Welcome back to the top of the AP Poll, Villanova. After West Virginia dominated Baylor in Morgantown on Tuesday night, the Wildcats are the No. 1 team in college basketball once again.
FULL RANKINGS: AP Top 25 Poll
For what it’s worth, Baylor losing to West Virginia on the road is perfectly understandable. No college basketball team would be expected to win at West Virginia. Had the Bears been, say, the No. 15 team in the country, their ranking likely wouldn’t have budged. But when peering down at the rest of the pack, the standard is higher. There is no margin for error.
With that said, while Baylor was expected to fall, dropping all the way to No. 6 seems like a bit much – especially with the Bears pulling out an impressive road win against Kansas State on Saturday. Specifically, slotting Baylor behind Kentucky feels like an overreaction.The Bears have five top-30 KenPom wins on their resume; the Wildcats have one. Each team’s losses are reasonable – Kentucky fell to Louisville on the road and UCLA at home, while Baylor, as previously mentioned, took it on the chin in Morgantown. At this point, the Bears’ wins are clearly better, and they have one fewer setback. But some voters factor predictive elements into their internal calculus, so in that sense, there’s good reason to place Kentucky ahead of Baylor. Most folks who watch college basketball regularly would agree that, based on the eye test, UK is the better team.
At the end of the day, the difference between the No. 5 and No. 6 ranking in January isn’t winning you anything in March. Based on the conference it plays in, Baylor will have more chances to notch quality wins the rest of this season than Kentucky will. But falling five spots for losing to West Virginia in Morgantown might be a tad aggressive.
Elsewhere in the rankings, Notre Dame continues to rise, as it's now ranked 15th in the nation. It can’t be overstated how good of a job Mike Brey has done in South Bend in recent years. The Fighting Irish have lost an absurd amount of talent in the past two offseasons, and they keep chugging along. The names: Jerian Grant. Pat Connaughton. Demetrius Jackson. Zach Auguste. Notre Dame has two losses on the season – they’ve come on neutral floors to Villanova and Purdue.
Notre Dame is on the short list of programs which, regardless of personnel changes, you have to give the benefit of the doubt going into the season. Regardless of the roster. It's similar to how folks (rightly) viewed Wisconsin after it lost Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Anyone who expected Bonzie Colson to average 15.8 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in his junior year probably isn’t telling the truth, and Matt Farrell looks like the next great Notre Dame point guard. Winning at Miami and Virginia Tech in consecutive games may not be glamorous, but make no mistake: it’s an absolute chore. The Fighting Irish, who boast a top-10 offense once again, are for real.
Another perennial ACC power isn’t having the same kind of success. Duke, which is off to a 2-3 start in conference play, fell 11 spots to No. 18 in this week’s poll.
On one hand, Duke hasn’t been healthy all season long, and its two losses this week (at Florida State and at Louisville) weren’t terribly egregious. Amile Jefferson was playing at an All-American level before injuring his foot, and he was out of the lineup for the Blue Devils. Mike Krzyzewski is recovering from surgery, and before that, Duke’s star-studded freshman class was mostly injured.
Those guys are back, though, and outside of Jayson Tatum, they haven’t been productive. Harry Giles doesn’t look like he’s 100 percent. Marques Bolden is rarely seeing the floor, even with Jefferson out of the lineup. The Jefferson injury is a valid reason to lose two tough road games – All-American candidates aren’t easily replaceable – but if any team should be expected to weather that storm, it would be Duke, a squad which was supposedly loaded with impact frontcourt players.
While it’s not early in the season, Duke has more than enough time to figure this out by the time it really matters. The Blue Devils would rather peak in March, anyway, and if they find their footing by February, they’ll look back at this January skid as nothing more than a valuable learning experience.
Still, the parts are taking longer to mesh than expected, and easy nights in the ACC are rare. Keep a close eye on Duke as the season rolls along.