College basketball rankings: Villanova back at No. 1; West Virginia, Virginia climb
What a college basketball week that was. As expected, there were some serious changes in the new AP Top 25. The full poll:
|2||West Virginia (12)||14-1||1,559||6|
The reason for shakeup? Let’s sum it up with emojis:
The Top 25 this weekend…— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 8, 2018
Eleven teams from last week’s AP Top 25 lost over the weekend, so here we are: just one team -- No. 16 TCU -- has the same ranking as it did last week.
Villanova is back at No. 1, which was expected. Of the top-ranked teams to fall this season – the Wildcats, Duke and Michigan State – Villanova’s loss is the most easily justified. Its defeat to Butler came on the road, and the Bulldogs shot 15-for-22 from 3; the Wildcats still only lost by eight. The Blue Devils lost to Boston College, and the Spartans weren’t competitive against Ohio State. To be clear, there are no juggernauts in college basketball this season. But right now, Villanova is the best of the bunch.
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But the reason this Mountaineer squad is better than Bob Huggins’ past teams? The offense isn’t lagging too far behind the defense – West Virginia ranks 24th on O and 12th on D. This would be the Mountaineers’ best offense since 2013-14 (but they finished 135th on defense that year – it was before the Press Virginia days).
Here’s the thing, though: West Virginia plays in the Big 12, the best league in the country. It’s probably going to lose a tough road game soon. So don’t freak out when that happens. This is the most well-rounded group we’ve seen in the Huggins era, and a setback against a worthy foe shouldn’t cause panic. There’s so much parity this year that it’s inevitable.
MORE: Andy Katz's Power 36
Virginia checks in at No. 3, and the Cavaliers have doubled down on their identity – they rank first in defense and last in pace. If the season ended today, Virginia would finish decimal points away from being the best defense of the KenPom era – Memphis had an 84.2 defensive rating in 2008-09; UVA is at 84.4 now. The defense is better than ever, and Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy have upped the Cavs’ risk profile. They bringe an explosive element that past Virginia teams have lacked.
Tony Bennett has to break through in March at some point. Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but this could be the year.
How crazy was this week? No. 5 Purdue rose eight spots, and all it did was beat Rutgers and Nebraska. Wichita State (tied with Purdue for fifth) rose four spots by beating Houston and South Florida. No. 8 Texas Tech jumped 10 spots – but the Red Raiders beat Kansas on the road, so that’s more easily explained. Perhaps most shocking of all: the Jayhawks actually rose two spots despite losing at home to Texas Tech. Keep in mind, Texas Tech had never beaten Kansas in Lawrence. The Jayhawks rebounded with a nice win at TCU, but that just proves how much chaos occurred in the top 10.
A few other notes: Duke dropped five spots to No. 7 after losing at N.C. State. The Blue Devils’ defense remains a huge problem; stuff like this will keep happening until it gets fixed. Duke has the No. 1 offense and the No. 108 defense. Seton Hall rose eight spots to No. 13 after a comeback win at Butler; the Pirates are experienced, talented, and play a physical style that travels well. Clemson is a stealth ACC contender; the No. 19 Tigers are 14-1, and with Duke and North Carolina struggling, the league title may be more attainable than usual (granted, right now, it’s Virginia’s to lose). The SEC doesn’t have a great team, but has plenty of solid ones – Kentucky, Auburn and Tennessee are all ranked in the 20s.
At this point, would any team losing a conference road game be that much of a surprise? No. And that’s why college basketball is worth watching every night. We know more crazy stuff will go down this week. The key is knowing where to look, which is darn near impossible.
And that’s fun. Bring on more madness in January.