Jan 20, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
Last week, the thing I got the most heat about in these rankings were where I had Syracuse situated: sitting at No. 3, sitting directly behind a Michigan State team that has a loss to a North Carolina team that the Orange have already beaten.
So I figured this week I would explain my reasoning why.
Michigan State has not been at full strength in a long, long time this season. Even now, the Spartans are playing without Adreian Payne, who sprained a foot on top of his planter fasciitis. Gary Harris, Keith Appling, Matt Costello, Branden Dawson and Travis Trice have all dealt with various ailments and nagging injuries this season. The loss to UNC? The Spartans essentially were playing with four of their five starters limited in that game.
But when Michigan State is at full strength? Watch out.
The Spartans top four players are as talented as any team’s top four: Appling, Harris, Payne and Dawson. They’re also veterans, with as much experience as anyone, and they’re coached by Tom Izzo, a guy who deserves the reputation he has for game-planning.
That’s not a knock on Syracuse, mind you. There’s a reason I have the Orange ranked above Florida and Kansas and Villanova and Wichita State. Their zone is a nightmare to prepare for, Jerami Grant is starting to come into his own and Tyler Ennis proves he’s one of the best point guards in the country on a nightly basis.
But all things considered, at full strength, Michigan State might be the most dangerous team in the country.
THE TOP 25
1. Arizona (18-0, LW: No. 1): The Wildcats played one game this week and absolutely pasted in-state rival Arizona State. In the last two games T.J. McConnell is now 7-for-10 from three. The scouting report coming in was to let him shoot.
2. Michigan State (17-1, LW: No. 2): The Spartans won a pair of road games this week, taking down Northwestern and Illinois. They’ll get Indiana and Michigan at home this week.
3. Syracuse (18-0, LW: No. 3): The Orange notched a come-from-behind win over Boston College on Tuesday and followed that up by beating Pitt at home, 59-54. Tyler Ennis once again made huge plays down the stretch.
4. Florida (15-2, LW: No. 5): At this point, the Gators are what they are. They still could end up getting Chris Walker this season, but just how much of an impact is Walker going to have? He’s a pure-bred athlete, yes, but will he be able to break into the front court rotation at this point? Who knows.
5. Kansas (13-4, LW: No. 9): The Jayhawks are peaking. Joel Embiid is starting to dominate and Naadir Tharpe is playing out of his mind of late. The problem? In the last two games, those two combined for 21 turnovers.
6. Villanova (15-1, LW: No. 6): The Wildcats keep on rolling, but they’ll get a nice test tonight as they host Creighton and Doug McDermott. Jayvaughn Pinkston has quietly had a sensational season.
7. Wichita State (17-0, LW: No. 7): The Shockers just keep winning games, and their bid for an undefeated regular season got just that much more serious this weekend, as they blew out Indiana State by 22 points in Wichita. They’ll head on the road for a pair of games this week.
8. San Diego State (16-1, LW: No. 8): San Diego State put together and impressive win on Saturday, knocking off a UNLV team that bounced back from a slow start to the season with a win over New Mexico on Wednesday.
9. Iowa (15-3, LW: No. 10): Minnesota is one of the most surprising teams in the country, and the Hawkeyes beat them by 21 points on Sunday afternoon. Iowa is legit.
10. Wisconsin (16-2, LW: No. 4): The Badgers got bounced twice this week, losing at Indiana and at home to Michigan. Leaving them in the top ten still may be overrating them, especially if their perimeter defense doesn’t improve, but it’s hard to ignore everything they have done this season.
11. Kentucky (13-4, LW: No. 12)
12. Oklahoma State (15-3, LW: No. 13)
13. Cincinnati (17-2, LW: No. 17)
14. Iowa State (14-3, LW: No. 14)
15. Pitt (16-2, LW: No. 20)
16. Louisville (16-3, LW: No. 22)
17. Saint Louis (17-2, LW: No. 24)
18. Michigan (13-4, LW: UR)
19. Duke (14-4, LW: No. 23)
20. Ohio State (15-3, LW: No. 11)
21. UMass (16-1, LW: No. 19)
22. UConn (14-4, LW: UR)
23. Memphis (13-4, LW: No. 18)
24. Creighton (15-3, LW: No. 16)
25. Cal (14-4, LW: UR)
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