College Basketball: Winners & Losers from the AP Top 25 Rankings in Week 5
After a couple hectic weeks featuring a fair share of surprises, the fourth week of the college basketball season saw the nation's top teams begin to assert themselves as legitimate title contenders.
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge provided a nice platform for the nation's top three teams to flex muscle on their home courts against some very formidable opponents. Each of the top-ranked teams took full advantage, and as a result, they remain firmly at the top of this week's rankings.
With another week of games now behind us, what other teams came out looking good in this week's AP Top 25? Which teams took an undeserved blow?
Here's a look at a few of each.
Loser: NC State
This week: 25; Last week: 18
Last week’s results: Lost at Michigan 79-72
Based strictly on who NC State has played and beat, I can’t make a huge argument to support the Wolfpack ranking a whole lot higher than the bottom of the Top 25.
That said, I definitely can't justify NC State falling as much as it did from Week Four's No. 18 rank.
Last week, NC State lost at No. 3 Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Granted, most of the game wasn’t close, so that loss should carry no shame. Would Indiana or Duke—the only two teams now ranked ahead of Michigan—win in Ann Arbor? Possibly, but I certainly wouldn’t expect them to.
Losing at Michigan should have dropped NC State a spot or two at most. It’s possible the Wolfpack saw a bit of a second-hand drop due to Oklahoma State (the other team to beat NC State) losing this weekend.
In any case, falling seven spots after a seven-point loss, on the road, to the third-best team in the country? It just doesn’t add (or subtract in this case) up.
Winner: San Diego State
This week: 17; Last week: 23
Last week’s results: Beat UCLA 78-69
Poll voters may still be giving teams too much credit for beating UCLA.
After Saturday’s nine-point win over the Bruins in Anaheim, San Diego State made a healthy jump from No. 23 to No. 17 in this week's new polls. While it’s not a win that should be entirely discounted, the six-spot ascent is a bit dramatic given the current state of the UCLA team (now at 5-3, with its best win over Georgia).
SDSU, currently at 5-1 (4-1 against D-I opponents), has no other wins of great significance. The Aztecs’ 66-60 win over USC a week ago is significant for bragging rights (in-state foe, Pac-12 team), but is not of real profile-strength significance at this point in the season.
Losing to Syracuse in the season opener is acceptable, and SDSU should not be penalized for that. However, when the Aztecs' four D-I opponents are a combined 11-17, it's difficult to make the case that SDSU is an intimidating top 20 team.
This week: 13; Last week: 22
Last week’s results: Beat Georgia Tech 75-62
Voters may still think highly of UCLA, but they must think really highly of Georgia Tech.
After a win at home over Georgia Tech last week, Illinois jumped an impressive nine spots and into the top 15 of this week’s poll. For a team who did more for itself a week ago in winning the Maui Invitational, the jump in the ranks this week seems totally unjustified.
Georgia Tech, at 4-2, is off to a respectable start. The team did, after all, beat a very strong Saint Mary’s in the DirecTV Classic over Thanksgiving Weekend. However, Tech folded a bit down the stretch against Illinois, who with the win leapt over teams like Minnesota, Georgetown and even Creighton.
All three of the aforementioned teams (ranked 14-16, respectively) had better wins than Illinois this past week. Minnesota won at Florida State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Georgetown got by a solid Tennessee squad in a very low-scoring affair. Creighton, despite losing to Boise State earlier in the week, returned to beat a good Saint Joseph’s team on Saturday. That’s not to mention that the Bluejays beat both Wisconsin and Arizona State the weekend before.
Illinois’ biggest asset is the fact it has yet to lose—one of only 19 teams that can now make that claim. In voters’ minds, it may be easier to boost a BCS conference team that is 8-0 over some of the other one and two-loss teams in the rankings. Or, for that matter, over the other undefeated teams from non-BCS leagues.
New Mexico and Wichita State—each 8-0 like Illinois—each has at least as good a set of wins collectively as the Illini. Either team could make a pretty good case for being ranked ahead of Illinois, yet still sit five and eleven spots below Illinois, respectively.
Until knowing what it does against some tougher competition—mainly Gonzaga and Missouri later this month—Illinois shouldn't sit as a top 15 team.
This week: NR, Last week: 8
Last week’s results: Lost at Notre Dame 64-50, Lost to Baylor 64-55
I agree with the fact that Kentucky is not currently ranked. It is quite obvious that this year’s team faced unfair expectations before ever playing a game together.
That said, going from where it was ranked last week to out of the polls entirely is still quite the fall for UK. In fact, it’s the largest weekly drop in the AP Top 25 since expanding to that number in 1990.
Losing two games in a week—see UCLA the week before—is not a good way to hold on to a Top 25 spot, especially this early in the season. UCLA went from No. 11 to un-ranked thanks to losses to Georgetown and, inexplicably, Cal Poly at home.
In comparison to UCLA, the two games Kentucky lost aren’t totally unreasonable, despite the fact neither was ranked at the time they played the Wildcats.
UK’s first loss at Notre Dame last Thursday shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. The Irish (now No. 22) began the year in the Top 25 before a loss to St. Joseph’s. They have proven that they are extremely tough to beat at home. Syracuse—who was No. 1 when it lost its first game of the season there last year—can certainly attest to that.
The second loss of the week to Baylor on Saturday isn’t too terrible either. It came as a particular shock mainly because it came at Rupp Arena, but like Notre Dame, Baylor entered the season with fairly high expectations. The Bears were in the top 20 before losing to Colorado in the Charleston Classic a couple weeks back.
Like Kentucky, Baylor figures to get better as the season progresses, though with a more experienced backcourt it is in better position to do so more quickly. Therefore, losing to the Bears at home seems troublesome, but not necessarily the exclamation point worthy of shoving UK out of the polls entirely.
In short, the drop from No. 8 all the way out of the top 25 was harsh, but Kentucky shouldn’t have been No. 8 in the first place.
Loser: Ohio State
This Week: 7, Last Week: 4
Last week’s results: Lost to Duke 73-68, Beat Northern Kentucky 70-43
Does a five-point loss on the home court of the No. 2 team in the country warrant a three-spot drop in the polls?
Ohio State lost at second-ranked Duke last week in the marquee matchup of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. As a result, the Buckeyes fell from No. 4 down to No. 7 in this week’s rankings.
Their slide in the new polls isn’t unreasonable, especially at this point in the year. However, you can argue that last week’s tight loss in Durham didn’t necessitate any drop at all.
Consider the three teams that moved up a spot—Syracuse, Louisville and Florida—as a result of Ohio State’s fall.
Syracuse won last Friday at Arkansas, a middle-of-the-pack SEC team currently sitting at 3-3. Louisville barely got past Illinois State—a very good MVC team but not at the level of Creighton—at home on Saturday. Florida demolished Marquette at home last Thursday—probably the most impressive win of the three matches.
Of the three, Florida was probably the only team deserving to move up at all as a result of Ohio State’s loss to Duke. Given that, keeping the Buckeyes in the top five (at No. 5) is more fitting. After all, who would expect Syracuse, Louisville, or even Florida to win in Cameron Indoor Stadium?
This week: 1, Last week: 1
Last week’s results: Beat No. 14 North Carolina 83-59, Beat Coppin State 87-51
No one can fault Indiana for being ranked No. 1 in the preseason, just like no one can fault the Hoosiers for taking care of business thus far, making it tougher for voters to switch their vote for No. 1.
No. 2 Duke has taken care of business, and that the fact it has done so in the face of many far steeper challenges cannot be faulted either. Yet, Duke’s big win this week was only enough to sway a couple voters in the “Who’s No. 1” debate.
Indiana remains in the AP top spot with 45 first-place votes, compared to Duke’s 20. Last week, it was 47-18 in favor of the Hoosiers.
Indiana was certainly impressive in dominating No. 14 North Carolina (now No. 20) last week in its ACC/Big Ten Challenge. However, Duke took on No. 4 Ohio State (now No. 7) a night later, and beat them by five.
The win over the Buckeyes was merely the third of the young season for Duke over a top-five team. The win against No. 3 (at the time) Kentucky has lost much of its luster after UK’s fall from the rankings, but the trio of wins collectively is still far better than anyone’s in college basketball.
That doesn’t even include Duke’s win over Minnesota, who is now up to No. 14 in this week’s polls after beating Florida State last week.
Indiana, meanwhile, probably won’t have the chance to earn three top-five wins until February. The Hoosiers only have one more non-conference game of any potential trouble—Dec. 15 against Butler.
That, along with the fact that Duke’s schedule eases up a bit in December, means Indiana's hold on No. 1 could be safe for a while.