We have here the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, so why not ask it for a hint or two about what’s going on out there?
True, this time of the season, rankings are awfully fluid. Not as much as the schedule in these COVID times, you understand. The number of postponed or cancelled games soared past 150 by Monday, and the big story over the weekend was Gonzaga and Baylor not playing. Welcome to 2020, where the schedule might as well be written in the sand at high tide.
But the rankings can at least tell us...something.
The top three teams are Gonzaga, Baylor and Iowa. Notice anything odd about that threesome? Not a national championship in the bunch, and just two Final Four appearances among them in the past 64 years. It might be the year of the virus for everybody, but it’s also the year of opportunity for making history for some.
POLL REACTIONS: Michigan State climbs in AP Top 25 after win over Duke
While we’re on that subject, Creighton is No. 8, and maybe this explains why hopes are higher than the corn silos outside Omaha: The Bluejays, not in the Sweet 16 since 1974, are ranked ahead of Duke, Villanova, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville, Kentucky and Connecticut. In other words, the teams responsible for the past 11 national championships. After only three games, eight different Creighton players have scored in double figures. More will be known Tuesday when the Bluejays play at Kansas. It’s only the second game in Creighton history with both teams in the top 10.
Michigan State is No. 4. The Spartans were a rare absentee from the preseason top-10, suggesting there was an unusually large stack of questions in Tom Izzo’s in box, and it might take a while to answer. Well, the Spartans are 5-0, slapped around Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium — even if the Crazies were missing — and Rocket Watts may be headed for both the All-Big Ten and all-name teams. Of 148 field goals so far, 106 have come with assists, or nearly 72 percent. Bottom line: Michigan State, post-Cassius Winston, hasn’t gone anywhere. “It’s not like we’re cocky,” Izzo said. “We haven’t played well enough.”
Coronavirus concerns are everywhere. Just look at the polls. No. 2 Baylor, No. 4 Michigan State and No. 7 Houston all have something in common: coaches who have missed time because of the virus. Houston’s Kelvin Sampson was miserable having to watch his Cougars on TV from home the other day as they beat South Carolina. “I’d rather wrestle a porcupine than have to do that again,” he said.
Virginia started at No. 4 in the preseason rankings as the ACC favorite, but then lost to San Francisco, who lost to UMass Lowell. Then the Cavaliers were nearly beaten by Kent State. Now they’re No. 18, and not even the highest-ranked team in their state, three spots behind Virginia Tech, and only one spot ahead of Richmond. Virginia is trouble with its 3-point shooting. Again. The Cavaliers hit 15 in their opening win against Towson. They made 15 more — in their next three games combined, and shot 29 percent to do it.
Kentucky is missing. The Wildcats are 1-3 for the first time in two decades. They just lost by 17 points to Georgia Tech, who had lost to Georgia State and Mercer. They are averaging a turnover every 1.6 minutes and were outscored — egads — 33-4 by Georgia Tech in points off turnovers. The poll confirms what John Calipari already knows; his team is very young, and a long way from being Kentucky. “I’ve got so much work to do,” he said after Georgia Tech.
The eyes of Texas are upon some really good basketball. The Top 25 has four teams from the state, with Baylor fighting for No. 1, Houston barging into the top 10 with a 4-0 start — the Cougars are holding opponents to 18.8 percent shooting from the 3-pont line — Texas winning the Maui tournament, and Texas Tech. That’s as many as the states of Kentucky, North Carolina, California and Indiana have combined in the rankings. Oh, yeah, unranked SMU is 4-0 and just ended Dayton’s 21-game winning streak.
Tennessee must be having terrific practices. The Volunteers are No. 12 — they actually climbed a spot this week — and still haven’t played a game yet. They open against Colorado Tuesday night. Maybe.
At No. 19, Richmond is the highest ranked it’s been in 63 years. Sputnik had just gone into orbit. The Spiders’ conquest of Kentucky in Rupp Arena was a surprise to most, but have you seen the Spiders’ roster? Seven seniors or grad students. They’ve been around the block.
The Pac-12 hasn’t come roaring out of the gate. Oregon lost to Missouri, UCLA was crunched by San Diego State, Oregon State was beaten by Wyoming. Eastern Washington pushed Arizona and Washington State and lost to each by only three. Meanwhile, Washington started 0-3, losing by 34, 15 and 14 points. And so, Arizona State is the league’s only team in the rankings, at No. 23.
Among those absent from the preseason rankings because of heavy personnel losses: San Diego State and Louisville. They weren’t away long. They’re both 4-0 and back in the Top 25. That makes San Diego State 34-2 since the start of last season, and the two defeats were by six points. By now, the polls begin to give an idea of who’s rebuilding, and who’s reloading. What we know for sure is they’re all waiting for the next test results.