If you love and covet chaos this was the week for you. All of the programs ranked in the top three (Villanova, Virginia, Purdue) lost at least once this past week. On top of that, all of the ranked Big 12 programs (with the exception of Texas Tech) also lost at least one game to inferior opponents last week (Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma). Even more surprising than any of the aforementioned upsets is the Kentucky Wildcats continuing struggles within the SEC Conference. Losing contests to both Tennessee and Texas A&M last week, the Wildcats seem to still be struggling with an identity crisis on both offense and defense, deficiencies that will continue to hinder them unless coach John Calipari can rally his young troops together and find a way to galvanize his team lest they face an early exit in the NCAA Tournament.
1. Michigan State Spartans
Winning a defensive grudge match against Purdue over the weekend, the Spartans quickly reclaimed the top spot in the rankings…at least for this week. Considering they have not played or beaten a ranked team since Notre Dame early in the season, it’s hard to completely trust the Spartans when it comes to them remaining the best program in the country for an extended period of time.
2. Xavier Musketeers
Although the careless and lackadaisical defense of Xavier will inevitably catch up with them (74 PAPG), the Musketeers have thus far been able to win one shootout after another. At the very least, the Musketeers electric offense is highly entertaining to watch and is certainly capable of taking them far in the NCAA Tournament if they find themselves on a hot streak.
3. Virginia Cavaliers
Although the Cavaliers home loss to Virginia Tech should not condemn this team as being considered overrated, their ineptitude on offense has appeared to have finally caught up with them. While their disciplined defense and capabilities when it comes to controlling the pace of play are highly impressive, they need to be more than anemic offensively if they hope to avoid disaster come March Madness.
4. Texas Tech Red Raiders
The only program in the Big 12 that can play exceptional defense consistently (62 PAPG), the Red Raiders are beginning to separate themselves from the pack in a conference that is rife with parity. By the end of the season, we could very well be looking at the Red Raiders as the outright winners of the Big 12 rather than the Kansas Jayhawks who have dominated the conference for years.
5. Cincinnati Bearcats
Crushing practically every opponent they have encountered this season, the Bearcats may be a team that could supersede Virginia as a dominant defensive team that can actually score enough points to win consistently. If the Bearcats can overcome both Houston and Wichita State in their next two games, they will have dominated their conference while forcing themselves into the conversation as being a legitimate National Title contender.
6. Ohio State Buckeyes
With a highly impressive win over Purdue on the road last week, the Buckeyes emphatically took over the top spot in the Big 10 Conference standings. If their offense can be a bit more productive on a consistent basis, the Buckeyes could feasibly become a trendy pick to make it to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.
7. Clemson Tigers
While the loss of Donte Grantham to a season-ending injury a few weeks ago appeared to be the end of Clemson’s inspirational success story, the Tigers have actually improved offensively and have rediscovered their capabilities as a strong defensive team. They may not always win pretty, but the Tigers have an established identity and are utilizing it effectively against their respective opponents.
8. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Beating Saint Mary’s on Saturday by a fairly large margin, the Bulldogs asserted themselves as the best team in the West Coast Conference. Although we will not know just how competitive the Bulldogs actually are until March Madness commences, this program is elite enough on offense to be an intimidating force regardless of who their opponent happens to be.
9. Auburn Tigers
Losing to a Texas A&M program that appears to be on the rise, the SEC Conference-leading Tigers still have a lot to be proud of this year despite their brief lapse. With a prolific offense that continues to strike fear in the hearts of opposing defenses (85.5 PPG), the Tigers should quickly put their most recent loss in the rearview mirror and continue to shun the doubters as they have this entire season.
10. Tennessee Volunteers
Although a blowout loss to Alabama over the weekend was not ideal, the unexpected loss appears to be an anomaly rather than a sign of things to come. With a defense and offense that has improved impressively throughout this season, the Volunteers should still be considered a reputable program with high aspirations when it comes to making noise in the NCAA Tournament.
11. Kansas Jayhawks
Terrific as an offensive unit (81.7 PPG), the Jayhawks are being held back by a defense that simply refuses to output any type of effort when attempting to guard their opponents in transition. As we have seen with most programs in the Big 12, a prolific offense without a decent defense is a recipe for disaster both in conference play and, ultimately, in the postseason play as well.
12. Purdue Boilermakers
After looking like one of the most dynamically dominant programs in college basketball throughout the season, the Boilermakers looked completely inept in both of their losses to Ohio State and Michigan State last week. While the Boilermakers should not be considered as a program that is trending downward, they need to iron out the kinks of an offense that as progressively struggled to score consistently.
13. Duke Blue Devils
There are two factors that are holding the Blue Devils back from being truly great: careless turnovers and an inconsistent defense. Although the Blue Devils have the roster and the coaching to make a run at a National Title, they need to be more tenacious when it comes to preventing their opponents from garnering second-chance opportunities off of the defensive glass.
14. Rhode Island Rams
As long as Rhode Island can keep winning while the teams above them continue to lose, the Rams meteoric rise will continue in earnest. As their offense continues to improve (have scored 80 points or more in three of their last four games), the Rams could feasibly become a well-rounded program that can come out nowhere and go far in the NCAA Tournament.
15. West Virginia Mountaineers
With a tight win over Oklahoma, the Mountaineers were able to avoid a complete free fall as they lost to Oklahoma State in a shootout on Saturday. Like most teams in the Big 12, the Mountaineers are being victimized by a very deep and competitive conference with every program seemingly fearless when it comes to taking on the notable teams of their conference.
16. North Carolina Tar Heels
Winners of three games in a row, the Tar Heels offense has been rolling nicely and was especially prolific in an impressive win over a talent-laden Duke program last week. While their struggles on defense continue to be a concern, the Tar Heels are at least getting production out of their other players that are not named Joel Berry II or Luke Maye.
17. Saint Mary’s Gaels
While the loss to Gonzaga on Saturday was somewhat devastating for a Saint Mary’s program that had high hopes of winning the West Coast Conference outright, the Gaels still have to feel great about their roster from a competitive standpoint. Stingy defensively (64.6 PAPG) and unselfish offensively (16.8 APG), the Gaels will arguably be one of the most overlooked teams with a great roster come March Madness.
18. Wichita State Shockers
At 19-5, it’s fair to say that the Shockers are struggling more than they thought they would in their first year in the American Athletic Conference. However, the Shockers do boast one of the most efficient offenses in the country (83.8 PPG, 19.2 APG), an aspect that could take them far in the postseason if their defense can be a bit more consistent (69.6 PAPG).
19. Arizona Wildcats
With Arizona’s inept defense costing them games recently, this program needs to look at other teams such as Oklahoma and Arizona State to realize that being atrocious defensively is a slippery slope. Minimally, the Wildcats needs to improve their tenacity when it comes to rebounding the basketball if they hope to provide their prolific offense with the opportunities they need to be consistently successful (35.8 RPG).
20. Houston Cougars
Considering how dominant the Cougars are defensively when they win (have given up 70 points or more just once in their last seven wins), you would think that this program has what it takes to go far in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Cougars offense needs to come from someone other than Rob Gray (17.7 PPG) if this program hopes to overcome some of the more disciplined and cerebral teams in the postseason.
21. Michigan Wolverines
Defensively, the Wolverines have the discipline and physicality needed to stifle any offense in college basketball. However, when it comes to rebounding (33.1 RPG) and scoring (74 PPG) the Wolverines are less than impressive and are frankly a tier below the top teams in the Big 10 in terms of being competitively dynamic. A contest against hated rival Ohio State next week will be crucial in gauging the Wolverines viability as a giant killer come March Madness.
22. Texas A&M Aggies
Without question, it has been a tumultuous season for Texas A&M, to say the least. However, the resilient Aggies have returned to their former dominant ways offensively (have scored 80 points or more in their last four games). With their last two wins coming over Tennessee and Kentucky (both ranked programs), the Aggies are futility but valiantly attempting to at least make a run at challenging the top dogs of the SEC for a conference title.
23. New Mexico State Aggies
While the WAC Conference may pale in comparison to most conferences in college basketball, the Aggies have taken full advantage of their relatively easy schedule. Thanks to their dominant defense (61.7 PAPG) and their aggressiveness when playing the glass (41.2 RPG), the Aggies are an intriguing program that simply needs a decent offense for them to be considered a dark horse contender come March Madness (74.5 PPG)
24. Miami Hurricanes
Although the Hurricanes lapses defensively are a bit concerning (have allowed 70 points or more in their last three games), their offense has actually been much more tenacious and productive as of late (have scored 70 points or more in four of their last five games). They may be inconsistent, but it’s hard to argue with the concerted effort this program brings to the basketball court day in and day out.
25. Oklahoma Sooners
Similar to the Arizona State Sun Devils, the Sooners are now facing the tough realization that their prolific albeit predictable style of basketball is no longer an advantage. Currently, the Sooners are victims of being overly reliant on superstar Trae Young to produce consistently while their defense is still relinquishing a high number of points on a consistent basis.