The week opened with the nation’s No. 1 team, Ohio State, as its lone unbeaten at 24-0 and Centenary (Summit League) as the lone winless team at 0-25. The Buckeyes’ lone game this week is at Wisconsin (No. 13 in the AP and No. 14 in the coaches’ poll) on Saturday, which has won 16 straight home games as well as 34 of its last 35 at the Kohl Center. Coastal Carolina entered the week with the nation’s second-longest active winning streak to Ohio State’s 24 and the Chanticleers won their 21st straight game 61-41 at Presbyterian on Thursday (will go for 22 in a row on Saturday at Winthrop). Utah St entered with the third-longest winning streak (17) but lost 64-56 at Idaho on Wednesday. The loss broke Utah State's current 17-game winning streak plus ended its WAC record 25-game league winning streak.
With Utah State’s loss, Ohio State and Coastal Carolina are joined by only Texas and Princeton as schools still unbeaten in conference play. Princeton edged Pennsylvania 62-59 in OT on Tuesday night, the Tigers' seventh straight win. Princeton (17-4 / 5-0 Ivy League) plays at Columbia (12-8 / 3-3) on Friday and then at Cornell (5-15 / 1-5) on Saturday. Texas (21-3) won 68-52 at Oklahoma on Wednesday to move to 9-0 in the Big 12, the best conference start for the Longhorns since a similar start in 1977-78 when the Longhorns played in the Southwest Conference. All nine of the wins have been by double digits, the first time Texas has been so dominant to start conference play since the 1921-22 season. Texas will host Baylor (16-7 / 6-4) on Saturday.
Centenary played at Southern Utah on Thursday, losing 70-49. The Gentlemen (now 0-26 / 0-14) haven’t won since an 80-78 win at IPFW on February 6, 2010, a stretch of 31 games. Centenary plays at UMKC (14-10 / 7-6) on Saturday. Centenary is one of five schools still winless in conference play after Texas Pan-American snapped a 15-game losing streak with a 76-60 victory over Houston Baptist on Wednesday night. The Broncs (now 4-21, 1-7 Great West) led wire to wire in ending a losing streak that dated back to a 101-94 win over Victory University (can’t make that up!) on December 5. Joining Centenary as still winless in conference games this season are (listed alphabetically) DePaul of the Big East (0-11), Fordham of the A-10 (0-10), Georgia Southern of the Southern Conference (0-13) and Towson of the CAA (0-14).
The Blue Demons lost 71-68 at home to Cincinnati on Tuesday, falling to 1-46 in the Big East since the beginning of the 2008-09 season. DePaul plays at West Va (15-8 / 6-5) on Saturday. Fordham is 1-41 in the A-10 since the beginning of the 2008-09 season, after losing its 36th consecutive league game 76-66 Wednesday game at Temple. The Rams (6-16) host St Joe’s on Saturday and it may be their best chance to break through. St Joe’s is 6-17 overall (1-8 in the A-10) and just 4-23 on the road since the beginning of last season. Georgia Southern (4-22) lost 54-45 at Furman Thursday and plays at Wofford (13-12 / 10-4) on Saturday (the Eagles have lost 35 of their last 36 games road games). Towson (4-20) lost 82-78 at Northeastern on Wednesday and will try to get its first CAA win this season when it hosts UNC-Wilmington (11-14 / 5-9) on Saturday.
All 25 teams ranked in the latest coaches’ poll will be in action over the weekend. Four games will feature meetings between top-25 opponents. No. 1 Ohio St visits No. 14 Wisconsin, No. 4 Pittsburgh is at No. 10 Villanova, No. 13 Syracuse is at No. 15 Louisville and No. 18 Kentucky is at No. 24 Vanderbilt. Should poll rankings have any influence when handicapping the games? Hardly. Let’s look back to the just completed football season. Did the coaches (those who know the game best) have any “inside knowledge” as to who the best teams were at the beginning of the season? Let’s take a look back.
Auburn, the eventual nationals champs, were ranked a modest 23rd in the coaches’ preseason poll while Oregon, the team Auburn beat in the BCS championship game, was ranked 11th. Three schools ranked in the preseason top-10, Florida (3rd), Texas (4th) and Iowa (10th), were not even ranked in the coaches’ final poll, after all the games had been played. Texas finished 5-7, after the coaches had then ranked fourth. In fact, three other top-25 schools in the preseason poll, No. 17 Ga Tech, No. 21 Georgia and No. 22 Oregon St, all finished with sub-.500 records. Ga Tech and Georgia at 6-7 (after bowl losses) and Oregon St at 5-7. In all, 11 of the coaches’ preseason top-25 (44 percent!), finished unranked come year’s end. That means 11 schools unranked in the preseason top-25, made ‘the final cut!’ The most glaring omission being Stanford, which finished 4th in the final rankings, followed by No. 10 Oklahoma State, No. 13 Nevada and No. 14 Michigan State, among top-15 schools.
Getting back to basketball, what’s happened to Michigan St (No. 2 in the preseason) and Kansas St (No. 3)? The Spartans are a just 14-10 (6-6 in the Big 10) and will need a strong finish to earn Izzo’s 14th straight NCAA bid. Kansas St is likely ‘inside the cut line’ but at 16-8 (just 4-5 in the Big 12), the the nation’s preseason No. 3 team hardly seems like one which is destined to survive the NCAA’s opening weekend. A look at the current top-25 shows the following group from No. 6 through No. 9. San Diego St (24-1), Notre Dame (20-4), BYU (23-2) and UConn (18-5). Those schools own a combined winning percentage of .876, yet not a single one was ranked in the preseason top-25. Current No. 3 Texas (21-3), arguably the nation’s best-looking team right now, was ranked only 25th in the preseason poll.
While current top-10 schools San Diego St, Notre Dame, BYU and UConn were all missing from the preseason top-25, SIX of the bottom-10 teams from the latest coaches’ poll were also missing from the preseason rankings. The list includes No. 16 Arizona, No. 17 Utah St, No. 22 Texas A&M, No. 23 St Mary’s, No. 24 Vanderbilt and No. 25 Minnesota. While the season still has a ways to go, I think it’s fair to conclude that putting any real weight into a school’s past, current or future ranking, should have little or no influence on ones’ handicapping process. We’ll check back at year’s end and see if the coaches’ final top-25 fared any better in basketball, than it did in football.