For the most part, the top-ranked teams in college basketball avoided shocking upsets this past week. While some top-ten opponents did face off with each other, the respective losers were not affected in any real detrimental way as they were most often able to bounce back against their subsequent opponent. The only notable ranked program that suffered one devastating defeat after another was the TCU Horned Frogs. Losing in two overtime contests this past week to both Texas and Oklahoma, TCU was exposed as being a dreadful defensive team that was unable to overcome their blatant deficiencies despite scoring point totals of 98 and 97 respectively in their last two matchups. This is just one of several sob stories in college basketball that have seen once elite programs succumb to their Busch league weaknesses during a crucial time in conference play.
1. Villanova Wildcats
Regardless how flawless or flawed a program may look from game-to-game there is only one thing that truly matters in the grand scheme of college basketball competition: continue to win. While the Wildcats defense has been susceptible to breakdowns against tenacious opponents (69.6 PAPG), their potent and deep offense has rarely wavered, an aspect that is supremely difficult to maintain against reputable opposition every week. While their hold on the top spot is tenuous, they have the playmakers and coaching to remain a top-five program throughout the season.
2. Virginia Cavaliers
Despite scoring just over 70 points per game, the Cavaliers have never waivered defensively and have man-handled both the highly competitive and cupcake opponents on their schedule. They may not be perfect, but the Cavaliers are clearly comfortable with who they are and have effectively played to their strengths during their 8-game winning streak.
3. Purdue Boilermakers
Slowly but surely, the Boilermakers have ascended through both the national and conference standings to become one of the most dynamically dominant programs in college basketball. Riding high on a 13-game winning streak, the Boilermakers are moving at full speed ahead and will most likely continue to crush their conference opponents until someone can find any type of weaknesses that they may have.
4. Duke Blue Devils
Finally, the Duke Blue Devils realized that they needed to play decent defense in order to effectively and comfortably defeat some of the average opponents within their conference. While their recent dominant victories over both Pittsburgh and Wake Forest can hardly be considered an endorsement for them having an improved defense, they certainly have the consummate athletes needed to become a dynamic force to reckon with in college basketball.
5. Oklahoma Sooners
Like it or not, the Sooners are committed to outshooting their opponents while relying on superstar Trae Young to snatch the occasional steal. Yet, in spite of their poor defense, the Sooners have defeated five of the six ranked opponents they have encountered this season, suggesting that their trigger happy ways are here to stay rather than being something that will inevitably drop off as the season progresses.
6. Wichita State Shockers
Utilizing their impressive versatility on offense to overwhelm their respective opponents, the Shockers have rarely been in dire situations against their respective conference opponents thus far. Although their offense has been a bit inconsistent recently, they have the luxury of being well-disciplined and tenacious when it comes to seeking out and garnering extra opportunities on offense.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers
Aside from their most recent loss to an elite defense in the Texas Tech Red Raiders, the Mountaineers have been one of the most consistent and well-rounded programs in college basketball. With three of their next four opponents being ranked in the top-25, the Mountaineers could easily move back into the top-five and assert themselves as being one of the few elite programs in college basketball.
8. Michigan State Spartans
Losing two of their last three games to unranked conference opponents, the once nearly flawless Spartans have looked anything but perfect as both their defense and offense have looked anemic recently (have scored under 80 points and given up over 70 points in their last three games). Certainly, you would expect the highly-talented and well-coached Spartans to bounce back, but this program needs to avoid complacency if they hope to get back on track this week.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Although getting shut down by what is typically a horrible defense in the Oklahoma Sooners was not ideal, the Red Raiders stuck to their guns and won a nail-biter against the red-hot West Virginia Mountaineers at home on Saturday. While their offense could do slightly more to help them avoid heart-palpitating situations, the Red Raiders have proven time and again that their disciplined and rock-solid defense is usually enough to help them defeat top-tier opponents (60.8 PAPG).
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Although the sample size is not nearly big enough to suggest that the Jayhawks have a competent defense, they have at least proven that they can stifle some of the lesser opponents within their conference and avoid head-scratching upset losses (held their last two opponents to under 80 total points). With the oppressive and relentless West Virginia Mountaineers coming up next, the now confident Jayhawks will get a grand opportunity to sky-rocket upward through the Big 12 standings.
11. Cincinnati Bearcats
Undefeated in the American Athletic Conference, the well-rounded Bearcats barely trail Wichita State in the standings as the best team in the conference. Although their victories are rarely pretty, the Bearcats take an immense amount of pride in their physical defense that can also rebound the ball effectively regardless of who they face on a game-to-game basis (58.4 PAPG, 40.1 RPG).
12. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Sadly, Gonzaga is a fantastic shooting and rebounding program that will never get the rightful credit they deserve as they play in the relatively weak West Coast Conference. With that being said, the Bulldogs could easily vault themselves back into the top-10 with an impressive win over their arch-rivals in Saint Mary’s this week.
13. Arizona Wildcats
While it is unreasonable to expect the Wildcats to be anything more than an average defensive team (72.2 PAPG), it is fair to assume that Arizona is more than capable of outscoring their opponents on a regular basis (82.9 PPG). Considering they play in the weakest power five conference in the Pac-12, the Wildcats should be able to overcome the majority of their opponents to eventually claim a favorable seed in the NCAA Tournament.
14. Xavier Musketeers
Like many of the programs in college basketball that are heavily reliant on a sharp-shooting offense to carry them, the Musketeers have hit a less than ideal speed-bump as they were blown out by the top-ranked Wildcats last week. However, Xavier did not become discouraged by the aforementioned loss as they handily defeated Creighton on Saturday to keep themselves amongst the reputable opponents of their conference.
15. Arizona State Sun Devils
Nearing the precipice of becoming a predictable and less than impressive Pac-12 program, the persistent Sun Devils valiantly held off the Oregon State Beavers in a defensive grudge match in their latest victory. However, the perimeter shooters of Arizona State are not proficient on defense and will need to rediscover their deadly accurate shooting ways if they hope to climb back through the conference standings and ultimately reclaim the throne as being the best team in the Pac-12.
16. North Carolina Tar Heels
After losing back-to-back contests against two ranked ACC opponents a couple of weeks ago, the persistent and offensively potent Tar Heels were able to garner two victories over the middle of the pack conference opponents. While the shooters for the Tar Heels are still struggling to string together a series of impressive performances, their defense has been noticeably better as of late as they have held their last three opponents to under 70 points.
17. Seton Hall Pirates
Unsurprisingly, the unpredictable Pirates have at times looked phenomenal to dreadful on defense and have looked equally inconsistent on offense as well. With that being said, the Pirates lack of a competitive identity has actually helped them defeat all but one of their conference opponents thus far and, as result, they are currently nipping at the heels of Villanova as the best program in the Big East.
18. Auburn Tigers
Despite a wildly inconsistent defense (72.6 PAPG), the Tigers have done more than enough on offense to win all but one of their games this season (86.5 PPG, have scored under 80 points only once in their last seven games). While they may not be the most athletic or physically intimidating program in college basketball, they at least have the scrappy shooters to help them remain competitive in the SEC.
19. Kentucky Wildcats
Despite their inconsistencies when it comes to being mentally tough and tenacious, the waffling Wildcats actually possess a very capable defense (69.6 PAPG, have allowed just one opponent to score more than 75 points in their last six games). With that being said, Kentucky needs to be more advantageous when it comes to utilizing their length and speed in pursuing the basket in transition (have not scored more than 75 points in a game since December 29th against Louisville).
20. Tennessee Volunteers
In a competitively jam-packed SEC Conference, the Volunteers have been able to survive and win in close games valiantly thanks to an explosive albeit streaky offense (79.6 PPG). Defensively, Tennessee has the potential to be very good to great, they just have to prove that they can hold off more of the trigger-happy offenses within their own conference (70.3 PAPG).
21. Clemson Tigers
Similar to Miami, the Tigers are at their best when it comes to stifling opponents with their shutdown defense (64.4 PAPG) while taking high percentage shots on offense (48.2 FG%). Yet, Clemson needs to be a bit more tenacious and ruthless when it comes to shooting the ball and driving to the basket if they hope to rise through the rankings to become one of the surprise success stories in college basketball (have not scored more than 80 points in a game since December 22nd).
22. Miami Hurricanes
Defensively, the Hurricanes have been phenomenal at minimizing offensive opportunities for their respective opponents (60.7 PAPG). However, Miami’s below average offense has cost them key games against ranked ACC opponents ( 73.1 PPG; see the loss to Clemson). Still, Miami has the disciplined athletes and elite coaching necessary to be a top-tier team in their conference.
23. Ohio State Buckeyes
Undefeated in the Big 10 (6-0), the surging Buckeyes have quietly won five games in a row with their most notable win being over a top-ranked Michigan State program. Assuming the Buckeyes defense can continue to be this efficient going forward (67.2 PAPG, have held their last five opponents to under 70 total points) they could be a serious threat to both Michigan and Michigan State at the top of the Big 10 standings.
24. TCU Horned Frogs
Losing four of their last five games to Big 12 opponents (1-4 in conference play), the Horned Frogs dreadful defense is starting to bog down what is typically a high-octane and efficient offense (88.2 PPG, 78.1 PAPG). If this program has serious aspirations of staying relevant in a highly competitive and deep Big 12 Conference, they at least need to become adequate on the defensive end of the court.
25. Florida State Seminoles
Despite their noticeable issues when it comes to being consistently competitive (2-2 in their four games), the Seminoles have a potent enough offense that is more than capable of winning games when they score 80+ points per game. Although Florida State’s less than impressive defense will cost them some winnable games in the ACC (70.6 PAPG), this program has enough notable shooters to stay afloat in their top-heavy conference.