College Basketball: Winners & Losers from the AP Top 25 Rankings in Week 4
Here we are, two and a half weeks into the college basketball season. Last week, the season kicked into second gear, with a wave of early season tournaments.
From Maui to New York, Anaheim to the Bahamas, teams in these various tournaments made their cases for inclusion or exclusion from this week's Top 25. After all the dust settled Sunday night, we had a little better idea of where some of the top teams in the country truly stand.
In many cases, the new rankings fairly rewarded or penalized teams for their most recent play, in the early tournaments or otherwise. In a few others, the rise or drop was a little tougher to justify.
Here is a look at five such teams in this week's AP Top 25 (released Nov. 26).
"Winners" are teams who are judged to be ranked higher than they should be. "Losers" are teams who perhaps deserved a bit higher ranking.
This week's ranking: 22; last week: NR
Last week's results: Defeated USC, Chaminade and Butler in Maui Invitational
A week ago, if you had said that an unranked team was going to win the Maui Invitational, I’d say that team should absolutely be ranked the following week.
After the way things played out in last week’s tournament, I may have to make an argument against Illinois’ inclusion in the new Top 25.
While the Illini certainly looked impressive in wins over USC, Chaminade and Butler respectively, that trio of victories en route to the Maui title shouldn’t automatically scream “rank us.” That may be especially true after a near disaster Sunday.
Illinois barely escaped in a one-point win over Gardner-Webb at home. NC State fell from No. 16 to No. 18 this week after squeaking by UNC-Asheville on Friday, also on its home court. Perhaps the same type of small penalty should have applied to Illinois.
Beating Butler, after it beat Marquette and UNC, is certainly a quality win. Outside of that, there isn’t a whole lot of substance in Illinois’ 7-0 mark thus far.
This week's ranking: 16, last week: 13
Last week's results: Defeated Stanford and VCU, lost to Duke in Battle 4 Atlantis
Apparently losing to the No. 2 team on a neutral court warrants a three-spot drop in the rankings. That’s what happened to Missouri this week, after losing to Louisville in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Not only was Missouri dinged a bit for a perfectly acceptable loss, it wasn’t credited at all for two quality wins in that same tournament. The Tigers beat a solid Stanford team in the first round. After losing to Louisville, Missouri bounced back nicely with a hard-fought win over VCU, by three.
Consider that UNC dropped five spots after losing to an unranked team in the semis of the Maui Invitational, and did not beat the caliber of teams Missouri did in its tournament. Based on that, the fairly similar drop in the polls between UNC and Mizzou seems a bit unjust.
For its solid third-place finish in the Bahamas, a push (no drop) for the week seemed more fitting for Missouri.
Winner: North Carolina
This week's ranking: 14, Last week: 9
Last week's results: Defeated Mississippi State and Chaminade, lost to Butler in Maui Invitational
For North Carolina, it was a roller-coaster ride in Maui last week. With the ride over, and a return to the mainland, the Tar Heels shouldn’t be too disappointed with their current ranking.
UNC, which fell five spots from No. 9 to 14 in this week’s poll, could easily be a few spots lower after the results in Maui. A disappointing semifinal loss to Butler was sandwiched between two blowout wins over Mississippi State and Chaminade. MSU is a team in disarray loaded with newcomers and walk-ons. Chaminade, despite a great win over Texas, is still a D-II team.
The Butler loss isn’t a terrible one, generally speaking. Butler will be better than it was a season ago, and for that the result shouldn’t have been quite the shocking upset it was made out to be. What that loss should indicate, however, is that UNC was perhaps ranked a bit too high from the start.
The Tar Heels’ current ranking still seems to incorporate the belief that UNC was still a Top 10 team heading into the season. This week’s polls offered a chance to readjust that belief, but it didn’t happen. Until UNC can prove itself against other Top 25-caliber competition, its ranking should be toward the bottom of the Top 25.
A game at No. 1 Indiana provides a chance, in theory, for this. However, later games—perhaps one vs. No. 24 UNLV in December—will provide the better opportunity for a more deserved Top 15 rank.
This week's ranking: 3, Last week: 4
Last week's results: defeated Pittsburgh and Kansas State in NIT Season Tip-Off
Two days after losing to its bitter archrival in football, Michigan claimed a slight victory over Ohio State in basketball. The Wolverines traded spots with the Buckeyes in this week’s poll, moving up to No. 3.
Winning the NIT Season Tip-Off was certainly a respectable accomplishment, and furthered Michigan’s case as a legit Top 5 team. However, were the two wins over Pitt and Kansas State—two solid but unranked teams—enough to merit a switch with the still-undefeated Buckeyes?
Considering Michigan’s only two wins prior to last week—over IUPUI and Cleveland State—don’t add anything of significance to its profile, it seems the two teams should have stayed in their respective spots.
It’s a bit NIT-picky to harp on a one spot differential in the rankings, especially this early. However, I believe a move up to No. 3 may be more merited with a win over NC State this week in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
This week's ranking: 2, last week: 5
Last week: Defeated Minnesota, VCU and Louisville in Battle 4 Atlantis
It must seem like a reach to argue that a team which climbs from No. 5 to 2 in the polls got a bit shortchanged. However, at least 18 of the AP voters agree it is a worthy argument to consider.
Based on what Duke did not only this past week, but before, the argument for a No. 1 rank is very strong.
The absolutely loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament belonged to Duke. The Blue Devils handled business in all three of its challenges, from Minnesota (now No. 21), VCU and Louisville (No. 2 before, No. 5 now), respectively.
Rick Pitino’s team isn’t the only big-time Kentucky team Duke has defeated already in November. Remember, the Devils took care of Kentucky, then No. 3, in Atlanta about a week and a half earlier. Granted, UK was probably a ranked a bit too high at the time, but the win was an enormous overall profile booster for Duke.
With two top-five wins already under its belt, Duke will get yet another such team this week, as it faces No. 4 Ohio State in Durham. If they win that, the Devils’ claim for No. 1 may be a bit too overwhelming to keep them in the second spot at this time next week.