Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Which is the biggest one-loss fraud?

I was all set to write a column on how Miami (Fl.) has flown completely under the radar this season, despite getting off to a 14-1 start with wins over Minnesota, Wake Forest and South Carolina. However, then the Hurricanes were ranked No. 23 in the AP poll (still only No. 35 in the Coaches’ poll somehow) and even received a shout-out on the new Seth Davis-hosted college basketball show on Monday. Tough to be under the radar at this point.

Therefore, I’ve changed directions – now I’m going with “which one of the one-loss teams is the biggest fraud?” After Kansas’ loss to Tennessee on Sunday, the Jayhawks joined the ranks of the one-loss teams, becoming the eighth member. Along with Kansas, the other one-loss squads are Syracuse, BYU, Purdue, Villanova, Miami (Fl.), Baylor and Northern Iowa.

To start with, I’ve eliminated Kansas, Syracuse, Purdue and Villanova – each of those teams is a Final Four threat and therefore far from a fraud. That leaves the aforementioned Hurricanes, BYU, Baylor and Northern Iowa. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Miami (Fl.): Although I had planned on discussing the Hurricanes as an under-the-radar group, they might be the worst of the one-loss teams. Miami has an RPI of 72 and an SOS of 309, while Kenpom.com ranks them No. 26. As I mentioned, the Hurricanes own a couple of impressive wins, over Minnesota and Wake Forest, and are 6-1 away from home. The win over South Carolina came when the Gamecocks lost Dominique Archie to an injury in the opening minutes, and Miami has played only three games against the top-100. The only loss came at Boston College, by one point. Dwayne Collins is a very good big man inside, while James Dews and Malcolm Grant are scoring guards on the perimeter that can shoot. Durand Scott is solid at both ends.

BYU: The Cougars are likely to have several hiccups in Mountain West play, as the top of the league is very competitive. However, at this point, they’re playing outstanding ball. BYU is ranked No. 20 in the RPI and No. 6 by Kenpom.com. The Cougars are 7-0 against teams ranked in the top-100, including wins over Arizona State, UNLV, Nevada and Arizona, and 7-1 away from home. The lone loss was by 10 at Utah State, never an easy place to escape with a victory. BYU is loaded on the perimeter, with Jimmer Fredette (he of the 49-point performance) and Jackson Emery leading the way. Tyler Haws is effective from the field and can rebound. If Jonathan Tavernari can return to his form from last season, this team is dangerous.

Baylor: Along with Miami, the Bears are probably the biggest surprise on this list. They did not have very high expectations this season, after losing Curtis Jerrells, Kevin Rogers and Henry Dugat. However, Baylor has won nine in a row – heading into Tuesday’s game at Colorado – after losing to Alabama. The streak includes wins over Xavier, Arizona State, Arkansas, South Carolina and Oklahoma. The Bears are No. 32 in the RPI, No. 28 according to Kenpom.com and 5-1 against both teams in the top-100 and in games away from home. LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter are high-volume three-point shooters who can really fill it up. Ekpe Udoh has made a tremendous impact after transferring from Michigan, giving Baylor a viable inside threat.

Northern Iowa: The Panthers looked like it could be a bust at the outset of the season, as they lost on a neutral court to DePaul in the second game of the year. However, they have won 13 in a row, including victories over Boston College, Iowa State, Siena, Missouri State and Illinois State. The Panthers have played only three games against top-100 teams, winning each of them. They are also an impressive 8-1 away from home, including 6-0 on the road. Northern Iowa is ranked No. 16 in the RPI and No. 35 by Kenpom.com. The Panthers are experienced and have great lineup continuity – they have used the same starters in every game. Adam Koch is an inside-outside option at forward, and Jordan Eglseder provides a presence in the paint. Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Ali Farokhmanesh can score from the wing.

So what’s the verdict?

Well, although they are non-BCS teams, I think that BYU and Northern Iowa are clearly the best teams in this quartet. That leaves just Miami and Baylor. Miami has the better win (Minnesota), while Baylor has the better group of victories. When it comes down to it, I think that Baylor has the better inside-outside balance and is better-suited than Miami to make the NCAA Tournament and possibly win a game. We’ll find out more about each of these teams, as Miami has six of its next nine on the road and Baylor has to play Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State and Texas in a row after tonight. For now, though, I think Miami is the biggest fraud amongst the one-loss teams.

And to think, I was planning on writing a complimentary article on Miami. Sorry, Hurricane fans – what a difference 24 hours makes.

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