Survival of the fittest. We’re fresh off of the craziest week of the college basketball season, and the new rankings reflect as such. For the second time in school history, 22-0 Gonzaga is the No. 1 team in the nation. This first time was in 2013, when the Zags held the top spot for three weeks.
Gonzaga doesn’t play in a high-major league, but in a year once again void of unbeatable juggernauts, the Bulldogs are a well-deserving No. 1 squad. Gonzaga owns wins against Florida, St. Mary’s, Iowa State and Arizona; while No. 2 Baylor has more quality triumphs than the Zags, it’s also had many more at-bats. Gonzaga looks the part, and the 2016-17 Bulldogs have given us no reason to doubt them thus far. This edition can’t be held responsible for past NCAA tournament flameouts.
After everything that went down this week, you were essentially guaranteed to rise in the rankings as long as you took care of business. An astonishing 14 teams that were ranked in last week’s AP Top 25 lost. The beneficiaries: Louisville (up seven spots to No. 6); West Virginia (up 11 spots to No. 7); Wisconsin (up five spots to No. 10); Cincinnati (up five spots to No. 14); and Maryland (up five spots to No. 17).
MORE: The week of losses
It’s funny how quickly things can change. A week ago at this time, we were writing about West Virginia’s two disappointing losses to Oklahoma and Kansas State. Fast-forward to today, and the Mountaineers are a solid top-10 team after knocking off Kansas and Texas A&M. The Jayhawks made West Virginia look even stronger by handling Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday; just when you think foes have solved the press, WVU reminds you that it’s one step ahead of the pack. The Aggies coughed the ball up 23 times in Morgantown two days ago.
A common theme you may notice in this week’s rankings: defense still matters. Louisville, Gonzaga, Virginia and Baylor are top-five defensive teams, per KenPom; in this week’s AP Poll, they’re ranked sixth, first, ninth and second in the country, respectively. A team like Louisville doesn’t have the ceiling that a high-octane scoring machine like UCLA does. But it’s more consistent. With surrounding teams falling in just about every conceivable fashion, Louisville calmly allowed 55.5 points per game in two wins against Pittsburgh and North Carolina State. South Carolina, which ranks 162nd in the country in offensive efficiency, now has the land’s top-ranked defense; the Gamecocks check in at No. 19 in this week’s poll. Sometimes, the grunt work matters most when determining the final tally.
Speaking of great defensive teams, the Cincinnati Bearcats are up to No. 14 in this week’s AP Top 25. Cincy handled Xavier in the Crosstown Shootout on Thursday, and it demolished South Florida on Sunday. Mick Cronin’s squad has ripped off 11 wins in a row and is running through the AAC; the Bearcats have their best offense in years, and they seem to have a gear that past Cincinnati teams couldn't sniff.
The Bearcats simply have no weaknesses in their starting lineup. They’re extremely balanced – six guys score at least seven points per game – and their best players affect the game in multiple ways.
Jacob Evans leads the team in scoring, but he’s also one of the team’s best perimeter defenders; Kyle Washington averages 13.3 points per game, but he’s also a deterrent at the rim to opposing drivers; Troy Caupain is a notorious jack-of-all-trades, able to hit clutch 3 on one possession and dive on the floor for a loose ball the next. These guys are fun to watch, and with a softer league schedule than some of its counterparts in the top 25, Cincinnati should only move up in the rankings.
If this coming week is anything like the one we just experienced, this poll will look a heck of a lot different in seven days. As March inches closer, it’s time to embrace the madness.