Three questions regarding the latest AP Men’s Basketball Rankings
Can Iowa State compete in the Big 12?
Iowa State, at 22-9 on the season, has crept up into the Top 25 in the AP Poll. The No. 25 Cyclones picked up their second signature win of the year, knocking off then-No. 9 Baylor at home. Iowa State previously knocked off No. 3 Kansas in late January, again at home. Iowa State stayed competitive on the road with No. 5 Missouri, Kansas, and out-of-conference opponent No. 10Michigan, with single-digit losses to all three. The Big 12 is one of the deepest conferences in college basketball, with Kansas State (who the Cyclones defeated twice) and Texas (who the Cyclones split home and home with) both in the picture for NCAA Tournament bids along with the four ranked teams. Iowa State doesn’t have a Thomas Robinson or a Marcus Denmon who can score in bunches, but they do have Royce White. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is averaging an impressive 12.9 points, 9.2 boards, and 5.2 assists to go with 1.2 steals per game. White gives the Cyclones a unique player that can give the rest of the Big 12 nightmares. Kansas will be a tough out, but if they can take out Texas and then Missouri, they can catapult themselves into another class before the Big Dance gets underway.
What can we make of Michigan State’s late slide?
Make little of No. 8 Michigan State’s recent losses. No. 15 Indiana is certainly a tough venue to play at — No. 1 Kentucky suffered its only loss of the season in No. 15 Indiana. Tom Izzo would probably have liked his team to lose by less than 15, but the loss isn’t detrimental. The home loss to Ohio State, even a loss by just two, was a harder pill to swallow. Much like ACC powerhouses No. 6 Duke and No. 4 North Carolina, Michigan State and No. 7 Ohio State split their home and home in the wrong direction, with both teams overcoming hostile crowds to win. Draymond Green held Jared Sullinger to just 5-of-17 shooting last week, and 5-of-15 the previous game. Green is a player who can take over the game on both sides of the ball. Despite its late losses, Michigan State is the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten. With Indiana and No. 14 Wisconsin on its side of the bracket, the Spartans will have their hands full to even make it to the finals of the tournament. Things will be more worrisome for Izzo’s club if the Spartans get blatantly outplayed in the Big Ten tournament.
Can Florida stay relevant after the SEC Tournament?
No. 22 Florida suffered losses in both of their games this week and has now lost its last three contests. A home loss to Kentucky is almost expected at this point after seeing how well Kentucky has played this season. But the road losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia are less acceptable for a team expected to make noise in the NCAA Tournament. Against the top six teams in the SEC, Florida is a disappointing 3-5, with wins at home against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt and a win at Alabama. Suffering losses to Tennessee at home and 14-16 Georgia are serious causes for concern for Billy Donovan and company. Because of those brutal losses, Florida is the No. 4-seed in the SEC tournament, meaning they pull fifth-seeded Alabama, a team who they have handled in the past, and then No. 1 Kentucky before they would even have a chance at the finals. Florida got outscored by a total of 35 points against Kentucky this year. If they don’t play the Wildcats better in the tournament, assuming they knock off Alabama, then Florida’s tournament stock will drop severely.