It’s not even Christmas yet. Although the start of the NCAA Tournament is still a few months away, you would not know it based on the sheer chaos and inexplicable upsets that occurred this past week. Three out of the top five ranked teams in college basketball lost at least once, with some of these devastating defeats coming at hands of Ball State (defeated Notre Dame) and Loyola-Chicago (defeated Florida). However, by far the most shocking and impressive upset of the week was Boston College outshooting the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils en route to 89-84 home victory. Clearly, the parity that has always existed in this sport is already permeating throughout college basketball, something that should delight die-hard fans that are anxiously looking forward to the riveting contests that occur in March.
1. Michigan State Spartans
While the Spartans defensive output is unsurprising (61.3 PAPG), their aggressive offense (80.2 PPG) led by Miles Bridges (15.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.6 BPG) appears to be the real deal. Although the outside shooting abilities of the Spartans are decidedly average (38.2 3P%), this should not be detrimental to their continued success as long as they can force the opposition to take ill-advised shots while playing the glass physically and relentlessly (44 RPG).
2. Villanova Wildcats
With Villanova easily taking out the highly efficient Gonzaga Bulldogs, the Wildcats emphatically proved that their somewhat easy schedule should not be the only aspect to gauge their success. Well-balanced on both sides of the court (85.6 PPG, 63.3 PAPG), the Wildcats do not appear to have any glaring weaknesses thus far and will most likely continue to baffle opponents as long as guard Mikal Bridgers continues to do it all (18.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 2.1 SPG).
3. Wichita State Shockers
Whether its playing gritty on defense (68.2 PAPG) or confidently shooting the basketball (86.9 PPG), the Shockers look incredibly comfortable at improvising on the court depending on their opponent. Guard Landry Shamet has stepped up impressively as the Shockers cerebral leader on offense (16.3 PPG, 4.3 APG) while center Shaquille Morris has continued to be an intimidating inside presence as a capable defender (1.7 BPG). With the Shockers playing this unselfishly and intelligently, this is a program that most teams will struggle to figure out on a consistent basis.
4. Kentucky Wildcats
As is usually the case with a John Calipari coached program, the raw youthfulness has quickly become a potent force to reckon with on offense. Forward Kevin Knox has come into his own as an elite scorer (15.2 PPG) and rebounder (5.8 RPG) while guard Hamidou Diallo has been a consistent pest on defense (1.1 SPG) and offense (14.7 PPG). With Virginia Tech coming into town this week, the developing freshman of the Wildcats will get a grand opportunity to show how far they have actually come since losing to Kansas earlier in the season.
5. Duke Blue Devils
While the Blue Devils loss to Boston College was shocking, it was actually unsurprising that Duke’s propensity at coming back from huge deficits finally cost them a victory. Although the talent and coaching are clearly there, this program has to do a much better job at taking their opposition much more seriously rather than simply assuming that sheer talent alone will be enough to dispatch hungry opponents consistently in the ACC.
6. Miami Hurricanes
Although the Hurricanes have just one notable victory over Minnesota, their top-notch defense (57.1 PAPG) has done more than enough help this program win convincingly over nearly every opponent they have played. With Dewan Huell (5.6 RPG) and Bruce Brown Jr. (8.6 RPG) looking particularly tenacious as confident rebounders, the Hurricanes should continue to be one of the better teams in the ACC.
7. Arizona State Sun Devils
Undefeated and fearless on offense (91.8 PPG), the vicious and seemingly unstoppable Sun Devils continue to set the bar for what it takes to be one of the best programs in college basketball. Shooting 52% from the field and 42.7% from three-point range, the relentless and deep Sun Devils have everything going for them right now. With guard Tra Holder doing everything humanly possible to lead his team past elite opposition (21.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.4 SPG), Arizona State has the ideal leader needed to stay competitive during the latter months of the season.
8. Xavier Musketeers
With the Musketeers only loss on the season to Arizona State looking more and more like an understandable defeat, Xavier is starting to transform into an elite program with very few blemishes. Whether they face Baylor or Kent State, the Musketeers have not deviated from their impressive brand of basketball that has guard Trevon Bluiett (21.7 PPG, 5.4 RPG) doing anything and everything to motivate his team to new heights of success in each game. With the Musketeers shooting 54.6% from the field as a team, this program obviously has aspirations at winning the Big East and ultimately competing in the Final Four by the end of the season.
9. UNC Tar Heels
Although the Tar Heels have not played a serious competitor since losing to Michigan State, the way in which they have won their last four games cannot be ignored. Looking highly versatile as a team, they have clearly established a disciplined identity as Luke Maye (10.5 RPG, 19.9 PPG) and Joel Berry (16 PPG, 1 SPG) have been nothing short of fantastic on both offense and defense. If the Tar Heels can continue their win winning ways by taking out a well-rounded Tennessee program next, they will continue to rise up through the rankings.
10. Texas A&M Aggies
While a loss to an unranked Arizona team may seem somewhat egregious, the Aggies actually played exceptionally well in their only loss of the season. While the slight lapse on offense is a bit of a concern, the athletic contributions of big men DJ Hogg (15.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Tyler Davis (13.8 PPG, 7 RPG) has hardly wavered up to this point of the season. If the Aggies can get some more production out of their guards, this is a program that has all the pieces to be an elite competitor in the SEC.
11. West Virginia Mountaineers
Since losing to Texas A&M in their first game of the season, the scrappy Mountaineers have played their defensive style of basketball to near perfection (65.4 PAPG). Better still, the Mountaineers have been impressively efficient on offense due to the confidence of Jevon Carter as both a prolific scorer (19.4 PPG) and ball facilitator (6 APG). Assuming West Virginia can maintain this level of play on defense, everything else should fall into place for a program that is tired of playing second fiddle to the Kansas Jayhawks.
12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
After appearing the be supremely dominant on both sides of the court earlier in the season, the Fighting Irish have run into a formidable roadblock in their recent losses. With their most recent loss at home against Ball State, the Fighting Irish have looked decidedly sluggish, especially when it comes to Bonzie Colson’s serious struggles as a perimeter shooter (26.1 3P%). While Notre Dame has the talent and coaching to be elite, they need to work on their fundamentals if they want to remain competitive in the ACC.
13. TCU Horned Frogs
Arguably one of the hottest and most surprising teams in college basketball, the undefeated Horned Frogs have yet to slow down as a tenacious and effective offensive unit (87.3 PPG). Having the veteran leadership of guard Kenrich Williams (10.1 RPG, 14.2 PPG) combined with the impressive scoring depth on their roster as a whole (53.1 FG% as a team), has and will most likely allow the Horned Frogs to remain consistently competitive in the Big 12.
14. Seton Hall Pirates
Although there were some questions about the Pirates offense being competent enough to take on legitimate competition, their last three victories against Texas Tech, Louisville and VCU have quelled those initial criticisms (have scored 79 points or more in their last three games). With the defense playing well enough to allow the Pirates now proficient offense to win down the stretch, Seton Hall has the potential to continue to rise in the highly competitive Big East.
15. Purdue Boilermakers
Since losing to Western Kentucky and Tennessee earlier in the season, the resurgent Boilermakers have dispatched their recent opponents thanks to their oppressive defense (Have held five our of their last six opponents to 69 points or less). With forward Vincent Edwards fearlessly attacking the glass (9.2 RPG) and guard Dakota Mathias making all the right decisions as a confident point guard (4.6 APG, 13.8 PPG), the Boilermakers have comfortably and consistently established themselves as a well-rounded program that can take on anyone that is in their way.
16. Kansas Jayhawks
Losing back to back contests to two Pac-12 programs on the rise (Arizona State, Washington), the perennial National Title contenders have looked like a shell of themselves as of late. While the Jayhawks clearly have a promising mix of veteran and young talent on their roster, it has been the lack of continuity on both offense and defense that has kept this program from reaching their sky-high potential. Although it’s way too early to condemn the well-coached Jayhawks as being pretenders, they need to string together some impressive wins quickly if they hope to emerge as the best program in the Big 12.
17. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Although the Bulldogs have struggled to keep up with top-10 opponents in both of their losses, they have at least performed consistently when it comes to scoring (91.2 PPG) and moving the ball the effectively (17.7 APG). With Johnathan Williams being the physical leader for the Bulldogs (6.7 RPG, 15.5 PPG) and guard Josh Perkins being the unselfish ball facilitator (4.8 APG), this program should be able to get back on track sooner rather than later.
18. Baylor Bears
While the Baylor Bears have struggled mightily at times to produce on offense, they are proficient enough on defense (64.4 PAPG) to make up for it. With guard Manu Lecomte being the Bears most reliable shooter (16.6 PPG) combined with the elite rebounding skills of Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (10.1 RPG), Baylor has usually been competitive and won the majority of their close scoring affairs.
19. Virginia Cavaliers
After overcoming their anemic offense in their first eight games thanks to a relentless defense, the Cavaliers were finally exposed in a hard-fought loss to West Virginia. Although the Cavaliers do not necessarily have to be a prolific shooting program to be consistently successful, they will have to better at taking high-percentage shots if they want to have a chance against the well-rounded opposition (69.4 PPG).
20. Florida Gators
Losing a contentious affair to Duke is one thing. Succumbing at home to an unranked Florida State program and a vastly inferior Loyola-Chicago team is a much more concerning matter. Once the highest scoring program in terms of points per game, the Gators have struggled mightily to get anything going on the offensive side of the court as they have scored just 66 points or less in their last three games. If the Gators can get a much-needed win over a sneaky competitive Clemson program next, they could easily get back on track as being a contender in the SEC.
21. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Losing three out of their last four games, the intimidating size and scoring proficiency of the Golden Gophers has seemingly lost most of its luster. While the shocking drop off in the defensive capabilities of Jordan Murphy is clearly a significant reason for the Golden Gophers recent woes (one block and one steal in his last three games combined), the decreased scoring efficiency of Reggie Lynch (scored in single digits in his last two games) has not helped the matter either.
22. Tennessee Volunteers
While the Volunteers have yet to flash any type of dominance on offense or defense (79.4 PPG, 65.6 PAPG), their ball-movement capabilities have been truly elite and have allowed them to grind out some impressive victories (19.1 APG). Beyond that, the Volunteers are a cerebral program in that they take high-percentage shots from the field (45.2 FG%) and from three-point range (41.2 3P%). With the UNC Tar Heels coming up next, the Volunteers will need to maintain their poise on defense while finding ways to extend possessions and score consistently.
23. Texas Tech Red Raiders
With Texas Tech’s lone loss coming against a red-hot Seton Hall program, it has become difficult to look past what the Red Raiders are accomplishing on offense (82.6 PPG) and defense (62.1 PAPG). While guard Kennan Evans is clearly the most prolific two-way player that the Red Raiders have at their disposal (17.9 PPG, 2 SPG), senior forward Zach Smith has slowly rediscovered his efficiency as a tremendous rebounder (4 RPG) and shot blocker (1.6 BPG).
24. Georgetown Hoyas
Quietly 8-0 on the season, the Hoyas have cruised through their non-conference schedule albeit against fairly easy competition. However, if we have learned anything from this past week it is that competitive programs take care of business against inferior opponents and win essential victories against the reputable opposition. If center Jessie Govan (13 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 20.6 PPG) and forward Marcus Derrickson (7.3 RPG, 13.5 PPG) can continue to be tenacious on both offense and defense, the intriguing Hoyas will have a great chance at being a sleeping giant in the Big East.
25. Creighton Blue Jays
Although the Blue Jays have been fairly inconsistent when it comes to scoring the basketball, they actually did enough in their latest victory over Nebraska to secure an impressive victory. Averaging 30.6 minutes per game this season, senior guard Marcus Foster has consistently been the offensive spark for the Blue Jays whether they win or lose (19 PPG, 48.1 FG%). In order for this program to be taken seriously in the Big East conference, the Blue Jays will need much more defensive production from sophomore forward Martin Krampelj (8.1 RPG, 0.7 BPG).