As non-conference play continues, programs from lesser conferences will attempt to bolster their resumes with wins against college basketballs elite power five programs. In particular, the Xavier Musketeers asserted themselves on both offense and defense with impressive wins over two ranked opponents in Baylor and Cincinnati. Early victories such as these will be vital in the Musketeers being ranked favorably in the NCAA Tournament, assuming of course that they are able to maintain this level of dominance when they have to go up against conference opponents in the Big East. While there is still plenty of time for under the radar programs to garner impressive wins, establishing the necessary continuity to become a title contender by the end of the season has to be essential for every competitive team.
1. Duke Blue Devils
While the Blue Devils have played from behind more often than not, their talent-laden roster has allowed them to overcome what would usually be considered insurmountable deficits against great teams. Although the Blue Devils will not face a ranked opponent until mid-January, this is a great time for the best team in the country to become even better before conference play commences.
2. Michigan State Spartans
In their last two contests, the Spartans have stifled their opponents defensively (62.3 PAPG) while looking especially efficient on offense (scored 80+ points in their last two games). Given the depth and elite talent of Miles Bridges, the Spartans have to be considered a favorite to make the Final Four and to potentially win a title by the end of the season.
3. Kansas Jayhawks
Since winning a tight contest against Kentucky at the beginning of the season, the Jayhawks have cruised to one victory after another. Thanks to their potent and disciplined offense (91.9 PPG, 20.3 APG), the Jayhawks have looked the part as being one of the best teams in the country. With a fearless Arizona State program coming up at the end of the week, the Jayhawks will need everything they have on their roster to keep pace with the feisty Sun Devils.
4. Villanova Wildcats
While it’s difficult to currently gauge the ceiling of the Wildcats due to their relatively easy schedule thus far, their steady contributions on both offense (86.4 PPG) and defense (61.6 PAPG) appear to be legitimate. Led by Mikal Bridges (17.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.5 SPG) and Jalen Brunson (17.9 PPG, 4.5 APG), the Wildcats clearly have the talent to be highly competitive on both sides of the ball and will get to prove their greatness against Gonzaga coming up.
5. Miami Hurricanes
With their defense performing at an elite level this season (57.6 PAPG), it was impressive to witness the Hurricanes offense step up to take down a dynamic opponent in Notre Dame. The Hurricanes uptick in their offense has been the result of the rebounding prowess of Dewan Huell (5.6 RPG) and Bruce Brown Jr. (8.6 RPG). If the Hurricanes can be this effective at rebounding and inside shooting, they will have a well-balanced team that can take them to incredible heights this year.
6. Florida Gators
The best scoring team in college basketball (99.5 PPG), the Gators have been relentless when it comes to outshooting their respective opponents. While the Gators have not been great on defense when it comes to allowing points (80.7 PAPG), they have been consistent when it comes to rebounding the basketball (40.2 RPG), something that has been vital in providing extra opportunities for their offense to score at a torrid pace.
7. Wichita State Shockers
Despite playing in a new conference and starting off the season being ranked 6th in the country, the scrappy Shockers have faced every daunting situation with impressive poise. A jack of all trades program, the Shockers have been proficient at shooting (87 PPG), rebounding (46 RPG) and passing (18.7 APG) the basketball. While the Shockers do not have a player on their roster that is averaging more than 14 PPG, they have proven that playing unselfishly and intelligently is more than enough to overcome the more athletic teams in college basketball.
8. Kentucky Wildcats
With the Aggies nipping at their heels, the Wildcats need their youthful roster to establish the elite continuity that has allowed them to be the best program in the SEC for years. Impressively, both Kevin Knox (16.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Hamidou Diallo (13.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG) have come along nicely as immensely talented two-way threats. As the season progresses, the obvious inexperience of this team will become less and less relevant as coach John Calipari continues to craft one of the youngest rosters into one of the best.
9. Texas A&M Aggies
Barring serious injuries, the Aggies have the size and talent to be one of the best programs in the country. A sensational rebounding program, the Aggies massive duo of DJ Hogg (16.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG) and Tyler Davis (13.6 PPG, 8 RPG) has been instrumental in allowing them to shut down great offensive programs consistently. If the Aggies can continue to wear down their opponents as they have thus far this season, the Kentucky Wildcats will have some serious trouble at winning the SEC by the end of the season.
10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
After looking nearly flawless on defense, the Fighting Irish were overwhelmed by the size and physicality of Michigan State last week. While this does not condemn the Fighting Irish as being pretenders, it’s obvious that their abilities on offense will be what wins them tight games against elite opponents. Simply put, the performances of Bonzie Colson (18.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG) and Matt Farrell (15.9 PPG, 4.6 APG) will dictate the future success of a Fighting Irish program that has the potential to be a serious contender in the ACC.
11. Xavier Musketeers
One of the most exciting teams to watch in college basketball, the Musketeers have looked highly impressive since relinquishing 102 points in a loss to Arizona State. Defeating both Cincinnati and Baylor with relative ease, the Musketeers displayed their ever-rising ceiling on both offense (89 PPG) and defense (69.9 PAPG). If Trevon Bluiett (20.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG) and J.P. Macura (4.9 RPG, 1.9 SPG) can continue to be this effective on both sides of the court, the Musketeers could feasibly sustain their current success as non-conference play continues.
12. North Carolina Tar Heels
If you want to figure out which teams have the best chance at being competitive at the end of the season, look no further than the confident Tar Heels. After losing in embarrassing fashion to Michigan State earlier in the season, the Tar Heels regrouped and emphatically dispatched their next three opponents, scoring no less than 85 points in those victories. With Luke Maye (20.8 PPG, 10.3 APG) and Joel Berry (16.5 PPG) rightfully leading this team to consistent success, the Tar Heels will only get better as their younger players continue to develop.
13. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Aside from a shootout loss to the Gators, the Bulldogs have been sharp offensively (92.9 PPG) thanks to their impressive ball movement capabilities (18 APG). Guard Josh Perkins (4.5 APG) has been impressive as the Bulldogs leading passer while Johnathan Williams has been vital for Gonzaga as a consistent inside scoring threat (15.9 PPG, 54 FG%). Undoubtedly, the coaching of Mark Few will allow this team to fix any deficiencies in a timely manner before they face Villanova next.
14. Cincinnati Bearcats
After looking nothing short of merciless at the start of the season, the well-rounded Bearcats hit a road bump against a red-hot Musketeers program. While the Bearcats displayed compelling efficiency as far as field goal percentage (42% ), their ineffectiveness from three-point range (28.6%) and inconsistency from the charity stripe (62.5%) cost them a prove it win against Xavier. With Florida coming up next, the Bearcats will have an opportunity to right the ship and display the dynamic dominance that made them an intriguing program to start the season.
15. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Despite a close loss to a well-coached Miami program, the Golden Gophers should still feel great about how well they have performed at both shooting (89.4 PPG) and rebounding (43.7 RPG). Similar to the Duke Blue Devils, the Golden Gophers are heavily reliant on their big man in Jordan Murphy to be an exceptional rebounder (12.9 RPG) and paint scorer (21 PPG). If guard Nate Mason can become more assertive as a shooter in big games, the Golden Gophers can take the next step from being great to becoming an elite program in college basketball.
16. Virginia Cavaliers
Unsurprisingly, the Cavaliers have been exceptional on defense (50.6 PAPG) and not so great on offense (70.5 PPG). Nevertheless, the Cavaliers physical albeit one-dimensional style of basketball has been incredibly effective despite having just two players that average double-digit numbers when it comes to points per game. While the Cavaliers recipe for success will never be a pretty sight, it has proven to be decidedly dominant this season and will likely remain that way until an opposing offense can decipher how to penetrate their defense consistently.
17. USC Trojans
If the Trojans continue to be this inept on offense (75.7 PPG), the potency of their defense will be irrelevant as the season progresses (67.7 PAPG). With Bennie Boatwright (has shot less than 35% from the field in last two games) and Jordon McLaughlin (has shot 30% or worse from the field in two out of his last three games) struggling to shoot effectively against stout defenses, the Trojans should feel a sense of urgency to make adjustments, lest they become lost in the Pac-12.
18. West Virginia Mountaineers
After a rough start to the season, the Mountaineers have demolished their opponents on defense (66.6 PAPG) and offense (89.6 PPG). Led by Jevon Carter on offense (19 PPG) and defense (4.5 SPG), the Mountaineers have a fantastic leader that can take over games as both a ball facilitator (5.5 APG) and shooter. With Virginia coming up next, the Mountaineers will have a fantastic opportunity to prove that their recent dominance is not a fluke.
19. Arizona State Sun Devils
A prolific shooting program (92.7 PPG), the Sun Devils have emphatically emerged as a relentless offensive team early in the season. With the Sun Devils top scorers shooting no worse than 42% from the field, it’s easy to see how this team has rallied to take down the likes of Kansas State and Xavier. If guard Tra Holder can continue to do it all for the Sun Devils on both sides of the court (22.1 PPG, 6 RPG, 1.9 SPG), this program should continue to excel as the season continues.
20. Baylor Bears
While the Bears are elite defensively (63.1 PAPG) their ineffective offense (73.6 PPG) has been to their detriment against worthy opponents. With point totals of 63 and 62 in losses to both Xavier and Wichita State, the Bears have lacked essential production from Manu Lecomte (FG% has varied from 25% to 46.2 % in last five games) and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (had just four rebounds in each of the Bears last two games). Without the dynamic skill sets of the aforementioned players, the Bears will continue to struggle against the reputable competition.
21. Seton Hall Pirates
With two vital victories over Texas Tech and Louisville, the one loss Pirates have leaned on their stingy defense (68 PAPG) while their offense has stepped up just enough to win close affairs (80.6 PPG). Active as both a consistent scorer (20 PPG, 53.1 FG%) and defender (1.1 SPG), Desi Rodriguez has been the dynamic spark for the Pirates thus far this year and should continue to be the consummate leader for a program that has lofty aspirations of potentially winning the Big East.
22. TCU Horned Frogs
Quietly, the Horned Frogs are still undefeated (8-0) and are anxiously awaiting an opportunity to prove their worthiness of being a sleeper Big 12 program. While the Horned Frogs lack a dominant scorer, this has more to do with their exceptional ball movement skills (20.1 APG) rather than being ineffective on offense. With Jaylen Fisher at point guard, the Horned Frogs have a consummate playmaker that possess a strong feel for the game and has the capabilities to take high percentage shots (5.8 APG, 49.3 FG%).
23. Purdue Boilermakers
Since losing back to back games against Western Kentucky and Tennessee, the Boilermakers have looked like the defensive juggernauts (67.1 PAPG) everyone expected them to be this year. Holding three of their last four opponents to under 70 points, the Boilermakers have been consistently opportunistic at taking away possessions thanks to the tenacity of P.J. Thompson (1.5 SPG) and Dakota Mathias (1.3 SPG). If the Boilermakers can continue to be this instinctual on defense while Mathias (15.5 PPG) and Carsen Edwards (16.3 PPG) carry the team offensively, Purdue could easily compete for a Big Ten title by the end of the season.
24. Louisville Cardinals
With back to back losses to Purdue and Seton Hall, the Cardinals are barely hanging on to their place in the rankings. Since last week, the Cardinals already anemic passing abilities looked noticeably worse against stiffer competition (14.5 APG during week 3, 12.7 APG during week 4). However, the most glaring issue that the Cardinals are dealing with is their inability to score consistently (76.8 PPG), something this program has to fix quickly if they hope to stay relevant in the highly competitive ACC.
25. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Despite a tough loss to Seton Hall, the Red Raiders have continued to be prolific on offense (82.7 PPG) while their defense has the potential to be one of the best in the country (60.1 PAPG). Assuming veteran guard Keenan Evans can continue to be a skillful two-way threat (15.9 PPG, 2 SPG), the Red Raiders should be a constant nuisance in the Big 12.