The initial Top Freking 10 of 2014 reflects heavily on the start of conference season, admires a nice home comeback by Syracuse and adds two new teams to the rankings — including the nation’s highest-scoring squad.
1. ARIZONA (last week: 1)
The Wildcats begin Pac-12 play today by hosting Washington State to begin their pursuit of the program’s first regular-season conference championship since 2010-11. Looking through the Pac-12’s regular-season and tournament champions, it’s surprising to see that over the past 10 seasons, the Wildcats own just two regular-season conference crowns and zero tournament titles.
2. SYRACUSE (LW: 2)
During the break between the Hall of Fame Classic games Saturday at New Castle, I had the chance to catch most of the Syracuse-Villanova matchup. I came away thinking both teams were legitimate title contenders in their respective conferences, but it was hard not to be especially impressed with the resolve of the Orange, who answered the Wildcats’ 25-7 start to the game with a 20-0 run. Then, when Villanova closed to within 64-59 with 3:25 left, Syracuse made 14-of-16 free throws down the stretch. Oh, and the Orange’s freshman point guard, Tyler Ennis, is a cold-blooded stud.
3. OHIO STATE (LW: 3)
The veteran Buckeyes let young Purdue hang around for 30 minutes Tuesday, but Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross & Co. were too much down the stretch as OSU won 78-69 on the road. Craft flirted with a triple-double, finishing with seven points, eight boards and 10 assists. Ross notched a career-high 25 points and added 12 rebounds. The most impressive aspect of Ross’ game Tuesday was his solid defense against Boilermaker 7-footer A.J. Hammons. Ohio State’s big men were in foul trouble all game, so Ross found himself guarding Hammons for a good portion of the game. Though Hammons finished with 18 points and 16 rebounds, Ross did an admirable job for a 6-8 string bean.
4. WISCONSIN (LW: 4)
Wisconsin, one of seven unbeaten teams left in college basketball as of Wednesday evening, travels to Northwestern today to open Big Ten play. The Wildcats are struggling at 7-6 under first-year coach Chris Collins, a former Duke guard who had spent the previous 13 seasons on Coach K’s staff. Help is on the way next winter for Northwestern though, with four-star small forward and Chicago native Vic Law set to join the fold, along with Greensburg guard and Indiana All-Star Bryant McIntosh.
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