There are a lot of questions bouncing around college basketball and not just because most of the players are taking final exams this week. The newest poll, with its migration of ins and outs, begs its own flurry of wonderings.
Such as . . .
1. Do all the changes in the rankings suggest a chaotic winter and spring to come?
Consider this: In the Associated Press pre-season top-25, North Carolina was No. 1 and Purdue was unranked. Now the Boilermakers are at the top and the Tar Heels did not get a single vote this week.
Or this: Virginia is now No. 2, and the Cavaliers didn’t even make the NCAA tournament field last March.
Or this: Connecticut was picked fourth in the pre-season Big East voting and not only have the Huskies fast-laned from unranked to No. 3 in the AP poll, but are now the only conference team in the top-25. Creighton and Villanova were there in the beginning but are a combined 11-10. Creighton has somehow sagged from starting out 6-0 to losing five in a row.
Or this: Alabama has soared to No. 4 for its highest spot in 16 years. The Tide have entered an alternate universe where the basketball team is ranked higher this week than the football team.
2. How long can Purdue stay No. 1?
The Boilermakers charged into the top spot for the first time in history last season and three days later lost at Rutgers. This stay could last a good bit longer. Purdue meets Davidson Saturday in Indianapolis, on a day that city will buzz with highly-ranked teams. At nearly the same time the Boilermakers are facing Steph Curry’s alma mater downtown, No. 3 Connecticut will be six miles north playing at Butler.
After Davidson, Purdue gets New Orleans and Florida A&M over the holidays and then begins 2023 with — this should ring a Boilermaker bell — Rutgers. Only this time in West Lafayette. The Big Ten road is where high rankings often go to die, and Purdue’s next journey into the danger zone is Ohio State on Jan. 5.
3. Is Virginia truly No. 1-ready if Purdue falls?
We’re about to find out a lot more. The Cavaliers will not be easing into Christmas since their next two opponents are ranked and a combined 19-2. They’ll host ousted-No. 1 Houston at home Saturday, and then head to Miami next Tuesday. There’s a question about the current status of the Virginia offense. The Cavaliers struggled to shoot 38 percent the past two games and missed 30 of 40 from the 3-point arc.
4. When will Connecticut not win a game by double digits?
So far, 11 tipoffs followed by 11 wins by 10-plus points for the Huskies, including — and doesn’t this keep looking better and better — 15 over Alabama, when they put up 30 points the last 8:24. The 26.5-point average scoring margin is behind only James Madison. Things have changed in Storrs. This is a UConn program that last season played four overtime games and eight others decided by four or fewer points.
But this streak of domination must now be taken for a spin in the Big East and four of the first seven league dates for the Huskies are at Butler, Xavier, Providence and Marquette. Also Villanova and Creighton at home. Surely there’s a close game in there somewhere.
5. What’s with so few ACC faces high up in the rankings?
Some of the usual suspects have been stuck in the mud. North Carolina, Florida State and Louisville are a combined 8-22. Unfathomable. The Tar Heels had the much-chronicled swan dive from top-ranked to losing four consecutive games. Louisville is now in a race with California to decide which one of the nation’s last two winless teams breaks the spell. You have to like the 0-9 Cardinals’ chances, even if they lose to Western Kentucky on Wednesday, with 1-6 Florida A&M coming to town Saturday.
There’s better ACC news elsewhere with Virginia challenging for the the top of the polls, Duke steadily getting better and Miami and Virginia Tech a combined 20-2 and now in the top-25. But the story of the conference so far this season has been the teams who are trying to stop the bleeding as much as the teams who are poll-climbing.
6. Any other names in the poll we didn’t see coming?
We call your attention to the No. 17 spot. There’s Mississippi State, picked to finish 10th in the SEC but now 9-0 and packing a lot of defense, having held all nine opponents to 55 points or under. The Bulldogs are the only Division I team in the past decade to do that, and the only SEC team in the shot clock era going back nearly 40 years. The 49.8 points allowed a game is the program’s lowest since 1955.
But look how they’re spending the holidays: hosting Alabama on Dec. 28 and going to Tennessee six days later. The SEC race should be fun. Unbeaten Mississippi State is currently followed by six one-loss teams. And we haven’t even gotten to 7-2 Kentucky yet.
Also, there will be shadow over the entire Mississippi State athletic department for a while with football coach Mike Leach’s sudden death.
7. Any particularly compelling top-25 matchups coming soon?
Oh, yeah. This coming Saturday is the Mother Lode; maybe the most attractive day of the season so far.
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It’ll begin at noon with No. 14 Indiana making its first trip to Lawrence in 29 years — and second in 47 seasons — to play surging No. 8 Kansas. Remember when the Jayhawks were shackled 64-50 by Tennessee? They’ve scored 87, 91 and 95 in the three games since. Sophomore forward KJ Adams Jr. contributed 40 points in those three wins. He scored 38 all last season.
Then No. 15 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Alabama in Birmingham, and who here predicted the Tide would be ranked 11 spots higher than the Zags when they met? They played last season in Seattle. Alabama by nine. If the Tide win again, that would make four losses for Gonzaga. The Zags have had five in the past three years combined.
Then No. 5 Houston at No. 2 Virginia. Really, will it be first team to 55 wins?
Then No. 13 Kentucky and No. 16 UCLA in Madison Square Garden. That’ll be 19 of the 83 national championships — 23 percent — represented on one court.
The nightcap might be the most intriguing of all with No. 6 Tennessee at No. 9 Arizona. The home Wildcats are the best shooting team in the nation. The visiting Volunteers have the second best defensive field goal percentage in the land. What'll be, baskets or bricks?
By midnight Saturday, the top-25 should have provided some more answers. Or will that be more questions?