11 February 2007

The Sweetness Arrives

Forgive us here at Lion in Oil for being late to the College Basketball Power Rankings party. You see, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, and we’ve spent hours meticulously constructing Valentines for Shavlik Randolph and Steven Hunter. Still, it’s inexcusable, and won’t happen again. Check back the next few weeks, every Monday, for Bullwinkle’s Sweet Sixteen, AKA “The Sweetness.” Enjoy.

1.) Florida--22-2, (10-0)

Even on their off nights, the Gators can go on the road and silence volatile, monochromatically dressed crowds, as they proved Saturday night with their win over Kentucky in the House That Racism Built (just kidding, Kentucky fans, sort of). Sharpshooter Lee Humphrey was errant with his threes, frontcourt man beasts Joakim Noah and Al Horford were in foul trouble and combined for 12 points, and Florida still won. If it’s not Humphrey or Horford or Noah, it’s Corey Brewer, the Tennessee kid with the baggy undershirt and freakish wingspan. Brewer can handle the ball and defend, and at 6’9 creates a mismatch at small forward against any lineup. The Gators still have road dates with LSU and Tennessee, but an unblemished SEC record could easily happen. An Atlanta coronation on the last day in March looks likely, as long as Noah doesn’t get into a fight with a student section between now and then. And while The Sweetness would love a battle royale between a ponytailed Franco-Swede and a Vandy kid with Skoal in his bottom lip, one that involved cries of Ndongo and bloody boat shoes, we don’t want any excuses for Billy D’s boys come tournament time.

2.) Wisconsin--24-2, (10-1)

Bo Ryan’s Badgers continue to mow through the Big Ten slate like a self-propelled John Deere. In case you haven’t been bludgeoned to death already with the Coach-Ryan’s-teams-are-committed-to-defense candlestick, allow me to administer the blow. No one has scored 70 on these guys since Pittsburgh in December, and they lost by 14. They will make you play their game, plain and simple, a half-court variety where you better hope damn well you hit your open shots. Too much reliance on POY candidate Alando Tucker could be an issue, but the Badger frontcourt hits the boards and can shoot the three (especially Brian Butch), and Tucker overshadows the underrated Kammron Taylor, who is apparently a thixophobe. (A what, you pretentious fool?) Their defense and experience separate them from Ohio State, and the rematch with the Buckeyes in Columbus is the only game Wisconsin could possibly lose the rest of the way. A lock for a top seed.

3.) UCLA--21-3, (10-2)

Yes, The Sweetness is aware that the Bruins went to John Denverland over the weekend and lost to a certain Big East team still coping with the loss of their savior, but it’s not a big deal. Seriously. They were missing their remote control car for a point guard, Darren Collison, and fell behind early on the road against a team starved for a signature win. Call them the Wisconsin of the west, although they’re probably stronger offensively, with guys like Josh Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute supporting the immensely talented Arron Afflalo. The Sweetness would also like to call attention to the latest character on a team that already has a snake-eating prince and an aesthetic wonder: Jim Halpert is on UCLA’s roster this year. Don’t believe us? Check it out. Yes, that’s right. The heartthrob from NBC’s hit comedy, “The Office,” has been seeing limited minutes in Westwood. All we have to say is that if his schooling of Roy in the warehouse is any indication of his game, Ben Howland should get dude some minutes, pronto. Maybe it’s Karen’s fault. But isn’t everything?

4.) North Carolina--22-3, (8-2)

We haven’t seen nearly as much of these powder bluebloods as we should have, but big road wins put these uber-talented youngsters in the top tier. The comparisons between this year’s freshmen class of Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Brandan Wright, and the ’03 class of Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May are inevitable, and the Sweetness will happily provide comparisons of said players, starting next week. Heels need a win this Saturday at Boston College to prove to the Sweetness that they have the moxie for March run. Yes, they’re deeper than a Malcolm Gladwell work, but we’re afraid they lack the chin stubble of the top three. Tyler Hansbrough hasn’t made a huge sophomore leap, but this is largely because of the talent around him. We can’t get enough of this son of an orthopedic surgeon, a guy whose nickname is Psycho T and who recently told Sports Illustrated of his desire to be a roadie for Insane Clown Posse. Come on, Pscyho. Give us more. That suburban teenage outsider well isn’t completely dry just yet. Did you write-in for Che Guevara as your high school Homecoming King? Take your Accutane with a number four combo meal from Taco Bell? Please tell.

5.) Texas A&M--21-3, (9-1)

Huge dropoff to the two seeds, but this football school is hardly masquerading for the Big Dance. The Aggies are yet another team loaded with athletes and a defense-first mentality. Most of the parts returned from a team that ended Gerry McNamara’s career and nearly knocked off LSU in last year's NCAA Tournament. Those games were not a fluke. They played UCLA tough in December, and have beaten everyone on their Big 12 menu except Texas Tech. Acie Law IV might be the best point guard in the country, outplaying other conference stars like Brandon Rush I and Kevin Durant I (yes, he outplayed him) in wins over Kansas and Texas. Law IV and swingman scorer Josh Carter allow A&M to play at breakneck speed if they want, but they can bloody lips, too. The frontcourt of Joseph Jones and Antanas Kavaliauskas rebound well and average in double figures in points. The Sweetness is pretty sure that the Lithuanian lane-owner’s name doesn’t exactly roll off tongues in button-up College Station, but as long as Billy Gillespie’s squad stays in the Top 10, does it really matter?

6.) Kansas--21-4, (8-2)

Some games these guys sing like Paul, other games they sing like Ringo. Inconsistency may ultimately do in this able young bunch, but they certainly have the talent for a run. The roster contains not a single senior, but freshmen and sophomores fill out the Jayhawk lineup just fine. Julian Wright and Darrell Arthur looked the Florida frontcourt square in the eye back in November, and Kansas emerged victorious. Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, and Sherron Collins offer Bill Self outstanding guard play, combining to average 36 points a game. But for every convincing win against teams like Florida, Boston College and USC, Kansas stubs its toe against lowly DePaul, or Oral Roberts. This team can only rise to the top if it finds a go-to guy, and Rush is the most likely candidate for the job. The Jayhawks are at their best in an up-tempo affair, as recent slaughters of Kansas State and Colorado indicate. Self needs his young talent, which has developed a reputation for not playing as a unit, to develop cohesion before Selection Sunday. Until they stop folding like they did in the second half against Texas A&M (in Lawrence, mind you) and Texas Tech, the glass ceiling will remain.

Coming soon: 7 through 11