The Ninja’s Top 10 NCAABB Teams:
1. DUKE (11-0)
The Bluedevils find themselves at the top of the polls (AP, Coaches) yet again under Coach Krzyzewski as Monday marked the 11th time in the last 16 years that they have reached this mark. The Bluedevils are off to a hot start as they have won 11 straight games including three wins over top 5 teams when the game was played (Louisville, Kentucky, Ohio State) and have four wins over teams that are currently ranked in the AP top 25 (Louisville, Ohio State, Minnesota, VCU). Senior Forward Mason Plumlee is the driving force behind the Bluedevils hot start as he is averaging a double double through the first 9 games of the season (19.2pts, 11.3rebs) and is getting help from Junior Guard Seth Curry (16pts a game).
2. Michigan (12-0)
The Wolverines have cruised to an 11-0 record winning games by an average of 20 points through December. The Wolverines have only played one ranked team during this stretch (NC State #18) at home and only beat them by five 79-72. The path is about to get a lot harder for the Wolverines who will start Big Ten play in January opening with Northwestern on the road 1/3, Iowa 1/6 and Nebraska 1/9 at home, and then going to heated rival #7 Ohio State on the 13th. The Wolverines have been led by their electric front court tandem of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. as both players are averaging double digits in points per game (Trey Burke 18.0, Tim Hardaway Jr. 15.7).
3. Indiana (11-1)
The Hoosiers lone loss came against the pride of the Atlantic Ten division, the Butler Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have another scrappy team this year as this has become a staple of a Brad Steven’s coached team as his Bulldogs have made four consecutive NCAA tournaments and have reached the championship game twice in the last three years. The Hoosiers are loaded with talent this year lead by sophomore Cody Zeller and junior Victor Oladipo who have both averaged double digit points per game (Cody Zeller 15.7, Victor Oladipo 13.2). The Hoosiers have the players to play big, play small, run the court, or set up half-court offense which will make them a tough team to play at any time of the year.
4. Arizona (11-0)
The Wildcats are off to an undefeated start and making it look easy as they have won eight games by double digits and five games by twenty or more. The Wildcats toughest test came at home against the then #5 Florida Gators on Dec. 15 where the Wildcats needed a 6 point comeback in the final minuet to squeak out a 65-64 win. Arizona won their next three games by an average of 22 points and will be playing in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic Tournament in Honolulu Tuesday vs. #18 San Diego State . The Wildcats have been led by senior guard Mark Lyons (13.8 PPG, 3.2 APG) and sophomore guard Nick Johnson (12.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.2 APG) as they have the Wildcats on top of the Pac 12 conference after the first month of the season.
5. Louisville (11-1)
The Cardinals find themselves leading the mighty Big East conference through the first month of the season with their lone loss coming to the Duke Bluedevils in November. Their most impressive win came the day before against the Missouri Tigers 84-61 as their zone defense left Phil Pressey and the rest of the Tigers out of rhythm all night. The Cardinals has been led by their standout backcourt made up of junior guard Russ Smith and senior guard Peyton Siva. Smith has been the scoring guard averaging 19.7 points per game while Siva has been the more complete guard averaging 11.7 points and 6.3 assists per game. Smith is ranked third in the Big East with 2.2 steals per game but is only averaging 2.8 assists per game which is bottom 5 in the conference.
The Jayhawks are dominating the Big 12 early as they are leading the conference in point margin (+18.3), blocked shots (8.9), assists (17), and assist to turnover ratio at 1.3. The Jayhawks one loss came to the #20 Michigan State Spartans 67-64 in Atlanta back in November and our now on a 7 game winning streak where they have outscored opponents by an average of 16.3 points per game. The most exciting part of this young Jayhawk team is redshirt freshman and Kansas high school player of the year in 2010 Ben McLemore. McLemore leads all Big 12 freshmen in points per game at 16.1 and is third amongst all players in the conference. McLemore is getting better with every game and senior Jeff Withey has really solidified the Jayhawks inside defense as he is averaging 7.6 rebounds and 5.6 blocks a game which is tops in the nation. The Jayhawks showed that they are for real after beating #7 Ohio State 74-66 in a game that they dominated from the tip.
7. Syracuse (10-1)
The Orange beat Detroit University 72-68 Monday night to give Coach Jim Boehiem his 900th career victory making him the third coach ever in NCAA division I basketball to reach this mark (Coach Knight and Coach Krzyzewski are the two others). The Orange are playing at a high level and are ranked second behind Duke solely on their strength of schedule, or lack of, as their toughest game came against the Arkansas Razorbacks on the road who will probably finish in the middle of the SEC at the end of the year. The Orange have been beating teams with suffocating defense and unselfish offense as they have four players scoring double digit points a game (Brandon Triche 15.3, James Southerland 15.2, Michael Carter-Williams 12.3, C.J. Fair 11.7). The one slip up to Temple may serve as a positive as Coach Boehiem will use the loss as a teachable moment and motivating factor for the rest of the season.
8. Ohio State (9-2)
The Buckeyes are in 2ed place in the Big Ten after the first month of the season with their two losses coming to two teams in the top 10, Duke and Kansas. The Buckeyes lost to the Jayhawks 74-66 in a game where they had 16 more shot attempts and were up eight points at the half. The Buckeyes went cold in the second half going 9 of 36 from the field (25%) and at one point went ten consecutive minutes without scoring a point. The Jayhawks play good defense but it was hard to tell how much was good Kansas defense or poor Ohio State shooting. Deshaun Thomas leads the Buckeyes in points and rebounds per game (20 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and will be in the conversation of Big Ten player of the year for the remainder of the season.
9. Illinois (12-1)
The Fighting Illini lost to the Missouri Tigers for the fourth consecutive time in the bragging rights of the I270 game 82-73. This was a clash of top ten teams where the Illini led for the majority of the first half until Missouri ended on a 12-2 run to take a 31-29 lead into the half. The Illini led 62-57 with 8:05 remaining before the Tigers went on another run (13-2) to build a 70-64 lead with 4:11 left and never trailed again in the game. The Illini are the leaders of the Big Ten conference through the first month of the season and have been led by senior guard Brandon Paul who is averaging 19.2 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, and 3.6 assists per game. Paul is also averaging a steal a game while getting his team into good offensive sets and managing the game.
10. Florida (8-2)
The Gators looked like a top 3 team even after losing to the then #8 Arizona Wildcats after having a double digit lead in the second half. The Gators have a deep team with experience as they have reached the Sweet 16 in three consecutive years. The Gators then lost to the Kansas St Wildcats 67-61 in a game where the Wildcats size bothered the smaller guards of Florida all day forcing the Gators to shoot under 30% from the field in the second half and settling for only 4 baskets off of assists. It’s a long year and Billy Donovan is a great coach who will find a way to put this group of players in the best position to perform and make another tournament run late in the year. The Gators have four players’ averaging double digit points per game (Kenny Boynton 12.4, Mike Rosario 12.1, Erik Murphy 11.2, and Patric Young 10.9.)