As the new year approaches, teams are rounding out their nonconference schedules. Here’s the full AP Top 25:
|2||Michigan State (15)||10-1||1,560||2|
|3||Arizona State (5)||10-0||1,429||5|
The Oklahoma-Wichita State result had the most significant impact on this week’s rankings – freshman sensation Trae Young led the Sooners into Wichita and escaped with a win. Oklahoma checked in at No. 17 in this week’s poll; the Shockers fell eight spots to No. 11.It’s tough to evaluate Young properly without getting too carried away. He’s been remarkable, of course – Young is averaging 28.8 points and 8.9 assists while shooting 47 percent from the floor. The Sooners won 11 games last season; they’ve already won eight, and we’re in mid-December. He’s been the only major change in personnel, and he replaced an accomplished senior point guard in Jordan Woodard. Woodard was a key piece on OU’s Final Four team. Even if Young was projected to be the better four-year player, the difference between a senior Woodard and a freshman Young shouldn’t have been this drastic.
Young is bombing so many 3s per game (9.8) that it makes you wonder if you’re looking at his per game totals or his per 40 averages at first glance. It’s the former – so given the inherent degree of difficulty, the fact that he’s hitting 37.5 percent of them is all the more impressive.
It’s too small of a sample size to say Young is the next Stephen Curry (strictly in a college sense – throw out what Curry has done as a pro). But it’s fair to say that, if Young keeps up this pace, he’ll be as good — if not better — than Curry was at Davidson. Curry averaged 28.6 points and 5.6 assists in his junior year with the Wildcats. Both were career highs.
Young is by far the biggest reason for this Oklahoma turnaround, but the Sooners surround him with quality role players that fit. Khadeem Lattin is a defensive anchor. Christian James is a versatile offensive weapon, and Brady Manek is the type of large, skilled wing that every team needs. Kansas looks vulnerable (by its standard), and Oklahoma has the best player in the conference. You couldn’t pick against the Jayhawks in the Big 12 and feel great about it, but the streak ending in 2018 is possible.
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Wichita State is now outside of the top 10, and the Shockers have some defensive issues to wok out — a rarity for a Gregg Marshall-coached team. They rank 19th on that end – which is good – but it would be their worst defense since 2012-13, and some of the individual performances have been alarming. Wichita State allowed 91 points to Oklahoma, 85 to South Dakota State, and 82 to California. There’s plenty of time to work out the kinks, and Markis McDuffie’s return will help. But keep an eye on this as the Shockers gear up for AAC play. They won’t waltz through that league like they did the Missouri Valley.
The Shockers’ fall opened the door up for Arizona State to move up to No. 3. That’s a sentence you didn’t expect to see before the season. The Sun Devils picked up another nice win over Vanderbilt on Sunday, and likely won’t be challenged again until a Dec. 30 showdown at Arizona.
Arizona State’s record speaks for itself, but the advanced stats don’t love the Sun Devils as much as the AP Poll does. Why? Because ASU has the No. 127 defense in America – the offense is ranked fifth, and that’s clearly been the reason for their surge.
That offense has been particularly dominant in the biggest games. In four games against Xavier, Kansas State, Kansas and St. John’s – the Sun Devils’ toughest opponents thus far – they’ve scored 92.8 points per game. That’ll play. Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice remain a nightmare perimeter trio to stop, and Romello White is one of the most underrated freshmen in the country. The defensive problems are real, but Arizona State is an elite offensive group. It’ll probably lose some Pac-12 games it shouldn’t on nights where the shots aren’t falling. But more times than not, the Sun Devils will just outgun you.
There wasn’t much shuffling in the rankings besides that. North Carolina rose two spots to No. 5 after a tough road win at Tennessee. Creighton joined the rankings at No. 25, and Arizona jumped five spots to No. 18. That Arizona-Arizona State matchup at the end of the month is going to be a blast. The Wildcats have seemingly found their stride with Rawle Alkins’ return, and if it wasn’t for Young, we’d be gushing about DeAndre Ayton even more than we already are.
The path to March continues. It’s been a fun season, and it feels like the best is yet to come.