Now this is more like it. Tons of conference games, good teams playing on the road, upsets galore. I love the chaos, because that means my services are in especially high demand. You all love to vent your spleens in the comments section (I guess the whole “please be kind” thing isn’t quite catching on), but deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that ballot. You need me on that ballot.
It’s not often we get so many changes in the rankings plus a new No. 1. Somehow I managed to make sense of it all. Here, then, is the correct order of the top 25 teams in college basketball, as submitted to the Associated Press on Sunday night:
Seth Davis’ Top 25 for Monday, Jan. 9
Dropped out: Indiana (13), Ohio State (15), Duke (18), Miami (19), New Mexico (22)
Almost Famous: Auburn, Clemson, Illinois, Iowa, Memphis, Missouri, Rutgers, UCF
• Not only did my No. 1 team, Purdue, lose at home to Rutgers (and darn near lost at Ohio State three nights later), but my heir apparent, Arizona, fell at home to Washington State, and my No. 3 team, UConn, lost its second straight at Providence. This forced me to decide whom to select as my new No. 1, and how far to drop those teams.
The first part was easy. My next team up is Kansas. The Jayhawks certainly looked the part while dismantling West Virginia, 76-62, in Morgantown on Saturday, although they were fortunate to win at Texas Tech by three points last Tuesday. Heck, they were lucky to squeak by Oklahoma State at home on New Year’s Eve. Such is the danger of certitude this season. I thought about vaulting Tennessee to the top spot considering the Volunteers beat Kansas at the Battle 4 Atlantis, but I’ve been ranking Tennessee behind KU because that was Kansas’ only loss while the Vols also lost to Colorado in Nashville. (They lost at Arizona, too, but that’s no biggie.)
As for where to rank the three teams that lost, I punished Arizona the most because the Wildcats lost at home to a team that is ranked No. 61 on KenPom. I also factored in the fact that the Cats were fortunate to beat Washington at home by three points at home two nights before. There’s no shame in UConn losing at Providence, but I did think the Huskies would have a better bounceback from their loss at Xavier. Purdue is clearly going through some adjustments as it enters league play, and teams are doing all they can to bottle up Zach Edey. But I give them credit for squeaking out that win at Ohio State, and for handling a pretty good Penn State squad at the Palestra on Sunday.
The other factor in these decisions was head-to-head results amongst some of my other top 10 teams: Purdue won a neutral-court game over Gonzaga, which won in Birmingham over Alabama, which won at Houston. It’s nice when things fall into place like that, but the further we get from those games, the less all of that will hold up. As I wrote in my Hoop Thoughts Stock Report last week, I expect Gonzaga and Houston to climb my ballot as they roll through league play, although the separation between the Zags and the rest of the WCC has clearly shrunk.
• It’s not often that a team goes from unranked to No. 12, but you could make the case that I ranked Kansas State too low following their wins at Texas and Baylor. You see the job that Jerome Tang is doing in his first season in Manhattan, and you have to wonder why it took so long for him to be hired off of Scott Drew’s bench. (I said the same thing often last year with respect to Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd, who previously coached for two decades as an assistant at Gonzaga.) The story of Keyontae Johnson returning from a two-year absence due to a frightening heart episode at Florida to lead this team in scoring and rebounds is amazing, but a remarkable turn has also been made by Markquis Nowell, the 5-8 super senior point guard who in three Big 12 games has 33 assists to eight turnovers while averaging 30.3 points. It won’t be easy for the Wildcats to keep their edge, especially now that their opponents will be primed, but at this point this is one of the biggest stories of the season.
• The other big riser this week is Providence. The Friars lost their entire starting five from last year’s Big East champs and Sweet 16 squad, yet here they are at 6-0 atop the Big East. Even KenPom, which generally doesn’t like this team, is coming around. The Friars rose to No. 30 in those rankings and they are 34th in the NET. That wouldn’t normally suggest a ranking this high, but the Friars already have four Quad 1 wins (only three teams have more), including in double OT at home over Marquette. They only have one game this week at Creighton Saturday, which should be a big-time challenge.
• I was prepared to rank Rutgers by virtue of its win at Purdue, but the Scarlet Knights fumbled that away when they lost at home to Iowa. So I gave my final spot to Michigan State, which has now won six in a row and is finally getting healthy again with the return of Jaden Akins and Malik Hall. I rated the Spartans a Buy-Plus in my Hoop Thoughts Stock Report on the basis of those guys coming back, so I figured I’d put my money where my stock is. It could be a short stay since the Spartans play at Wisconsin and Illinois this week.
Malik Hall reminds everyone how important he is to Michigan State
• I left Indiana off my ballot for the first time this season after the Hoosiers suffered two excruciating losses. They blew a 21-point first-half lead and lost by two at Iowa on Thursday, and then they lost, 84-83, at home to Northwestern on Sunday. As much as that Iowa loss stung, the worst part was that Indiana lost its heart-and-soul Glue Guy, Race Thompson, to a leg injury in the first half. The school has said he will be out indefinitely. Another senior starter, Xavier Johnson, has also been lost to a foot injury that required surgery. This season began with such promise for the Hoosiers, and there’s a long way to go, but things are definitely going in the wrong direction.
• Duke also dropped out courtesy of its 84-60 loss at N.C. State. The Blue Devils were fortunate to win at Boston College Saturday as well, and now they’ve got the top two teams in the ACC standings, Pittsburgh and Clemson, on the docket for this week. It’s unlikely that point guard Jeremy Roach will be available at least for the Pittsburgh game, and possibly longer. Roach sat out the BC win with a toe injury, which is a very tricky malady for a basketball player. So the Blue Devils could be unranked for a while.
• We lost three other teams that were ranked last week. Ohio State lost to Purdue and Maryland, Miami lost at Georgia Tech, and New Mexico lost to Fresno State and UNLV. There were no obvious high-major choices to fill those slots, so I leaned into the metrics to find mid-major replacements. Saint Mary’s has two Quad 3 losses, but it has a neutral court win over San Diego State, and its metrics are off the charts: No. 6 BartTorvik, No. 8 NET, No. 9 KenPom, No. 15 Sagarin, No. 24 KPI. Florida Atlantic has also quietly won 13 in a row and is the only undefeated team in Conference USA. The Owls are No. 13 in the NET, No. 21 on KPI, No. 28 on BartTorvik and No. 38 on KenPom.
• Finally, you’ll notice that while Charleston entered the AP Top 25 last week, I have neither ranked the Cougars nor included them on my Almost Famous list. I love this team and I think it’s great it is getting all this attention, but I’m a little mystified as to why my fellow voters are ranking the Cougars. Yes, Charleston has the nation’s longest win streak at 15 games, but only two of those wins came over a KenPom top 100 team. The only time the Cougars played a top 40 team, they lost by 16 at North Carolina on Nov. 11. Nor do the metrics dictate a ranking: No. 22 KPI, No. 51 NET, No. 56 BartTorvik, No. 84 KenPom. I’m rooting hard for Pat Kelsey’s squad, but at this point I don’t see a case for including them in the top 25.
(Photo of Kansas’ Joseph Yesefu: Ben Queen / USA Today)
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