After one of the craziest college basketball weeks in years, there was bound to be a major rankings shakeup.
That, there was. A look at the new AP Top 25:
We’ll start with Villanova, which rose to No. 1 after a decisive win over Gonzaga and Duke’s loss to Boston College. The Wildcats have been consistently dominant all season – no team has come within nine points of beating Jay Wright’s crew, which boasts two top-20 wins (Gonzaga and Tennessee). As we wrote last week, Duke may have been No. 1, but it was flirting with disaster all season. Disaster struck on Saturday.
Villanova is so great defensively, and so precise offensively, that it’s less upset-prone than the bluebloods we’ve seen fall. The Wildcats have two stars in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, a star on the bench in Wright, and quality depth in important spots. It’s a bit surprising to see them jump No. 2 Michigan State for the top ranking, but it’s perfectly justified. The Spartans lost to an awesome, but flawed Duke team. Villanova hasn’t come close to losing. When we’re discussing the No. 1 ranking, the standard is (rightfully) high.
The biggest story of this week’s rankings (and perhaps the season in general) is Arizona State, which rose 11 spots to No. 5 after wins over St. John’s and Kansas.
The Sun Devils arguably have the best resume in the country, with four top-50 KenPom wins against Kansas State, Xavier and the two schools who were just mentioned. Bobby Hurley’s squad is a joy to watch. It plays without a care in the world on offense, which is refreshing. No 3-point shot is a bad shot – that may sound reckless, but when the guards taking said shots are so accurate, it makes the Sun Devils impossible to cover. Every inch on the floor must be accounted for – otherwise, Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice will strike, and probably make an opponent look foolish.That trio combines to average 54.7 points per game, and all of them shoot 42 percent of better from 3-point land. They can handle, too, so it’s pretty easy for Arizona State to find an open 3-point look if they simply get the defense to rotate a few times. The Sun Devils aren’t great defensively – frankly, they just out-Kansas'd Kansas on Sunday. The Jayhawks play small; ASU played even smaller, slotting the 6-3 Justice at power forward (seriously) to ride Remy Martin’s hot hand.
Arizona State may not shoot this well all season. Like Kansas, Duke and Florida, that will cause it to lose some head-scratchers.
But the Sun Devils can beat anyone. They have great shooters and ball handlers, and Hurley trusts them with the greenest of lights. That’s a dangerous combination.
If you enjoy good defense and guard play, check out No. 6 Miami, which jumped four spots. The Hurricanes have the fourth-ranked defense and are holding opponents to an icy 25.7 percent from 3-point land. Bruce Brown is an all-around monster, Ja’Quan Newton keeps the offense humming, and highly-touted freshman Lonnie Walker is slowly emerging. Right behind Miami is No. 7 North Carolina, which has looked awesome outside of its dud against Michigan State. The ACC Player of the Year choice might come down to Marvin Bagley and Luke Maye, which isn’t a sentence anyone expected to read before the season.
How wild was this week? No. 8 Kentucky and No. 12 Gonzaga are the only teams who hold the same ranking as they did seven days ago. There are two new top-five teams and three new top-10 teams. No. 13 Kansas is out of the top 10, and is just one spot ahead of TCU. Are the upper-echelon teams down this year, or is the middle/bottom of the pack just better than we’ve seen? There’s probably some truth in both. Outside of Villanova and Michigan State, any school feels capable of losing on a given night.
Speaking of which – Duke fell to No. 4 after losing to Boston College; Kansas fell 11 spots after losses to Washington and Arizona State; and Florida dropped a whopping 17 spots after losses to Florida State and Loyola Chicago. And that’s with the Gators winning the game that looked most challenging coming into the week – Cincinnati. Like Kansas, Florida plays a high-variance style. It looks unbeatable when the flurry of 3s are falling. When they’re not, the Gators are quite beatable – even against teams you wouldn’t expect. Florida could really use John Egbunu right now.
If last week was any indication, we’re in for quite a ride this season. Spend a night away from the TV screen at your own risk. You’ll probably miss something significant.