Calling All Conferences Power Rankings

Jason King
Yahoo! Sports

Colorado, which has finished dead last in the Big 12 the past three seasons, forced overtime before losing to No. 1 Kansas 72-66 Wednesday night at the Coors Events Center in Boulder.

And the Buffaloes did it without second-leading scorer Alec Burks, who is sidelined with a sprained knee.

"We got a break with Burks not playing," Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters.

A break?

Did anyone ever think they'd see the day when the top team in America would need a break to beat Colorado? The Buffaloes haven't won more than three conference games in the past three seasons while going a combined 23-62 during that span.

Corey Higgins defends Sherron Collins.
(Ed Andrieski/AP Photo)

Yet there Colorado was, hitting big shot after big shot, forcing overtime while its best player watched from the bench. Sure, Kansas helped the Buffaloes stay close by missing 20 free throws. But Self wasn't about to make excuses.

"I'm not going to say we played poorly," Self said, "because that doesn't give Colorado the credit it deserves."

Indeed, thanks to coach Jeff Bzdelik and players such as leading scorer Cory Higgins, the Buffaloes are no longer viewed as a pushover in the Big 12 – or nationally, for that matter. Colorado is 11-11 overall and 2-7 in league play, with their last five losses coming by an average of 5.8 points.

It's been nearly four years since Colorado won more than three conference games, a number it will almost surely surpass this season.

Colorado isn't the only program that has made significant strides this season. Here are my Top 10 most improved teams for 2009-10.

Alabama-Birmingham – The Blazers went 22-12 last season and lost to Notre Dame in the first round of the NIT. This year they started 18-2 before a pair of close losses to UTEP and Memphis ruined their last two games. Still, this is as good of coaching job as Mike Davis has done since leading Indiana to the 2002 NCAA title game. UAB is 6-0 in games decided by three points or less.

Baylor – One season after finishing a disappointing ninth in the Big 12, the Bears are – at worst – the fourth-best team in the league. Scott Drew's squad seems destined for its second NCAA tournament berth in three years. Forward Ekpe Udoh is being projected as an NBA lottery pick while veteran guards Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn are having big seasons for the 20th-ranked Bears.

Colorado – The Buffaloes are 11-11 but, even in their losses, they've usually been competitive. Colorado's non-conference losses came against schools such as Gonzaga, Tulsa, Arizona and Oregon State. The Buffaloes defeated No. 20 Baylor and took top-ranked Kansas to overtime. Alec Burks – who didn't play against the Jayhawks – has been one of the country's top freshmen all season.

Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets went just 2-14 in ACC play last season and finished dead last in the standings. Now they're in a position to compete for the conference championship. The return of Gani Lawal and the addition of Derrick Favors have been keys for Georgia Tech, which touts wins against Duke and North Carolina.

Kentucky – This one was easy, considering the Wildcats earned a No. 1 ranking one season after not making the NCAA tournament. Granted, this team added a pair of Top-10 draft picks in John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and a stellar coach in John Calipari. Still, the turnaround has been phenomenal.

Ohio State – The Buckeyes lost to Siena in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament. This year they have their sites much higher. Evan Turner is the most versatile force in all of college basketball and will be one of the two or three leading candidates for player of the year. A Big Ten title is still a possibility, as the Buckeyes are only two games back of league-leading Michigan State.

South Florida – Some folks are saying the Bulls' 72-64 victory at Georgetown on Wednesday was the biggest in the program's history. Whatever the case, it marked the fourth straight Big East win for Stan Heath's squad, which is something that's never been done before at South Florida. Dominique Jones is averaging a team-high 22.1 points for the Bulls, who will be even better once forward Gus Gilchrist returns from an injury in the next week or two.

UTEP – Tony Barbee, a former assistant under John Calipari, has done wonders for the Miners, who ended Memphis' 64-game Conference USA winning streak last month. UTEP has one of the nation's top trios in Arnett Moultrie, Randy Culpepper and Louisville transfer Derrick Caracter. Wednesday's win over Houston was the sixth straight for the Miners, who are 7-1 and tied with Tulsa for first place in the conference standings.

Virginia – The Cavaliers have made huge strides under first-year coach Tony Bennett, who was hired away from Washington State last spring to replace Dave Leitao. Led by standout Sylven Landesberg, Virginia is tied with Duke atop the ACC standings with a 5-2 record. On Sunday the Cavaliers shocked college basketball fans by whipping North Carolina 75-60 in Chapel Hill.

Wisconsin – Just when it seemed as if the Badgers were due for a rebuilding year, Bo Ryan showed once again why he's one of the top coaches in college basketball. Fueled by standouts Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon, Wisconsin is 17-5 overall and 7-3 in Big Ten play. On Wednesday the Badgers became the first conference team to knock off Michigan State.

Now, this week's power rankings. Last week's rank in parenthesis.

ACC

Paul Hewitt has Georgia Tech thinking title.
(John Bazemore/AP Photo)

1. Duke (17-4, 5-2) – The Blue Devils' defense allowed Georgetown to make 27 of their 33 shots from 2-point range. (1)

2. Georgia Tech (16-5, 4-3) – Paul Hewitt's squad finished last in the ACC last season. Now they could finish first. (5)

3. Wake Forest (15-5, 5-3) – The Demon Deacons beat Miami on Tuesday – but it wasn't pretty. (3)

4. Clemson (16-6, 4-4) – The Tigers are a like a yo-yo. Up and down. Up and down. (6)

5. Maryland (14-6, 4-2) – Greivis Vasquez has averaged between 17 and 18 points the past three seasons. (4)

6. Virginia (14-6, 5-2) – A few more wins and Tony Bennett will wrap up ACC Coach of the Year honors. (9)

7. North Carolina (13-8, 2-4) – Is one Tar Heel playing well right now? (2)

8. Florida State (16-5, 4-3) – Three of the Seminoles' next four games are at home. (7)

9. Virginia Tech (16-4, 3-3) – Sunday's loss at last-place Miami was a momentum killer. (10)

10. North Carolina State (14-9, 2-6) – Two of the Wolfpack's six league losses are against Virginia. (8)

11. Boston College (12-10, 3-5) – The Eagles own two wins against last-place Miami. (11)

12. Miami (16-6, 2-6) – The Hurricanes' next five games all look like losses. (12)

RISING

Virginia – Tony Bennett's squad may have been considered a flash in the pan after a few big wins earlier this month. But after thumping North Carolina by 15 points Sunday, it's obvious the Cavaliers are for real. Virginia could enhance its chances of earning an NCAA tournament berth by winning its next two games, both of which are at home.

FALLING

North Carolina – Well, it's officially time to panic in Chapel Hill, where the Tar Heels appear to be longshots to make the NCAAs just one season after winning the national championship. Losing is bad enough, but losing at home is even worse.

THREE TO WATCH

Thursday

Georgia Tech at Duke – A win in Durham will catapult the Yellow Jackets into the ACC title conversation.

Saturday

Wake Forest at Virginia – The Cavaliers lost by 12 in Winston-Salem. Now it's time to get even.

Sunday

North Carolina at Maryland – Even though they're down right now, teams and fans still get geared up to face the Tar Heels.

BIG EAST

Should Scottie Reynolds and Villanova be No. 1?
(Michael Perez/AP Photo)

1. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1) – The Orange frontcourt is underrated. (1)

2. Villanova (20-1, 9-0) – No one would argue if the Wildcats were ranked No. 1. (2)

3. West Virginia (18-3, 7-2) – The Mountaineers exposed Pittsburgh on Wednesday. (3)

4. Marquette (14-8, 5-5) – One of the smallest teams in basketball is hoping for a big finish. (4)

5. Georgetown (16-5, 6-4) – The Hoyas have lost two of their last three games. (4)

6. Louisville (14-8, 5-4) – Rick Pitino's team is playing better – even if the scoreboard doesn’t always show it. (9)

7. Seton Hall (12-8, 3-6) – The Pirates' "One-Man Show" offense won't be enough to get them into the NCAA tournament. (7)

8. South Florida (15-7, 5-5) – The Bulls' four-game Big East winning streak is their longest ever. (14)

9. Pittsburgh (16-6, 6-4) – The Panthers have lost four of their last five games. (5)

10. Connecticut (13-9, 3-6) – One season removed from the Final Four, the Huskies are longshots to make the Big Dance. (8)

11. Cincinnati (14-7, 5-4) – Three of the Bearcats' next four games are on the road. (10)

12. Providence (12-10, 4-6) – A victory over upstart Marquette on Saturday would be huge (12)

13. Notre Dame (15-7, 4-5) – An embarrassing loss to Rutgers resulted in an 8 a.m. practice for the Fighting Irish. (11)

14. St. John's (12-9, 2-7) – Norm Roberts needs some wins … fast. (14)

15. Rutgers (11-11, 2-8) – Finally, the Scarlet Knights are showing a little heart. (16)

16. DePaul (8-14, 1-9) – The Blue Demons are playing about as well as they can given the situation. (15)

RISING

South Florida – The Bulls have won four in a row, and it's not as if the victories came against the dregs of the Big East: Providence, Seton Hall, Pittsburgh – and then Georgetown on the road. Quite an impressive feat.

FALLING

Notre Dame – A few more losses like last week's setback against Rutgers and Mike Brey's job could be in jeopardy. Brey failed to get an ultra-talented team to the NCAA tournament last year and, barring a miracle, the Fighting Irish will be NIT-bound once again this spring. Notre Dame should be better.

THREE TO WATCH

Saturday

Villanova at Georgetown – The Hoyas' stunning loss to South Florida causes this game to lose a bit of its luster. It gains it back if Georgetown wins.

Seton Hall at Pittsburgh – The Panthers are hoping to get back on the winning track.

Monday

Villanova at West Virginia – This will be the Wildcats' second road game in three days against a Top-10 opponent.

BIG TEN

Jason Bohannon and Wisconsin are back in the Big Ten hunt.
(Andy Manis/AP Photo)

1. Michigan State (19-4, 9-1) – Could the Spartans' Big Ten title hopes depend on Kalin Lucas' ankle? (1)

2. Wisconsin (17-5, 7-3) – The Badgers are almost unbeatable at home. (4)

3. Ohio State (17-6, 7-3) – Evan Turner keeps building a case as one of the nation's best. (2)

4. Purdue (18-3, 6-3) – Point guard Lewis Jackson is back for the Boilermakers. (3)

5. Northwestern (15-7, 4-6) – An NCAA bid is looking more and more like a possibility. (6)

6. Illinois (15-8, 7-3) – Poor Bruce Weber. His team's next four games are against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue. (7)

7. Minnesota (13-8, 4-5) – Royce White has been granted his release. (5)

8. Michigan (11-11, 4-6) – Manny Harris says he'll be back for his senior year. (8)

9. Iowa (8-15, 2-8) – Todd Lickliter ripped his team for a lack of effort in a 14-point loss at Michigan. (9)

10. Indiana (9-11, 3-5) – The Hoosiers have lost five games by six points or less. (10)

11. Penn State (8-14, 0-10) – The Nittany Lions haven't won a game since Dec. 21 – and the schedule isn't getting any easier. (11)

RISING

Wisconsin – The Badgers snapped Michigan State's 10-game winning streak and became the first Big Ten team to beat the Spartans all season. Even more impressive is that Wisconsin continues to play well despite the absence of injured forward Jon Leuer. Expect Bo Ryan's squad to continue to contend for the conference title.

FALLING

Michigan – The Wolverines have lost four of their past five games, with the only win coming against Iowa. It's been a disappointing season all around for Michigan, which was hoping to build on last season's surprise appearance in the NCAA tournament.

THREE TO WATCH

Saturday

Michigan State at Illinois – The Illini are 11-1 at home, and Michigan State may be without Kalin Lucas.

Tuesday

Purdue at Michigan State – This could end up being the game of the year in the Big Ten.

Illinois at Wisconsin – Sorry, folks, but the Badgers aren't losing at the Kohl Center.

BIG 12

Cole Aldrich and KU are back on top.
(Orlin Wagner/AP Photo)

1. Kansas (21-1, 7-0) – Cole Aldrich is back, ladies and gentlemen. (1)

2. Kansas State (18-4, 5-3) – The Octagon of Doom turned into the Octagon of Gloom following Saturday's overtime loss against Kansas. (2)

3. Baylor (17-4, 4-3) – Did anyone think they'd ever see the Bears listed ahead of Texas? (3)

4. Texas (19-3, 5-2) – Even with his team struggling, Damion James is still playing like an All-American. (3)

5. Texas A&M (16-6, 5-3) – The Aggies snapped Missouri's 32-game home winning streak Wednesday. (7)

6. Missouri (16-6, 4-3) – The Tigers are hoping to avoid a second-half collapse. (6)

7. Oklahoma State (16-6, 4-4) – James Anderson is the country's most underrated player. (5)

8. Colorado (11-11, 2-6) – The Buffaloes almost beat Kansas without Alec Burks. (10)

9. Texas Tech (14-7, 2-5) – Any chance Pat Knight's seat is getting warm? Nah – not yet. (8)

10. Oklahoma (12-9, 3-4) – Willie Warren has been the most disappointing player in college basketball this season. (9)

11. Iowa State (13-9, 2-5) – Could Craig Brackins return for his senior season? (11)

12. Nebraska (13-9, 1-6) – If Doc Sadler could recruit like he can coach, Nebraska would be in business. (12)

RISING

Colorado – The Buffaloes' record may not be all that impressive, but their last five Big 12 losses have come by an average of 5.4 points. Colorado is getting better and better. They beat a very good Baylor team last month before forcing overtime in a loss to No. 1 Kansas on Wednesday. The team lacks depth, but its starting lineup is very good.

FALLING

Oklahoma State – The Cowboys were manhandled in a 15-point loss at Missouri last weekend and then failed to capitalize on their home-court advantage in a setback against struggling Texas on Monday night. This team is hardly a lock to make the tournament.

THREE TO WATCH

Saturday

Baylor at Texas A&M – The Bears beat Texas on the road. Can they win in College Station, too?

Missouri at Colorado – Don't be surprised if the Buffaloes pull the upset in this one. Actually, if they win, it may not be all that much of an upset.

Monday

Kansas at Texas – The Jayhawks haven't won in Austin since 2002, when Drew Gooden, Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison and Jeff Boschee escaped with a 110-103 overtime victory.

PAC-10

Jamal Boykin has been hot and cold.
(Dino Vournas/AP Photo)

1. Arizona (12-9, 6-3) – Nic Wise tied a career-high with 30 points in last weekend's mammoth victory over Cal. (3)

2. Cal (14-7, 6-3) – Jamal Boykin had 25 points in a loss to Arizona State – and only two a few days later in a loss to Arizona. (1)

3. UCLA (10-11, 5-4) – Credit the Bruins for not throwing in the towel. (4)

4. Arizona State (15-7, 5-4) – The Sun Devils are fading. (5)

5. Washington (14-7, 4-5) – Lorenzo Romar's squad is averaging 107.5 points over its last two games. (8)

6. Oregon (12-9, 4-5) – Ernie Kent is fighting for his job. (9)

7. Washington State (14-7, 4-5) – The Cougars have lost four of their last six games. (6)

8. USC (12-9, 4-5) – The Trojans are 2-5 since learning of their postseason ban. (2)

9. Stanford (10-11, 4-5) – How does anyone give up 88 points to Arizona State? (7)

10. Oregon State (9-12, 3-6) – Five of the Beavers' six Pac-10 losses have come by single digits. (10)

RISING

Oregon – The Ducks snapped a five-game losing streak last week by defeating UCLA and USC in Eugene. The wins were huge for coach Ernie Kent, whose future could be in jeopardy if Oregon doesn't finish strong. Unfortunately, the next three games are on the road.

FALLING

Washington State – It's tough to find many nice things to say about a team that lost by 28 points to in-state rival Washington last weekend. So much for the notion that the Cougars had closed the gap on the Huskies. Next up for Ken Bone's squad are home games against Arizona State and Pac-10 co-leader Arizona.

THREE TO WATCH

Thursday

Arizona at Washington – The team that wins the Pac-10 will be the one that can survive on the road. In other words, this is a huge opportunity for Arizona, which is tied with Cal atop the league standings.

Saturday

Cal at UCLA – The surging Bruins will try to put a dent in Cal's conference title hopes.

Oregon at Oregon State – It's a bragging rights game between two teams that don't have much to brag about.

SEC

Devan Downey is a scoring machine.
(Mary Ann Chastain/AP Photo)

1. Kentucky (21-1, 6-1) – DeMarcus Cousins is contending for first-team All-America honors. (1)

2. Vanderbilt (17-4, 6-1) – The Commodores bounced back nicely from a humbling loss at Kentucky. (2)

3. Tennessee (16-4, 4-2) – The Vols are a borderline Top-15 team at best. (3)

4. Arkansas (11-11, 4-3) – This list is about who is playing best at the moment, and not many SEC teams have been as good as Arkansas lately. (10)

5. Ole Miss (16-6, 4-4) – Face it: The Rebels should be better. Much better. (4)

6. South Carolina (13-8, 4-3) – Devan Downey is finally getting the attention he deserves. (7)

7. Mississippi State (16-6, 4-3) – The Bulldogs have some ugly, ugly losses. (5)

8. Florida (15-6, 4-3) – The Gators' luck finally ran out against Tennessee. (8)

9. Alabama (13-8, 3-4) – Florida, Ole Miss and Kentucky are next. (9)

10. Georgia (9-11, 1-6) – Trey Thompkins leads the team in points (17.4) and rebounds (7.9). (8)

11. Auburn (11-11, 2-5) – Beating Arkansas on the road Saturday would be a nice boost (11)

12. LSU (9-12, 0-7) – The Tigers haven't won a game in more than a month. (12)

RISING

Arkansas – The return of Courtney Fortson has made all the difference in the world for the Razorbacks, who have three in a row against some pretty strong competition (Mississippi State, Mississippi and at Georgia).

FALLING

Florida – The Gators haven't been back to the NCAA tournament since winning the title in 2007. They may miss the Big Dance once again this season, too, unless they have a great February. Saturday's loss at No. 14 Tennessee was a killer, but Florida still has time to make up for it.

THREE TO WATCH

Saturday

Mississippi State at Florida – Two NCAA tournament bubble teams go at it in the O'Connell Center.

South Carolina at Tennessee – Will Devan Downey's magic continue in Knoxville?

Tennessee at Vanderbilt – The battle for second-best in the SEC East will be decided in Nashville.

NON-BIG SIX

Keith Cothran has Rhode Island rising.
(Nancy Palmieri/AP Photo)

1. Temple (19-4, 7-1) – The Owls are the only team to beat Villanova. (3)

2. Xavier (16-6, 8-1) – The Musketeers get a week off after Saturday's game at Dayton. (4)

3. BYU (22-2, 7-1) – Jimmer Fredette is averaging 21.5 points and 4.9 assists. (2)

4. Gonzaga (17-4, 6-1) – The Zags are gunning for a 10th straight West Coast Conference championship. (1)

5. New Mexico (20-3, 6-2) – The Lobos are off to their best start since 1997-98. (5)

6. Butler (18-4, 11-0) – The Bulldogs have won 10 in a row. (6)

7. Rhode Island (18-3, 6-2) – Keith Cothran is averaging 16.6 points. (8)

8. UNLV (18-4, 6-2) – The Runnin' Rebels have won four straight – including three on the road. (10)

9. Northern Iowa (20-2, 11-1) – Jordan Eglseder and Co. got revenge on Wichita State on Wednesday. (9)

10. UTEP (16-5, 7-1) – Derrick Caracter's decision to transfer from Louisville has paid off (NR)

RISING

Xavier – It shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that the Musketeers are performing so well in the Atlantic 10. Xavier played an excellent non-conference schedule and, despite five losses, was competitive in every game. Five of Xavier's six losses on the season are by 10 points or less.

FALLING

Alabama-Birmingham – The Blazers must've been jinxed by last week's appearance in the "Rising" category, because they haven't won a game since. First UAB dropped a Saturday home contest in double-overtime against UTEP. Then came Wednesday's 10-point setback at Memphis, which dropped the Blazers into third place in Conference USA.

THREE TO WATCH

Thursday

Portland at Gonzaga – San Francisco beat Gonzaga in the Bay Area last week. Portland is much better than San Francisco.

BYU at UNLV – This is the most-anticipated game in the Mountain West Conference thus far.

Gonzaga at Memphis – The Zags won't face a tougher road crowd the rest of the season. Still, they should win this game.