coach K’s fourth trip in the same amount of time, with Jim Calhoun going to three and John Calipari just one in the last 12 years.

Told you it was hard to argue.

5. Butler’s Return Home: Despite the site of this year’s Final Four being just minutes from the Butler campus, Coach Brad Stevens refused to let his players talk about the possibility of playing there all season long. Well Coach, now that your team made it all the way back to Indianapolis, is it safe to talk about yet?

6. Nolan Smith’s Emotional Road to the Final Four: ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil did an excellent job of telling Duke guard Nolan Smith’s story, in an article published on Sunday. Smith’s father- who passed away in 1996- was a key player as part of Louisville’s run to the National Championship in 1980, in a Final Four played in Indianapolis. Can Smith win a title in the same city as his father 30 years later?

To read all of Aaron’s writing, be sure to check him out at www.aarontorres-sports.com. Also for his up to the minute thoughts on the NCAA Tournament, follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres

Five Burning Questions

While most everyone is still recovering from one of the most exciting opening weekend’s in NCAA Tournament history, as hard as it is to believe, the Sweet 16 is set to tip-off again Thursday.

As you get ready for another exhilarating weekend of basketball action, here are the five most burning questions heading into this weekend’s games:

1. Is Northern Iowa The New Favorite In The Midwest?

It’s funny, but just a few short weeks ago we were calling the Midwest the “Bracket of Death,” as Kansas, Ohio State and Georgetown seemed set to duke it out in St. Louis for the right to get to the Final Four. Only here we are ready to tip-off, and Kansas and Georgetown will be watching the action from the comfort of their couches, just like you and I will be.

With those two college basketball super powers out of the equation, has a new one emerged? Is Northern Iowa now the team to beat in this region?

Think about it. Michigan State is without their best player, guard Kalin Lucas (Although we should all know by now to never, ever, doubt a Tom Izzo coached team). Ohio State has hardly been impressive over their last half dozen games. Tennessee will be the underdog in their game. So why not Northern Iowa?

Remember also, that the Panthers rank in the top 10 in college basketball in free throw percentage, fewest turnovers and fewest points allowed. It’s simple math really, if you do all those things well, you’re going to be in every game you play.

So could this team be another George Mason from 2006? Maybe, but if so, it’d be in Final Four acumen only. This Northern Iowa team is already better than that one was, regardless of what happens going forward.

2. Will Cornell Be Able To Keep Up With Kentucky?

For all the talk about Northern Iowa last weekend, Cornell was just as impressive, if not more so. But when they line up against Kentucky on Thursday night, it will be an entirely new ball-game.

We all know what the Wildcats have: Size, strength, agility and athleticism, amongst a bounty of other skills. They’ve got the highest paid (and arguably) best coach in the game. Basically, they’re a professional team taking the court in a college uniform. And they’re nothing like Cornell has seen all year.

Sure the Big Red played at Kansas earlier this season, and even nearly pulled off the upset. But remember, there’s a big difference between a mid-week game in December, and a Sweet 16 matchup in March. There is no way Kentucky will be overlooking their Ivy League counterparts, and Cornell definitely won’t be creeping up on anyone this weekend.

Remember though, this game will be played in Syracuse, just a mere few miles from the Cornell campus. Meaning, that if the Big Red can keep this game close, they’ll have 40,000 people cheering for them all game long.

But will it be enough against the tournament’s best remaining team?

3. Can St. Mary’s Center Omar Samhan Keep Up His Heroics?

Amongst a bunch of already great stories, Samhan is the talk of this tournament. Not only is he a heck of a player on the court, but he’s lively, interesting and gregarious off it. And he’s been a hit.

But the Baylor frontcourt he’ll be going up against Friday is no joke. Ekpe Udoh, Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones and the suddenly red-hot Josh Lomers provide the size, skill and depth that the Gaels have yet to see so far. Udoh in specific is a feared shot blocker, averaging almost four a game.

It’s a little unrealistic to expect Samhan to score 30 points against Baylor like he did against Villanova. But the Gaels will need at least 20 to keep up.

Is their biggest man, up for his biggest challenge of the season?

4. Staying in the South

Can Duke Exorcise Their Tournament Demons? They’re the team that everyone loves to hate. They’re the Duke Blue Devils.

But for all that animosity, Duke really hasn’t been all that good in recent tournaments. This is the first year they’ve been a No. 1 seed since 2006, and haven’t been to a Final Four since 2004. In between they’ve had tournament disappointments scattered all over their resume. Could this be the year things change?

It won’t be easy, as on Friday, they’ll go up against a feisty Purdue team that might have lost its best player, but hasn’t lost its fight to compete. They’ve won two close games already and won’t be afraid of Coach K’s boys. Should Duke win, they’ll get either Baylor or St. Mary’s.

The path for Duke won’t be easy, but this is the best Blue Devils team we’ve seen in half a decade.

Coach K and his boys are running out of excuses.

5. Can Syracuse Stay Hot?

With all the chatter about all the teams listed above, our old friends from Syracuse got a bit lost in the shuffle. Not only did they beat an underrated Vermont team in their opener, but were fantastic against a Gonzaga crew that was ranked in the top 25 for virtually the entire season. It’s hard to imagine this team performing any better than they did in their 87-65 win over the ‘Zags on Sunday. They did it all: Played great defense, made the extra pass and hit their open jumpers. Wes Johnson even added 31 points and 14 rebounds just for good measure.

But now, as they get ready to take on Butler in the West Regional in Salt Lake City, a new question has emerged. When, if ever, will the Orange get back Arinze Onuaku? Coach Jim Boeheim announced at a Wednesday press conference he wouldn’t be playing Thursday, and his status for Saturday has to be highly questionable at this point.

It’s important to note that the Orange should be able to get by Butler without Onuaku. But they won’t be hoisting a championship trophy without him.

To read all of Aaron’s work, including his detailed predictions of this weekend’s Sweet 16 games, please visit him at www.aarontorres-sports.com. Also, for his thoughts on all things sports, including on this weekend’s NCAA Tournament action, be sure to follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres

While most everyone is still recovering from one of the most exciting opening weekend’s in NCAA Tournament history, as hard as it is to believe, the Sweet 16 is set to tip-off again Thursday.

As you get ready for another exhilarating weekend of basketball action, here are the five most burning questions heading into this weekend’s games:

NCAA Tournament: Round Two Recap

After an exciting opening round of the NCAA Tournament, it seemed all but impossible that the excitement could be topped when Round 2 tipped off on Saturday. Only it was was.

Here are the bet and brightest, that the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament had to offer.

Best Game: Northern Iowa-Kansas

No if’s, and’s or but’s about it, this one was the best game of the weekend by far.

Northern Iowa and Kansas had everything you could ever want from an NCAA Tournament game: A small school going up against one of college basketball’s established powers; As much excitement and tension as any game in recent memory (was anyone on the edge of their seat for just about the last 10 minutes of this game? Because I sure was); A great comeback from a championship caliber team; And ultimately the most shocking result of this young tournament.

But here’s the question: How big of an upset was this really? Remember, Northern Iowa returned five starters off a team that played in the NCAA Tournament last year, narrowly losing to Purdue in the First Round. They had the No. 2 scoring defense in college basketball this year, allowing only 54 points a game. And they went 28-4 during the regular season, and won their final three games before the tournament by at least 15 points.

This one may have an upset to you and me (and made us rip up our brackets in the process). Just don’t tell the kids from Northern Iowa this one was an upset. They won’t believe it.

Best Team Performance of the Weekend: Cornell

We touched on this one a little in the First Round recap, but it’s worth repeating. The Big Red were nothing short of phenomenal this weekend, blitzing two teams that’d been ranked in the top 25 all year. And like Northern Iowa, watching them play, it was the Big Red, not their opponents who seemed to think that they were the favorites.

With two wins under their belts, Cornell goes to Syracuse this weekend to take on Kentucky, in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.

Has there ever been a matchup between two teams that are so seemingly different?

Best Individual Performance: Omar Samhan, St. Mary’s

Samhan was nothing short of spectacular against Villanova on Saturday, scoring 32 points and grabbing seven rebounds, just two days after toasting Richmond for 27 and 11. Not bad for a guy that few had heard of just a week ago.

In the process, Samhan displayed every trait that NBA General Manager’s drool over when evaluating big men: Quick feet, soft hands, a softer touch around the hoop, and the ability to pass out of the low post.

With St. Mary’s heading to Houston to take on Baylor this weekend, Samhan has at least one more game before his college career is over. But he’s also got the beginnings of what looks to be a bright professional future as well.

Best Coaching Performance: John Calipari, Kentucky

Whether you love or hate Calipari (and outside of Kentucky those feelings are definitely mixed), no coach out there knows how to get players to perform this time of year quite like he does. I guess it makes sense that 2010 marks the fifth straight year a Calipari coached team has reached the Sweet 16, with his clubs reaching the Elite Eight or beyond in 2006, 2007 and 2008 as well.

And after two wins by a combined 59 points over the weekend, Calipari’s ‘Cats are just starting to roll.

After their victory Saturday, Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio had this to say about Coach Calipari’s crew: “I’ve been in the ACC for 10 years. That’s (Kentucky) as good a basketball team as we played against in the 10 years I’ve been here.

Well that’s certainly not the kind of praise you hear from the opposition very often. But then again, when your John Calipari at this time of the year, you’re probably used to it.

Worst Coaching Performance: Jay Wright, Villanova

Look its hard not to love what Jay Wright has done during his time at Villanova, as no one does more with less than he does.

But Wright just didn’t have his best showing Saturday against St. Mary’s. And truthfully, anyone who saw the Wildcats opener against Robert Morris knows that Villanova could have (and maybe should have) lost that game too.

But here’s the bigger question about Villanova’s stink bomb Saturday afternoon: How did Scottie Reynolds (84 percent foul shooter) and Corey Fisher (77 percent foul shooter), only combine to shoot five free throws the entire game. Even more embarrassingly, why did they continue to shoot from the perimeter, as the two went just 5 for 24 from the field?

I have a feeling those are questions that Wright will be asking himself for a very, very long time.

Five More Teams That Are Rolling Into The Sweet 16:

Syracuse: Arinze who? The Orange made HSBC Arena in Buffalo their personal boxing ring, as they beat both Vermont and Gonzaga to a pulp, on their way to the Sweet 16. Imagine what they’ll be like when they do get Arinze Onuaku- their starting center- back in the lineup this weekend? Can someone say, Final Four?

Kansas State: Another set of Wildcats (is every team nicknamed the Wildcats in this tournament?) got physical with BYU and put them away late, thanks in a big way to Jacob Pullen’s 34 points. This season marks Kansas State’s first trip to the Sweet 16 since all the way back in 1988, a year when several of their current players weren’t even born.

Washington: Finally (finally!) the Huskies look like the team that everyone had in their preseason top 15. The truth is, if Washington keeps playing the way they have in their opening two rounds, West Virginia could be their latest upset victim this weekend.

Tennessee: All hail Bruce Pearl. It seems like every time we begin to doubt the Tennessee coach, he comes up even bigger and better than we could have ever imagined. Forget the Volunteers victories over Kansas and Kentucky this season, Tennessee had their biggest win Saturday, when they advanced to their third Sweet 16 in four years. Who says Tennessee is just a “football school?”

Baylor: Remember everyone’s favorite dark horse team to make it to the Final Four? Well amidst all the chaos on Saturday, the Bears quietly advanced to their first Sweet 16 in school history. Is their first ever Elite Eight in the immediate future too?

Five More Players Who Deserve Some Praise:

Wes Johnson, Syracuse: Yes, he was the Big East Player of the Year, but Johnson saved his best performance of 2010 for Sunday’s victory over Gonzaga, when he scored 31 points and added 14 rebounds. Johnson was already considered an elite NBA prospect, but now that pro stock seems to be going through the roof.

Korie Lucious, Michigan State: Who needs Kalin Lucas, when you’ve got Korie Lucious? The low scoring sophomore hit the biggest shot of his Michigan State career Sunday, a game-winning, 3-pointer at the buzzer to propel the Spartans to a victory over Maryland. With Lucas expected to be out this weekend and beyond, this might not be the last time we hear Lucious’ name.

Chris Kramer, Purdue: Apparently Kramer got quite offended about being labeled a defensive player. The 6’3 senior scored 17 points in Purdue’s overtime victory over Texas A&M Sunday, extending his career in West Lafayette at least one game. Purdue will face off with Duke this weekend.

Eric Bledsoe, Kentucky: Don’t sleep on Kentucky’s other…other…freshman. The Wildcats fourth leading scorer on the season has never played better than he did this weekend, when he scored 29 points in the Wildcats opener, followed by a 13 point, five assist performance Saturday.

Ronald Nored, Butler: For all the talk about Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, it was Nored who came through the biggest for the Bulldogs in their Second Round victory over Murray State. He scored 15 points and had six assists, not to mention a three point play in the final seconds, which sealed the victory.

Finally…

Check back to HoopsAddict.com on Wednesday, as we reveal the Five Biggest Questions Heading into the Sweet 16.

To read all of Aaron’s additional work, make sure to stop by his site, www.aarontorres-sports.com. Also, for his opinions on all things sports, follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres

NCAA Tournament: Round One Recap

The first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament is officially in the books, with the action coming to an end late Friday night, as Maryland beat Houston.

But from the opening tip of Thursday’s games, fans were treated to some of the most exciting college basketball action in modern tournament history, as 11 of the 32 games were decided by five points or less, with three going into overtime.

Let’s take a look back now, at the good and bad, pretty and ugly and everything in between in Round 1.

The Biggest Winner: The Fans

Experts are calling Thursday’s opening day the best in the history of the tournament, and it’s hard to disagree, as several games came right down to the wire, and two of the first three needed extra time to decide them.

Amongst the highlights were BYU’s double overtime win over Florida, Robert Morris’ near shocker of Villanova, Murray State’s buzzer beating win against Vanderbilt and much more, including higher seeded teams like Wisconsin and Tennessee holding on for dear life.

The Most Surprising Team…In A Good Way: Ohio

Wow. What else can you say, but wow? Not just because Ohio beat everyone’s favorite dark horse Final Four team in Georgetown- a team with three or four future NBA players- but because of the way they did it.

Ohio not only won Thursday night, they absolutely dominated the Hoyas from the opening tip-off. They shot an incredible 58 percent from the field, 56 percent from three (13 of 23) and 77 percent from the foul line, turning a game in which they were big underdogs, into a laugher late in the second half. Not only did the Bobcats beat Georgetown, they embarrassed them by 14 points.

The story of the game was the play of Indiana transfer Armon Bassett who finished with 32 points as well as his teammate and point guard D.J. Cooper, who tallied 23 points and eight assists.

This all, by the way, from an Ohio team who finished ninth in the MAC regular season standings, never won more than two games in a row between Christmas and March, and needed a conference tournament run just to be in the NCAA Tournament.

I guess there really is a reason they call this tournament March Madness.

The Most Surprising Team… In A Bad Way: Villanova

Yes, they won, which is more than a lot of other higher seeded teams can claim. But, what a truly disappointing effort, from a team that is one of the most experienced in the tournament.

The Wildcats played their opening round game against Robert Morris, lethargic, lazy and disinterested, and needed some spotty officiating down the stretch to get out of their opener with a win (I have my opinions on all this, but I’ll save it for another day). And to make matters worse, Villanova’s two best players- and supposed leaders- Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, were benched to start the game, for what Coach Jay Wright deemed, “Minor Teaching Points.” Whatever that means.

Regardless, hopefully Thursday was the wake up call Villanova needed. Because if they play on Saturday against St. Mary’s like they did Thursday, it’s going to be a short March stay for the Wildcats.

Best Coaching Job: Steve Donahue, Cornell

You could make a case for any number of guys: Ohio’s John Groyce, Old Dominion’s Blaine Taylor, even Robert Morris’ Mike Trice in defeat. But today, we’re giving the edge to Steve Donahue at Cornell, who not only beat Temple, but beat his former mentor too, Owls coach Fran Dunphy.

What made Cornell’s win so surprising, was the ease with which they made it look. The Big Red jumped out to an early lead against Temple, and never let them get comfortable. They were more prepared, got to every loose ball, and just seemed better on offense and defense than Temple. Basically, if you took an average basketball fan who knew nothing about these two teams, they’d have thought Cornell was the No. 5 seed and Temple the plucky underdog.

Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how Cornell matches up with a struggling Wisconsin team on Sunday, and to see if they can pull another upset against the Badgers. Then again, with the way they played Friday, would it really even be an upset?

Worst Coaching Job: Rick Barnes, Texas

I know Barnes had to deal with some injury issues this year, but still. There might not be a single coach who routinely gets less out of his talent annually than Barnes does.

Watching Texas’ game against Wake Forest, the Longhorns not only looked ill-prepared, but at times, like they were on another planet, as Wake point guard Ish Smith sliced and diced them, ending the game with a near triple double (19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists).

Even when Texas did put together a comeback to force overtime, they squandered an eight point lead in the extra period, and missed crucial foul shots down the stretch to lose.

It was another short March in Austin, a trend that is becoming all too routine this time of year. And after awhile, it’s hard to blame the guys on the court.

Stars of Round 1:

Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Hoops Addict told you to watch out for Fredette, and he obliged, putting up 37 points on 13-26 shooting in BYU’s double overtime victory over Florida.

It’ll be interesting to see what he has in store Saturday afternoon, as the Cougars take on Kansas State, a team that you know will be happy to run up and down and make this a high-scoring game. This one will be nothing, if not entertaining.

Indiana Transfers: We already mentioned Armon Bassett’s heroics for Ohio against Georgetown, but what about his former teammate Jordan Crawford? Crawford scored 28 points, and added six rebounds and five assists in Xavier’s victory over Minnesota Friday afternoon.

With Bassett and Crawford shining this March, we’ve got to ask ourselves: What kind of dynasty could Kelvin Sampson be putting together at Indiana right now? If only he could keep his phone dialing fingers to himself…

Omar Samhan, St. Mary’s: Samhan looked like a man against boys on Thursday against Richmond, as the St. Mary’s center had the easiest 29 point and 11 rebound performance you’ll ever see. What made the whole thing even more impressive was that he did it in just 28 minutes because of foul trouble.

Maybe more importantly, Samhan poses a huge (Pun definitely intended) problem for Villanova on Saturday afternoon. The one thing Villanova simply cannot account for is a big guy who can score, and Samhan most certainly fits that bill.

Could St. Mary’s be in store for another shocker Saturday?

Ish Smith, Wake Forest: We already mentioned it, but it’s worth repeating, 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Never a bad line for a 5’11 point guard. Right?

John Calipari, Kentucky Coach: Whether you love or hate Calipari (and believe me, there are plenty of people on both sides of that fence), you can’t deny that there isn’t a coach who has his team better prepared this time of year.

In his last four years at Memphis, Calipari’s resume looked like this:

Elite Eight in 2006

Elite Eight in 2007

National Championship Game Runner-Up in 2008

Sweet 16 in 2009

And his Kentucky team opened this tournament with maybe the most impressive opening round performance of all, a 100-71 beat down of hopeless and hapless East Tennessee State.

There’s still a lot of time between now and the National Championship game in early April. But could this year finally be Calipari’s one shining moment?

Running Down Ten Second Round Games, In Two Sentences Or Less:

No. 10 St. Mary’s vs. No. 2 Villanova, Saturday, 1:05 p.m.: If both teams play the way they did Thursday (St. Mary’s great, Villanova not so much), we could be in line for the first upset of the second round, just one game in.

No. 9 Northern Iowa vs. No. 1 Kansas, Saturday, 5:40 p.m.: The nation’s No. 2 scoring defense (Northern Iowa) goes against college basketball’s No. 1 overall team. This one culd be closer than you think.

No. 11 Washington vs. No. 3 New Mexico, Saturday, 5:50 p.m.: Despite the seeding, Washington actually comes into this game as the favorite, after their victory over Marquette Saturday. Guess the Pac-10 wasn’t so bad after-all, huh?

No. 7 BYU vs. No. 2 Kansas State, Saturday, 8:10 p.m.: Set the TIVO, because a trio of great guards (Fredette, Kansas State’s Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen) could make this one an instant classic.

No. 9 Wake Forest vs. No. 1 Kentucky, Saturday, 8:15 p.m.: A lot of brackets could be busted if Kentucky were to lose here. John Wall vs. Ish Smith is worth the price of admission alone.

No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 Syracuse, Sunday, 12:15 p.m.: Gonzaga’s got the scorers inside to beat Syracuse, especially if the Orange are still without Arinze Onuaku. But the start time sure doesn’t help Gonzaga (9:15 A.M. Spokane time).

No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. No. 2 Ohio State, Sunday, 2:20 p.m.: Georgia Tech’s size and length could keep this one close right down to the wire. Don’t be shocked by an upset here.

No. 12 Cornell vs. No. 4 Wisconsin, Sunday, 2:50 p.m.: Similar to Villanova and St. Mary’s. If these two teams both play the way they did Friday, Cornell will be Sweet 16 bound.

No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 3 Pittsburgh, Sunday, 4:50 p.m.: An absolute street fight between two, tough, physical teams. Question: Why didn’t anyone talk me out of my Oakland over Pittsburgh upset pick?

No. 8 California vs. No. 1 Duke, Sunday, 5:15 p.m.: Could the weekend end with No. 1 seed packing its bags and headed home? Nahhh…

To read all of Aaron’s additional work, make sure to stop by his site, www.aarontorres-sports.com. Also, for his opinions on all things sports, follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres

Six Players To Watch In The NCAA Tournament

Coming into the NCAA Tournament, we all know the names of the biggest game-changers in college basketball are John Wall, Evan Turner and Sherron. But what about everybody else? What about the guys who weren’t All-Americans this year? You need to know about them too.

Which is why Hoops Addict has identified a group of six players you need to get to know and watch out for, as we head into the 2010 NCAA Tournament:

Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech: Don’t worry, I already know what you’re thinking: How can a guy who is very likely going to be a top five NBA Draft pick, a player we should watch out for? Well, if you watched Georgia Tech at all this year, you know that the Jackets did anything but look out for their biggest, baddest player. And it almost cost them a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

That’s because through the regular season, Favors was almost an afterthought on his own team, as he averaged just 12 points and less than eight shot attempts per game. In a related story, the Yellow Jackets limped to a 19-11 regular season record.

Once the ACC Tournament started Favors was a different man, as he averaged over 17 points a game, and Georgia Tech beat North Carolina, Maryland and NC State before ultimately losing to Duke in the conference finals.

Look, it’s pretty simple really. If the Yellow Jackets get the ball to their big guy these next few weeks, there aren’t many who can stop Favors, or the Yellow Jackets for that matter.

But if they don’t? Well, there might not be much madness in their March. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Jon, Leuer, Wisconsin: As hard as it is to believe, Wisconsin has been one of the most consistent teams in college basketball over the last decade or so, winning 20 or more games in every year but one since 2003. And in the one year they didn’t, they “only,” got to 19 wins and the NCAA Tournament. Needless to say, Coach Bo Ryan knows how to evaluate talent and coach it up.

Well this year, he’s got a pretty special big man in Leuer.

Leuer stands at 6’10 and while not overly athletic, is a smart player, with a nice soft touch around the basket. Which is the biggest reason he finished second on the Badgers in scoring this season, averaging just under 15 points a game.

And after coming back fro a midseason injury, Leuer is just starting to regain his early season form. He’s now scored in double figures in each of the last five games, with Wisconsin going 4-1 over that time frame.

Expect a still improving Leuer to be a headache for opponents all NCAA Tournament long.

Lazar Hayward, Marquette: Watch Marquette enough and you might start to ask yourself, “What am I missing?” They’re not that big, physical or overly athletic, and just don’t seem like they should be as good as their 22-11 record would indicate they are. Only, well, they are that good. And there’s no bigger reason for their success than Hayward.

Like the rest of him teammates, if you were lining Hayward up next to his opponent, he wouldn’t just out at you, but just watch the Golden Eagles 6’6″ power forward. The kid can play.

Hayward was Marquette’s leading scorer (18.1 points a game) and rebounder (7.7) and shot 43 percent from the field, all while facing the opponent’s best low post defender. He’s also gritty and tough, and it was his play that led the Golden Eagles to their fifth place finish in the rugged Big East.

Again, if you pick the Golden Eagles in your bracket, don’t expect to be overwhelmed the first time you lay eyes on Hayward (Honestly, seeing him with his headband and beard, he looks like a 6’6 version of Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin. All he’s only missing the kiss tattoo on his neck), but by the end of the game, not only will he be your favorite Marquette player, you’ll probably be looking to buy his replica jersey off Eastbay too.

Either way, the Golden Eagles will make some noise in this tournament, and no one will play a bigger role, than their most important player.

Donald Sloan, Texas A&M: Much like Marquette, if you just caught Texas A&M in passing at any point this season you probably weren’t overwhelmed; they’re the type of team that does everything good, but nothing great. At the same time though, let’s be honest, the Aggies didn’t finish fourth in college basketball’s toughest conference by accident. But as good as Texas A&M is (and believe me they’re good), they would have been a lot closer to the bottom of the Big XII without Sloan.

What makes Sloan so special is his consistency. He never seems to force his offense, yet he’s still scored in double-figures in every game but one since…wait for it…wait for it… The last week of November! Not too shabby huh? What makes Sloan’s feat even more impressive is that the Aggies haven’t had their second leading scorer- Derrick Roland- since right around New Year’s.

Again, Sloan isn’t a name you’re probably familiar with, but you better get to know it quick. Before it’s too late, and he’s knocked your favorite team out of the Big Dance.

Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Jimmer Fredette? Sounds more like the lead singer of the house band at your favorite local pub than a basketball player right? He actually looks the part too. But get him on the court, and the kid is a stone-cold assassin.

The 6’2 guard from Glen Falls, NY (How’d he end up out in Provo, Utah? Your guess is as good as mine), led the Mountain West with a 21.4 points a game average, while at the same time leading BYU with close to five dimes a game too. More importantly, he saved his best performances for the Cougars biggest games, as he dropped 45 and 30 on back-to-back nights in the Mountain West Tournament.

While BYU ultimately lost to UNLV in the conference semifinals, make no mistake, they will make noise come this NCAA Tournament. And that noise will come from the unlikeliest source: The one man house band himself, Jimmer Fredette.

Johnathan Jones, Oakland: Want a deep, deep sleeper who could blow up on your radar this 2010 NCAA Tournament? Well head out West…well not that far West…but to Oakland, MI, where one of college basketball’s most underrated point guards plays, Johnathan Jones of Oakland University.

Jones is a coaches dream (unless you’re the opposing coach, then he’s more like a nightmare), an experienced floor leader that gets more joy out of setting up his teammates than getting his own points. Jones finished third in college basketball in assists this year averaging 6.4 a game, which wouldn’t be all that bad, except well, he averaged over eight a game a year ago to lead college basketball. Add in over 12 points a game, and you’re looking at one of the best floor generals in college basketball, regardless of school.

Oakland comes into this tournament having won 20 of their last 21 games dating all the way back to the end of December, and won’t lay down to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And if they do win, look for the smallest guy on the court to have the biggest impact.

For the best coverage of the NCAA Tournament, be sure to check back at HOOPSADDICT.com all March long. To read all of Aaron’s work, please visit him at his own personal site, www.aarontorres-sports.com and follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

Selection Sunday Chat

Hey college basketball fans!

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already time for the one of the best sporting events on the calendar. That’s right, it’s time for March Madness and the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

This year, before you fill out your brackets and enter your office pools, make sure you’re prepared.  This Sunday – Selection Sunday for the NCAA’s 65 teams – Hoops Addict editor Ryan McNeill will be joined by Hoops Addict college basketball writer Aaron Torres for a live chat leading up to and during the announcement of the field at 6 p.m. EST.

Join Ryan and Aaron as they take your questions on the teams and players that will pull off the biggest upsets and make it all the way to the Final Four and beyond.

So to the Hoops Addict community, the invitation has been extended to you to come talk some college basketball this Sunday evening, starting at 5:30. We’ll see you there!

College Basketball Power Rankings

It’s hard to believe, but we are officially less than a week away from knowing which 65 teams will compose this year’s NCAA Tournament field. Where does the time go?

Before that though, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, as Championship Week kicked off with a bang this past weekend, and five teams- Cornell, Winthrop, East Tennessee State, Murray State and Northern Iowa- have already claimed their automatic bids.

Make sure to follow Hoops Addict all month long, for continuing coverage of the NCAA Tournament coverage and in-depth analysis. But before that, let’s get to the Final Power Rankings of the 2010 regular season.

1. Kansas (29-2, 15-1): The regular season ends right as it began: With Kansas on top. After convincing wins against Kansas State and Missouri this week, the NCAA Title has officially become the Jayhawks to lose.

2. Kentucky (29-2, 14-2): The little brother that’s been tagging along on Kansas’ backside all season has locked up a No. 1 seed regardless of what happens in the SEC Tournament. But with every game from now on a “lose and you go home,” proposition, is Kentucky ready for the pressure that the next month will bring?

3. Duke (26-5, 13-3): Love or hate Duke, there isn’t a team that plays harder defense for 40 minutes a game. And we all know defense wins championships. The Blue Devils will still need a few other breaks to win the big one, but Saturday’s performance against North Carolina should have wrapped up the school’s first No. 1 seed since 2006.

4. Syracuse (28-3, 15-3): At this point, all Syracuse can hope is that they won’t have to play Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, as they’re 0-2 against the Cardinals and 28-1 against everyone else. Either way, the Orange are the team nobody wants to play going forward, talented but almost pathologically unselfish. As we’ve said before, they’re college basketball’s ultimate team.

5. Ohio State (24-7, 14-4): Speaking of teams no one wants to play, it’s Ohio State, winners of 10 of their last 11 games. Although Purdue and Michigan State are good, the Big 10 Tournament should be the Buckeyes national coming out party.

6. Purdue (26-4, 14-4): Anyone think that obituary we wrote on Purdue’s season might have been a bit premature? While their wins without Robbie Hummel haven’t been pretty, it’s impossible to question this team’s heart, playing without their most important player.

7. New Mexico (28-3, 14-2): This is what New Mexico’s schedule the last week looked like: One game, one win, one Mountain West championship. Not bad huh? And should the Lobos win the MWC Tournament as well, they could be looking at a No. 3 seed come tournament time.

8. West Virginia (24-6, 13-5): Whether you were ready for it or not, West Virginia threw us into the madness of March with their overtime win over Villanova on Saturday afternoon. But despite all the Mountaineers talent down low, do they have enough guard play to make a deep tournament run?

9. Butler (27-4, 18-0): It only took one win for Butler to get to the Horizon League tournament final, which they’ll play Tuesday against Wright State. This team will be in the Big Dance whether they win their conference tournament or not, but could certainly use some momentum after Saturday night’s sloppy win over Milwaukee.

10. Michigan State (24-7, 14-4): On paper the Spartans have everything you want in a contender: Good guard play, size, and experience after last year’s Final Four run. But if you dig deeper and look at their schedule, the Spartans really haven’t beaten all that many good teams this regular season. Nobody could use a strong conference tournament run to boost their national image quite like Michigan State could this week.

11. Kansas State (24-6, 11-5): Don’t look at Kansas State’s loss against Iowa State Saturday as anything besides a (major) letdown after losing to Kansas earlier in the week. Think the Wildcats wouldn’t like to get one more shot at their cross-state rivals in the Big XII Tournament?

12. Villanova (24-6, 13-5): The fear that we’ve had all year for Villanova (their lack of size down low) seems to have finally caught up with them for good, as they lost their fourth of six games to West Virginia Saturday. If this team can’t turn it around in the Big East Tournament, expectations of a return trip to the Final Four might go out the window as well.

13. Gonzaga (25-5, 12-2): If Gonzaga can just make their foul shots, they could very well find themselves in the first Final Four in their school’s history. But first they must get by their biggest conference rival- St. Mary’s- in the WCC Tournament final Monday night. Be sure to tune in.

14. BYU (28-4, 13-3): The Cougars did exactly what they were supposed to do this week, rolling over TCU on the road. This team will be in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in the Mountain West Tournament, but would sure like another shot at New Mexico, which has already beaten them twice this season.

15. Tennessee (23-7, 11-5): There was a lot of basketball played this weekend, but maybe not a better performance than Tennessee’s road win at Mississippi State. Despite their doubters, this team still continues to get it done game after game, and will be a tough out in the NCAA’s.

16. Wisconsin (23-7, 13-5): Well, hell froze over Sunday afternoon as Wisconsin finally (FINALLY!) got an impressive road win, in front of the Orange Crush at Illinois. In all seriousness though, the Badgers are coming on strong, especially with Jon Leuer finally healthy. Leuer may be the most underrated big man in the country right now.

17. Temple (26-5, 14-2): Temple emerged from a loaded Atlantic 10 with a regular season conference championship, which is no small feat. But to get a conference tournament title, they’ll need to run through a slew of desperate teams trying to impress the NCAA Tournament committee (Dayton, Rhode Island, Charlotte, St. Louis). Think they’re up to the challenge?

18. Baylor (24-6, 11-5): If you’re looking for an off the radar team who might make some noise in the tournament, Baylor may be your pick. They’ve got all the ingredients needed: An experienced point guard (Tweety Carter), a pure scorer on the wing (LaceDarius Dunn) and two shot blocking big men down low (Ekpe Udoh and Quincy Acy). At this point, I’d be more surprised if Baylor wasn’t playing the second weekend of the tournament than if they were.

19. Pittsburgh (24-7, 11-5): Quick straw poll: Who saw Pittsburgh ending the regular season tied for second place in the Big East? Anyone? Despite going to the Elite Eight last year, this may be Jamie Dixon’s best coaching job yet.

20. Vanderbilt (23-7, 12-4): Saturday’s loss against South Carolina was nothing more than a hiccup for one of college basketball’s most underrated teams. Like Baylor, the Commodores have all the ingredients needed to make a deep run this March.

New to the Power Rankings: Baylor

Dropping Out: Georgetown

(Author’s Note: Aaron will be Tweeting all day Wednesday live from the Big East Tournament, and for all of Championship Week from his couch. To get all his inside thoughts, on everything college hoops, follow him, click here or add him at Twitter.com/Aaron_Torres

Also, to read all Aaron’s writing as we get closer to March Madness, be sure to visit him at www.aarontorres-sports.com)

College Basketball Power Rankings

Just when we thought we were figuring out this whole college basketball thing, we realized in fact we knew nothing at all.

Over the weekend both No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Kansas lost, and No. 4 Purdue was crippled by a devastating, season altering injury.

Yet despite all that, one team remained impressive and then some, and for the first time this season, they headline our Power Rankings…

1. Syracuse (27-2, 14-2): No one in college basketball has had a more dominating victory against a better opponent than Syracuse’s win over Villanova Saturday night. While Kansas and Kentucky get all the love nationally, this is the team that no one wants to play come tournament time.

2. Kansas (27-2, 13-1): Want to know the biggest reason for Kansas’ loss on Saturday to Oklahoma State? The Jayhawks, a team that allows opponents to shoot just 37 percent from the field, allowed the Cowboys to shoot over 60 percent in their game. That won’t happen again Wednesday, against No. 5 Kansas State.

3. Duke (25-4, 12-2): Has any Duke team over flown the farther under the radar, this late in the season? Either way, the Blue Devils have won eight games in a row, and could very well be closing in on their first NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed since 2006.

4. Kentucky (27-2, 12-2): Kentucky hasn’t been playing very good basketball for awhile now, and were finally nipped Saturday afternoon at Tennessee. If the Wildcats aren’t careful, they could get upset again Wednesday night at Georgia, a team that’s just 13-14, but has already beaten three ranked teams this season.

5. Kansas State (24-4, 11-3): With their cross-state rival ranked No. 1 for most of this season, Kansas State continues to just win games, and stay under the radar. We’ll find out whether or not they’re ready for the big-time on Wednesday, when they go to Allen Fieldhouse, to take on that rival, the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks.

6. Ohio State (23-7, 13-4): Ohio State has now won nine of their last 10 games, and is line to win at least a share of the Big 10 title, despite starting off conference play 0-2 without Evan Turner. But for those of you who think this team is simply just Turner, think again. William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty can all play. And they just may be playing in the Final Four in a few weeks.

7. Purdue (24-4, 12-4): The entire Hoops Addict community would like to send our sincerest regards to Purdue, who lost not only one of their best players, but their leader, when Robbie Hummel went down for the year with an ACL injury. This team can still make a deep run in the tournament, but will need everyone- especially E’Twaun Moore- to step up.

8. Villanova (23-5, 12-4): If you’re Villanova, you’ve got to look at Saturday’s loss at Syracuse with a ‘half is glass full approach;’ basically, that there isn’t a team in college basketball (and maybe a few in the NBA too) who would have beaten the Orange the way they played Saturday night. On the other hand, one fact is indisputable after that loss: Villanova simply isn’t good enough inside, to beat the country’s best teams.

9. New Mexico (27-3, 13-2): It cannot be emphasized enough: New Mexico’s win at BYU on Saturday wasn’t a good win, it was a great one. The Lobos have become the proverbial team that no one will want to play come tournament time.

10. West Virginia (22-6, 11-5): West Virginia had a week Bob Huggins would like to forget, as not only did they struggle with Cincinnati on Saturday, but lost to UConn earlier in the week too. The Mountaineers play Georgetown Monday night, and may have caught a major break, as it appears Austin Freeman won’t suit up for the Hoyas.

11. Butler (26-4, 18-0): Butler was able to survive Friday night against Valparaiso, despite having leading scorer Gordon Hayward sit out with a back injury. But for the Bulldogs to win the Horizon League, and more importantly, do damage in the NCAA Tournament, they’ll need everyone- especially Hayward- healthy.

12. Michigan State (22-7, 12-4): You know what’s funny about Michigan State? All year we question them for their inability to beat many of the top teams they’ve played, yet here they are, the first week of March, and they’re No. 12 in the country and in line to share another Big 10 championship. For what might be considered a “down,” year, Michigan State is still playing pretty well, huh?

13. Gonzaga (24-5, 12-2): Like Michigan State, Gonzaga is right where they always are at the end of the season, despite the doubts of many to start the season (Myself included). A home date with Cal-State Bakersfield concludes their regular season on Tuesday, before they play the West Coast Conference tournament this weekend.

14. BYU (26-4, 11-3): We can’t knock the Cougars down too far (if at all) for losing to New Mexico, since the truth is, there aren’t many college basketball teams who can beat the Lobos right now. Could we be headed for a third matchup in this epic trilogy during the Mountain West Tournament?

15. Vanderbilt (22-6, 11-3): With Kentucky and Tennessee getting all the love across the SEC, its Vanderbilt that just keeps winning games. Even with a tricky trip to Florida on Wednesday, expect them to stay hot into the SEC Tournament and beyond.

16. Tennessee (21-7, 9-5): We’re not sure exactly how they do it, but Tennessee just keeps beating good teams, as they’ve now defeated both Kentucky and Kansas this year. Could it be the Magic of Bruce Pearl’s orange blazer?

17. Wisconsin (21-7, 11-5): With only two games left on the schedule, we’re still waiting for Wisconsin to get a quality win away from the Kohl Center. They’ve got one more chance, Sunday at Illinois.

18. Georgetown (19-8, 9-7): We’re not ready to give up on the Hoyas just yet, considering they’re able to beat just about anyone when they’re playing well (see wins earlier in the season against Duke and Villanova). But with Austin Freeman sitting out of Monday night’s showdown with West Virginia, could they be headed for their fourth loss in five games?

19. Temple (24-5, 12-2): While no one who actually watches Temple would call them overly “impressive,” they just keeping wining ballgames. And whether it’s pretty or ugly, going 24-5 in the Atlantic 10 isn’t exactly easy.

20. Pittsburgh (22-7, 11-5): With Notre Dame beating Georgetown on Saturday afternoon, all of a sudden the Panthers loss to the Irish earlier in the week doesn’t seem so bad. The Panthers are good, but might struggle with a high-scoring Providence team which comes to the Peterson Events Center on Thursday.

To read all of Aaron’s writing, make sure to check him out at www.aarontorres-sports.com. And for his thoughts on all things sports, add him on Twitter, @Aaron_Torres

College Basketball Power Rankings

After a relatively quiet week in college basketball, things will certainly heat up this week.

Amongst the must see games are Kentucky-Tennessee, Missouri-Kansas State, BYU-New Mexico and Michigan State-Purdue. Not to mention Saturday’s showdown in the Big East, between No. 7 Villanova and No. 4 Syracuse.

But as much as these College Basketball Power Rankings change, they remain the same, starting with the top team in our poll…

1. Kansas (26-1, 12-0): What can we say about the Jayhawks that hasn’t been said already? As our good friend Seth Davis of CBS Sports tweeted on Monday morning, “If I could put Kansas higher than No. 1, I would.”

2. Kentucky (26-1, 11-1): After beating Mississippi State and Vanderbilt on the road this week (two teams which hadn’t lost a single home game between them this season), we’re really nitpicking to try and find flaws with this team. Kentucky doesn’t play again until Thursday, when they have a chance to avenge their only loss of the season, against South Carolina.

3. Purdue (23-3, 11-3): So Kansas got two more victories, Kentucky won two epic road games, and Syracuse won a thriller at Georgetown, yet it was Purdue who was most impressive last week. After beating Ohio State and Illinois, there’s little reason to think the Boilermakers will lose again for the rest of the regular season.

4. Syracuse (25-2, 11-2): The Orange won the game of the week, and one of the games of the season, at Georgetown Thursday night. As for this week, they’ve got high-scoring Providence on Tuesday, before the game we’ve all been waiting for, against Villanova at the Carrier Dome Saturday night.

5. Duke (23-4, 11-2): Duke used a 29-9 second half run to wrap up an exciting game at Miami, and was even more impressive against Virginia Tech Sunday night. Right now, whatever the Blue Devils are selling, we’re buying.

6. Kansas State (22-4, 9-3): Kansas State continues to just creep, creep, creep up these rankings, and have now won seven of their last eight games. Like Kentucky, they too have a chance to avenge an early season loss, when they host Missouri, in what promises to be an exciting game Saturday. Set your Tivo!

7. Villanova (22-4, 11-3): A week ago, Villanova was a lock for a No. 1 seed, but after two straight losses, that is now in jeopardy. A visit from South Florida on Wednesday night should heal all that ails these Wildcats.

8. West Virginia (21-5, 10-4): If you watched West Virginia’s win over Seton Hall Saturday, you know that while the final score might not have been close, the game itself was. The Mountaineers are talented, but have trouble putting teams away, which is not a good sign as they get set to play at UConn on Monday night.

9. Ohio State (21-7, 11-4): The Big 10 did the Buckeyes no favors by putting Purdue and Michigan State on the schedule in the same week. Even still, after Ohio State’s win at Michigan State Sunday afternoon, it’s time to wonder if this team is a Final Four sleeper.

10. New Mexico (25-3, 11-2): A big win, followed by a poor performance against Utah, put a damper on what should have been a joyous two win week. The Lobos will need a better effort when they host BYU Saturday, a team they beat earlier in the year.

11. Butler (25-4, 17-0): Of everyone who played on Bracket Buster Saturday, nobody had a better win than the Bulldogs, against a very, very good Siena team. Butler has now won 18 games in a row, and will close out their regular season Friday night against Valparaiso.

12. Georgetown (18-7, 8-6): The Hoyas played just once last week, and lost a tight game against Syracuse. With a high NCAA Tournament seed slipping through their fingertips, there’s no margin for error against Louisville and Notre Dame this week.

13. Pittsburgh (21-6, 10-4): Having won five games in a row (including two against top five teams), we couldn’t keep the Panthers out of the Power Rankings any longer. While there are still doubts about this group heading into March, right now, they’re the team that no one in the Big East wants to play.

14. BYU (25-3, 10-2): BYU did what they were supposed to do last week, beating up on two of the Mountain West’s worst teams. They’ll have a much tougher challenge on Saturday, when they visit No. 10 New Mexico.

15. Michigan State (21-7, 11-4): Another week, another loss to a top team, this time to Ohio State at home. While Tom Izzo’s teams have earned the benefit of the doubt over the years, it’s becoming harder and harder to see this team as a real contender.

16. Gonzaga (22-5, 10-2): Every team has bad games now and then, but there is just absolutely no excuse for the Zags loss at Loyola Marymount last week, none. Even still, it’s tough to see Gonzaga losing any of the remaining games on their schedule.

17. Vanderbilt (20-6, 9-3): My oh my, how close the Commodores came to upsetting Kentucky on Saturday afternoon. After that tough loss, will they be able to recover in time to beat a deceptively good Georgia team on Thursday?

18. Wisconsin (20-7, 10-5): Bo Ryan’s boys still don’t have a truly impressive road victory on their resume, after losing at Minnesota Thursday. And with their only quality game away from the Kohl Center at Illinois in two weeks, will these road woes effect their NCAA Tournament seeding?

19. Tennessee (20-6, 8-4): The Vols quietly had a nice week, getting two good wins against Georgia and South Carolina. The question now, is if they can avenge their most recent loss, when they host Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

20. Temple (22-5, 10-2): The fact that the Owls needed overtime to hold off Temple shows that they are still entirely too inconsistent for a team with as much veteran experience. Will that hurt them Wednesday, when they host Dayton?

New to the Power Rankings: Pittsburgh

Dropping Out: Texas

To read all of Aaron’s writing, please visit him at www.aarontorres-sports.com. And for his thoughts on all things sports, be sure to add him on Twitter, @Aaron_Torres

College Basketball Power Rankings

It may have taken six days, but “Rivalry Week,” finally lived up to the hype, as both Syracuse and Georgetown were upset on a shocking Sunday afternoon.

Which is a weird coincidence, since those two teams face off in this week’s signature game on Thursday night.

Let’s get to this week’s Rankings.

1. Kansas (24-1, 10-0): It was another week and two more wins for a team that seems to be a permanent fixture in our No. 1 spot. But with a tricky road test at Texas A&M Monday night, will they still be here next week?

2. Kentucky (24-1, 9-1): The Cats don’t always win the prettiest of games, but got the job done last week, including a victory over Tennessee. Just like Kansas though, two big road tests await Kentucky this week, at Mississippi State Tuesday, and a big trip to Vanderbilt Saturday. The Commodores haven’t lost a game at Memorial Gymnasium all season.

3. Villanova (22-2, 11-1): A week ago we were worried about the Wildcats, as they’d just gotten run out of the building by Georgetown. A week later, after victories over West Virginia and Providence, we’ve got to wonder if these guys will lose another game the rest of the regular season.

4. Purdue (21-3, 9-3): For the most part “Rivalry Week,” proved to be a dud, as several teams and players didn’t live up to our expectations as fans. Purdue was not one of them however, as they went into the Breslin Center and whopped up on Michigan State pretty good. Next stop, a Big 10 Championship?

5. Syracuse (24-2, 11-2): After losing to Louisville and very near losing to UConn (don’t even get me started on that game), it’s hard to justify keeping the Orange this high. But if you’ve watched Jim Boeheim’s team at all in 2010, you know last week was simply a bump in the road, not a full on collision.

6. Duke (21-4, 9-2): If Saturday’s dominating victory over second place (in the ACC) Maryland proved one thing, it’s that no one is tougher to beat at home than Duke is. But will their road struggles continue Wednesday, when they take a trip to Miami?

7. Kansas State (20-4, 7-3): With their cross-state rivals Kansas getting all the attention, Kansas State is just hanging around, and continuing to win games. They should have no problem doing the same this week with two winnable games against Nebraska on the road, and Oklahoma at home.

8. Ohio State (20-6, 10-3): Hoops Addict has been telling you about Ohio State for weeks, and they’re making us look good, as they’ve won six straight games, which is no small feat in the Big 10. The Buckeyes will prove whether they’re contenders or pretenders this week, with both Purdue and Michigan State on the schedule.

9. Gonzaga (21-4, 9-1): Maybe it’s because their games are on late, or because of their small conference affiliation, but Gonzaga simply isn’t getting the love they should be right now. The Zags absolutely crushed St. Mary’s Thursday night, and it’s safe to say that after the win, nobody in college basketball is playing better.

10. West Virginia (19-5, 8-4): It’s hard to fault the Mountaineers for going 0-2 last week, considering the two losses were to No. 4 Villanova at home and a triple overtime loss to Pittsburgh on the road. Still, if you watched that Pitt game, West Virginia had the chance to put the Panthers away late, and didn’t finish the way championship teams do. Could that be a sign of things to come?

11. Georgetown (18-6, 8-5): Alight, one loss doesn’t make or break a season, and the Hoyas loss at Rutgers Sunday certainly won’t do that. But that is now their second defeat in three games to an unranked team. I guess there’s a reason they call Georgetown’s student section “Hoya Paranoia.” I’d lose my mind rooting for this team too.

12. New Mexico (23-3, 9-2): The Lobos have jumped to No. 12 after not being the Power Rankings two weeks ago. Nice! So how’d they do it? With nine straight wins, including two big ones on the road last week, at UNLV and Utah.

13. Michigan State (20-6, 10-3): Thankfully, mercifully, the Spartans three game losing streak came to an end Saturday afternoon at Penn State. And with Kalin Lucas back at full strength, Michigan State is out of excuses; they need to win remaining games with Purdue and Ohio State to prove they belong with the nation’s elite.

14. Butler (23-4, 16-0): Think it ever gets boring for Butler running through the Horizon League the way they do? The Bulldogs wrapped up another conference title, and haven’t lost a game since before Christmas. Wow!

15. Wisconsin (19-6, 9-4): Wisconsin never loses at the Kohl Center, meaning that what Illinois did to the Badgers Tuesday night made us all stand up and pay attention. With games against Minnesota and Northwestern this week, Wisconsin should go 2-0, but don’t be surprised if one of those desperate teams steals a win against the Badgers.

16. BYU (23-3, 8-2): The Cougars had just one game, and bounced back nicely this week with a resounding victory over the Air Force Academy. While BYU has two winnable games this week, be wary, both are on the road.

17. Vanderbilt (19-5, 8-2): No team got a more resounding win, on a bigger stage, than the Commodores 90-71 victory over Tennessee Tuesday night. Vandy still has yet to lose a game at home all year. But can that streak continue with No. 2 Kentucky coming to town Saturday?

18. Texas (20-5, 6-4): Alright, so the Longhorns followed up a loss to No. 1 Kansas with a nice win over Nebraska on Saturday afternoon. That still puts the Longhorns at just 3-5 over the last month. Is it officially time to give up on this team?

19. Temple (20-5, 8-2): One game, and one win for the Owls, after a one week hiatus from the Power Rankings. With no games left against Xavier, Richmond, Charlotte or Rhode Island, a visit from Dayton next week should be the only thing standing between Temple and running the table from here on out.

20. Tennessee (18-6, 6-4): Honestly, it’s hard to write off a team that just lost games at Vanderbilt and Kentucky, two of the toughest places to play on the road in all of college basketball. But does anyone think that this team may have finally hit a wall after their hot January?

New To The Power Rankings: Vanderbilt, Tennessee

Dropping Out: Northern Iowa, Georgia Tech

(To read all of Aaron’s writing, please visit him at www.aarontorres-sports.com. And for his thoughts on all things sports, be sure to add him on Twitter, @Aaron_Torres)

College Basketball Power Rankings

Hmm, think the folks who run college basketball might know what they’re doing?

Just a day after the NFL season ended, college hoops is set to roll out its most exciting week of action yet. Honestly, look at the schedule:

Villanova-West Virginia and Texas-Kansas on Monday.

Purdue-Michigan State and Tennessee-Vanderbilt on Tuesday

On Wednesday, you’ve got Syracuse-UConn, Duke-North Carolina and New Mexico-UNLV (the totally underrated game of the entire slate)

West Virginia-Pittsburgh on Friday.

And a whole two days of wall to wall excitement on Saturday and Sunday.

If this week doesn’t get you into college basketball season, I’m not sure anything will.

1. Kansas (22-1, 8-0): It wasn’t the prettiest week for the Jayhawks, but they did what they needed to do to beat Colorado and Nebraska and stay atop the Power Rankings. Things will quickly get tricky though, starting with a mega-showdown with Texas on Monday night.

2. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1): Add two more double-digit wins to the resume of college basketball’s hottest team, after Syracuse dominated both Providence College and Cincinnati in the last 10 days. As hard as it may be to believe, after 30 years in business, and over 600 wins to his credit, this is Jim Boeheim’s best coaching job yet.

3. Kentucky (22-1, 7-1): Question: With DeMarcus Cousins recording his sixth straight double-double, and 15th straight game with double figures in scoring, is it time to start talking about Kentucky’s other freshman for the SEC Player of the Year?

4. Villanova (20-2, 9-1): Villanova’s 11 game win streak had to end at some point, but few expected it to come to the screeching halt it did Saturday at Georgetown. With Monday’s trip to West Virginia, can a team who hadn’t lost in close to six weeks now lose twice in a row?

5. West Virginia (19-3, 8-2): To steal a line from the movie Major League, with Syracuse and Villanova ahead of them in the Big East standings, West Virginia is just, “lying in the weeds.” To gain the national respect that the Mountaineers crave, they’ll need a home win against Villanova Monday night.

6. Purdue (19-3, 7-3): Remember a few weeks back when Purdue had lost three in a row and we were wondering what the heck was wrong with the Boilermakers? Well after five straight wins, Purdue is playing fast and loose, but will having their biggest test of the season, Tuesday at Michigan State.

7. Georgetown (17-5, 7-4): Yes, the Hoyas lost to South Florida in the middle of last week, but if Saturday’s win against Villanova proved anything, it’s that this team can beat anyone in the country. They should continue to roll, with two winnable games against Providence and Rutgers this week.

8. Duke (19-4, 7-2): Well, well, well, looks like the Blue Devils might not be left for dead after all. While this team has its deficiencies, Thursday’s win over Georgia Tech proved that Duke might be mentally tougher then we give them credit for.

9. Kansas State (19-4, 6-3): Let’s give some praise to K-State. It’s never easy to win on the road in the Big XII, which is exactly what they did twice last week, with wins at Nebraska and Iowa State. And with Colorado and Nebraska at home coming up, look for them to continue to creep higher in these rankings.

10. Wisconsin (18-5, 6-3): The Badgers once again proved that the Kohl Center is a house of horrors for Big 10 opposition, as Michigan State lost their first conference game of the season last Tuesday in Madison. Once again, Bo Ryan has his team peaking at just the right time.

11. Tennessee (18-4, 6-2): Here’s the good news if you’re a fan of Tennessee basketball: Your team just won two more games, and welcomed back Brian Williams after a month’s suspension. Here’s the bad news: You’ve got trips to Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the next seven days…Uh oh…

12. Michigan State (19-5, 9-2): The Big 10 schedule makers did the Spartans no favors with back to back road trips to Wisconsin and Illinois last week, games that both ended in losses. Although Michigan State will be back at the Breslin Center Tuesday night, it doesn’t get any easier, as No. 6 Purdue comes to town.

13. Ohio State (18-6, 8-3): It seemed like just another ho-hum week for the Buckeyes, as they notched two more wins, both by double-figures. And oh by the way, Evan Turner averaged 29.5 points in those two victories. Can someone say National Player of the Year?

14. Texas (19-4, 5-3): And juuuuust when we were ready to jump back on the Longhorns bandwagon, they got embarrassed Saturday afternoon, by an embarrassing Oklahoma team in its own right. Texas is still looking to regain their early season mojo. Needless to say, a win over No.1 ranked Kansas on Monday night would do just the trick.

15. Gonzaga (17-4, 7-1): I’ve got to admit, as recently as a week ago, nobody was more weary of Gonzaga than I was. But for the Zags to come out on Thursday night, dominate a good Portland team, then fly across country and beat Memphis 36 hours later, I now know that while some teams may have more talent than Gonzaga, no one has more heart.

16. Northern Iowa (21-2, 12-1): It’s still hard to say what exactly we should make of Northern Iowa, as they won two games last week by a combined six points, with both games at home. Then again, dating back to November 21, the Panthers have won 20 of their last 21 games. Maybe we shouldn’t be questioning them at all.

17. New Mexico (21-3, 7-2): If you remember back a few weeks, the Lobos were a fixture in these Power Rankings, until a surprising two game slide in early January. Well, they’ve now won seven games in a row, and could be here to stay. Well, if they can get a win at UNLV on Wednesday night anyway.

18. Butler (20-4, 13-0): Guess who’s baaaaack? After some early season struggles, the Bulldogs are making their usual mid-season romp through the Horizon standings, and have now won 12 in a row. No one in college basketball is hotter right now.

19. Georgia Tech (17-6, 5-4): Some days, Georgia Tech sure looks like they can beat anyone in the country. Last Thursday was not one of those days, as they got run out of the gym at Duke. It’ll be very curious to see what this talented (but young) team does with road trips to Miami and Wake Forest this week.

20. BYU (22-3, 7-2): After getting as high as No. 14 in these rankings two weeks ago, BYU has now lost two of their last four games. While it’s hard to blame the Cougars for losses at New Mexico and UNLV, it is easy to blame their effort on Saturday, as they gave up 56 first half points in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 88-74 final score might indicate.

New to the Power Rankings: Northern Iowa, New Mexico, Butler

Dropping Out: Baylor, Vanderbilt, Temple

College Basketball Power Rankings

Six weeks.

That’s all that’s left until the NCAA Tournament tips off. Six weeks.

And as we get closer to that date, teams are starting to separate themselves, and show who belongs and who doesn’t.

So while we say goodbye to some familiar faces (it was fun knowing you UConn and North Carolina), it’s time to say hello to a few more.

Which is exactly what we do in this week’s Power Rankings, as we welcome not only a new No. 1 ranked team, but also two new teams that have come to command our respect…

1. Kansas (20-1, 6-0): Wow, wow, wow. The Jayhawks jumped Villanova back to the top of this poll after an unbelievable road win Saturday night against No. 10 Kansas State. Everything that we expected from Kansas earlier this year is slowly coming to fruition, as they’ve won six straight.

2. Villanova (19-1, 8-0): It was a nice, easy, breezy week on the Main Line, as Villanova had just one game, and dominated in a victory over Notre Dame. The task will be much more difficult this week, with Seton Hall at home, and a visit to scorching hot Georgetown Saturday afternoon.

3. Syracuse (21-1, 8-1): Yes, the Orange struggled at DePaul Saturday, but that shouldn’t take away from their total dismantling of Georgetown on Monday night either. This crew is the most unselfish, enjoyable team to watch that we’ve seen in college basketball for some time.

4. Michigan State (19-3, 9-0): Just another week and two more wins for Tom Izzo and the Spartans in East Lansing. But now to the tough part: Can they go to Wisconsin and pull out a victory at the Kohl Center, a place where Duke, Ohio State and Purdue (amongst others) have already lost this year?

5. Kentucky (20-1, 5-1): LeBron James- the King himself- was in Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon, to watch the Wildcats pick apart Vanderbilt, one of the most underrated teams in college basketball. But with John Wall’s recent complaints about coach John Calipari, which way is this team headed as we creep toward March?

6. Georgetown (16-4, 6-3): Don’t let the Hoyas loss to Syracuse Monday night fool you, this team is getting better and better every game. If you don’t believe me, just ask their newest fan, United States President Barack Obama, who was in attendance for their win over Duke on Saturday.

7. West Virginia (17-3, 6-2): Four Big East teams in the top eight? Well after West Virginia’s hard fought, come from behind over Louisville Saturday afternoon, why not?

8. Purdue (18-3, 6-3): Whatever ailed the Boilermakers during their three game swoon earlier in the season seems to be solved, as they’ve now won four games in a row. After a visit to Indiana this week, we get the game everyone’s been waiting for, Purdue’s visit to Michigan State on February 9.

9. Texas (18-3, 4-2): Does Texas have its problems? Absolutely. But their loss to Baylor on Saturday isn’t nearly as bad as it looks either. Baylor may be the most underrated team in college basketball.

10. Kansas State (16-4, 4-3): The Wildcats won the game they were supposed to earlier in the week, but couldn’t hold on to beat top ranked Kansas at home Saturday. As much as things change, they stay the same; Kansas is now 31-2 against Kansas State since the inception of the Big XII conference in 1996.

11. Duke (17-4, 5-2): So are we ready to pull the plug on Duke yet? The Blue Devils failed another test on a national stage, getting run out of the Verizon Center by Georgetown on Saturday afternoon.

12. Wisconsin (16-5, 6-3): Everyone knew it was going to be tough for the Badgers to go to Purdue and get a win without Jon Leuer, and as much as Wisconsin battled, they still feel short by three points. With that loss, it makes it all the more important for them to hold serve Tuesday, when they welcome visiting Michigan State to Madison.

13. Tennessee (16-4, 4-2): There’s no nice way to put it: The Vols looked like they ran out of gas in a loss to Vanderbilt, and in a narrow win over Florida this past week. What’s the prescription for this tired team? How about a game against LSU coming up, an opponent which has yet to win a conference game.

14. Brigham Young (21-2, 6-1): Hoops Addict warned you last week about BYU’s trip to the Pit at New Mexico, and on the cue, the Cougars limped out with a loss Wednesday night. With a visit to UNLV this coming Saturday, things don’t get any easier.

15. Ohio State (16-6, 6-3): Now fully healthy, the Buckeyes are coming on strong late in the season, getting wins against Iowa and Minnesota. And while the John Wall hype machine is still in full gear, it’s Evan Turner who should have your National Player of the Year vote. He’s got mine.

16. Temple (18-4, 6-1): Here’s the bad news: The Owls haven’t been playing their best basketball of late, losing to Charlotte last Wednesday. Here’s the good news: The loss drops them to 18-4 and 6-1 in the Atlantic 10. How many teams would love to change places with them right now?

17. Georgia Tech (16-5, 4-3): Quiet week for the Yellow Jackets, as they beat Wake Forest and some school named Kentucky State in the past seven days. It won’t be quite as easy Wednesday night, when they a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play Duke.

18. Baylor (16-4, 3-3): Please do yourself a favor and watch Baylor the next time they’re on TV. The Bears are athletic, skilled and the best team you don’t know about…Yet.

19. Vanderbilt (16-4, 5-1): Yes the Commodores looked pretty bad against Kentucky on Saturday afternoon. But that shouldn’t take away from their performance the rest of the season, as they’ve already beaten Tennessee and South Carolina in conference play. Quite frankly, Vanderbilt making the Power Rankings for the first time this season has been nothing short of an oversight.

20. Gonzaga (17-4, 6-1): If you’ve been following Gonzaga’s wayward past few games in the West Coast Conference, you probably weren’t surprised that they slipped up against the University of San Francisco Saturday night. Still, San Francisco?

New to the Power Rankings: Baylor, Vanderbilt

Dropping Out: UConn, Pittsburgh

College Basketball Power Rankings

Despite a lot of college basketball action over the last seven days, it was a surprisingly quiet week overall.

While No. 1 Texas did lose twice, everyone else at the top- Kentucky, Villanova, Kansas, Syracuse- held strong, and improved their tournament resumes as we head toward March.

This week, mark your calendar for several big games, starting Monday night when Georgetown visits Syracuse and ending Saturday night when Kansas plays Kansas State.

But in between there will still be a lot of great games, including two by our new No. 1 team…

1. Kentucky (19-0, 4-0): Well, well, well, look who’s the new No. 1 team in the country? In all seriousness though, it cannot be emphasized enough: As good as John Wall is, this team wouldn’t be undefeated without Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins developing the way that they have.

2. Villanova (18-1, 7-0): During Saturday’s game against St. Johns, announcer Doris Burke explained Villanova’s effectiveness better than anyone I’ve heard so far. She said, “While most teams put pressure on you with their defense, the Wildcats are relentless with their offensive pressure.” Which makes sense, since Villanova’s got seven players averaging at least eight points per game.

3. Kansas (18-1, 4-0): No team has looked better over the last two weeks than the Jayhawks have, winning their last four games by an average of 15 points per contest. But with that said, Kansas cannot, and will not survive in March unless freshman Xavier Henry picks up his game. He’s had 15 points or more in just one of the Jayhawks last nine games.

4. Syracuse (19-1, 6-1): There isn’t a team in college basketball that seems to genuinely enjoy playing with each other more than the Orange, and it shows with their nearly unblemished record. Interesting fact: They host old rival Georgetown on Monday, a team they’ve never beaten while ranked in the top five.

5. Michigan State (17-3, 7-0): Somehow, the Spartans survived a thriller at Minnesota Saturday afternoon, escaping with a one point victory after trailing by as many as 13 points in the second half. Tom Izzo coached teams always seem to play their best basketball towards the end of the season, and this team is shaping up to be no different.

6. Duke (16-3, 4-2): What exactly are we supposed to make of Duke? Three days after getting embarrassed by an awful NC State team, they rebounded by blowing down the doors at Clemson. Are you confused? Because I sure am.

7. Texas (17-2, 3-1): It’s way too early to give up on this Texas team, and getting home after two tough road losses will do them a lot of good. But with that said, the problems are still there for the Longhorns, starting with an inconsistent and often times inept half court offense.

8. Georgetown (15-3, 6-2): Look, no one has been more critical of the Hoyas this season than I have, but it looks like finally, maybe they’re figuring it all out. We’ll have a better idea if that’s true by the end of this week, as they play Syracuse and Duke in the next six days.

9. West Virginia (15-3, 4-2): You simply can’t give enough credit to Bob Huggins crew for scratching and clawing their way to a victory over Ohio State Saturday, despite trailing by double-digits early in the game. On paper this looked like the most complete team in the Big East coming into the season, and they’re finally starting to show it.

10. Purdue (16-3, 4-3): Now that’s more like it. After losing three in a row, the Boilermakers shook up their starting lineup, and rebounded with convincing wins over Illinois and Michigan last week.

11. Kansas State (16-3, 3-2): The mark of a great program is the ability to beat the teams you’re supposed to, even when you’re not playing your best basketball. And while Kansas State may have looked great against Texas on Monday, Saturday’s home loss to Oklahoma State showed that they’ve still got a long way to go.

12. Tennessee (15-3, 3-1): The Vols weren’t going to keep winning forever, and crashed hard with a loss at Georgia Saturday afternoon. While Tennessee does return home for their next two games, visits from Vanderbilt and Florida will hardly be easy wins.

13. Wisconsin (16-4, 6-2): Can I ask a question: Who exactly makes the schedule in the Big 10? Because whoever it is, they’re not a Wisconsin fan, as the Badgers have to play Purdue and Michigan State in the same week, for the second time…this MONTH!!!

14. Brigham Young (20-1, 5-0): It wasn’t easy for the Cougars Saturday, as they needed all 40 minutes to hold on and beat San Diego State by just two points Saturday. Even scarier is that the Cougars will hit the road again on Wednesday, this time going to “The Pit,” at New Mexico, maybe the toughest road venue in college basketball that no one knows about.

15. Gonzaga (16-3, 5-0): The names on the uniforms may change, but it’s the end of January and here are the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the top of the WCC standings, and in college basketball’s top 15. Hmm, where’ve we seen this before?

16. Temple (17-3, 5-0): As usual, the Owls went out and dominated two overmatched Atlantic 10 opponents this week, moving their record to 17-3. Nothing new to report here.

17. Pittsburgh (15-4, 5-2): Could reality be settling in for the upstart Panthers? After losses in the last week to Georgetown and Seton Hall, it just might be.

18. UConn (13-6, 3-3): Give the Huskies credit for overcoming the loss of head coach Jim Calhoun, and winning two tough games, including a victory over No. 1 Texas. But at the same time, let’s be realistic. As good as this team looked last week, they’ve still yet to win a game away from home. They better change that at Providence on Wednesday.

19. Georgia Tech (14-5, 3-3): I said it last week and I’ll say it again: This is the most “hit,” or “miss,” team in college basketball. They split their two games again this week, winning a squeaker at Clemson, before losing Sunday at Florida State.

20. Ohio State (14-6, 4-3): The Buckeyes played just once this week and lost at West Virginia. While it was hardly a bad loss, it was certainly one the Buckeyes could have won, as they led by 12 points at halftime and couldn’t close the Mountaineers out.

New to the Power Rankings: UConn

Dropping Out: Clemson