Calling All Conferences: Demons redeemed

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Al-Farouq Aminu drives Wake Forest.
(Chuck Burton/AP Photo)

Considering he went 0-18 in the Big East last year, it was no secret that DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright entered the 2009-10 season on the hot seat.

What most people didn't expect was for Wainwright to scoot off of it. Especially not this fast. In one of the more surprising stories of the young college basketball season, Wainwright's Blue Demons are 3-1, with their lone setback coming in a four-point loss to 11th-ranked Tennessee in the semifinals of the Paradise Jam.

The following night DePaul defeated St. Joseph's despite the absence of leading scorer and rebounder Mac Koshwal, who missed the game because of an injury.

DePaul – which also touts a victory over a Northern Iowa squad that was picked to win the Missouri Valley Conference – isn't the only school that has made noticeable strides despite being picked to finish near the bottom of its league.

Colorado, which went 1-15 in the Big 12 last season, led Gonzaga for most of the game Monday before losing 76-72. The following night the Buffaloes took tradition-rich Arizona to overtime before losing. It may be premature to say this, but Jeff Bzdelik's squad looks as if it could compete with any school in its conference outside of Kansas and Texas.

One season after going 3-13 in the Big East, Stan Heath's South Florida Bulls are off to a 4-1 start with wins over SMU, Davidson (both on the road) and Virginia. Dominique Jones is averaging 19.4 points, but the biggest difference has been the emergence of forward Augustus Gilchrist, who is playing with more passion and consistency, and the addition of junior college transfer Jarrid Famous.

North Carolina State, which finished 10th in the ACC last season, is 4-0 with wins over Auburn and Akron. Coach Sidney Lowe needs his team to put forth a strong showing in 2009-10 or he will surely start feeling some heat.

On a lesser scale, Ernie Kent's Oregon squad jumped out to a 3-0 start before dropping back-to-back games to Montana and Portland. Still, with new assistant Mike Dunlap now on staff to handle more of the Xs and Os, the Ducks will almost certainly improve as the season progresses. The question is whether it will be enough to save Kent's job.

On to our conference power rankings. Last week's rank in parenthesis.

ACC

1. Duke (5-0) – Cross your fingers for a title matchup with Connecticut on Friday. (1)

2. North Carolina (5-1) – Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas still ahead. (2)

3. Clemson (4-0) – The Tigers have won 30 straight in November. (3)

4. Wake Forest (4-0) – Al-Farouq Aminu is averaging 20.8 points, nine boards. (6)

5. Georgia Tech (3-1) – The Yellow Jackets showed encouraging signs in loss to Dayton. (4)

6. Miami (6-0) – Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant is making a difference. (10)

7. Maryland (4-1) – Cincinnati proved the Terps were overrated. (5)

8. Virginia Tech (3-0) – The Hokies should be winning more convincingly. (6)

9. N.C. State (4-0) – Forward Tracy Smith is averaging a double-double. (12)

10. Florida State (3-1) – The Seminoles lost to unranked Florida 68-52. Not good. (8)

10. Boston College (3-2) – It looks like it could be a long season in Chestnut Hill. (9)

11. Virginia (4-2) – The Cavaliers need even more from Sylven Landesberg. (11)

RISING

Miami – The Hurricanes picked up their best win of the young season Sunday by defeating a South Carolina squad that will contend for an NCAA tournament berth. The Gamecocks were without standout Dominique Archie for most of the game, but that didn't lessen strong performances by James Dews (22 points) and Dwayne Collins (17 points, 15 rebounds). A showdown with Minnesota looms.

FALLING

Virginia – First-year coach Tony Bennett should be given at least a year or two before he becomes fair game for criticism. After all, the former Washington State coach took over a dismal situation. Still, because he's such a good Xs and Os guy, the thought was that Bennett would at least be able to separate the Cavaliers from other bottom-tier teams in Big Six leagues. Instead Virginia has already suffered losses against South Florida and Stanford, two of the worst teams in their respective conferences.

THREE TO WATCH

Friday

Virginia Tech at Temple – The first real test of the season for Malcolm Delaney and the Hokies.

Tuesday

Michigan State at North Carolina – Will the Spartans avenge last season's national title game blowout?

Wednesday

Lots of great games: Siena at Georgia Tech, Illinois at Clemson, Minnesota at Miami, Boston College at Michigan, Duke at Wisconsin, Florida State at Ohio State.

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Antonio Pena, left, gives Villanova muscle.
(H. Rumph Jr./AP Photo)

BIG EAST

1. Syracuse (5-0) – The Orange have all the pieces. (5)

2. Villanova (5-0) – Antonio Pena is stepping up in the paint. (1)

3. West Virginia (2-0) – The Devin Ebanks situation continues to be a mystery. (3)

4. Connecticut (4-0) – The Huskies' lineup has changed but the physical style hasn't. (4)

5. Cincinnati (4-0) – The Bearcats' unsung hero? Yancy Gates (11)

6. Louisville (4-0) – We'll know more about the Cards after this weekend. (3)

7. Marquette (4-0) – The guards have been solid for the Golden Eagles. (7)

8. Georgetown (3-0) – The Hoyas are as deep as a kiddie pool. (6)

9. Pittsburgh (4-1) – The Panthers didn't back down in loss to No. 3 Texas. (9)

10. Notre Dame (5-0) – The Irish haven't been tested, but that could change this weekend. (8)

11. Seton Hall (3-0) – Herb Pope is averaging a double-double. (12)

12. Providence (4-1) – Prediction: The Friars will be the most improved team by March. (10)

13. South Florida (5-1) – Who lit the fire under Augustus Gilchrist? (13)

14. DePaul (3-1) – No Mac Koshwal, no problem for the Blue Demons against St. Joe's. (16)

15. St. John's (3-0) – The Red Storm won their last two games by a combined four points. (14)

16. Rutgers (2-1) – A win over Massachusetts on Friday would be a momentum jolt. (15)

RISING

Cincinnati – The Bearcats advanced to the title game of the Maui Invitational by defeating a pair of NCAA tournament-caliber teams in Vanderbilt and Maryland. Mick Cronin has obviously done a nice job of blending touted recruit Lance Stephenson into a lineup that already had a pair of proven stars in Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates. A Dec. 13 showdown at Xavier will provide another good test.

FALLING

Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights were supposed to be so much better with the return of Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique – and the addition of Florida transfer Jonathan Mitchell. Instead Rutgers has already dropped a game to Vermont. A few days earlier it barely escaped Drexel 58-56. This team needs to improve – fast – if Fred Hill wants to keep his job.

THREE TO WATCH

Thursday

Marquette vs. Xavier in the Old Spice Classic – The Golden Eagles were supposed to be down this year, but someone forget to tell Buzz Williams, Lazar Hayward and Co.

Friday

Connecticut vs. Duke in the Preseason NIT – The Huskies will give the Blue Devils their first tough test of the season.

Saturday

Louisville at UNLV – A pair of great coaches will be on the floor when Lon Kruger and Rick Pitino square off in Sin City.

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Al Nolen is hitting his mark for the Gophers.
(Haranz N. Ghanbari/AP Photo)

BIG TEN

1. Purdue (4-0) – A win over Tennessee was the best victory thus far for league. (3)

2. Michigan State (4-0) – Florida and North Carolina are next. (2)

3. Ohio State (4-1) – A disappointing showing last week against the Tar Heels. (1)

4. Michigan (2-0) – One game in 11 days. Must be nice. (4)

5. Illinois (4-0) – The Illini are averaging 87 points. Full moon out? (5)

6. Minnesota (3-0) – Al Nolen is among the nation's assists leaders with 7.0 per game. (6)

7. Wisconsin (3-1) – The Badgers are playing well considering inexperience. (7)

8. Northwestern (3-1) – Are the Wildcats using Kevin Coble's injury as a rallying point? (10)

9. Penn State (4-2) – Talor Battle is averaging 18 points. (8)

10. Indiana (2-3) – Freshman Maurice Creek is averaging 16.2 points, shooting 54.4 percent. (9)

11. Iowa (1-4) – The Hawkeyes may not have hit rock bottom – but they're close. (11)

RISING

Purdue – The Boilermakers' 73-72 victory over No. 11 Tennessee in the championship game of the Paradise Jam justified their No. 6 national ranking and sent a strong message that Michigan State will be far from alone in the race for the Big Ten title. E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel are averaging 16 and 15 points, respectively, for a squad that has remaining non-conference games against Wake Forest and West Virginia.

FALLING

Indiana – The Hoosiers didn't arrive in Puerto Rico last week planning to lose to Ole Miss, George Mason and Boston University. But that's exactly what happened during an incredibly disappointing road trip for Tom Crean's squad. Crean is an excellent coach, and his young team will improve, but not many teams opened the season in such disheartening fashion.

THREE TO WATCH

Thursday

Minnesota vs. Butler in the 76 Classic – A victory over the No. 12 Bulldogs would be one of Tubby Smith's signature moments as Gophers coach.

Saturday

Florida vs. Michigan State in the Legends Classic – Hopefully the Spartans aren't looking ahead to Tuesday's showdown at North Carolina.

Tuesday

Wake Forest at Purdue – Al-Farouq Aminu and the Demon Deacons aren't as good as last year, but they'll be a tough test.

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Dogus Balbay could take over the point for Texas.
(Harry Cabluck/AP Photo)

BIG 12

1. Kansas (3-0) – Easy schedule until Dec. 6 game at UCLA. (1)

2. Texas (4-0) – Dogus Balbay, J'Covan Brown and Jai Lucas are vying to become the starting point guard. (2)

3. Kansas State (4-1) – Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen combined for 81 points in two games. (3)

4. Oklahoma State (4-0) – Marshall Moses is coming on strong. (5)

5. Oklahoma (2-2) – Tiny Gallon was the lone bright spot in loss to VCU. Loss to San Diego stings.(4)

6. Texas A&M (3-0) – The Aggies' strength is in their balance. (6)

7. Missouri (3-0) – Can the Tigers hit 18 3-pointers against Vanderbilt, too? (7)

8. Colorado (3-2) – Nice job by assistant coach Steve McClain in Jeff Bzdelik's absence. (11)

9. Iowa State (5-0) – The Cyclones are expected to get LaRon Dendy. back this weekend. (9)

10. Baylor (4-0) – Tweety Carter returns this weekend. (10)

11. Texas Tech (6-0) – A two-point win over Stephen F. Austin? C'mon Raiders. (8)

12. Nebraska (3-1) – Sunday's game at USC will be good test. (12)

RISING

Colorado– One season after winning just nine games – and only one league contest – Colorado appears capable of beating just about anyone in the Big 12 outside of Kansas and Texas. In the Maui Invitational they lost to Gonzaga by four points and Arizona in overtime in games that were supposed to be blowouts. That's a huge credit to head coach Jeff Bzdelik, whose second-leading scorer is a true freshman (Alec Burks, 16.8 ppg).

FALLING

Oklahoma – After the No. 17 Sooners lost to Virginia Commonwealth, Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said he "knew our team wasn't as good as everyone had us." Maybe not, but that doesn't excuse losing to VCU. Oklahoma trailed by as many as 17 points and got just eight points from All-American candidate Willie Warren, who missed all eight of his 3-point attempts. Bad loss for the Sooners – and the league.

THREE TO WATCH

Thursday

Texas A&M vs. Clemson in the Phillips 76 Classic – Beating a top-25 team would be a huge momentum boost for the Aggies, a solid team that lacks starpower.

Saturday Iowa State vs. Notre Dame in the Chicago Invitational – The Cyclones have been pegged as the Big 12's most improved team. Will they prove it against a formidable foe?

Wednesday

Missouri at Vanderbilt – Supposedly the Tigers have a chip on their shoulders about being picked to finish seventh in the league. Will they take it out on the Commodores?

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Nic Wise gives Arizona guarded optimism.
(John Miller/AP Photo)

PAC-10

1. Washington (4-0) – Quincy Pondexter is averaging 24 points, 12 boards. (1)

2. Cal (3-2) – Last week's losses wouldn't have been as lopsided with Theo Robertson. (2)

3. Arizona (3-2) – Nic Wise has been one of the country's top guards thus far. (4)

4. Washington State (3-0) – The Cougars are ranked this high by default. (7)

5. Arizona State (4-1) – How long before the Sun Devils get exposed? (3)

6. UCLA (2-1) – Nikola Dragovic is no longer suspended. Whew! (8)

7. USC (1-1) – The Trojans gave up a 12-point, second-half lead in loss to Loyola Marymount. (6)

8. Stanford (3-3) – Bring back the Lopez Twins! (10)

9. Oregon (3-2) – Tajuan Porter – yes, he's still there – is averaging 14.6 points. (5)

10. Oregon State (1-3) – The Beavers can't even beat Sacramento State. Yikes! (9)

RISING

Arizona – It'd be tough to find someone doing as good a job as first-year Wildcats coach Sean Miller. In the past seven months, Miller left Xavier for Arizona, signed a top-flight recruiting class and then opened his inaugural season in steady fashion. Finally, the Wildcats have some stability.

FALLING

Oregon – Just when Ernie Kent's program appeared to be turning the corner, the Ducks lost back-to-back games against Portland and Montana. Now that's how you keep your job. Then again, those teams are probably better than most of the schools Oregon will face in the Pac-10 this season, so there may still be hope.

THREE TO WATCH

Sunday

Nebraska at USC – Surely the Trojans can win a home game against the worst team in the Big 12. Can't they?

Wednesday UNLV at Arizona – The Rebels are solid, but they won't be any better than the teams Arizona faced in Maui. Look for a big game from Nic Wise.

Washington State at GonzagaKen Bone has his first big game as the Cougars' head coach.

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John Jenkins has been dandy at Vandy.
(Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

SEC

1. Kentucky (6-0) – The young Wildcats escaped in OT against Stanford thanks to John Wall. (2)

2. Tennessee (4-1) – There's no excuse for almost losing to DePaul. (1)

3. Mississippi (4-1) – Clearly the SEC's third-best team – and maybe the second. (4)

4. Vanderbilt (4-1) – John Jenkins doesn't play like a freshman. (3)

5. LSU (3-1) – Maybe it's time to give Trent Johnson his props. (6)

6. Mississippi Sttae (3-1) – The Bulldogs have won three straight against patsies. (7)

7. Florida (4-0) – Freshman Kenny Boynton is averaging 17.5 points.

8. South Carolina (4-1) – With Devan Downey, there's always a chance. (5)

9. Alabama (2-1) – Nice win over Providence. Is Baylor next? (9)

10. Auburn (3-3) – The Tigers' loss to North Carolina State isn't good for the resume. (11)

11. Arkansas (2-2) – Losing to Morgan State is bad, doing it at home is worse. (10)

12. Georgia (2-2) – Quick, name one Bulldogs player. Or at least a good one. (12)

RISING

Mississippi – The Rebels have one of the top guard tandems in America in Terrico White and Chris Warren, who helped them in a victory over a solid Kansas State squad in Puerto Rico. A healthy Ole Miss team would've made the NCAA tournament last year. The Rebels won't have any excuse if they don't earn a berth this season.

FALLING

South Carolina – Even with the loss of Dominique Archie, the Gamecocks should be playing better than this. They struggled to beat LaSalle and South Florida before getting drilled by a mediocre Miami squad. Expectations are high in Columbia this season but, so far, Darrin Horn's squad isn't living up to them.

THREE TO WATCH

Thursday

Alabama vs. Baylor in the Old Spice Classic – Can the Crimson Tide shut down LaceDarius Dunn, Tweety Carter and the hot-shooting Bears?

Friday

Florida vs. Michigan State in the Legends Classic – The Gators don't have much depth, but they've got a great coach. Then again, Michigan State does, too.

Missouri at Vanderbilt – The athletic, defensive-minded Tigers are a tough team for which to prepare. This one won't be easy for the Commodores.