After another wacky weekend of college hoops, here’s the newest AP Top 25:
Duke, Kansas, Arizona and Kentucky all lost on Saturday, and as expected, each fell in the rankings. Duke tumbled five spots to No. 9 after losing to St. John’s; Kansas dropped to No. 10 after a setback against Oklahoma State; Arizona is down to No. 13 after losing a heartbreaker to Washington; and Kentucky slipped to No. 24 after falling at Missouri.
We’ll focus on Duke, Kansas and Arizona, because Kentucky’s issues are youth and scoring-based. What does that trio have in common besides their blueblood status?
All have serious defensive issues, which makes them ripe for an upset.
Duke has the No. 2 offense and the No. 74 defense. The Blue Devils can beat anyone – but are also capable of losing to a winless Big East team because their defense can’t bail them out of an average offensive performance. The same goes for Arizona (No. 6 on offense; No. 106 on defense), though Washington is surging and has a good chance to reach the NCAA tournament. Kansas ranks 32nd defensively, but it lacks interior size – the Jayhawks’ defense comes and goes. Rebounding is their biggest issue – Kansas ranks 271st in defensive rebounding rate. Defend as well as you want on the perimeter, but it’s hard to stop anyone if you’re consistently allowing second and third chances.
The good news for the wounded bluebloods: while these struggles are uncharacteristic, all of them can still make the Final Four – and perhaps even win while there. South Carolina made the Final Four in 2017. Syracuse made it in 2016. We could go on – but the point is, Duke, Kansas and Arizona are better now than those teams were then. They can flip the proverbial switch. But if these schools win big, it could come as a surprise – and when was the last time we could say that about any of them?
MORE: Andy Katz's Power 36
Despite all of the huge weekend upsets, no team rose a notable amount in this week’s rankings. That’s because the schools who pulled off the upsets – St. John’s, Oklahoma State and Washington – weren’t close to the AP Top 25 before the games happened (though the Huskies are creeping up). So there’s a glut of teams who creeped up a few spots in the poll.
Xavier is in the top five despite a close call against Georgetown on Saturday. The Musketeers are proof that it doesn’t necessarily matter how you win – just that you do it. Xavier has won six in a row and has a senior duo that no team wants to deal with in Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura. A tough Tuesday matchup with Butler looms.Cincinnati is up to No. 6. The Bearcats are the team that we expected Wichita State to be; they’re running through the AAC. Texas Tech is ranked seventh. Keenan Evans plus stout defense equals a lot of wins, apparently. Auburn is up to No. 8. The Tigers might be the most surprising team in the country. No. 11 St. Mary’s and No. 12 Gonzaga are once again ruling the WCC; they face each other on Saturday in what will turn out to be one of the biggest games of the year. No. 14 Ohio State and No. 15 Tennessee are almost, if not as surprising as Auburn. It can’t be overstated how well Chris Holtmann and Rick Barnes have done with the Buckeyes and Volunteers, respectively. And Clemson is ranked 16th – the Tigers have won three straight after a 36-point clunker against Virginia. With Donte Grantham out of the lineup, their latest winning streak is a massive accomplishment.
There’s a lot of chatter about the overwhelming parity in college hoops this year. There’s some truth to that. When Duke, Kansas, Arizona and Kentucky lose on the same day, it feeds into the narrative.But there are three juggernauts this season, and they reside in the top three spots of the rankings. Together, Villanova, Virginia and Purdue are on a 42-game winning streak. Some teams they’ve collectively beaten in that span: Duke, Arizona, Louisville (twice), Butler, Michigan (twice), Xavier, Creighton, Seton Hall, North Carolina, Clemson. Those are probably all tournament squads.
Villanova has two stars on the floor in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, and a star on the bench in Jay Wright. Virginia is on pace to have the best defense of the KenPom era. Purdue has the No. 3 offense and is shooting a sizzling 43 percent from distance.
They’re beatable, sure, but there are three clear-cut 1-seeds as it stands in early February. Granted, after that, it’s kind of a mess. It’s going to be a blast watching this all play out – but Villanova, Virginia and Purdue should have silenced the “there are no great teams in college basketball this year” talk by now.
Selection Sunday is inching closer and closer. The greatest time of the year is just around the corner, but there’s plenty of madness still to come between now and then.