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Hoops & Helmets Rankings 2007
Posted Mar 14, 2007

It was great to be a Florida Gator fan over the last 12 months with national championships in both football and basketball. Richard Cirminiello ranks from one to 119 the best and worst programs in hoops and helmets.

By Richard Cirminiello 

If you’re a graduate, current student or hands-on backer of a particular school’s football program, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re investing some discretionary time into the hoops team as well.  That’s especially true when the month on your calendar tells you it’s March.  If that program happens to be Florida or Ohio State, for instance, the odds are even better that you haven’t stopped grinning since Labor Day.  As a fan, your school has given you plenty of reasons to smile, sing fight songs and pump out your two-tone chest over these past six months.

Some campuses like Auburn, Oregon State and Rutgers have had little to crow about since the bowl season ended.  Countless others, such as Kansas, Memphis and North Carolina couldn’t wait until the football season was over and Midnight Madness commenced.  And then there are Oregon and Washington State fans, neither of whom can understand how their football teams dragged down the basketball squads in 2006.  Only the truly fortunate have feasted their eyes and their emotions on quality products in both major sports.

As in the past, the focus of this exercise is to uncover those fans that have had their cake and dunked it too.  They bowled in the winter and now they’re preparing to soft shoe on into the Big Dance.  It’s time to deliver the Top 25, Hoops and Helmets style.   

*Last year’s ranking is listed after this year’s ranking

1. 7. Florida – Is there even room for debate?  Florida already has one national championship and is poised to make a serious run at another within a three-month stretch.  In Urban Meyer’s second season in Gainesville, the Gators went 13-1 capped by an unexpected dismantling of top-ranked Ohio State in the National Championship game.  The reigning national champs in basketball are back at it again, fresh off a third straight SEC title and seeded No. 1 overall thanks mainly to the frontline of Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah.  

2.  2. Ohio State – One loss.  One hideously one-sided loss to Florida in the National Championship game is the difference between being a runner-up and this year’s Hoops and Helmets head honcho.  Before losing by 27 to the Gators, the Buckeyes did start 12-0 and stake claim to Heisman winner Troy Smith.  The basketball team has had a main attraction of its own, freshman sensation Greg Oden who’s helped lead top-seeded Ohio State to 30 wins and the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles.

3.  8. Wisconsin – Maybe the most underappreciated program in America, the Badgers have gone an astonishing 41-6 since September without an appropriate amount of fanfare.  Getting 20 points a game from Alando Tucker and defensive pressure that’s become synonymous with Badger basketball, Wisconsin begins the NCAA Tournament as a top seed.  Life after Barry Alvarez began with an improbable 12-win season and a 17-14 win over Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl. 

4.  20. Louisville – The Cardinals’ historically significant football season ended with a win over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl, the program’s first-ever appearance in a BCS bowl game.  The Big East champions had signature wins over Miami and West Virginia, despite spending almost the entire season without star back Michael Bush.  Rick Pitino did one of his best coaching in some time, guiding a young collection of talent to a 23-8 mark and a No. 6 seed in the tournament. 

5.  35. Texas A&M – For a change, the big story this year in College Station was Billy Gillespie’s basketball team which rose to No. 6 in the country behind the electrifying play of senior guard Acie Law.  The third-seeded Aggies will be participating in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1987.  During the fall, A&M rebounded from a 5-6 campaign, winning nine games, including a monumental victory over Texas that snapped a six-game losing streak to the hated ‘Horns.      

6.  27. USC – There were hiccups along the way, such as the inexcusable gag to UCLA with a title berth at stake, but this was largely a successful season for the Trojans.  Football still won 11 games, a fifth straight Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl that could launch it as a pre-season No. 1 in 2007.  USC hoops is a program on the rise, returning to the tournament as a No. 5 seed with an athletic lineup that finished third in a deep league and made it to the finals of the Pac-10 tourney.     

7.  1. Texas – Last year’s top Hoops and Helmets team has slipped in 2006-2007, but not out of sight.  The ‘Horns didn’t figure to contend for another national championship once Vince Young bolted for the NFL, but late-season losses to Kansas State and Texas A&M knocked them right out of a January bowl game and into the Alamo Bowl.  On the hardwood, Texas has a bona fide mega star in freshman Kevin Durant who’s led the team to 24 wins and a No. 4 seed in the tournament.    

8.  50. BYU – By all accounts, it has been one of the most memorable winters in decades for Cougar fans who’ve witnessed a sweep over rival Utah and Mountain West titles in both sports.  John Beck’s toss to Jonny Harline on the final play at Rice-Eccles Stadium to beat the Utes will go in the BYU time capsule alongside the Las Vegas rout of Oregon a month later.  The eighth-seeded basketball team snared its first regular season league title in almost two decades and has won 12-of-14 heading into the tourney.     

9.  22. Notre Dame – If only the Irish could win a really big football game, perhaps a bowl game.  Notre Dame went 10-3 and copped a BCS bowl bid, but will be remembered more for losing badly to Michigan, USC and LSU, games that kept them from mining deeper into the top 10.  The surprising 24-7 hoops team has had no such problem, however, finishing on a tear, and as a No. 6 seed, positioning itself for a run in a long-awaited return to the NCAA Tournament.      

10.  4. UCLA – The Bruin football team was only 7-6, but shocking USC when the Trojans were closing in on the title game made it feel like about 11-2.  On the hardwood, 26-5 UCLA stumbled in the regular season finale and opening game of the Pac-10 tourney, but were regular season champs, swept a good Trojan team and will begin its national championship charge as a No. 2 seed.

11.  41. Virginia Tech – For the past decade, celebrations in Blacksburg were relegated to Lane Stadium, however, Cassell Coliseum has been hopping since the basketball season began Nov. 10.  Everything came together this winter for the Hokies, a senior-led team that beat Duke on the road and North Carolina twice and will be dancing for the first time since 1996.  One of those seniors, Zabian Dowdell has been sensational, averaging 18 points on the year.  Football won ten games, but missed a chance to rule the ACC in a down year for the league and gagged in the second half of a Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Georgia. 

12.  25. Tennessee – Credit this positioning to coaches Bruce Pearl and David Cutcliffe.  Pearl has energized the Volunteer basketball team the last two seasons, coaxing 22 wins and a No. 5 seed in the upcoming  tournament.  Of course, it’s helped having junior guard Chris Lofton, an All-America candidate and 20-point a game scorer.  Cutcliffe’s return to Knoxville re-energized the career of quarterback Erik Ainge, a huge reason UT rebounded from a dreadful 5-6 season with nine wins and a New Years’ Day bowl game.       

13.  44. Maryland – Surprise, surprise.  The Terps have gone 33-12 since the football season began in September, getting better-than-forecasted results from both of their teams.  Football snapped out of its two-year funk, manufacturing nine wins, including the last one over Purdue in a Champs Sports Bowl rout.  Behind senior guard D.J. Strawberry, basketball went on an absolute tear in February, beefing up its resume and sealing a bid to the tournament that not long ago was in jeopardy.

14.  6. Boston College – The Eagles were terrific in their ACC debut a year ago.  They’ve been almost as good this go-round, winning ten games plus a bowl victory for the seventh straight year in the fall and another getting another 20 wins, 11 in the ACC, from Al Skinner’s team.  Senior forward Jared Dudley has been anything but a dud this season, pumping in 19 points a game, while leading the conference in rebounds.                      

15.  54. Kentucky – You know it’s a bizarre year in Lexington when the Wildcat football team carries the basketball team to the school’s first top 20 H&H finish since Jerry Claiborne was roaming the sidelines in the 1980s.  While Tubby Smith’s kids labored somewhat to get into the NCAA Tournament, Rich Brooks’ team enjoyed a breakthrough season, unexpectedly winning eight games behind the passing of Andre Woodson, including a  Music City Bowl upset of Clemson for Kentucky’s first post-season win in almost a quarter century.     

16.  71. Georgia Tech – Tech football was one of this year’s pleasant surprises, beating division favorites Miami and Virginia Tech to take the ACC Coastal and getting the New Years’ Day spotlight for the first time in seven years.  On the hardwood, Yellow Jacket fans have been treated to an exciting glimpse into the future.  Freshmen Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young are the scoring leaders and the main reason the team rallied in February for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.     

17.  53. Oregon – The high-flying Duck basketball team was solid all season, but against USC in the Pac-10 title game, they were positively transcendent, bombing the Trojans 81-57 en route to a 26-7 record and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Mike Bellotti’s squad, however, was far less memorable, going 7-6, losing badly to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl and creating very few highlights once September turned into October.

18.  57. Arkansas – Houston Nutt’s crew started 2006 with a blowout loss to USC and ended it with three defeats in-a-row, but in between, the Hogs reeled off a ten-game winning streak, featuring Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden.  Hoops got hot at a most opportune time, using an unexpected burst to the SEC title game to get to 21-13 and one of the final at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament.

19.  58. Texas Tech – Tech football went 8-5, but waited until the final game of the 2006 season to deliver a truly memorable moment.  Trailing by 31 points to Minnesota in the Insight Bowl, the Red Raiders engineered the biggest comeback in bowl history, winning a thriller 44-41.  Bob Knight’s kids lost five straight at one point in the season, but 21 wins, including late ones over Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, was enough to put them in the dance.      

20.  9. Nevada – Years from now in Reno, Nevada fans will remember this period as a very special time to be a Pack backer.  For the second straight winter, victories have flowed for the school from September to March.  While football went 8-5 and nearly had a landmark bowl win over Miami, basketball is 28-4 and rolling into the tournament as WAC regular season champs with All-American Nick Fazekas leading the way. 

21.  85. Purdue – Purdue wasn’t otherworldly at any time during the last six months, but by being one of the few programs to play in both a bowl game and the NCAA Tournament, it sneaks into the final Top 25 slot.  Football went 8-6, finishing in a fourth-place tie in the Big Ten.  Behind a couple of seniors, Carl Landry and David Teague, basketball rallied down the stretch before its bubble burst.    

22.  5. West Virginia – Considering the complete overhaul from last year’s team, John Beilein and the Mountaineer basketball team did a swell job just to get consideration for the field of 65.  With a roster comprised of 12 underclassmen, NIT-bound West Virginia is a very respectable 22-9.  With all of the pre-season buzz about the football team making a darkhorse run to the national championship, the ‘eers slightly missed their mark in the fall, losing to Louisville and South Florida and finishing in a second-place tie in the Big East.   

23.  16. Michigan – Before football lost its last two games against Ohio State and USC, the Wolverines appeared to be headed for a different stratosphere of H&H success.  Still, Michigan finished 11-2 on Saturdays with a No. 8 final AP ranking, while basketball salvaged something from a disappointing season by parlaying 21 wins into an NIT berth.

24.  21. Clemson – Football underachieved, losing five games in a year it was deep enough to win the ACC.  Hoops overachieved, spinning its best regular season in ten years.  Put the two together, and Clemson has had a better-than-average winter.  Oliver Purnell’s cagers have been a big story at the university, winning 21 games and just missing its first NCAA Tournament bid in a decade.  The better news for Tiger fans is that only one player getting more than ten minutes a game, guard Vernon Hamilton, won’t be back later this year.    

25.  73. Oklahoma State – Strong finishes have been the trademark of the Cowboys in 2006 and 2007.  In football, Oklahoma State closed an otherwise mediocre 7-6 season with a momentum-building win over Alabama in the Independence Bowl, ending a four-year drought without a post-season win.  In hoops, the Cowboys shook off a hideous 5-10 stretch to go 22-12 and earn a bid to the NIT Tournament with a nice run in the Big 12 Tournament.   

26.  17. Kansas  
27.  3.   LSU
28.  80. Boise State 
29.  78. Hawaii  
30.  26. Pittsburgh 
31.  93. Washington State  
32.  10. Oklahoma
33.  75. Wake Forest  
34.  18. North Carolina  
35.  46. Arizona  
36.  32. Auburn  
37.  66. Kansas State
38.  12. Alabama
39.  56. Indiana  
40.  33. Virginia 
41.  31. Georgia
42.  29. Michigan State 
43.  14. Cal 
44.  19. Florida State 
45.  42. Nebraska  
46.  65. Missouri  
47.  43. Rutgers  
48.  30. South Carolina  
49.  36. Akron  
50.  49. Houston 
51.  11. Iowa
52.  13. Memphis
53.  84. UNLV
54.  60. Vanderbilt
55.  64. Air Force  
56.  51. Illinois
57.  63. Syracuse
58.  102. Southern Miss 
59.  55. Washington 
60.  52. Duke 
61.  83. Ohio 
62.  76. Tulsa 
63.  92. Oregon State
64.  28. Penn State 
65.  98. TCU 
66.  24. Miami (Fla.)
67.  99. South Florida
68.  94. Ole Miss  
69.  59. Cincinnati
70.  61. San Diego State
71.  62. Fresno State
72.  82. Mississippi State
73.  72. Toledo  
74.  23. UConn  
75.  114. Central Michigan  
76.  95. Western Michigan  
77.  70. Arizona State  
78.  15. NC State
79.  91. New Mexico State
80.  39. Minnesota   
81.  67. Stanford
82.  79. Kent State 
83.  77. Utah  
84.  40. Iowa State
85.  108. Navy 
86.  69. Utah State
87.  89. Middle Tennessee 
88.  87. UCF    
89.  110. Troy
90.  105. Rice
91.  116. San Jose State 
92.  104. North Texas
93.  97. Wyoming  
94.  74. New Mexico
95.  81. Colorado State
96.  106. Florida Atlantic
97.  109. Southern Methodist
98.  48. Miami (OH)
99.  90. Baylor   
100.  37. Northwestern  
101.  112. UL-Monroe 
102.  47. UAB
103.  101. Arkansas State
104.  111. Tulane 
105.  103. Marshall
106.  38. UTEP  
107.  34. Colorado  
108.  113. East Carolina
109.  68. Northern Illinois
110.  86. Temple
111.  88. UL-Lafayette
112.  45. Louisiana Tech
113.  107. Ball State  
114.  118. Army
115.  100. Bowling Green
116.  96. Buffalo
117.  119. Idaho
118.  117. Eastern Michigan
119.  115.
Florida International