The top six teams are the same as they were in last week's poll, but there was plenty of shuffling after that. The full rankings:
|23||North Carolina State||16-4||203||21|
It's interesting Kentucky didn't pass Michigan State after the Spartans lost to Purdue over the weekend and the Wildcats beat Kansas, but full body of work matters. That said, they have the same number of losses, and you could reasonably argue that the Wildcats are the second most likely team to win it all right now.
Since Dec. 9, they are 9-1 with wins over North Carolina, Louisville, Auburn, Mississippi State and Kansas. That's an absurdly good stretch. Of course, Kentucky's resume before Dec. 9 isn't particularly impressive, so it's defensible that the Wildcats are outside of the top five. But they certainly look like a top five team right now. Ashton Hagans have been a team-changer since earning bigger minutes, and Reid Travis and P.J. Washington are learning how to play off of one another effectively. Kentucky looks like the team we thought it would coming into the year.
Two new schools jumped into the top 10 this week: North Carolina and Marquette. The Tar Heels earned one of the most impressive wins of the week, a 21-point triumph over Virginia Tech.
The Tar Heels have the talent to earn a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament, but consistency has eluded them for most of the season. A Coby White, Kenny Williams, Cam Johnson, Nassir Little, Luke Maye lineup has the potential to be incredibly formidable, on both ends. But those guys have rarely all produced at the same time. We finally saw it against Virginia Tech, and Little, in particular, looked outstanding. He scored 23 points in 20 minutes and mostly played power forward instead of small forward. Roy Williams may use him as a small-ball four more often, as that's where he's looked most comfortable.
Marquette, meanwhile, is up to No. 10 and is one of the hottest teams in America, having won seven games in a row. It's Marquette, Villanova, and then everyone else in the Big East right now. Markus Howard remains awesome, and he's the biggest reason for the Golden Eagles' success. But the improved defense shouldn't be overlooked. Marquette is ranked 47th there, which is nothing special, but it's a big leap from its No. 182 finish a year ago. Offense was never a problem with this group. Now that the Golden Eagles are solid defensively, they're winning a ton of games.
There were three notable risers in the middle of the new AP Top 25: No. 13 Houston, No. 14 Villanova and No. 15 Louisville. They rose four, four and eight spots, respectively.
The Cougars are running through the AAC right now and have won five straight after a tough loss to Temple. Opponents have a 41.9 effective field goal percentage against them, the second-lowest mark in the country. Houston has made up for the loss of Rob Gray by becoming a defensive powerhouse.
Villanova just doesn't lose conference games. The Wildcats are 7-0 in the Big East and are up to No. 9 in offensive efficiency. They aren't nearly as talented as they were last year, but the outside shooting is coming around, a staple of all Villanova squads. It's shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point range as a team, which isn't great, but is a huge jump from when they were hovering in the low '30s earlier in the year. The Wildcats believe in the math of the 3-point shot, and they're reaping the benefits now.
And what a coaching job Chris Mack has done thus far at Louisville. The Cardinals are 6-1 in the loaded ACC and beat N.C. State and Pittsburgh this week. Nothing stands out about Louisville when you watch them, but they also don't have an obvious weakness. On most nights, that's enough to win with. Louisville still probably won't contend for the ACC title by the time early March rolls around, but they'll certainly finish in the upper half of the league standings.
Not far behind Louisville is No. 17 Purdue, which was unranked this time last week. The Boilermakers scored a huge win over Michigan State on Sunday and never trailed in the game. Purdue was a victim of some bad luck earlier in the season. Losses against Virginia Tech, Florida State and Texas easily could have been wins, and the Boilermakers are better than their 14-6 record indicates. Voters have taken note. Carsen Edwards is phenomenal as always, but the supporting cast is coming on strong, and no one wants to play at Mackey Arena. Purdue could have a sizzling stretch run.
The journey to March continues. Selection Sunday can't come soon enough, but for now, enjoy the thick of the conference championship races.