The first AP Top 25 of 2018 gives us plenty to digest, since all three remaining undefeated teams lost on Saturday. A look at the poll:
|1||Michigan State (43)||14-1||1600||2|
We’ll start with the new No. 1 team, Michigan State. The Spartans earned the top spot – their lone loss was to Duke on a neutral floor, and MSU has ripped off 13 straight wins since then – including total drubbings of North Carolina and Notre Dame.Every player in the Spartans’ starting lineup has been awesome, and that’s not an exaggeration. Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson are the two headliners, and the backcourt has been better than expected. But how about Nick Ward? The dude has a PER above 40, and is averaging 33 points and 16 rebounds per 40 minutes. Michigan State has no weak links, and plenty of star power. Sure, the Spartans will trip up at some point like Villanova did – these are 40-minute games, it happens – but they’re as well-rounded as anyone, and completely deserving of the No. 1 ranking.
Then we get to the No. 2 and No. 3 spots – and while it’s not surprising that Duke also jumped Villanova, it may be unwarranted. The Wildcats lost at Butler, a top-40 KenPom squad. The Blue Devils lost at Boston College – No. 75 in KenPom – and have had close calls against Portland State, Indiana, Texas and Florida; before Butler beat Villanova, no team came within eight points of the Wildcats.
This is all going to change at some point. More upsets will happen. But chalk that one up to the recency effect, because while the Villanova defense needs work, it lost on the road to a team that shot 68 percent from 3. It was hard to watch that game and think much less of the Wildcats; they caught the wrong team on the wrong night. Duke’s defensive issues, on the other hand, have been a constant this season.
Arizona State only fell one spot to No. 4, which feels right – the Sun Devils shouldn’t be punished too heavily for losing at Arizona. Arizona State proved it could hang with a more talented team; it deserves to be in the top five, because its wins remain awesome. Arizona rose to No. 14, and that number will likely get smaller and smaller as the season goes on. The Wildcats, winners of eight in a row, haven’t lost with Rawle Alkins in the lineup, and have beaten two top-11 teams (Texas A&M and Arizona State) in that span. If it wasn’t for Trae Young, DeAndre Ayton would be a Naismith frontrunner. Sean Miller could still reach his first Final Four with this group.
Speaking of Young, Oklahoma jumped five spots to No. 7 after his 39-point, 14-assist outburst at TCU. There’s just nothing else you can say about the guy – he’s amazing. But give the rest of the Sooners some credit, too. Christian James, Kam McGusty and Brady Manek are ideal 3-and-D guys to run with Young. Khadeem Lattin is an established rim-protector, and he’s losing minutes to Jamuni McNeace, who doesn’t just block shots – he swallows them whole. No. 6 West Virginia, Oklahoma, No. 16 TCU and No. 18 Texas Tech are all threats to dethrone Kansas.
A few other tidbits: Xavier jumped into the top five thanks to the attrition up top, but the Musketeers have a tough date with Butler on Tuesday. Texas A&M fell six spots after losing to Alabama; the D.J. Hogg suspension is a killer. TCU falling six spots felt a bit extreme – it lost by one to the best player in college basketball, and was in control the whole game. After beating Tennessee, Arkansas checks in at No. 22 – don’t sleep on Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks. They’re not flashy, but they’re good, and they serve as further proof that this is going to be a fun year in the SEC. Lastly – while Clemson fans are (rightfully) preoccupied with the football team, the Tigers have a good basketball team, too – Clemson is 12-1 and sits at No. 25 in the poll.
Saturday was the most eventful day of the season. The good news? There’s likely plenty more where that came from. March is great, but if you're not watching until then, you're missing out.