The big news in college basketball last week came from the state of Kentucky.
John Calipari’s Kentucky squad, on the verge of falling out of the power rankings, turned its season around with a big victory over Louisville. Then the Cardinals’ task of defending their national championship became even more difficult with the dismissal of junior forward Chane Behanan, who violated university policy and ran out of second chances with the school. In addition, Kevin Ware may redshirt after reinjuring his right leg.
That’s a lot for the Cardinals to absorb as conference play begins across the nation. Louisville was the favorite in the American Athletic Conference, and that may change. But nobody is better at adjusting on the fly than coach Rick Pitino. Things are about to get interesting.
1. Arizona Wildcats 13-0 —
The Wildcats have played just once since Dec. 19, defeating Northern Arizona 77-44 last week. That’s one way to hold on to the top spot in the rankings. But now things get serious with three Pac-12 games between Jan. 2 and Jan. 9. Center Kaleb Tarczewski is expected back after resting his sprained ankle.
2. Syracuse Orange 13-0 —
It took Syracuse some time to figure out Villanova, but when the Orange shifted into attack mode, the Wildcats didn’t have a response. Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis have been outstanding. Jim Boeheim’s team begins ACC play Saturday against Miami.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes 14-0 —
The struggle to score continues for the Buckeyes. They are shooting 47 percent and averaging just 75.1 points a game. But 78 points were enough to record the first Big Ten victory of the season Tuesday at Purdue.
Arizona leads way as deep, talented Pac-12 opens conference play. FULL STORY >>
4. Michigan State Spartans 12-1 +1
This truly is a Tom Izzo team. The Spartans share the ball, rebound and play smart. Michigan State opened Big Ten play with a road victory at Penn State, travels to Indiana next and awaits a visit from Ohio State on Jan. 7.
5. Wisconsin Badgers 13-0 +1
We will learn more about the Badgers soon. Wisconsin plays at Northwestern on Thursday, then follows that with home games against Iowa and Illinois. Sophomore forward Sam Dekker has been outstanding, averaging 14.5 points and 6.2 rebounds.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys 12-1 +1
Coach Travis Ford and the Cowboys will have to adjust to life without center Michael Cobbins, who ruptured his left Achilles against Robert Morris and will miss the remainder of the season. Cobbins averaged 4.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and led OSU with 19 blocks.
7. Wichita State Shockers 13-0 +2
Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker have led the Shockers to the best start in school history at 13-0. Wichita State doesn’t have a ranked opponent on the remainder of the schedule.
8. Oregon Ducks 12-0 +4
The Ducks lead the nation in points per game at 90.8. Can anyone in the Pac-12 slow down Oregon’s offense? Utah takes the first crack at that on Thursday when Oregon hits the road. Oregon is at Colorado on Sunday.
9. Iowa State Cyclones 12-0 +4
Cyclones fans â and college basketball fans everywhere â were saddened to hear of the death of former ISU coach Johnny Orr, 86, on Tuesday. Fred Hoiberg, who has led the Cyclones to a 12-0 start this season, said Orr "was my hero."
10. Florida Gators 10-2 +5
Billy Donovan’s Gators have one more non-conference game, Saturday against Richmond, before beginning SEC play against South Carolina next Wednesday. After that, Florida plays three of its next four on the road.
11. Duke Blue Devils 11-2 -1
It isn’t often that the offensive production of Mike Krzyzewski’s team is compared to the Blue Devils in football. After a 35-point first half, Coach K’s squad went on to top Elon, 86-48. The football team scored 38 in the first half but lost to Texas A&M, 52-48, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
12. Villanova Wildcats 12-1 -4
Old Big East; new Big East. Villanova visited Syracuse’s Carrier Dome and Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse in a four-day period. The Wildcats lost to former conference foe Syracuse, 78-62, then needed overtime to stop Butler, 76-73.
13. Kansas Jayhawks 9-3 +3
The Jayhawks knocked Toledo from the ranks of the unbeaten on Monday when Perry Ellis, Andrew Wiggins and Naadir Tharpe all had 20 points or more. Bill Self’s team continues its rugged schedule Sunday with a nonconference home game against San Diego State.
14. Baylor Bears 11-1 —
The Bears have lost to Syracuse and defeated Kentucky in their only games against ranked opponents. Baylor opens Big 12 play next Tuesday with an enormous challenge against Iowa State on the road.
15. Memphis Tigers 10-2 +2
The Tigers opened their first season in the American with an 88-73 victory over USF on Tuesday night. Geron Johnson, Joe Jackson and Michael Dixon Jr. combined for 55 of those points for Memphis.
16. Kentucky Wildcats 10-3 +2
John Calipari’s team is still striving for consistency, but that 73-66 victory over rival Louisville sent a message that the Wildcats remain extremely relevant. The Harrison twins are starting to come on strong.
17. San Diego State Aztecs 11-1 +2
The Aztecs kept warm for their journey to Lawrence, Kan., with a 118-35 victory over the St. Katherine Firebirds last Friday. Xavier Thames and his teammates will make a stop at Colorado State before heading to Allen Fieldhouse to play Kansas.
18. Connecticut Huskies 11-2 -7
UConn has fallen into a bad habit of playing in spurts. That cost the Huskies in their American opener at Houston. UConn rallied from a 21-point deficit and took the lead but couldn’t finish before falling 75-71. That’s two losses in the last four games.
19. North Carolina Tar Heels 10-3 +1
The Tar Heels hit the road for the first time in a month when they open ACC play Jan. 5 at Wake Forest. North Carolina has won three straight since that loss to Texas on Dec. 18, and already has a road win at Michigan State on the resume.
20. Louisville Cardinals 12-2 -16
Playing for the first time since Chane Behanan’s dismissal, the Cardinals didn’t seem to miss him in a 90-65 rout of UCF. But the true test for the defending national champs will come over time. Is Rick Pitino’s team still the favorite in the American?
21. Colorado Buffaloes 11-2 +2
Boulder is becoming a dangerous stop on the Pac-12 tour. Oregon State and Oregon will visit the Coors Events Center on Thursday and Sunday. Tad Boyle’s team is tough on the boards.
22. Iowa Hawkeyes 12-2 -1
The Hawkeyes closed out 2013 with a 67-57 victory over Nebraska in the Big Ten opener for both teams. The Cornhuskers were held to a season-low 29.9 percent shooting from the field.
23. Massachusetts Minutemen 11-1 -1
The Minutemen were able to hold off Providence in overtime despite point guard Chaz Williams fouling out with 1:36 left in regulation. The A-10 favorites still have Miami (Ohio) to play before conference play begins at Saint Joseph’s.
24. Illinois Fighting Illini 12-2 —
The Illini partied on New Year’s Even with an 83-80 overtime victory over Indiana. Penn State and Wisconsin are next up on the schedule. Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice leads the Illini in scoring with a 19.0 average.
25. Missouri Tigers 11-1 —
After losing to Illinois, the Tigers got back on track with an impressive 68-64 victory at North Carolina State. Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson came up big down the stretch, allowing Missouri to overcome what coach Frank Haith called the Tigers’ worst half of the season.