And so we’ve come to the end of the road.
It’s been a blast putting together these rankings each week. They always spark a spirited dialogue, to say the least. Now comes the best part, when the teams decide who should be in what order, as the drama plays out on the greatest stage there is, the NCAA Tournament.
So once more, with feeling, before the Madness gets underway, I present to you the correct order of the top 25 teams in men’s college basketball, as submitted to the Associated Press on Sunday night:
Seth Davis’ Top 25 for Monday, March 6
Dropped out: Maryland (17), Northwestern (20), Providence (23), Tennessee (25)
Almost Famous: Auburn, Boise State, Illinois, Kent State, Michigan State, North Texas, Pittsburgh, UAB, Utah State, Virginia
• We came awfully close to having a new No. 1 team, but Jamal Shead’s buzzer-beater allowed Houston to escape with a two-point regulation win at Memphis on Sunday afternoon. If the Cougars had lost, I would have swapped them with Kansas, but this once against points up the difference between a top 25 ballot and an NCAA Tournament bracket. Even if Kansas loses its first game in the Big 12 tournament, I believe the Jayhawks have sewn up the overall No. 1 seed. The Cougars have had an amazing season and will be a No. 1 seed regardless, but there are bubble teams with more Quad 1 wins than Houston.
• UCLA got its best win of the season when it beat Arizona, 82-73, in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday night. Prior to that, the Bruins’ best wins came over Kentucky on a neutral court and Maryland on the road. The win, however, came at a price as junior guard Jaylen Clark injured his right foot early in the second half. He returned to watch from the bench while wearing a boot and using crutches. We’ll have to wait official word from UCLA on Clark’s MRI results, but while I would never say that UCLA can’t make the Final Four without him, it would definitely be a lot harder.
• Indiana managed to avoid a two-loss week by edging Michigan in overtime on Sunday afternoon in Bloomington. That happened five days after the Hoosiers’ embarrassing 22-point loss at home to Iowa. That performance needed to be accounted for, so I dropped the Hoosiers three spots. However, their sweep over Purdue mandated that they still be ranked ahead of the Boilermakers, so they got dragged down as well. Again, this is a ballot, not a bracket. Purdue is still a No. 1 seed heading into the Big Ten tournament.
• UConn and Texas A&M are my big risers. The Huskies have won eight of their last nine and remain a darling of the metrics (their rankings range is 4-18). The Aggies are not quite as strong in that department (19-23), but they extended their remarkable turnaround by beating Alabama to finish alone in second place in the SEC.
• Baylor, on the other hand, lost a real head-scratcher on Saturday to Iowa State in Waco. The Cyclones had lost four in a row and were playing their second game without their top 3-point shooter, Caleb Grill, who was dismissed from the program. Baylor simply does not play nearly the same caliber of defense as it has in the last few years. Frankly, I’m surprised that the return of Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua hasn’t had more of an impact at that end of the floor.
• Yes, I realize Kentucky lost at home to Vanderbilt, but let me make two points here. First, Vanderbilt is not a bad team. Second, it’s one thing to lose an important player like Cason Wallace, but when you lose him during the course of a game, the team is not at all prepared to play without him. Given a couple of days to prepare, John Calipari came up with a great game plan, and he went into Bud Walton Arena to face an Arkansas team that really, really needed a win — and his Wildcats emerged with a convincing 88-79 win. Kentucky’s metrics are solid (13-26), and its ranking reflects that.
• Duke makes its return following wins last week over NC State (home) and North Carolina (road). Yes, the ACC has been weak, but the Blue Devils have the best metrics (24-31) of any team in the league, and a big reason for their late surge has been a return to health and the clear development of their freshmen. Duke doesn’t have a ton of great wins, but it only has one loss below Quad 1, and that was a Quad 2 loss at Wake Forest on Dec. 20.
• For much of the season, I’ve been ranking TCU well ahead of my fellow AP voters. Last week, I had the Horned Frogs at No. 11, while they ended up No. 22 in the poll. I wrote that we would soon find out whether my faith in this team was justified. Turns out it wasn’t. TCU edged Texas at home by a deuce on Wednesday, but then on Saturday the Frogs lost, 74-60, at Oklahoma on Saturday. Injuries have been a major issue, but this team is at full strength now.
• Tennessee finally dropped off my ballot, not only because the Volunteers lost at Auburn, but because they lost point guard and defensive spark plug, Zakai Zeigler, to a torn ACL during Tuesday’s home win over Arkansas. I wouldn’t normally give much weight to a road loss to a good conference opponent, but if a team is ranked No. 25, it should drop off after any loss to an unranked team. That is especially true in light of such a devastating injury.
• Northwestern dropped out because of its overtime loss at home to Penn State on Wednesday, although that loss didn’t look quite as bad after the Nittany Lions beat Maryland at home on a buzzer-beating tip-in. The Wildcats have had an amazing season to finish in a tie for second in the Big Ten, but in the end I couldn’t quite get past their metrics (35-51).
• Maryland, meanwhile, continued to demonstrate a prodigious gap between the way it plays at home and on the road. The Terrapins lost at Ohio State and Penn State last week to run their road record to 2-9. That does not bode well for the NCAA Tournament.
• I wonder what my friends in Pittsburgh will offer up in the comments section this week? The Panthers’ fan base has been outraged that the team hasn’t quite made it onto my ballot, despite being near the top of the ACC standings all season. Despite Pitt’s low metrics (49-68), I promised last week that if the Panthers could win their road games at Notre Dame and Miami, they would absolutely, positively have a number next to their name next time around. Alas, they lost both. Case closed.
• Sometimes when I get to the end of my ballot, I have a group of qualified times and have a hard time whittling things down. Other weeks, I have a hard time getting to 25. This was one of those weeks. West Virginia got the nod following quality wins at Iowa State and over Kansas State at home. The Mountaineers’ metrics have been strong all season (17-32). I filled the remaining two spots with a pair of mid-majors that have had outstanding seasons — Florida Atlantic, which has lost just three games and has a metrics range of 15-49, and Oral Roberts, the only team in the country that went undefeated in conference play.
(Top photo of UConn’s Naheim Alleyne: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images)
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