Quick—name a state with five teams in the top 30 of college basketball’s RPI.
Tennessee? North Carolina? California? Texas?
No, no, no, and no.
There is only one correct answer, and it may surprise you.
A state that doesn’t jump to the forefront in discussions of college hoops prowess, Ohio boasts several top-notch programs early in 2008. It's time for the country to take notice.
Here is this writer’s ranking of the state’s top teams...
1. Dayton (13-1, RPI: 6, SOS: 37)
The program has certainly experienced some ups and downs through the Brian Gregory tenure, but the Flyers are soaring high once again this year, thanks in large part to senior Brian Roberts (19.1 PPG, 4.5 APG).
Roberts could very well be the best player the country doesn’t know. He has come up big in the team’s biggest games, pouring in 28 points against Louisville, 31 against Pittsburgh, and 23 against Rhode Island.
The team has also been aided by impact freshman Chris Wright (10.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG). His presence has added to the team’s depth, and provided another strong scoring option for a squad that relied too heavily on Roberts in the past couple of years.
Dayton has already picked up several big early-season victories, and will continue to be tested in a stronger-than-usual Atlantic 10 conference.
2. Xavier (13-3, RPI: 9, SOS: 13)
Speaking of the A-10 conference, Xavier has turned itself into a perennial power.
Every March, it seems, the Musketeers are making a run, knocking off teams they “should not beat.” Like Gonzaga, they can no longer be considered a Cinderella because of the frequency of upsets.
Xavier has been rich in scoring, and they spread the wealth generously. With a team average of 81.0 points per game, they have a whopping six players putting up double-figure averages.
They are still reaping the rewards of leading scorer Drew Lavender’s decision to return to his home state. Lavender (12.7 PPG, 5.1 APG) played his high school ball in Columbus and went out to Oklahoma with his teammate Brandon Foust before deciding to transfer to Xavier.
Pundits can confidently label Xavier Cincinnati’s best team now that their UC counterparts (see “Not Making the Cut: The Next Five” below) have taken a slide.
January 24th marks their first meeting with rival Dayton. Ohio hoops fans, mark your calendars now.
3. Ohio State (12-3, RPI: 16, SOS: 18)
The Buckeyes lost Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jr., Ron Lewis, and Ivan Harris after last season’s run to the championship game.
As for the football team, this was supposed to be a rebuilding season in Columbus, but after a strong start expectations have risen quickly. (Ohio State fans just hope the season doesn’t end the same way the gridders' did.)
With a very young squad, the emergence of senior Jamar Butler (14.4 PPG, 6.1 APG) has been very important. He has taken the team under his wing, and provided coach Thad Matta with a go-to guy.
Freshman seven-footer Kosta Koufos (15.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG) has underperformed in the bright spotlight of big games, but has emerged recently as a more consistent force for the team inside and out.
The Buckeyes have experienced major lapses in scoring during their three losses (Texas A&M, Butler, and North Carolina), and for this team to reach its true potential, it will need consistent scoring out of freshman Jon Diebler (7.7 PPG), who can absolutely light it up when he is on.
Diebler is Ohio’s all-time leading high school scorer, averaging 40 points per game during his senior season in Upper Sandusky, Ohio.
4. Kent State (12-3, RPI: 30, SOS: 106)
While they don’t boast some of the quality wins that the above programs have, the Golden Flashes have won consistently after their season-opening debacle.
Since then, their only losses have come against Xavier, and North Carolina on the road.
With only one freshman, Kent State is a fairly experienced squad that will be in the mix in the Mid-American Conference if they can continue shooting the basketball well (currently 46.8 percent from the field).
They must come to play against the other talent from the MAC in addition to the weaker teams, as it is unlikely the conference will obtain many bids to the NCAA Tournament.
5. Ohio (9-5, RPI: 56, SOS: 72)
You hear the experts say it all the time: It's hard to win on the road in college basketball.
In the Bobcats’ first 14 games, they have traveled out of Athens nine times, including for tough contests against Kansas and St. Mary’s (the latter of which was actually close).
Ohio is led by two upperclassmen forwards, Leon Williams (16.5 PPG, 9.8 RPG) and Jerome Tillman (12.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG), who frequently have their way inside.
The Bobcats cannot afford to lose too many games like last Saturday's disappointing defeat at the hands of conference foe Bowling Green if they want to make their way back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus.
Not Making the Cut: The Next Five
Miami (OH) (6-7, RPI: 29, SOS: 3)
Brutal schedule to date, including eight on road.
Akron (11-3, RPI: 97, SOS: 267)
Early success must be put in perspective (see S.O.S.).
Wright State (8-5, RPI: 59, SOS: 31)
Two straight bad losses have hurt significantly.
Cleveland State (8-5, RPI: 82, SOS: 69)
Several tough losses for this young team.
Cincinnati (7-8, RPI: 132, SOS: 36)
Their five game losing skid is now well in the past, but things won’t get easier in the Big East.