Overrated and Underrated
February 12, 2013
By Joe Nelson
The Top 25 rankings feature great shifts each week, with voters often reacting to short term results. Each week, several teams climb up a bit too high based on a soft stretch in the schedule or losses by teams ahead of them in the polls. Other teams can take falls despite losses that are justified through tough scheduling spots and opposition. There are teams that are overrated and underrated each week in the polls; here are three teams in each column this week, including two underrated teams that are not even in the top 25.
Michigan State (#8 AP): The Spartans appear to be in a great position in the Big Ten standings at 9-2, but the schedule ahead should wipe out those chances for Tom Izzo's team. Michigan State has two games with Michigan plus games with Indiana, Ohio State, and Wisconsin ahead in the final seven games of the conference season, which should send the Spartans falling back down to more appropriate placement. Michigan State has snuck out several narrow wins in conference play with victories of five points or less in four different games and this Spartans team likely deserves a worse record than it holds. Michigan State beat Kansas very early in the non-conference season by three points, but that win no longer looks as impressive and there is not much else of value on the resume for the Spartans outside of the strength of the Big Ten. Coach Izzo always has this team ready to play come tournament time, but current projections suggesting that the Spartans could play into a #2 or #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament are reaching too far. Michigan State should be an underdog in four of the final seven games of the conference season and they are very likely to slip in the standings. The Pomeroy ratings call Michigan State the sixth best team in the Big Ten, while the Sagarin ratings list the Spartans fourth and it does not appear that Michigan State will be able to hold up as a top three team in nation's best conference.
Marquette (#18 AP): Marquette is 8-3 in Big East play and even with this week's loss to Georgetown, the Golden Eagles are still in the mix for the conference championship. Marquette started out Big East play at 4-0 before going just 4-3 in the last seven games and many of the victories came by very slim margins. Wins over Connecticut and Pittsburgh both came in overtime and the early season victory over Georgetown came by a single point. A nice non-conference win over Wisconsin at home was wiped out by a bad loss to UW-Green Bay and against the only other high quality non-conference foes Marquette lost, falling in a tight game against Butler and losing by 33 in a blowout loss against Florida. While Marquette will likely have done enough to reach the NCAA Tournament, the schedule is daunting in the next two weeks with home games with Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Notre Dame, as well as two tricky road games playing at Seton Hall and at Villanova. Marquette has been to the Sweet 16 the last two seasons, doing so impressively as a #11 seed in 2011 and being a slight disappointment last season as a #3 seed last season and losing to #7 seed Florida. Right now, Marquette projects in between those marks likely as a #5 or a #6 seed, but that number is likely to fall with losses likely in the schedule ahead and simply not enough quality wins in the non-conference schedule. Several teams behind Marquette right now in the Big East standings look like more serious threats to rise in the rankings in the coming weeks and deliver a successful run in March.
New Mexico (#20 AP): The Lobos lead the Mountain West standings at 7-2 and they are the highest-ranked team from the conference sitting at 20-4 overall. While the Mountain West is a very strong league this season and could produce four or five NCAA Tournament teams, the conference lacks a true standout team as it has had in past years. New Mexico split two meetings with UNLV and lost its only meeting with San Diego State this season. There have been several narrow wins in conference play for the Lobos, sneaking by in the lone victory over UNLV at home and as well as getting a five-point win over Colorado State at home. The Lobos needed overtime to beat Boise State and barely won against Wyoming for the best road wins they can offer in league play. The non-conference schedule also featured very slim margins in the best victories, winning in overtime against Indiana State and winning by one against Cincinnati. San Diego State and Colorado State appear to have better overall resumes and statistics and composite ratings from Sagarin and Pomeroy both put New Mexico as the third or fourth best team in the conference, not the top team as the rankings and standings suggest.
Oklahoma State (#17 AP): With the recent slide from Kansas, the Big XII picture is looking more and more open. Kansas State failed badly in its opportunity to take charge of the conference and Oklahoma State will be the team that gets a chance to make a run at the title. The Cowboys are actually in great position to do so. The toughest remaining games, facing Kansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas State for a second time will all come at home. Oklahoma State already beat Kansas on the road and the Cowboys will have an opportunity to avenge narrow misses against the Sooners and Wildcats. The remaining road games for Oklahoma State are favorable with the exception of a trip to face Iowa State in March, but this is a team that will deserve more attention in the coming weeks. In the non-conference season, Oklahoma State suffered a bad loss at Virginia Tech, but wins over Akron, Tennessee, and N.C. State give some weight to the resume and losing by one against highly ranked Gonzaga will also help in the ratings. The defensive efficiency numbers for the Cowboys are excellent, easily the best in the Big XII and among the top teams in the nation. That is an important measure for projecting success in the postseason and the success that the Cowboys had in Puerto Rico early in the season is a good display of what this team is capable of.
Creighton (Unranked AP): The Blue Jays have been the heavy favorites in the Missouri Valley all season long and as a result they have been getting every team's best shot over the course of the conference season. Creighton has suffered four losses in the last seven games, pushing the Blue Jays into a four-way tie on top of the conference standings. With the exception of a 21-point loss at Indiana State in what was clearly the biggest game of the season for the Sycamores, the other three conference losses came by extremely small margins. Creighton has wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State, St. Joseph's, California, and Tulsa as this team has proven itself against quality competition and has done enough to earn a NCAA Tournament at-large bid, barring a complete collapse in the next three weeks. The schedule ahead does include tricky road games at Northern Iowa and at Evansville on deck on the schedule, plus a Bracket Buster game with St. Mary's and a finale with Wichita State. This still looks like the best team in the Missouri Valley despite the recent slump and by the time the brackets are announced, Creighton should be considered a serious threat to last into the second weekend, even if the overall record and ranking are not where they once looked like they could be.
Stanford (Unranked AP): With nine losses, Stanford has not even been receiving votes in the AP poll, but this is a team making a hard charge towards NCAA Tournament at-large berth consideration. The Cardinal suffered a damaging two-point loss against USC to open the Pac-12 season, but that is the only major problem with the resume for this team. Narrow non-conference losses to Belmont, Missouri, and Minnesota are respectable and while Stanford did not pick up a marquee non-conference win, they beat several credible teams. Stanford is just 6-5 in Pac-12 play, but they will have upcoming opportunities for big wins with games against UCLA and Oregon in the next two weeks. The Pac-12 is fading into a more mediocre league similar to the last two seasons and a five or six-loss team could certainly still win this conference. Stanford is playing well enough right now to think that a 12-6 record is realistic, though they do have road games at Oregon and at California. If Stanford takes care of business at home, including beating UCLA and Colorado and they can win one of those tough road games, this is a team that should have a strong case to be playing in the Big Dance and this team is a threat to steal the automatic bid in the Pac-12 tournament. Both the Sagarin and Pomeroy ratings call Stanford the second best team in the Pac-12 though few are looking at it that way nationally.
11-1 L12, 19-4 L23, 35-13 TY
16-4 L20 G-Plays, 24-7 L31 Picks
9-2 L11, 12-3 L6 Days, 7-2 G-Plays
18-9 L4 Days, +1,908 Overall TY
4-0 L4 Picks, 8-2 L10 G-Plays
2-0 LN, 8-3 L11 G-Plays, +1,423 TY
4-0 L2 Days, 9-2 L11 Streak
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