NCAA Basketball: Baylor falls in latest top 25 rankings
We have a new team atop the NCAA basketball rankings after Baylor dropped at West Virginia.
Will the top 25 ever settle down? Just a week after Baylor ascended to the number one slot, they got rocked in Morgantown. There is now just one undefeated team left in the country as we continue through the middle of January.
One thing that keeps rankings like these interesting is which teams like to hang around on the periphery. Dedicated readers will notice how the ‘Just Missed’ teams change frequently, as fringe contenders have good or bad weeks. It is also a great place to mention squads that are doing great in conference play, but lack the name-brand respect of other conferences and schools.
However, the ACC’s competitive dominance is one consistent factor through the year. The conference has four or five teams with legitimate Final Four aspirations based on either their talent level or recent play. After that, it looks like the Big 12 and Pac-12 have three potential Final Four teams, the Big Ten and Big East have two each, and the SEC has just one true contender in Kentucky. The upcoming Big 12-SEC Challenge in late January could go a long way towards changing the current perception of the SEC.
Things are sure to change even more in the top 25 as the conference races continue to tighten up. We have already seen championship-worthy games and we aren’t even close to the end of the conference season.
SMU Mustangs – The Mustangs may have dropped their biggest American Athletic Conference game against Cincinnati, but SMU is still a solid team. They dominated Tulane on the road and get struggling UConn next.
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders – I’ve been super impressed with how MTSU has run through Conference USA play. They are undefeated going into a road date with last-place Florida International.
Iowa State Cyclones – Iowa State took a road loss against surprising TCU and wasn’t able to beat Kansas. However, Monte Morris is a flat out stud.
UNC-Wilmington Seahawks – I plan on being terrified of this team should they successfully get into the Big Dance. UNC Wilmington has largely rolled through Colonial Athletic play, but take on College of Charleston next. The two are tied for the lead at 6-0, so expect fireworks.
Virginia Tech Hokies – Virginia Tech has stumbled badly lately, losing three of four. The ACC dark horse will try and rebound against Georgia Tech later this week.
25. Purdue Boilermakers
Previous ranking: 20
Record: 14-4 (3-2 Big Ten)
The Boilermakers fell apart in a road loss against the young Iowa Hawkeyes, but they host tenth-place Illinois next.
Caleb Swanigan played well against Iowa with 17 points and eight rebounds, but missed a bunny shot at the rim and failed to chase a lose ball in the final minute. That will likely fuel his next couple performances in the Big Ten. More will be needed from him, as well as from guards Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias, if this team is to keep up in the conference race.
24. Maryland Terrapins
Previous ranking: N/A
Record: 16-2 (4-1 Big Ten)
I’ve been skeptical of Maryland all year, but it might be time to give the Terps a chance in the top 25. They beat Indiana and took a road game at Illinois last week to stand atop the Big Ten standings.
Melo Trimble has been great this year as he is averaging 17.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. He has some solid support from Anthony Cowan (11.1 points, 4.4 rebounds), Justin Jackson (10.2 points, 5.8 rebounds) and Michal Cekovsky (10.0 points). Overall, the Terrapins are mediocre offensively, but coach Mark Turgeon has his team where they are because of solid defense. Keep an eye on this young team to see if they can maintain focus.
23. TCU Horned Frogs
Previous ranking: N/A
Record: 14-3 (3-2 Big 12)
Like Maryland, TCU has crept into the rankings based purely on grit and overcoming expectations. The Horned Frogs recently won at Texas and held off Iowa State at home to improve to fourth in Big 12 play.
Junior forward Vladimir Brodziansky should be the leader for most improved player in the Big 12 this season. His numbers aren’t spectacular (12.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks), but his execution is fantastic. Coach Jamie Dixon’s ability to develop big men has paid dividends early for the Slovakian forward. Brodziansky scored 25 points and grabbed 15 boards against the Cyclones. Young guards Alex Robinson and Jaylen Fisher also deserve huge credit for directing the much-improved TCU attack.
22. Saint Mary’s Gaels
Previous ranking: 19
Record: 15-2 (5-1 WCC)
Last week was a tale of two games for the Gaels. They dominated Portland in Portland, but got crushed in the second half at Gonzaga. The first opportunity to rebound for SMC comes against Pacific.
Calvin Hermanson scored a career-high 27 points in the win over the Pilots on the road. It was a tremendous performance for the Gael in front of his hometown. Hermanson is the second leading scorer on the team as he puts up 12.2 points. He is also just one of five players shooting over 40 percent from deep. This team might not have the firepower to overcome Gonzaga, but they are still a fun and efficient show in the West Coast Conference.
21. Xavier Musketeers
Previous ranking: 17
Record: 13-5 (3-3 Big East)
The Musketeers are reeling after losing three straight games to Villanova, Butler and Creighton.
The biggest reason Xavier struggled last week was star Trevon Bluiett’s trouble on offense. The leading scorer put up just 10 points on 2-of-10 shooting in the two losses to Villanova and Butler. Bluiett absolutely has to do better if this team is to keep pace in the Big East.
20. Florida Gators
Previous ranking: 24
Record: 14-3 (5-0 SEC)
Florida continues to impress as the second-best team in the SEC. The Gators chomped down on Alabama on the road and edged out Georgia in Gainesville to reach a tie for the conference lead. A tough road game at surging South Carolina is next.
College of Charleston transfer Canyon Barry absolutely carried the team in their four point win over Georgia. The senior guard scored 27 points and grabbed four rebounds in the victory. He is now the team’s second leading scorer at 12.8 points and leads the Gators in three pointers made with 23. I can’t wait to see if this defensive-minded team can truly challenge explosive Kentucky.
19. Virginia Cavaliers
Previous ranking: 23
Record: 13-3 (3-2 ACC)
UVA got back on track last week with victories over Wake Forest and at Clemson. The Cavaliers will try and continue their momentum on the road at Boston College to start this week.
Star London Perrantes was electric in the narrow win over the Tigers. He scored 25 points and almost single-handedly won the game. The team needs more of his scoring if they are to keep up with some of the more dynamic ACC offenses. Junior Marial Shayok may have found another gear as well with 17 points in each of the last two Virginia wins.
18. Duke Blue Devils
Previous ranking: 7
Record: 14-4 (2-3 ACC)
I don’t imagine too many people outside of Durham are crying over Duke’s 0-2 week. The Blue Devils lost consecutive road games at Florida State and Louisville to drop to ninth in the conference race. They get the Miami Hurricanes next to try and right the ship.
Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen are doing their best to keep Duke afloat right now. The duo combined for 40 points in the loss to the Cardinals. The team’s recent problem has been consistency: freshman Frank Jackson scored six points in his last two outings, Jayson Tatum scored 22 against FSU, but then went just 3-of-11 against Louisville, and forward Harry Giles still looks shaky recovering from injury. It’s hard to say just what this team’s ceiling is right now.
17. Cincinnati Bearcats
Previous ranking: 21
Record: 15-2 (5-0 American)
Cincinnati’s season has been among the most impressive this year. The won a hard fought game at home over SMU and won at East Carolina to remain unbeaten in the American Athletic Conference. Struggling Temple looms next for Mick Cronin and company.
Forward Gary Clark was a force in the huge win over the Mustangs. The junior scored 18 points and collected five rebounds in the 66-64 win. He got help from point Troy Caupain’s 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Cincy has all the tools to make a Sweet 16 run in March; they are playing with tons of confidence in a weaker-than-expected conference.
16. Arizona Wildcats
Previous ranking: 18
Record: 16-2 (5-0 Pac-12)
Despite some of the big losses Arizona has suffered this year, they are still in a tie for the Pac-12 lead after wins over Colorado and Arizona State. The Wildcats travel to USC next for a date with the slumping Trojans.
There is no doubt that Lauri Markkanen is one of the most dominant players in the country. The Finnish first year forward scored 30 points and snagged eight boards over the Sun Devils. He might have NBA first-round potential if he keeps this up.
Front court mate Dusan Ristic has also been important as he is averaging 16.5 points and 7.5 boards per game in the last two victories. Sean Miller should be in the conversation for national Coach of the Year with how he’s succeeding amidst some key injuries.
15. Butler Bulldogs
Previous ranking: 8
Record: 16-3 (5-2 Big East)
Butler lost at Creighton, but bounced back with a win over Xavier last week. They also beat Marquette in an early Monday contest to remain in third in the Big East. They visit last-place DePaul on Saturday.
Star forward Kelan Martin scored 22 points and collected seven boards in the win over the Golden Eagles. He got help from Kamar Baldwin’s 18 points and Kethan Savage’s 17. Overall, this team doesn’t have too many holes and should be a fine contender in the Big East and Big Dance.
14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Previous ranking: 16
Record: 16-2 (5-0 ACC)
Notre Dame is the surprise leader in the ACC after winning at Miami and Virginia Tech last week. The road trip continues with a huge battle at Florida State for the first-place spot.
The Irish have been getting important contributions from multiple players. Steve Vasturia scored 20 in the win over Virginia Tech, Bonzie Colson also had 14 and 12 rebounds over VT, and Matt Farrell led with 15 in the win over the Hurricanes. Notre Dame’s defense isn’t spectacular, but it’s hard to argue with their results through ACC play so far.
13. Florida State Seminoles
Previous ranking: 9
Record: 16-2 (4-1 ACC)
Florida State split last week with Duke and North Carolina. Notre Dame in Tallahassee is next for one of the conference leaders.
Dwayne Bacon is still sizzling as one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best. The sophomore wing scored 18 points in the loss to UNC. He also got some solid help from Jonathan Isaac’s 17 points and 12 rebounds. As good as this team is, they need point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes to really hit his ceiling. He scored just six against Carolina after blowing up for 21 against Duke.
12. Louisville Cardinals
Previous ranking: 15
Record: 15-3 (3-2 ACC)
Louisville is on a three-game winning streak after beating both Pitt and Duke last week. The Cardinals take on basement-dweller Clemson before a showdown at Florida State.
The team had somewhat of an offensive renaissance against the Blue Devils. Anas Mahmoud scored 17, Donovan Mitchell had 15, Quentin Snider had 13 and Ray Spalding had 11. This team has just three players averaging 10 or more points so getting four in double-figures is somewhat unusual. Mahmoud and Spalding are particularly surprising given that neither averages more than seven points on the year. The offense might not be consistently explosive, but Louisville’s defense will remain solid throughout the rest of the year.
11. Wisconsin Badgers
Previous ranking: 11
Record: 14-3 (3-1 Big Ten)
Wisconsin won their only game last week over Ohio State. The Badgers have two games this week at home against Michigan and at Minnesota.
Bronson Koenig was a star against the Buckeyes. He scored 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting (including five threes) to lead Wisconsin. Nigel Hayes scored 15 and Vito Brown chipped in with 12. The team was on fire as a unit as they hit 12-of-22 from deep. The Big Ten might be somewhat weak this year, but the Badgers have the talent to make a deep run in March.
10. Creighton Bluejays
Previous ranking: 12
Record: 18-1 (5-1 Big East)
Creighton beat both Butler and DII Truman State last week to stay tied for first in the Big East. They managed to hold off Xavier, but star Maurice Watson Jr. may be forced to miss significant time with a possible knee injury.
If Watson is indeed severely injured, expect Marcus Foster, Justin Patton and Khyri Thomas to handle more of the scoring load. They are the team’s first, second and fourth leading scorers, respectively. Isaiah Zierden could also slide over to point to try to replace some of Watson’s distributing ability. Creighton still has tons of talent and potential, but losing the national assist leader is a massive blow for a team with legitimate Final Four aspirations.
9. UCLA Bruins
Previous ranking: 10
Record: 18-1 (5-1 Pac-12)
I remain unsold on UCLA despite their consecutive wins last week at Colorado and over Utah. It will take a win over Arizona on Saturday to convince me this team can beat the best in the Pac-12.
Thomas Welsh led the Bruins in their one-point victory over the Utes. The junior center had 16 points and eight rebounds. Welsh has several other teammates helping him with T.J. Leaf’s 12 and 10 and Lonzo Ball’s 17-point, six-board and eight-assist effort. This team is still loaded with potential and will be a force come March if they can demonstrate an ability to compete with the best in-house competition.
8. West Virginia Mountaineers
Previous ranking: 14
Record: 15-2 (4-1 Big 12)
WVU scored a huge home win when they knocked off Baylor last week and followed it up with narrow road victory at Texas. Oklahoma is next up for the vaunted “Press Virginia” squad.
No one player stands out from night to night, but this team is a nightmare to beat with their defense. They forced 29 turnovers against the Bears in Morgantown. That kind of pressure is impossible for most teams to beat without an insane performance in other areas. The Mountaineers are a real threat to Kansas and sparks will fly when the two meet next Tuesday.
7. Baylor Bears
Previous ranking: 1
Record: 16-1 (4-1 Big 12)
Baylor may have lost to West Virginia, but bounced back with a road win over Kansas State to remain tied for second in the Big 12. The Bears get Texas in Waco in their upcoming showdown.
Manu Lecomte stole the show in Manahattan, KS, as he dropped 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting. He had been hot-and-cold prior to that game, so it was nice to see the Miami transfer really explode.
Ish Wainright and Al Freeman each scored 15 against the Wildcats to help overcome the front court’s 13 combined points. This team still has a solid path to a top three finish in the Big 12 and a run in the Big Dance.
6. North Carolina Tar Heels
Previous ranking: 13
Record: 17-3 (5-1 ACC)
UNC got wins at Wake Forest, at home against Florida State and against Syracuse to climb into second in the ACC.
Several players were outstanding in the huge win over FSU. Joel Berry II had 26 points, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks both had 22, Theo Pinson had 12 off the bench, and Luke Maye scored just six, but grabbed an astounding 15 boards. I love this team’s balance this season and they are looking more and more like a Final Four team the more I watch them.
5. Oregon Ducks
Previous ranking: 6
Record: 16-2 (5-0 Pac-12)
The Ducks got two fairly easy wins last week at Washington State and home over Oregon State, but fourth-place Cal could be an competitive battle to start this week.
Chris Boucher and Dillon Brooks still lead Oregon with 13.7 points and 13.6 points per game, respectively. Their combined ability to shoot from both inside and outside gives the team tons of difficult mismatches and looks. Tyler Dorsey, Dylan Ennis and Jordan Bell also average at least 10 points, meaning you can’t sleep on really any Duck on offense. This team remains my personal title favorite.
4. Kentucky Wildcats
Previous ranking: 5
Record: 15-2 (5-0 SEC)
Kentucky got a tough victory at Vanderbilt and then dominated Auburn to improve to 5-0 in SEC play. The Wildcats will try and win their sixth straight when they travel to Mississippi State on Tuesday.
Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox were superb in the win over Vanderbilt. The two guards combined for 45 points despite shooting a combined 0-of-2 from deep. Malik Monk was also great with 18 points and Bam Adebayo contributed 13 and seven rebounds. There is no reason to think Kentucky can’t win it all despite relying mostly on freshman and sophomores.
3. Villanova Wildcats
Previous ranking: 3
Record: 18-1 (6-1 Big East)
The Wildcats remain steady in our top 25 after beating Xavier at home and St. John’s on the road. Villanova crushed Seton Hall by 30 on Monday to bounce back from a shaky performance against the Johnnies.
Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins each scored 20 points in the important domination game against Xavier. Their one-two punch should give Nova fans hope of a repeat National Championship. Add in solid contributions from players like Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Darryl Reynolds and you’ve got a real Final Four contender.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
Previous ranking: 2
Record: 17-1 (6-0 Big 12)
Kansas has largely rolled through Big 12 play, but Oklahoma and Oklahoma State pushed the Jayhawks last week. They beat Iowa State on the road on Monday night.
Frank Mason III was huge with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists in the team’s comeback win over OSU. Devonte’ Graham had 21 and Josh Jackson put up 20, along with 11 rebounds. The Jayhawks’ guards are among the nation’s best and their front court is emerging with Landen Lucas playing great basketball.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Previous ranking: 2
Record: 17-0 (5-0 WCC)
Gonzaga stands alone atop the college basketball landscape. America’s lone unbeaten team topped Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary’s last week. The Bulldogs will visit Santa Clara this week to maintain their stranglehold on the WCC.
Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss should surge up the national POY rankings after his 19-point, six-assist performance over the Gaels. That pushed his season averages to 15.2 points, 4.9 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game. Mizzou transfer Johnathan Williams and former Cal Golden Bear, Jordan Mathews, had 14 and 16 in that same game, respectively. The WCC isn’t a real test for the Zags, but this is one of Mark’s Few best and most talented teams ever. A title run isn’t necessarily out of the question for the Spokane program.
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