Hoops Season Hits Stretch Run
February 25, 2014
The national headlines will proclaim the most noteworthy result of the new Associated Press poll released on Monday as Florida surpassing Syracuse for the top spot.
That’s natural and certainly important considering the Orange suffered just its second loss this season over the weekend – and it came in controversial fashion thanks to a disputed block-charge call that benefited Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
However, in Big Ten country there is less intrigue about the No. 1 slot and more interest in the conference race at hand and the poll juggling below the elite line.
For example, Michigan is now in the Big Ten driver’s seat after defeating rival Michigan State at home on Sunday, 79-70. Nik Stauskas continued his outstanding sophomore season by torching MSU with 25 points.
The Wolverines moved to 19-7 overall and 11-3 in the league. They also jumped MSU in the latest AP poll, moving up four spots to No. 20. With three league games remaining, UM now controls its own destiny in terms of being to claim an outright Big Ten title.
Tom Izzo’s Spartans (22-6, 11-4), the preseason favorite to win the league, dipped from No. 13 to No. 18 in the AP poll after the loss. Still, despite suffering a multitude of injuries, MSU is just a half-game out of first place and has point guard Keith Appling getting healthy in time for March.
The Spartans will host last-place Illinois to open March but then have to face Iowa and Ohio State, two teams battling to finish in the top four of the regular-season standings, which would ensure a quarterfinal appearance in the Big Ten Tournament.
Wisconsin, which has managed at least a tie for fourth place in the league since Bo Ryan has been head coach, is in position to keep that string alive after winning 79-74 at Iowa on Saturday. The Badgers (22-5, 9-5) have recovered from their midseason swoon and now are the conference’s highest-ranked team at No. 14 in the AP poll.
No. 20 Iowa (19-7, 8-5) is one game behind UW in the loss column while No. 22 Ohio State (22-6, 9-6) is a game behind in the loss column. The Buckeyes won their only meeting with Wisconsin this season and would hold the tiebreaking advantage with the Badgers if applicable.
Iowa and Ohio State split their regular-season series with each winning on the other’s home floor, meaning their tiebreaker would go to their record against the team that finishes at the top of the standings.
In the scenario where they are tied for fourth with Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin ahead of them, Iowa would be at a distinct disadvantage if the tiebreaker were composite record against teams ahead of them in the standings. The Hawkeyes are just 1-4 against those top three teams with a March 6 contest at Michigan State still pending.
Ohio State is 1-0 vs. Wisconsin, 0-1 vs. Michigan and 0-1 vs. Michigan State with the regular-season finale with MSU scheduled for March 9. That will serve as the senior sendoff for longtime starters Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.
The Buckeyes would come out well in a three-way tie with Wisconsin and Iowa but not necessarily in a two-way tie with Iowa. Since the Hawkeyes mauled Michigan 85-67 on Feb. 8 and have a chance to split with Michigan State, they have the edge at the moment.
However, Iowa still has five league games, three of them away, thanks to their Feb. 18 trip to Indiana being postponed because of damage to Assembly Hall at the time. The Hawkeyes have to return to IU on Tuesday after a tester at Minnesota on Tuesday. Iowa will host Purdue on March 1, head to MSU on March 6 and close at home against Illinois on March 8.
Ohio State has to trek to Penn State on Thursday, Indiana on Sunday and then hosts the Spartans with a week of rest.
The only other league team with a decent chance of earning Thursday off at the Big Ten Tournament, which is set for March 13-16 in Indianapolis, is Nebraska (16-10, 8-6), which many experts picked to finish at the bottom of the standings.
Minnesota (17-11, 6-9), Indiana (15-11, 5-8), Purdue (15-12, 5-9), Northwestern (12-16, 5-10), Illinois (15-12, 4-10) and Penn State (13-14, 4-10) all have losing records in the conference and don’t figure to crawl out.
The Florida Gators (25-2), meanwhile, are back atop the AP poll for the first time since they repeated as national champions in 2007. Ohio State went into the NCAA Tournament that season No. 1 in the country.
Syracuse (25-2), which lost twice last week, dropped to fourth. Wichita State (29-0) and Arizona (25-2) both moved up one place, to second and third.
Florida, the fifth school to hold the No. 1 spot this season, received 47 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel. Wichita State was No. 1 on 14 ballots, and Arizona got the other four first-place votes.
The complete AP men’s poll follows:
Record Points Previous
1. Florida (47) 25-2 1,606 2
2. Wichita State (14) 29-0 1,549 3
3. Arizona (4) 25-2 1,494 4
4. Syracuse 25-2 1,410 1
5. Kansas 21-6 1,310 8
6. Duke 22-6 1,286 5
7. Louisville 23-4 1,152 11
8. Villanova 24-3 1,113 9
9. Creighton 23-4 1,103 11
10. Saint Louis 25-2 1,047 10
11. Cincinnati 24-4 921 7
12. Virginia 23-5 909 14
13. San Diego State 23-3 886 6
14. Wisconsin 22-5 818 16
15. Iowa State 21-5 709 17
16. Michigan 19-7 653 20
17. Kentucky 21-6 629 18
18. Michigan State 22-6 552 13
19. North Carolina 20-7 440 —
20. Iowa 19-7 418 15
21. Memphis 21-6 288 22
22. Ohio State 22-6 253 24
23. SMU 22-6 155 —
24. Texas 20-7 129 19
25. New Mexico 21-5 113 —
Others receiving votes: UConn 81, UCLA 41, Oklahoma 35, Stephen F. Austin 11, UMass 9, Gonzaga 2, Green Bay 2, N.C. Central 1.