For those who watch college basketball on a regular basis, there is one sentiment that is especially familiar to fans of the sport: expect the unexpected. Although upsets occur frequently in college basketball, there were a few head-scratching defeats this week that brought into question of who the elite programs in the sport actually are. In particular, Duke’s embarrassing loss to a lowly St. Johns program emphatically reminded fans and pundits that no teams, no matter how exceptional their rosters may be, are exempt from succumbing to devastating losses at any moment. However, what was even more alarming was the inconsistent play from the some of the top tier teams in the Big 12. With the exception of Texas Tech, all of the notable powerhouse programs in the Big 12 Conference suffered at least one loss this past week (Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma).
1. Villanova Wildcats
Even without Phil Booth, the Wildcats have hardly faltered and looked extremely comfortable in dispatching a scrappy Seton Hall program this past weekend. Arguably the most efficient and dynamic offensive program in college basketball, the Wildcats deserve to be considered the best program in the nation until someone can take them out.
2. Virginia Cavaliers
As their defense continues to click effortlessly, the Cavaliers have consistently shocked and demoralized one overly confident conference team after another. While their anemic offense could pose a problem for them come tournament play, they have thus far been able to take out highly competitive opponents with their gritty and physical style.
3. Purdue Boilermakers
Despite a close call victory against Rutgers last week, the Boilermakers have the clutch players on both defense and offense to win tight games down the stretch. With two tough contests against Ohio State and Michigan State this week, the Boilermakers can quickly go from being considered a fringe Final Four team to the potential favorites to win it all.
4. Michigan State Spartans
Since losing to Michigan only a couple of weeks ago, the Spartans have since rebounded with a sense of urgency as they have demolished most of their opponents during their current six-game winning streak. At their best, the Spartans are one of the most well-balanced and talent-laden teams in the country.
5. Xavier Musketeers
While there has to be some concern with the Musketeers ineptitude on defense (73.4 PAPG), their offense has been highly capable and efficient this season (84.7 PPG). As they play in the Big East, the Musketeers should be able to stay near the top of the standings for the next month until postseason play begins.
6. Arizona Wildcats
Although the Wildcats offense came up short in a loss to Washington last week, this program is on the verge of running away with the Pac-12 Conference. They may not be perfect, but this team has everything to be legitimate National Title contenders by the time March Madness commences.
7. Cincinnati Bearcats
Aside from an inconsistent offense, the Bearcats are a well-versed program that is particularly deadly on the defensive end of the court (56.8 PAPG). Assuming the Bearcats can continue to cruise through the American Conference, they could very well be a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament by the end of the regular season.
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Locked in defensively (62.9 PAPG), the Red Raiders appear to be the most complete and consistent program in the Big 12. Although their offense could be better (76.7 PPG), the Red Raiders have the advantage of not being overly reliant on just one aspect to win games consistently.
9. Auburn Tigers
Scoring over 90 points in three out of their last four games, the Tigers have been highly prolific offensively and have done just enough defensively to hold off the opposition of the SEC (86 PPG, 72.6 PAPG). With a two-game lead in the SEC Conference, the Tigers have to feel great about their chances of winning their conference outright in a few weeks.
10. Duke Blue Devils
When your program is made up of mostly freshmen, it is inevitable that there will be some continuity issues along the way. However, against a struggling St. John’s program, the Blue Devils looked lethargic and oddly inept on offense in Saturday’s loss. With a highly anticipated rivalry contest against North Carolina this week, the Blue Devils need to dig deep and play angry to redeem themselves.
11. Kansas Jayhawks
Despite averaging 83 points per game, the Jayhawks do not hit that average nearly enough to avoid being upset by the plethora of competitive teams in the Big 12. Still, the Jayhawks are talented enough to overcome their consistency issues down the stretch of the regular season.
12. Saint Mary’s Gaels
With a chance to likely secure the West Coast Conference with a win over Gonzaga this weekend, the Gaels have to be feeling great about their chances as they have already taken out the Bulldogs once this season. Led by a highly efficient defense (64.2 PAPG), the Gaels could very well possess the kryptonite to take out their conference rivals again this weekend.
13. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Although taking out BYU this past week may not seem like that impressive of an accomplishment, it is actually one of the better wins for the Bulldogs this season. With a contest coming up against Saint Mary’s this weekend, the Bulldogs will be seeking both revenge and the top spot in the West Coast Conference win over their hated rivals.
14. Clemson Tigers
After being crushed by the potent defense of the Cavaliers two weeks ago, the Tigers have since stepped up their game offensively and appear to be a true contender in the ACC even with superstar Donte Grantham out for the season.
15. Ohio State Buckeyes
As is the case with most of the programs that compete in the Big 10, Ohio State has made a killing at being a fairly dominant defensive team (66.2 PAPG) that does an impressive job at finding and taking open shots from the field (49.1 FG%). With a matchup against Purdue this week, the Buckeyes will finally get a grand opportunity to prove that they are here to stay as a top-tier program in the Big 10.
16. Tennessee Volunteers
Although the Volunteers offense will never be great (77.8 PPG), their adeptness at moving the ball around to the open shooters has allowed them to extend possessions while making high percentage shots (17.2 APG). On top of that, the Volunteers defense is actually starting to look elite as they have held their last five opponents to 63 points or less.
17. Oklahoma Sooners
Considering the amount of parity that exists within the Big 12, it should not come as too much of a surprise that the teams currently at the top are struggling to separate themselves from the pack in the standings. However, the Sooners were once again exposed as being a poor defensive team, which was made even worse by the fact that they struggled to score in an ugly loss to Alabama.
18. Rhode Island Rams
At some point, the Rams will have to garner some respect for their incredible consistency despite playing in the A-10 Conference. Undefeated in conference play thanks to a defense that continues to improve (66.7 PAPG), the Rams have all of the pieces and the ideal under the radar status to make a serious run during March Madness.
19. West Virginia Mountaineers
Losing five out of their last seven games, the now demoralized and inconsistent Mountaineers are getting dangerously close to falling out of contention for a Big 12 Title. Luckily, the parity within their conference gives them a chance to regroup and re-establish their identity as a tenacious yet disciplined defensive program.
20. Wichita State Shockers
For every dominant victory the Shockers have on their resume, they have an equally perplexing loss that brings their elite status into question. With a loss to Temple last week, the level of concern for the Shockers when it comes to their chances in the NCAA Tournament has to be fairly high at this point.
21. Michigan Wolverines
It’s rarely pretty, but the Wolverines are a defensively fearless program that can take it to some of the better teams in their conference (63.5 PAPG). However, if the Wolverines want to make some noise in the postseason, their free throw shooting percentage has to improve (64.2 FT%).
22. Houston Cougars
While their offense may go through its fair share of peaks and valleys (77.6 PPG), the Cougars physical defense has been remarkably impressive this season (66.3 PAPG). However, Houston needs to prove that they can beat elite programs on a consistent basis if they truly wish to rise up through the rankings.
23. Nevada Wolfpack
Although it is somewhat hard to gauge how great or inept this Wolfpack program is from a competitive standpoint due to playing in the relatively weak Mountain West Conference, their offense appears to be potent enough for them to be a dark horse team in a month assuming they can clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament (83.1 PPG).
24. Arizona State Sun Devils
Despite the Sun Devils propensity for being wildly inconsistent on offense recently, they have still managed to rally and secure a crucial conference win when they need it the most. Still, Arizona State fans have to be concerned about this programs staying power come March Madness.
25. Kentucky Wildcats
Unsurprisingly, the Wildcats continue to be inconsistently competitive as they lost to a noticeably depleted Missouri Tigers roster this past week. While Kentucky has the athletes and coaching to eventually become a competitive team in March, they have yet to establish themselves as an elite contender to take very seriously.