Rayno's college basketball insider: No clear favorites

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO
  • Updated: February 2, 2013 - 9:22 AM

 The top team in college basketball this season has been a game of musical chairs. With no dominant team emerging, the run for No. 1 could be an exciting one.

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Louisville head coach Rick Pitino talks with guard Peyton Siva, left, guard Russ Smith, guard/forward Wayne Blackshear, and center Gorgui Dieng.

Photo: Alex Brandon, Associated Press

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At this time last season, we already were pretty sure about the favorite to win the national championship and the supposed Player of the Year.

Kentucky and its star forward/center, Anthony Davis, took over college basketball and led the way from the start of January all the way through the NCAA tournament, with Davis and the Wildcats winning all the trophies they were supposed to win.

This year, however, is a much different story. The No. 1 team in the land already has changed four times, most recently with the elevation of Michigan to the top spot for the first time this season on Monday.

The best player in the country is an argument encompassing a handful of candidates, none of whom is without flaw. The conversations will undoubtedly continue to bend and fluctuate as upsets keep shaking up the top of the rankings.

So basically, this season has become incredibly up for grabs. But does unpredictable equal bad? Does the fact that no team or player has really taken the reins mean it's a down year for college basketball?

"Some people think that parity means bad," CBSSports.com bracketologist Jerry Palm said. "But I don't think that's necessarily true. It just means the talent is spread out. ... We haven't had a team like last year's Kentucky team. We haven't had anybody out there like that, that's that good, that dominant. But that's just going to make things exciting."

Some analysts, though, have hypothesized that teams are playing at a slower rate in general. On Saturday, Northern Illinois made headlines after managing to score only 25 points -- and only four in the first half -- against Eastern Michigan. In another game this season, at Dayton on Dec. 1, the Huskies managed only five points in the first half.

Palm, who enters every Division I score into his database by hand, said he's noticed more low scores than usual this season.

"I cannot believe how many scores I see in the 30s and 40s this year," he said. "I'm always saying, 'Gosh, that's another team that scored in the 30s and they won!'"

But even if that's true, along with the lack of a dominant team, college basketball isn't losing any fans in a season that figures to be unpredictable right up until the end.

With Indiana, Duke, Louisville and Michigan all taking turns at the top spot, Kansas -- which is currently Palm's No. 1 seed overall -- might make its move soon as it dominates its Big 12 opponents.

But the field of potential champions is much wider than that. Syracuse, Florida, Arizona, Miami, Michigan State and a handful of others all could probably be in that conversation.

"This year? Good luck filling out a bracket for your pool," Palm said. "You legitimately don't know who's going to win this thing. I mean, Gonzaga? Gonzaga is good enough to win the tournament this year."

SHORT TAKES

• What, exactly, is allowed on the back of a basketball teams' jerseys got some attention recently when the NCAA turned down requests from Iowa -- which wanted to put the name of a former player who died on the back of the jersey of every player -- and Akron, which wanted to use the team's Twitter handle for all its players.

According to the NCAA rule book, which states that the jersey must "identify the school, the school nickname or mascot, or the player's name," the second could actually be allowed (but wasn't). In light of the recent conundrums and obvious institutional desire for creativity, John Infante of the Bylaw blog suggested each team should get to ignore the limitations for one night each year, which could get interesting.

• When Michigan's drought between No. 1 appearances in the AP poll ended Monday after more than two decades, no doubt many Wolverines fans thought their wait was unbearable. But in reality, of all the teams that have been No. 1 at least twice (56 teams have reached that pinnacle overall) since the poll was started in 1949, Michigan's 20-year, one-month, 29-day stint ranked only eighth on the list of longest breaks between that achievement (first reported by the Wall Street Journal). Ohio State is first with 44 years, 11 months and 14 days in between 1962 and 2007. Bonus info: The Gophers are ranked 37th (out of 198 teams) in terms of number of poll appearances with 223.

• Gophers fans have nothing to complain about with Mo Walker's 1 1/2-year absence because of knee and ankle injuries. St. Mary's guard Paul McCoy hadn't played in more than three years before Jan. 19 after undergoing four surgeries on his right knee. The 22-year-old Oregon native is playing limited minutes for the Gaels, writes Paul Buker of the Oregonian, but it's hard not to admire the determination to (finally) make a return.

BIG TEN POWER POLL

  

1. Michigan: Trey Burke is playing out of his mind, plus the Wolverines had only two turnovers against Northwestern on Wednesday.

2. Indiana: I can't really wait for Saturday night's matchup against Michigan at Assembly Hall.

3. Michigan State: Despite a Jan. 27 loss to the Hoosiers, the Spartans are playing their best basketball right now.

4. Ohio State: We've been wondering all year who else is going to score for the Buckeyes, but so far Deshaun Thomas -- even as the only major threat -- cannot be stopped.

5. Wisconsin: The Badgers still have three victories over ranked teams within the past month.

6. Minnesota: We saw some hints of the early 2012-13 Gophers against Nebraska, which might be enough to pull the team out of its recent slump.

7. Iowa: At least we know the Hawkeyes can win the tempo-altered games.

8. Illinois: I'm not saying the Illini couldn't potentially beat anyone -- when a team has that type of shooting, it can -- but otherwise this team is off the tracks.

9. Purdue: A 37-point loss to Indiana? Yikes.

10. Northwestern: Their style will always make them sticky. But right now, the Wildcats don't have the talent to consistently compete.

11. Nebraska: It's a bad night when a team shoots 63.6 percent in the first half, as the Huskers did against the Gophers last Tuesday, and still loses by 19 points.

12. Penn State: D.J. Newbill is doing everything he can, but it's just not enough.

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Pittsburgh - WP: B. Morris 8 FINAL
Cincinnati - LP: S. LeCure 7
Atlanta 0 Postponed
Philadelphia 0
Chicago Cubs 0 Postponed
NY Yankees 0
Tampa Bay 0 Postponed
Baltimore 0
Cleveland 0 Postponed
Detroit 0
Washington - LP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - WP: T. Koehler 11
Pittsburgh - LP: G. Cole 5 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: M. Leake 7
Seattle - LP: B. Beavan 0 FINAL
Texas - WP: R. Ross Jr. 5
St. Louis - WP: S. Miller 6 FINAL
Milwaukee - LP: M. Estrada 1
Boston - LP: B. Badenhop 1 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: D. Webb 2
Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura 4 FINAL
Houston - LP: L. Harrell 2
Toronto - WP: A. Loup 9 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: P. Hughes 3
NY Mets - WP: J. Mejia 9 FINAL
Arizona - LP: B. Arroyo 0
Oakland - WP: J. Johnson 10 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: Y. Herrera 9
Colorado - WP: J. Nicasio 3 FINAL
San Diego - LP: R. Erlin 2
Los Angeles - LP: B. League 2 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: Y. Petit 3
New York 109 FINAL
Brooklyn 98
Denver 105 FINAL
LA Clippers 117

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