Ranking the Best College Basketball Teams Not in the AP Top 25

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IDecember 4, 2013

Ranking the Best College Basketball Teams Not in the AP Top 25

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    The 2013-14 college basketball season isn’t yet 10 games old, but there have already been plenty of shakeups in the AP Top 25 rankings. As preseason darlings drop out (and scramble to climb back in), there are always plenty of promising squads waiting on the periphery to snag a place in the national spotlight.

    One outstanding team that hasn’t yet made an appearance in the polls is the Missouri Tigers. Hot-shooting Jabari Brown, Mizzou’s top returnee, has been a key factor in a 7-0 start for Frank Haith’s team.

    Read on for more on Missouri’s impressive early showing, along with its place among the best 25 teams not ranked in the latest AP poll. For purposes of these rankings, as on Selection Sunday, strong performances against meaningful competition count for more than beating up on overmatched opponents.

25. Tennessee (5-2)

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    A very narrow pick over SEC rivals LSU and Arkansas for this spot, the two-loss Volunteers feature the best balance of the trio between inside and outside play.

    The latter is the domain of slasher Jordan McRae, one of the conference’s most dangerous scorers so far at 19.1 points per game.

    Inside, meanwhile, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon each pack 260 pounds on their 6’8” frames, with all the strength you’d expect from that figure.

    Stokes, the team’s top rebounder and second-leading scorer, had three straight double-doubles at the Battle 4 Atlantis (where Tennessee beat Xavier and Wake Forest).

24. George Washington (6-1)

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    A surprisingly easy 60-53 win over Creighton gave GW the Wooden Legacy championship and a spot on the national radar. The Colonials held the peerless Doug McDermott to just seven points on 2-for-12 shooting in the victory.

    Offensively, Indiana transfer Maurice Creek is the main man, shooting 45.2 percent from deep while scoring 14.9 points per contest.

    Meanwhile, Isaiah Armwood (himself a former Villanova transfer in his second year with the Colonials) is a 6’9” shot-blocker who also leads the team in rebounding.

23. Xavier (5-3)

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    Inexperienced Xavier got steamrolled by some veteran teams at the Battle 4 Atlantis, but the Musketeers have already shown that they’ll be a force on their home floor.

    The same Tennessee team that beat them in the Bahamas lost by four when it traveled to the Cintas Center on Nov. 12.

    PG Semaj Christon is reprising his scintillating freshman year, while 6’10” Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook has been an enforcer in the middle.

    Scoring options beyond those two have been limited, but sophomore Myles Davis has been hitting all the right notes as a catch-and-shoot three-point threat.

22. Notre Dame (5-1)

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    An early upset at the hands of Indiana State deflated expectations for the Irish, but Mike Brey’s roster still has the talent that attracted all that preseason hype.

    Senior PG Jerian Grant has been lighting up scoreboards with 19.5 points, 5.5 assists and 2.2 steals per game.

    Alongside Grant, classmate Eric Atkins is providing another 14 points a night while virtually duplicating the floor leader’s rebound and assist numbers.

    When senior center Garrick Sherman plays well (19 points and seven boards in a rout of Army), ND is still a very dangerous offensive team.

21. Drexel (4-2)

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    Drexel’s two losses have come against UCLA and Arizona by a combined nine points. A win in either of those games, and the Dragons would already have the Top 25 spot they look to be headed toward before season’s end.

    A veteran backcourt led by PG Frantz Massenat gets most of the credit, but Drexel can do some work on the glass, too.

    6’7” Kazembe Abif—who had a double-double in the NIT thriller against Alabama—and 6’8”, 250-pound Dartaye Ruffin combine for nearly 17 rebounds a night.

20. Saint Mary’s (6-0)

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    Gonzaga’s upset loss to Dayton leaves St. Mary’s as the only unbeaten team in the WCC. That 6-0 record includes solid wins over fellow mid-major standouts Louisiana Tech and Drake, but it has come exclusively at home.

    With Matthew Dellavedova gone, 6’9” junior Brad Waldow has become the Gaels’ leader, piling up 17.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.

    At the point, Stephen Holt—Dellavedova’s old backcourt mate—has stepped into the playmaker’s role with flair, dishing out 5.7 assists and grabbing 4.7 boards a night.

19. Illinois (7-1)

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    For the second year in a row, John Groce got Illinois off to an unexpected winning run to start the season before Tuesday’s tough loss to Georgia Tech.

    This time around, the early hero has been Drake transfer Rayvonte Rice, who’s pouring in 17.1 points per game.

    Rice’s last-second layup gave the Illini their biggest win of the season (61-59 at UNLV), a game in which shot-swatting Nnanna Egwu also scored a dozen points against the loaded Rebels front line.

    Perhaps the best news for Illinois has been that all this success has come in spite of a slow start from junior PG Tracy Abrams, one of the squad’s best returnees.

18. Saint Louis (7-2)

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    Whatever else Jim Crews’ team does, the Billikens are going to play defense. Even ignoring Tuesday’s meeting with Division II Rockhurst, SLU ranks 13th nationally in scoring defense (59.5 points per game).

    6’6” bowling ball Dwayne Evans has struggled with rebounding this year (5.0 boards a night), but he has been able to lead the St. Louis offense as expected.

    Even better news for SLU is that 5’9” sophomore Austin McBroom is emerging as the three-point threat last year’s team lacked, especially after scoring 14 points in a tough loss to the mighty Wisconsin defense.

17. Cincinnati (7-0)

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    The closest thing to a meaningful opponent for Cincinnati has been struggling NC State, but no coach is going to object to a 7-0 start.

    The Bearcats’ success, to no one’s surprise, has been keyed by senior scoring machine Sean Kilpatrick and his 19.7 points per game.

    Kilpatrick has put last year’s appalling shooting percentages in the rear-view mirror thanks to a much-improved group of forwards in front of him.

    Agile Titus Rubles has provided a welcome combination of dunks and rebounds, while stockier Justin Jackson has suddenly evolved into a terrific shot-blocker with 2.9 rejections a night.

16. Arizona State (7-2)

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    A loss to woeful Miami made sure the Sun Devils would stay outside the Top 25 for at least another week, but ASU has had done some impressive work early on.

    A true road win at UNLV and a home squeaker over Marquette showed off the firepower of the Jahii Carson-led offense.

    The ultra-quick Carson is scoring 20.2 points per game (including sizzling three-point shooting) and still dishing out 5.1 assists a night.

    He’s getting plenty of help from Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall as a scorer and 7’2” senior Jordan Bachynski as a rebounder and shot-blocker.

15. Ole Miss (6-0)

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    The Barclays Center Classic didn’t have nearly the high-powered field of some holiday tournaments, but Ole Miss still deserves plenty of credit for winning it. The Rebels topped dangerous Georgia Tech and Penn State squads to improve to 6-0 on the year.

    Marshall Henderson’s perimeter game is the team’s best-known weapon, but it’s PG Jarvis Summers who leads the roster in scoring (15.7 points per game).

    The frontcourt would love to have Murphy Holloway or Reginald Buckner back, but the similarly brawny Demarco Cox is holding his own on the glass so far.

14. Harvard (7-1)

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    It’s hard to fault any East Coast team for losing on the road at altitude, and one defeat at the hands of Colorado in Boulder is the only blemish on Harvard’s early record.

    The Crimson would have a lot more buzz right now if they’d picked a different holiday tournament, but sweeping a disappointing field at the Great Alaska Shootout didn’t earn this squad as much credit as it will eventually garner.

    Harvard has the two best point guards in the Ivy League with Siyani Chambers (last year’s starter) and senior Brandyn Curry (back after what was effectively a one-year suspension for academic cheating).

    Supporting that formidable duo are scoring leader Wesley Saunders (a versatile 6’5” swingman) and three-point marksman Laurent Rivard.

13. Missouri (7-0)

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    Not only has Missouri won all seven of its games so far in 2013-14, but the Tigers have won by at least nine points every time out.

    That record includes three neutral-court victories, the last two coming in a stroll to the championship of the Las Vegas Invitational.

    Jordan Clarkson has continued Mizzou’s magic touch with transfers, as the ex-Tulsa guard is leading the team in scoring (just ahead of last year’s top transfer, Jabari Brown).

    Freshman Johnathan Williams III isn’t getting many shots in this guard-heavy offense, but his 8.3 rebounds a game earn him a spot in the crowded ranks of fast-starting SEC freshmen.

12. Colorado (7-1)

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    Since getting thumped by No. 20 Baylor in its season opener, Colorado has ripped off seven straight wins.

    Boulder altitude has helped with many, but both Wyoming and Air Force (which hosted the Buffs) are used to the thin air and still couldn’t handle the Colorado D.

    Lockdown guard Spencer Dinwiddie and towering center Josh Scott have combined to make sure no opponent has topped 70 points during the winning streak.

    Meanwhile, 6’7” sophomore Xavier Johnson has been a worthy heir to Andre Roberson with 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.

11. Charlotte (6-1)

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    Launched into national recognition by an upset of then-No. 14 Michigan, Charlotte would be undefeated except for a one-point heartbreaker at the College of Charleston.

    The 49ers are anchored by versatile PG Pierria Henry, who’s putting up stat lines reminiscent of a poor man’s Marcus Smart (12.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.6 steals per game).

    Henry, a junior, is the old man on a sophomore-led team featuring 6’11”, 257-pound Mike Thorne Jr. and 6’9”, 237-pound Willie Clayton in the middle. Another sophomore, Shawn Lester, is leading Charlotte in scoring after sitting out his entire freshman campaign.

10. Boise State (6-0)

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    Through six games against unimpressive competition, Boise State has been overwhelming. The Broncos sit atop the national scoring charts with 97.7 points per game for the season.

    The veteran backcourt pairing of Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks is leading the way as expected, placing among the nation’s top scoring duos (40.3 combined points a night) for the second year in a row.

    Even more encouraging for BSU’s postseason hopes, 6’9” senior Ryan Watkins is looking more assertive inside, pulling in a career-high 9.8 rebounds a game.

9. Marquette (5-3)

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    When Marquette’s offense goes bad, as it did against Ohio State, it goes really bad (35 points on .189 shooting). When Davante Gardner gets in a rhythm, though, the center with the offensive lineman’s build can cure a multitude of scoring ills.

    Gardner leads the team in both scoring and rebounding but has struggled badly in losses to the Buckeyes and San Diego State.

    If he gets more help from the promising freshmen—especially Deonte Burton and JaJuan Johnson on the wings—the gritty Golden Eagles defense will have more than enough scoring support to soar back into the national rankings.

8. Creighton (5-2)

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    The Blue Jays certainly laid an egg at the Wooden Legacy, but even a pair of surprising losses—to George Washington and San Diego State—can’t disguise how dangerous this offense is.

    Doug McDermott had his worst game in over a year against the Colonials and is still ranked sixth in the country in scoring.

    Creighton’s bench has been especially impressive early on, with Ethan Wragge shooting .521 from long range and Devin Brooks lighting up Arizona State for 23 points in the team’s biggest win.

    It doesn’t hurt any that the Blue Jays have two of the Big East’s top distributors in Grant Gibbs and Austin Chatman (4.7 and 4.6 assists per game, respectively).

7. Pittsburgh (8-0)

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    For Jamie Dixon’s reputation as a defensive coach, it’s Pitt’s offense that has really impressed over the last couple of seasons.

    This year’s Panthers are again one of the most efficient scoring teams in the country, thanks to the playmaking tandem of swingman Lamar Patterson and PG James Robinson (10.3 combined assists per game).

    Patterson has been the hero early on, thanks to a 17.1 points-per-game scoring average that’s more than seven points above his previous career best.

    Fellow senior Talib Zanna, meanwhile, anchors the team as a rebounder and racked up 16 points, 10 boards and four blocks (a career high) in a win over Penn State.

6. Indiana (6-2)

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    It’s been pretty well-established that Indiana can’t handle Syracuse—which handed IU its second loss on Tuesday night after knocking it out of the 2013 Big Dance—but the rest of the country still needs to watch out.

    Point guard Yogi Ferrell is thriving as the leader of a rebuilt offense that hung 102 points on Washington in the 2K Sports Classic.

    Ferrell’s surprising scoring burst (17.4 points per game) has gotten a fitting complement from Noah Vonleh’s dominant rebounding.

    The jewel of Tom Crean’s freshman class, Vonleh has five double-doubles in his first eight starts and has even shown some shot-blocking ability.

5. Virginia (7-1)

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    If Joe Harris starts getting some looks at the basket again, Virginia’s going to be really scary. The Cavaliers are 7-1 even with their top scoring threat putting up four fewer points per game (on four fewer shots) than he did a year ago.

    The key, of course, is Tony Bennett’s stifling defense, a unit that’s already held three opponents under 45 points.

    Neutral-site wins over Davidson and SMU are nothing to sneeze at, and it took a buzzer-beating trey from Treveon Graham to hand this team its only loss on the road at VCU.

4. Florida State (5-2)

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    After a down year in 2012-13, Leonard Hamilton’s defense is back to its usual suffocating form. The only opponent to top 70 points against the Seminoles this season is sweet-shooting Michigan, and that game went to overtime.

    Athletic PF Okaro White is leading the ‘Noles on both ends of the floor with his shot-blocking and dunking prowess.

    Fellow senior Ian Miller, FSU’s top perimeter weapon, looked especially impressive in an early signature win over VCU: 22 points on 6-for-11 shooting, plus seven rebounds for the 6’3” guard.

3. New Mexico (5-1)

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    Although the Charleston Classic handed New Mexico its only loss—to current No. 21 UMass—it also brought solid wins over UAB and Davidson. The Lobos have been a three-man team, but those three players have put up eye-opening numbers on the young season.

    Center Alex Kirk is the ringleader, and the 7-footer is dominating all comers to the tune of 20.8 points, 12 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game.

    Right on his heels for the team scoring lead are seniors Kendall Williams (19.8 points) and Cameron Bairstow (19.0), the former of whom is also a cool-handed point guard who’s dealing out 6.3 assists a night.

2. Virginia Commonwealth (6-2)

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    Anyone who’s surprised to see VCU leading the country in steals per game hasn’t been paying attention lately. The Rams’ frantic Havoc defense is a known quantity by now, but this year’s edition has some offense to go with it.

    Treveon Graham is the top scoring threat for the second year in a row, defensive ace Briante Weber has developed into a solid point guard and center Juvonte Reddic has become more of an offensive threat inside.

    As bad as VCU looked in getting blown out by Florida State, the Rams also have wins over Virginia and Belmont, with more quality victories sure to come in Atlantic 10 play.

1. North Carolina (4-2)

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    Up and down goes the Tar Heel roller coaster, beating Louisville on its home floor one night and bricking its way to a loss at UAB (1-for-12 from deep, 4-for-11 free throws) on another.

    If Roy Williams can cut down on his team’s valleys, the peaks are something to see.

    PG Marcus Paige has been a revelation as a sophomore, jumping from 8.2 points per game to 20.8. Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks are providing the interior toughness last year’s team couldn’t find.

    If P.J. Hairston returns (or another perimeter scorer emerges) this is still a potential ACC champion thanks to the roster's depth and speed.