With conference play in full swing, a look at which are the 10 best teams in college basketball.
Another week, another top-ranked team falls in college basketball. The Baylor Bears are already the fourth top-ranked team to fall this season, as Villanova regained the top spot after losing it a week earlier.
Even though Baylor lost, the Big 12 has been the best conference in college basketball this season with three teams in the top 10 — Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia.
It’s the only conference with three teams in the top 10 and has also had two teams in the top five in the past six weeks before Baylor fell to sixth this week.
While the Big 12 is not normally known for being a powerhouse in basketball, they have had more of an opportunity with the Big Ten having down years.
Florida State’s tough start to ACC play continued last week with games against Duke and North Carolina. The Seminoles took care of business at home with a dominating 88-72 win over Duke, but fell 96-83 to North Carolina on the road.
It ended their 12-game winning streak and gave Florida State their first conference loss and first loss to a ranked team this season. The Seminoles are now 4-1 in conference play and against ranked teams, which includes four straight games against ranked teams.
Their loss to North Carolina shows some issues they could face down the road, though.
Florida State owns just the 144th-ranked scoring defense in the nation this season, even though teams only shoot 39.3 percent from the field against them. That said, a high-powered offense like North Carolina shredded them.
It might just be a fluke, as they held their previous four ACC opponents to under 80 points, but it’s an aspect of Florida State’s game that makes them beatable, nonetheless.
Florida State will make it six straight games against ranked teams this week. The Seminoles host Notre Dame and Louisville.
After questioning North Carolina for a couple of weeks, the Tar Heels are back in the top 10. They responded to losing two times in four games with five straight wins, including a 13-point win over Florida State.
Losing to Georgia Tech by 12 and then only beating Clemson by three to start ACC play looks like a mere bump in the road for one of the most talented teams in the country.
Last week, North Carolina put their struggles behind them and handily beat ranked Florida State and then took down Syracuse 85-68 on Monday night.
Since losing to Georgia Tech, junior Justin Jackson has arguably been North Carolina’s best player. In the past five games, Jackson is averaging 19.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, which is up from his season averages of 17.9 points and 4.8 boards per contest.
The Tar Heels have been waiting for Jackson to break out of his shell and prove he can be a go-to player on a team loaded with talent.
His versatility helps them on both ends and gives North Carolina arguably the most talented frontcourt in the nation with Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks also down low.
North Carolina’s only game this week is on the road at Boston College.
After suffering their second loss of the season on a late three that gave Texas Tech a 77-76 win, West Virginia responded with three straight wins, two by double-digits. They took their anger of losing out on TCU with an 82-70 victory and then handed Baylor a historic loss.
In Baylor’s first-ever game ranked No. 1 in the nation, West Virginia hosted the Bears and demolished them. The Mountaineers won 89-68 in a game Baylor never led.
It was evidently an off-night for Baylor, but West Virginia tore apart a team who has dominated multiple ranked teams this year.
In fact, instead of a characteristic second half Baylor run, the Mountaineers went on a 10-2 run midway through the second half to take a 17-point lead and put Baylor away.
West Virginia showed their balance on offense with eight players scoring at least five points, as well as their stifling defense, as they held Baylor to 44.6 percent shooting and 28.6 percent shooting from three.
They could easily be 17-0 right now but staying focused against beatable teams has been their downfall this season. West Virginia had a let down game against Texas later in the week, but they still survived 74-72 on the road.
West Virginia hosts Oklahoma and travels to Kansas State this week.
Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
7. Creighton (18-1)
In a week where Creighton took down two ranked teams in Butler and Xavier, the biggest news from Omaha is the potential loss of point guard Maurice Watson Jr. He exited their 72-67 win over Xavier in the first half with a knee injury and returned to the bench on crutches.
He leads the nation with 8.7 assists per game and is third on the Creighton in scoring at 13.4 per game. He’s one of their most important players and could lead a huge void on a team who doesn’t have a lot of legitimate long-term point guard options behind him if he has to miss time.
Even with the loss of Watson, Creighton still managed to beat Xavier by five and control the second half. It says a lot about a team who can lose one of their best players and seemingly not lose a beat.
Creighton also beat Butler 75-64 earlier in the week. The Bluejays led by 20 at halftime and controlled the entire game, too.
Creighton has controlled the tempo in their three of their wins over ranked teams this season, which is telling of how good they are. It’s not easy to force good teams to play your brand of basketball.
As of now, Creighton looks like the clear-cut second best team in the Big East this year. Although, the Bluejays are holding their breath until they know what happened to Watson because that will determine how they will fare the rest of the season.
Creighton’s only game this week is at home against Marquette.
It was not a cake walk for the Kentucky Wildcats this week. They beat Vanderbilt by six and Auburn by 20, but they didn’t put them away early like many expect from them every time they take the court against an SEC foe.
Traveling to Vanderbilt has been Kentucky’s Achilles heel in the past, as Kentucky is just 5-2 with two two-point wins at Vanderbilt under John Calipari. It almost happened again with Kentucky only leading by four at halftime and Vanderbilt taking a 53-51 lead with 16:54 left in the game.
That said, led by a combined 45 points from Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky held Vanderbilt off just long enough to win 87-81.
Due to their struggles in the past on the road against Vanderbilt, it’s not a huge surprise that Kentucky didn’t win by 20-plus, but it’s still somewhat of a surprise considering how much better Kentucky is compared to the rest of the SEC.
Kentucky showed more of their killer instinct against Auburn as they won 92-72, although they did let Auburn get within four with 12:33 left.
It’s the same thing every week for Kentucky. They’re a really good offensive team but everyone is waiting to watch them play a respectable opponent and see if their defense has gotten better.
Kentucky travels to Mississippi State and then hosts a ranked South Carolina team.
Baylor’s reign over college basketball did not last long. They suffered their first loss of the season in their first game ranked first in the country. Baylor’s 89-68 loss was the worst loss of any team’s first game as the top-ranked team in the country.
Baylor responded with a hard-fought road win over Kansas State, but they still fell to No. 5 in the College Basketball Power 10, and the Associated Press dropped them to sixth.
The reasoning is simple, Baylor’s offense is hard to trust. Sure, they have five wins over ranked teams but they were all low-scoring games. Baylor held those five opponents to an average of 59.8 points per game.
In their first loss of the season, West Virginia scored 89 points and Baylor couldn’t manufacture enough offense.
Baylor turned the ball over 29 times while shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three. Johnathan Motley only had eight points on 3-of-10 shooting, too.
It’s not easy to break Baylor’s defense, or else they’d have more than one loss, but West Virginia showed that good shooting can send them into a frenzy.
The Bears still allow the 10th-fewest points per game in the nation, but it’s hard to count on them continuing this level of play without their offense becoming more consistent.
It reminded everyone why UCLA was considered the best team in the nation earlier in the year. Their offense hasn’t been as consistent in recent weeks, but it’s still just as a talented and deadly when they’re hitting from deep.
Then later in the week, UCLA won a hard-fought 83-82 game at Utah. The Utes played UCLA tough the whole way, as they even held a 73-69 lead with 5:14 left in the game.
Lonzo Ball stepped up as a facilitator for UCLA and recorded three points and three assists in the final 5:30.
It’s fitting that Ball dominated the end of the game considering he stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, eight assists, six rebounds and five steals while playing all 40 minutes.
When Ball is playing well, the Bruins are evidently a much better team. He continues to show why many people think he’s the top prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft and the potential Wooden Award winner.
UCLA has disappeared a little over the past couple of weeks, but they’re still a high-powered offense loaded with talent. The spotlight might go back on them this week, though, with games at home against Arizona State and Arizona.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the final undefeated team in college basketball this season. Playing in the West Coast Conference and never making the Final Four despite years of dominance can make this feat easily forgotten, but this Gonzaga team is different.
Against their rival Saint Mary’s this week, Gonzaga controlled the whole game. Saint Mary’s, the 21st-ranked team in the country, held a 28-27 lead with 6:39 left in the first half, but Gonzaga ended the half on a 16-6 run.
Every time the Gaels started to gain momentum, Gonzaga shut it down with a bigger run of their own.
In fact, it was a 58-52 Gonzaga lead with 8:40 left before they ended the game on a 21-4 run to win 79-56. To add to their dominating win, Gonzaga also shot 64.7 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from three while only committing seven turnovers in the game.
Gonzaga’s past Tournament history will keep people from believing in them, but the Bulldogs are one of the best teams in the country. It doesn’t matter if they play in the West Coast Conference, their win over Saint Mary’s was one of the most impressive outings of any team this season.
Gonzaga’s schedule gets easier this week. The Bulldogs travel to Santa Clara and then have a home-and-home with Portland.
Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
2. Villanova (18-1)
Villanova responded to their first loss of the season with four straight wins. The Wildcats have beaten Marquette, Xavier, St. John’s and Seton Hall over the past couple of weeks by an average of 20 points.
It’s safe to say that one loss did not rattle a veteran team like Villanova. They’ve gone back to playing team basketball and winning with defense while leaning on the play of Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson offensively.
In fact. Hart and Brunson combined for 24 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals on Monday night in their win over Seton Hall. Hart is a Wooden Award frontrunner and Brunson continues to prove why he’s one of the best under-the-radar point guards in the nation.
The one road block Villanova could run into this year is re-implementing Phil Booth back in their rotation.
He’s played in three games this season, along with being a vital part of their championship run a season ago, but is still inching his way back to being healthy enough to play again this season.
While the Wildcats haven’t ruled him out for the year, it could be more hurtful than helpful to have him return. Booth is a solid contributor off the bench, however there is a chance he ruins their rotation late in the season.
Villanova’s only game this week is at home against the Providence Friars.
Kansas tied Gonzaga for the longest active winning streak in men’s college basketball this season with their 76-72 win over Iowa State.
After losing their season opener to Indiana in overtime, the Jayhawks have rattled off 17 straight wins and are 17-1 on the year and 6-0 in a very tough Big 12 conference.
Kansas has avoided most of the elite teams in the Big 12 up to this point, but they beat Oklahoma by 11 and Iowa State by seven this past week.
In fact, their win over Iowa State ended a two-year streak of Kansas losing in Ames, Iowa. It’s the first time since the 2013-14 season that Kansas has won at Iowa State. They did so in impressive fashion, too.
The Jayhawks only made two free-throws and turned the ball over 18 times. Out-rebounding Iowa State 41-24 and shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from three helps, but Kansas handily beating a good Cyclones’ team is a testament to their depth and leadership on the floor.
Despite winning 17 straight, not everything has gone right for Kansas this season. Although their elite backcourt of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham continue to show why they’re arguably the best in the nation.
The Big 12 is too good to go undefeated in this year, but Kansas looks as good as any team in the nation. The Jayhawks host the Texas Longhorns this week to try to extend their winning streak to 18 games.