We were bound to see some action at the top of the new AP Poll after an eventful week of college basketball. The new top 25:
|6||Michigan State (2)||16-2||1,355||6|
|21||North Carolina State||15-3||282||17|
We'll start with Tennessee, which replaces Duke at No. 1 after the Blue Devils fell to Syracuse on Monday. It's just the second time in school history Tennessee is the No. 1 team. There was an argument to keep Duke atop the rankings, considering it beat Virginia and was without two key players against the Orange.
But the Volunteers deserve the spot. They are 16-1 and haven't lost in almost two months, and their overtime defeat to Kansas isn't a bad loss. Since then, they've beaten Gonzaga, Florida, Missouri, Alabama and Arkansas.
Oh hi there pic.twitter.com/6o5lDGbCHD— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) January 21, 2019
It's hard to argue with Tennessee's resume, and it looks the part. The Vols have the No. 2 offense in America, per KenPom, and have one of the top one-two duos in the sport in Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Tennessee was known as a defensive-minded group coming into the year, and that's actually the unit that has lagged a bit. But this is a complete team.
The Volunteers still don't have as high of a ceiling as Duke. But, shorthanded or not, they deserve credit for not having any outings like the one the Blue Devils had on Monday against Syracuse. Consistency matters, and there hasn't been a more consistently great team than Tennessee.
And it's fair that Virginia didn't drop too far after a competitive loss at Duke. The Blue Devils inspire the most confidence of any team going forward, even if Tennessee is a worthy No. 1 based on resume. The Cavaliers clearly aren't as talented as Duke based on what we saw during their head-to-head matchup, but UVA put up a good fight. Virginia is 16-1 with its lone loss coming at Cameron Indoor. Saturday doesn't take away from what the Hoos have accomplished thus far, and the voters recognized that.
Michigan fell to No. 5 after its loss at Wisconsin. It's fair to question whether or not they should still be ahead of No. 4 Gonzaga, which has two losses, but the general range feels right. You're not panicking if you're a Wolverines fan. That said, it's worth wondering if this team peaked too early. Michigan wasn't playing its best ball going into the Wisconsin game despite clinging to an undefeated record; it came out of the gates firing and looked like the best team in America for a while. They haven't looked the same over the last few weeks.
The Wolverines could use another shot creator, and while the defense is still great, it's not otherworldly like it was to start the season. The good news: Michigan is still an awesome team, even if it's not playing its best. And there's plenty of time to hit another groove before March.
A team to keep an eye on is Kentucky, which rose four more spots to No. 8 after wins over Georgia and Auburn this week. The Wildcats endured a rough start to the season but have surged as of late, winning seven of their last eight including wins over Louisville and North Carolina.
The turnaround directly correlates with Ashton Hagans' increased playing time. Hagans isn't as good as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was last year, but he brings a similar two-way skillset; Hagans is a hound on the ball defensively and can get wherever he wants to on the floor offensively. Freshman backcourt mate Tyler Herro is also starting to find his stroke. Kentucky is good enough to win the whole thing.
A few more tidbits: Maryland is up to No. 13 after nice wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Terps play Michigan State on Monday night, and if they can pull off the upset, they'll likely find themselves in the top 10 next week. Villanova checks in at No. 18; the Wildcats are undefeated in Big East play, and while they're not nearly as talented as they were last year, it's hard to imagine anyone taking the league title from them. That includes Marquette, which is 5-1 in the Big East and is ranked 12th this week. It's Villanova, Marquette, and then everyone else in that league. The Golden Eagles are good enough to unseat Villanova, but we'll believe it when we see it.
Let's hope the next seven days of college hoops are as entertaining as the past seven. If so, we're in for another wild ride.