The Ninja’s Top 10 NCAA Basketball Teams:
1. Michigan (17-1, 4-1 in Big 10)
Michigan is led by one of the most dynamic back courts in the nation made up of sophomore guard Trey Burke (18 PPG, 7.1 APG, 3.1 RPG) and junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (16.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.6 APG). The Wolverines turned in a very impressive performance on the road January 17, as they traveled to Minnesota and had their way with the then ranked #9 Gofers en route to a 83-75 win. The Wolverines were led by another strong performance by Tim Hardaway Jr. who finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Hardaway ended his night 7/8, but only took one shot in the second half after being on fire in the first half, while Trey Burke took 8 shots in the second half and ended his night 5/15. The Wolverines got the win but they need to find a way to get the ball to the hot hand down the stretch moving forward. Michigan freshman Glenn Robinson III (12.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.4 APG) chipped in with 9 points and two electric dunks.
2. Syracuse (17-1, 5-0 in Big East)
The Orange are coming off of a huge win over the then #1 Louisville Cardinals 70-68. This was a back and forth game that featured clutch shot after clutch shot from both teams where the Orange made one more play than the Cardinals to get the win. This was an especially impressive win for the Orange who were without senior forward James Southerland (13.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG) who is in the middle of an academic suspension. Southerland is a 6’8 forward that can play inside out and has 33 made 3 point shots this year, which is only 4 off of his career high and we are only in the second month of the college basketball season. With Southerland out of the lineup the Cardinals took advantage, pressing the ball the entire game with some success, but sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams showed the nation Sunday not only is he one of the most talented guards in the league, he is also one of the mentally toughest. Carter-Williams bounced back from a rough first half to end his day with 16 points, 7 assists, and the game winning play where he stole a Peyton Siva pass and took it the other way for an explosive dunk over two Louisville defenders. The Orange looked great in Louisville on Sunday but find themselves in another tough match up Monday vs. Cincinnati.
3. Duke (16-1, 3-1 in ACC)
The Bluedeviles bounced back after their first loss of the season with a blow out win over the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets 73-57. Duke was lead by senior guard Seth Curry, who finished the night with 24 points and matched a career high with six three pointers. Mason Plumlee had another double-double, finishing the night with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Duke is getting used to life without senior forward Ryan Kelly who will miss some time with a foot injury as they featured more of Curry and Plumlee which makes Duke more of an inside out attack. The Bluedevils are 1-1 without Kelly losing to North Carolina State on the road which would of been a tough game for Duke even with Kelly. The Bluedevils found some extra offense from freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon who put in 15 points on 5-8 shooting in his first game off the bench. The Bluedevils will continue to search for their identity without Kelly and have tough ACC match up at Miami January 23rd.
4. Kansas (16-1, 4-0 in Big 12)
The Jayhawks continue to roll as their 64-59 win at Texas marked their 15th straight. Even better news for Jayhawks fans is freshman guard Ben MaCLemore seems to be 100% after spraining his ankle. He finished with 16 points vs. the Longhorns. The Jayhawks had to come from behind again, this time erasing an eleven point deficit in the second half to stay undefeated in Big 12 play. Jeff Withey helped the Jayhawks with 14 points,9 rebounds, and played great defense down the stretch making the Longhorns take contested perimeter shots by controlling the paint. The Jayhawks have came from behind in their last three wins which could be a sign of a strong-willed team playing together or a recipe for disaster that has not caught up with them yet. The Jayhawks visit rival #11 Kansas State in the octagon of doom January 22 which will be very tough game.
5. Florida (14-2, 4-0 in SEC)
The Florida Gators put themselves back in the conversation of the best team in the nation Sunday with a dominating performance over SEC co-favorite Missouri 83-52. The Gators jumped out to a 15-2 lead and never looked back as the Tigers never got within single digits the entire game. Florida sustained this lead with hot shooting and stifling defense all game long, holding the Tigers to 32% shooting on the day. The Gators may be the deepest team in the country as they have four players averaging double digits (Kenny Boyton 13.3 PPG, Mike Rosario 12.5 PPG, Erik Murphy 12.5 PPG, and Patric Young 11.4 PPG) and our currently playing the best team defense in the country. They held Texas A&M to 34% shooting just two days before holding Missouri to 32% and have won their last three games by an average of 24.6 points. The Gators made 59% of their shots Saturday vs. the Tigers including shooting 42% from behind the arc. They were led by Erik Murphy’s 15 points. They will face the University of Georgia January 23rd which looks like another blowout.
6. Louisville (16-2, 4-1 in Big East)
Louisville lost their #1 ranking when they lost to Syracuse Saturday but still showed that they are one of the top programs in the country. The Cardinals lost the game on an errant pass by senior guard Peyton Siva that was intercepted and raced down the court for what turned out to be the games winning score. The Cardinals than had one more chance to tie the game but ran a sloppy offensive set that resulted in a Syracuse steal. The Cardinals did not score in the final 1:58 as their final four possessions resulted in a missed shot, turnover, blocked shot, and turnover. This is the second straight year that Louisville has lost to Syracuse at home, and for the second consecutive year the Cardinals did not get a shot off in the games final possession. These two teams meet again March 2 in the Carrier dome in a game that should be just as exciting as the one we watched this past Saturday. The Cardinals have one of the best back courts in the nation with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and will be a tough team to beat for the remainder of the year.
7. Indiana (16-2, 4-1 in Big 10)
The Hoosiers bounced back Saturday with a 67-59 win over Northwestern after losing their second game of the season four days earlier to a non-ranked Wisconsin team. The Hooisers had to battle back in Saturday’s contest vs. Northwestern as they squandered a 17 point lead before coming back and winning the game. The Hooisers are having no trouble scoring the basketball as their 84.4 points per game ranks second among the country but they get lazy at times on the defensive side of the ball. This allowed the Wildcats to scratch their way back into the game Saturday. The Hoosiers have all the tools to be a top 5 team in the country but need to clean up some careless errors before making that jump. They are lead by Cody Zeller (17.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG) and Victor Oladipo (13.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG) who both played big roles in the Hoosiers win Saturday. They host to Penn State on January 23rd.
8. Arizona (16-1, 4-1 in Pac 12)
The Wildcats blew out in state rival Arizona State 71-54 on January 19. The Wildcats were led by their dominate back court made up of Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons. Nick Johnson ended his night 7 of 13 from the field scoring 19 points while Mark Lyons went 8 of 15 for 24 points. The Wildcats played great defense and went after Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson early and often getting him in foul trouble. Carson was forced to sit when he received his fourth foul and from that point on the Wildcats took control of the game. Arizona’s suffocating defense led to 17 turnovers and they held the Sun Devils second highest scorer Carrick Felix to 5 points on 1 of 8 shooting. The Wildcats also got another solid game from senior forward Solomon Hill who ended his night with 13 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds. The Wildcats host UCLA January 24 in what should be a great Pac 12 battle.
9. Butler (16-2, 3-0 in A 10)
Butler beat Gonzaga Saturday night in the best game of the 2013 college basketball season so far. It was a gut-wrenching back and forth game that ended with Roosevelt Jones stealing an in bound pass and hitting a floater with no time left on the clock. This was just a typical Butler win as we have grown accustom to seeing Butler find improbable ways to win games over the last 3 years. The Bulldogs have now beaten three top 10 teams this year (#9 North Carolina in November, #1 Indiana in December, and #8 Gonzaga Saturday). The last two wins have came without their leading scorer Rotnei Clarke, which makes the wins more impressive and they should not only have the attention of the A 10 but also the attention of the nation. The Bulldogs travel to take on La Salle January 23 in an A 10 battle that may be closer than it looks like on paper.
10. Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 in WCC)
This may be the best team head coach Mark Few has had in his years at Gonzaga and its hard to punish them for their loss at Butler at the buzzer. The Zags played Butler tough all night in a crazy wild environment all the way down to the last second before seeing the game winning floater fall through the hoop. The Zags had another good shooting night as they are second in the country in that category (.512) but scored only 63 points which is 17 points under their season average. Butler’s defense had a lot to do with this scoring output and the Zags are going to have to find a way to get more points in the paint if they want to be a serious contender for the rest of the year. The Zags host BYU January 24 in game that will feature the top two teams in the WCC. Gonzaga has been led by junior forward Kelly Olynyk (18 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and senior forward Elias Harris (14.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG).