Another week, another set of college basketball rankings. The top four teams remain the same as they were seven days ago — so perhaps the country is saving its madness for mid-to-late March.
There were no drastic leaps in the newest poll, but a few squads in the teens had productive weeks. SMU has lost once in the last three months and change; the Mustangs are up to No. 12 in the rankings. No. 13 Purdue is up three spots after notching crucial wins over Indiana and Northwestern, and Cincinnati is ranked 15th following dominant performances against Houston and Connecticut.
The high-major conference tournaments get the bulk of the publicity, but the AAC is a league to keep an eye on this week. Specifically, watch the Bearcats and the Mustangs; the two powers are a combined 33-3 in conference play. Two of those losses came against each other, and few teams have more momentum heading into the NCAA tournament. If these two meet in the AAC tournament title game on Sunday, which seems likely, it will be must-see television. They defend, have outstanding guard play and can beat you in multiple ways. Don’t sleep on either.
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Purdue, meanwhile, continues to roll — albeit in a Big Ten that has had better years. The Boilermakers are formidable on both ends of the court and are methodically shedding their label as a ground-and-pound, retro offense; Purdue is making 40.6 percent of its 3s this season, which ranks sixth in the nation.
Caleb Swanigan is a Naismith candidate, and Vince Edwards is praised for being underrated to the point where he’s appropriately rated. But the difference between 2016-17 Purdue and past teams is a player like Dakota Mathias, who’s making 47.8 percent of his 3s while averaging 3.6 assists. Guard play has always been the Boilermakers’ downfall; it’s not as if they’ve been bad, they just haven’t been dynamic. Mathias has reached that level, and Carsen Edwards isn’t far behind.
A big faller in this week’s rankings was Florida, which dropped five spots to No. 17. The Gators lost a tight battle to Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday — the Commodores are surging, by the way, winning five of their last six.Florida is still a really good team. Mike White has the Gators in the top five of adjusted defensive efficiency, they have two legitimate point guards in Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza, and they’re long and explosive at the forward spots.
With that said, the Gators are similar to Kentucky (again, things could be worse) in the sense that if their shooting guard has a mediocre performance, they put forth a mediocre effort. KeVaughn Allen went 4-of-10 against Vandy — Florida’s biggest issue is its lack of a second guy who can get you a bucket in a pinch. If Allen is on, Florida is national championship-level good. If he’s not, the Gators are ripe for an upset — regardless of how stout they are defensively.
With one more shot-creator, we’re talking about Florida in the same breath as the best teams in the land. Allen is a supremely talented scorer capable of having a hot six-game stretch, but that’s a tough, tough ask. We’ll see how Florida fares in the SEC tournament — a strong showing could make the Gators a trendy Final Four pick despite the season-ending loss.
Selection Sunday is less than a week away. For some teams, winning the conference tournament is absolutely vital — it’s their lone hope at an NCAA tournament bid. For others, this week is about building momentum — playing well in a loss isn’t terribly different than playing poorly in a win. Get ready for the most exciting time of the year; it’s almost here.