No. 1 in college basketball is a volatile spot

Feb 9, 2016 3:04 AM

Iowa appeared set to take its turn atop the polls on Monday, but they were surely no unanimous choice following another week of shakeup at the top.

The Hawkeyes were a de facto choice even though they don’t rate very strong in the RPI department, following previous No. 1 Oklahoma’s 80-69 loss at Kansas State on Sunday evening.

The Sooners still could garner first-place votes this week, as could RPI No. 1 Villanova, Xavier, Maryland or Kansas. Nova landed No. 1

The Hawkeyes are 18-4 overall, as they lost back-to-back games to Dayton and Notre Dame in November, but are 9-1 in the Big Ten and winners of 11 of their past 12 games with the lone loss in that stretch coming by six points at Maryland. Iowa’s other loss came at rival Iowa State, 83-82.

Fran McCaffery’s team has four top-25 RPI wins, which is one more than Oklahoma and two more than Villanova. They have six top-50 RPI wins, which is one more than Oklahoma and the same amount as Villanova. And they have zero losses outside of the top 30 of the RPI while Oklahoma and Villanova each have one sub-30 RPI defeat.

How long are the Hawkeyes expected to be poised on top?

Well, they are expected to be favorites in each of their last seven conference games, although the next one – on Thursday night at Indiana – would appear to be the toughest, especially since it seems like every new No. 1 is getting knocked off after just a week or two and the Hoosiers are just a game back of the Hawkeyes in the standings.

The key to Iowa’s success is their experienced front court.

Senior Jarrod Uthoff is the most unheralded on the national Player of the Year candidate list. The 6-9 forward has a deft touch from the line (84 percent) and from three (45 percent), making him a versatile threat from several spots on the floor.

Six-foot-six junior Peter Jok has seemed to shed his shooter-only label this season and 7-1 center Adam Woodbury is a rebounding machine. And Iowa senior guard Anthony Clemmons is headed to the conference’s all-defensive team and is a top candidate for defensive player-of-the-year in the league.

The Indiana Hoosiers will try to be the next-in-line to dethrone No. 1 on Thursday night at Assembly Hall (6 PT, ESPN). Iowa should come in as a short 2-point or so choice on the road with the expected total in the low 150s. The Hoosiers started 7-0 in conference, but have two setbacks now, including a low-point 68-63 loss at Penn State on Sunday.

The matchup will prove a big one for Indiana freshman center Thomas Bryant, one of the top field goal shooters in the nation (74.5 percent). He’s helped in the front court by frustratingly inconsistent Troy Williams, while senior guard Yogi Ferrell still runs the show.

Iowa has not enjoyed much success in recent trips to Bloomington and the Hoosiers have covered 9 of the last 13 meetings. This indicates a close series, but Iowa is usually the dog and the Hawkeyes rolled here, 77-63, in the only meeting last season. Iowa, 75-69.

LSU (+6, 158) at South Carolina (Wed., 4 PT, ESPN2): Player-of-the-year candidate Ben Simmons and LSU currently are on top the SEC, but it appears as if they could be underdogs in five of their last eight games, including here against 20-3 USC.

The Gamecocks opened the season 15-0, but have three conference road losses now and must sweep at home to maintain their shot at the regular season title. They are likely favorites, however, in seven of their last eight games. Junior Sindarious Thornwell is coming off a season-high 25 points in an 81-78 win at fading Texas A&M, the Gamecocks’ third road win of the conference season.

Simmons, meanwhile, continues to impress in nearly every outing. The 6-10 freshman from Melbourne got out-shined by Oklahoma senior Buddy Hield in their nationally televised non-conference showdown two Saturdays ago in Baton Rouge, but his incredible potential makes him the country’s most talked-about college star – both in the U.S. and Australia.

The Tigers have won five of the last six trips here with five of those six also going UNDER the total. SC, 78-76.

UC Irvine (+6, 132) at Hawaii (Thur., 10 p.m. PT): First place in the Big West is on the line Thursday night at Sheriff Center as both teams enter the contest 7-1 in league. Their slip-ups have come at home, as the Anteaters fell to UCSB two Saturdays ago, while the Rainbows lost here the same night to Long Beach State.

Irvine’s marquee man is 7-6 junior Mamadou Ndiaye, the conference’s defensive player of the year last season, while UH’s star is 6-11 center Stefan Jankovic, a 22-year-old Serbian transfer from Missouri. The Rainbows also have their own #Hawaii50 bench mob, which is the west’s rival to the Monmouth crew.

The Rainbows’ edge at home is tough, but UCI swept three games last year, including the conference tournament title game in Los Angeles, 67-58, and won here, 78-72. UCI, 70-67.

Kansas (+6, 160) at Oklahoma (Sat., 11 PT, ESPN): Both teams entered the week one game behind West Virginia in the Big 12 standings, but KU could move into a tie for the top spot when they host the Mountaineers on Tuesday night. Still, this game will likely settle little with the Sooners expected to stake their claim in the regular season race as a favorite in Norman.

This is the rematch of the epic 109-106 triple-overtime win by the Jayhawks in Lawrence that left the KU faithful giving visiting Hield a standing ovation following an on-court interview after his 46-point performance, the most ever by a visitor in Allen Fieldhouse. The teams were ranked 1-1 in the nation at the time back on Jan. 4 and the lead changed hands several times throughout the extra sessions.

Since then, Kansas has stumbled three times on the road and are in full scramble mode in order to keep their stranglehold on the conference regular season title. Veterans Perry Ellis, Frank Mason and Wayne Seldon don’t want to be the group that ends the reign. OU, 85-81.

Ramon Scott is a Southern California-based sportswriter, covering the preps to the pros for over 25 years. Email: [email protected].