Although there will certainly be weeks where total chaos abounds, there will also be times where there is a just a modicum of a shakeup in the rankings. This is not to say that this past week of college basketball was uneventful. In fact, North Carolina’s shocking loss to Wofford at home was a monumental upset for a program that appeared to be firing on all cylinders. Although Miami’s loss to New Mexico State was not quite as devastating, it was still a head-scratching upset when you consider how defensively sound and disciplined the Hurricanes were before succumbing to a lesser opponent. While the top four programs from last week were able to cruise through their respective holiday schedules, they will certainly need to be prepared to take on the next wave of eager opposition as conference play commences.
1. Villanova Wildcats
The last time the top-tier Wildcats won a game by less than double digits was on November 23rd against Tennessee. This type of dominance has now become a regular part of what Wildcats do in every contest they have competed in, which is a testament to the well-established continuity and balance on both offense and defense. As Big East play gets underway, the top-ranked Wildcats will look to set the bar even higher as the season progresses into the New Year.
2. Michigan State Spartans
With their last win against a ranked opponent occurring on November 30th, the defensively tenacious Spartans are simply biding their time until Big 10 play commences. Although the conference may not be as fierce has it has been, the parity that makes up the deep conference should be a great measuring stick for a program that has legitimate ambitions of winning a National Title.
3. Arizona State Sun Devils
The effectiveness of the Sun Devils as a prolific shooting program is simply unreal. Nevertheless, Arizona State continues to make the seemingly impossible look easy as all five of their starters are averaging double figures when it comes to points scored per game. On top of that, the Sun Devils have impressive depth on their roster, especially when it comes to skillful rebounders that are fearless when it comes to pulling down defensive rebounds.
4. Duke Blue Devils
Playing just one game in the past two weeks, the anxious Blue Devils have to be chomping at the bit to compete against a respectable program. With Florida State coming up next, the offensively gifted Blue Devils will look to come out and quickly overwhelm a defensively tough Seminoles program with heavy doses of shooting and rebounding.
5. Xavier Musketeers
Offensively, the Musketeers have been both relentless and patient when it comes to finding their shots on the court. However, Xavier has been adamant about setting a much stronger defensive tone as they have held four out of their last five opponents to 70 points or less. It may not be their strength, but the highly-competitive Musketeers are valiantly attempting to make themselves a versatile program that can win in more ways than one.
6. Texas A&M Aggies
For any program that attempts to match Texas A&M‘s physicality and rebounding capabilities, watch out. Pulling down 45.1 rebounds per game, the Aggies have been able to garner a plethora of opportunities to score despite being less than impressive as a shooting team. Although the end results may not always be pretty for the Aggies, they have proven that they can wear down their opponents down the stretch to prevent a hard-fought comeback.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
With the Big 12 Conference emphatically reigning supreme as the best in college basketball, it should not come as a surprise that five teams from the conference are considered top-25 programs. Currently, the seemingly unstoppable Mountaineers are vying for the top spot in the conference, with their lone loss to Texas A&M being their nagging slip up thus far. Assuming the Mountaineers can continue to score (84.8 PPG) and defend (63.4 PAPG) this well when conference play begins, they could elevate themselves to the top of the standings sooner rather than later.
8. Wichita State Shockers
Although the Shockers have faltered on defense from time to time, they have mostly been a complete program that can implement various strategies and styles to their advantage. Considering Wichita State can both rebound (43 RPG) and pass the ball (18 APG) at an exceptional level, this team has to feel great about where they are so far in spite of the two losses they have sustained this season.
9. Oklahoma Sooners
Aside from a porous defense (79.1 PAPG), the Oklahoma Sooners have played and looked like one of the best teams in the country. Certainly, it helps when you have the most prolific scorer in the country in Trae Young on your roster (28.7 PPG, 10.4 APG). If Young can minimize his mistakes when it comes to turnovers (3.8 TPG), this program could easily win the Big 12 Conference outright by the end of the season.
10. Miami Hurricanes
Although the Hurricanes have obviously had their struggles on offense this season, it was fairly surprising that their first loss of the season was against New Mexico State at home. Still, this defeat should benefit this well-coached program more than it actually hurts it. The priority for the Hurricanes at this point has to be to establish a more unselfish style of play on offense while taking more high-percentage shots from close to midrange.
11. Virginia Cavaliers
Surprisingly, the defensively dominant Cavaliers have actually been competent on offense during their last five games (scored 75 points or more in four out of their last five games). Granted, this feat was accomplished as the result of competing against the lesser known opposition, but the Cavaliers have to feel somewhat relieved that they can score enough points to at least force their opponents to score consistently in order to have a chance of winning.
12. TCU Horned Frogs
Slowly but surely, the undefeated Horned Frogs are climbing through the national ranks of college basketball. With an offense that is both efficient (19.7 APG) and aggressive (87.5 PPG), the Horned Frogs have proudly established their identity and are now anxiously waiting to prove that they can be the new kings of the Big 12.
13. North Carolina Tar Heels
While losing a game at home to an inferior non-conference opponent is never ideal, the national embarrassment appears to, at least for now, have galvanized this talented program (defeated Ohio State 86-72 after the loss to Wofford). For the well-respected Tar Heels, their recipe for success will rest largely on the shoulders of Luke Maye, with Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson needing to contribute more as both shooters and trusted passers.
14. Kansas Jayhawks
For most teams, being ranked in the top-15 would be a tremendous and well-deserved badge of honor. However, the somewhat discombobulated Jayhawks have to be disappointed with being in the middle of the standings of the Big 12 Conference. With that being said, the Jayhawks have quietly won three games in a row and will begin Big 12 play with the hope of regaining their rightful place at the top of the conference.
15. Arizona Wildcats
After experiencing one of the worst weeks in the history of their program (lost three games in a row during a seven-day span), the never say die Wildcats have rattled off seven wins in a row with one of their victories coming against a top-tier Texas A&M Aggies squad. Although the Wildcats defense needs to be more consistent in order to sustain this success, they have the talented pieces on their roster to outshoot their opposition until they can establish a more well-balanced presence on the court.
16. Kentucky Wildcats
Just when it appeared that the youthful Wildcats had finally reached their lofty potential, their most recent loss to UCLA begs the question if this inexperienced roster peaked too early. While there needs to a much more prominent sample size of losing before the Wildcats can be condemned as overrated, this program needs to cut down on the turnovers (15 TPG) and become more consistent with hitting their perimeter shots (36 3P%) if they hope to remain competitive in the SEC.
17. Purdue Boilermakers
Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Boilermakers have comfortably shut down their respective opponents on offense (scored under 80 points only twice during the win streak) and defense (have held their opponents to under 70 points in seven out of their last eight games). If the Boilermakers can establish a stronger presence as a rebounding program, they will be constantly nipping at the heels of the current Big 10 leader in Michigan State.
18. Cincinnati Bearcats
Considering what the Bearcats have already accomplished this season on offense (80.8 PPG) and defense (60 PAPG), you would think this program would be one of the few unbeaten teams in the country. Trouble is, the Bearcats have been unable to put it all together against the elite opposition (struggled defensively in a loss to Xavier, struggled offensively in a loss to Florida). Nevertheless, the Bearcats are currently first in the American Conference and can easily re-establish their two-way potential against Memphis this week.
19. Tennessee Volunteers
While the once forgettable SEC conference has been on the rise this year, the Tennessee Volunteers are currently a middle of the pack program that has the potential to be a potent offensive force. Although the Volunteers could probably get by on their stingy defense alone (65.8 PAPG), they clearly have the ball movement skills (18 APG) and personnel to be an efficient scoring program.
20. Baylor Bears
Since losing back-to-back contests to Xavier and Wichita State, the defensively strong Bears have yet to be tested in any meaningful way. With that being said, the intriguing Bears have done what is usually expected but rarely praised: they have handily defeated cupcake opponents on their schedule. In order for Baylor to take the next crucial step to gain recognition in the loaded Big 12, they will need to take down a Texas Tech program that has quickly evolved into one of the most dynamically consistent teams in the country.
21. Creighton Blue Jays
Although the Blue Jays will never be an elite defensive program, they at least know how to utilize their impressive strengths on offense (92.3 PPG, 20 APG). While the Blue Jays being heavily reliant on their prolific shooters will undoubtedly cost them some close games here and there, every athlete on their roster can make shots consistently enough to make the most out of their possessions (every player for the Blue Jays is currently shooting 41% or better from the field).
22. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Similar to the waffling Pirates, the Bulldogs are an incredibly competitive program that is trying to overcome its glaring deficiencies with talent alone. While point guard Josh Perkins has been terrific as a ball facilitator (5.2 APG) and all-around shooter (46 FG%, 47.6 3P%), he has had his fair share of issues with keeping the basketball out of the opponents hands (averaging three turnovers per game). Although the Bulldogs have other issues to address as well, their inconsistencies start and end with their floor general being just a bit too reckless on the court.
23. Texas Tech Red Raiders
An oppressive defensive program by nature, the red-hot Red Raiders have established a nearly equally intimidating presence on offense (81.7 PPG). Granted, the Red Raiders have not played a reputable opponent since defeating Nevada on December 5th. However, if the Red Raiders can confidently display their dynamically dominant ways against Baylor this week, this program will quickly ascend through what appears to be a highly competitive Big 12 conference.
24. Seton Hall Pirates
Clearly, the Pirates are plenty talented enough to hang with the top-25 competition when everything is going right for them (wins over Texas Tech and Louisville). The problem with this fun albeit inconsistent program is their inability to defend when their offense is experiencing a scoring lapse. Before the Pirates can hope to rectify their wonky fundamentals, their starters need to set a better example by being more disciplined when it comes to securing and possessing the ball (four of the Pirates five starters are currently averaging two turnovers or more per game).
25. Florida State Seminoles
Currently one of the more dynamically efficient teams in college basketball, the surging Seminoles have looked fantastic when closing out games down the stretch this year. With that said, the Seminoles non-conference schedule was noticeably weak as their two notable matchups thus far have been a win against Florida (now unranked) and a gritty loss to Oklahoma State. Still, the Seminoles will have a tremendous opportunity to prove their dominant versatility is for real as they start their conference schedule with contests against Duke, North Carolina, and Miami.