While this past week of college basketball wasn’t as hectic as the seven days prior, it was entertaining nonetheless. A look at the new AP Top 25:
The most noteworthy riser was Oklahoma, which jumped five spots to No. 4 after beating Texas Tech and TCU in the same week. Trae Young is ridiculous – everyone knows this, and everyone discusses this (with good reason). But while Oklahoma wouldn’t be near where it is without Young, it’s time to discuss the Sooners as a legitimate Final Four contender.
One of the reasons why Young is so great is because he elevates his teammates’ performance. Christian James, Brady Manek and Kam McGusty have been awesome this season – all are shooting at least 38 percent from 3, and are switchable on defense. Manek is the type of versatile combo forward every squad needs. James is growing in his role as the second option, and McGusty provides a jolt off the bench.To use a football analogy, Young is like a quarterback who makes average receivers look good, and good receivers look great. Young isn’t playing with a bunch of All-Americans, but they’re more than capable, and he makes the game simple for them. The Sooners also have two elite rim-protectors in Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNeace (quietly one of the most fun guys to watch in college basketball, by the way. He doesn’t just block shots; he swallows them whole). Young looks to be on his way to winning the Naismith, but the Sooners should have lofty aspirations as a team.
As should several other Big 12 schools. The league has a whopping four teams in the top 10: Oklahoma, No. 6 West Virginia, No. 8 Texas Tech and No. 10 Kansas.
Dropping the Mountaineers four spots for a road loss to Texas Tech feels like a bit much, though. Winning on the road against a top-10 team is an unfair expectation. Virginia, Purdue and Oklahoma (the Sooners beat the Red Raiders last week, but it was at home) are playing great, but would any of them be expected to win at Texas Tech? Probably not, and West Virginia was uber-competitive.
The Mountaineers have no time to hang their heads, though, as Kansas looms. What a matchup that will be.
For what it’s worth, Virginia and Purdue looked great last week – the gripe is less about them and more about punishing West Virginia for losing a game it was expected to lose. The Hoos handled Syracuse and N.C. State with ease, while Purdue notched a tough road win at Michigan and dominated Minnesota. For all of the talk that the Big Ten is down, the league now has four ranked team, a respectable number: Purdue, No. 9 Michigan State, No. 22 Ohio State and No. 23 Michigan.
What a job Chris Holtmann has done with the Buckeyes. Ohio State wasn’t expected to sniff this year’s NCAA tournament, yet here it is – firmly in the hunt for a Big Ten title. Keita Bates-Diop, an enigma for most of his college career, has been the best player in the conference. In Holtmann’s first year at Butler, he took a team that wasn’t expected to accomplish much to the dance. He’s on his way to doing the same thing with the Buckeyes. Fans in Columbus have to be thrilled.
A few other noteworthy rankings: Auburn is up to No. 17, and Bruce Pearl’s squad still only has one loss on the season. The Tigers have scored at least 80 points in six of their last seven games. Arizona State has come crashing back to reality – the Sun Devils dropped five spots to No. 16. Their offense is still explosive, but there’s only so much you can do with a sub-120 defense.
It hasn’t looked pretty for No. 18 Kentucky, but the Wildcats jumped three spots after close wins over Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s rapid progress is a great sign for UK, which desperately needs a game-changer in the backcourt. Lastly, No. 24 TCU is still ranked despite being 1-4 in Big 12 play. That may seem odd, but it’s warranted – the Horned Frogs’ four losses have come by a combined 11 points. TCU is likely out of the conference title hunt, but not because it’s not good enough. It’s because the Horned Frogs have dug themselves a deep hole and play in a league with four top-10 teams.
The journey to March continues. With some big games on tap for this week, expect more chaos in the coming days.