For the second consecutive week, stability is the name of the game atop the Associated Press Top 25 college basketball rankings.
As the nation's top teams go barreling toward conference championship season unscathed, the hierarchy in college basketball is unchanged from Week 7. Arizona remains No. 1 for the third straight week, with Syracuse, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State rounding out the Top Five in order.
Here is a look at how the rest of the Top 25 played out:
|20||San Diego State||9-1||378||24|
The Wildcats, led by an eclectic group of players old and new, had a far easier time holding their top spot than a week prior. They had only Southern on the schedule in this past rankings period and dispatched of the Jaguars, 69-43. Freshman sensation Aaron Gordon topped all scorers in that contest with 21 points.
A similar scenario played itself out for second-ranked Syracuse (11-0), which handily defeated High Point. Ohio State (12-0) and Michigan State (10-1) each were victorious in their two games, though both the Buckeyes and Spartans had their moments of nerves.
Ohio State came back from a 58-50 deficit in the final minute to score a 64-61 victory over Notre Dame. Lenzelle Smith Jr. scored nine points in the waning seconds—his only nine points of the entire game.
"I'm still trying to figure out what happened," coach Thad Matta said, via Ohio State. "My mind was fixated on if we wanted to foul with the time situation or do we play it out defensively and all of a sudden it was closer and closer and closer and we get the lead. It happened quick, It was a great win."
The Spartans didn't need last-second heroics in their 92-78 win over Texas, but a 56-point second-half sure didn't hurt. After going into halftime down by two, Michigan State avoided its second loss of the season thanks in large part to a 33-point, nine-rebound outing from Adreian Payne.
Fourth-ranked Wisconsin was idle in Week 7.
As for the teams that didn't fare so well, Connecticut is at the top of the marquee. The Huskies couldn't muster up enough comeback magic to defeat Stanford this past week, scuffling in a 53-51 loss to the unranked Cardinal. Kevin Ollie's squad dropped outside the Top 10 back to No. 15.
Also falling to unranked opponents this week were then-ranked No. 21 Gonzaga, No. 22 UMass and No. 23 Missouri. Those losses helped lead to some shuffling within the back-half of the Top 25, but all three teams just barely stayed inside the rankings.
Much of the Top 25 should also have a similar look in Week 9. A majority of the nation's best are on break over the holiday season to spend time with their families before returning to action for a single game over the weekend. Some teams, like Oklahoma State, do not even have a contest scheduled during this rankings period.
However, with a couple marquee contests on the slate, the number of changes may be minimal but the ones that do happen could be seismic.
On Dec. 28, familiar foes Syracuse and Villanova meet up in the first part of their new home-and-home series. Chief among the members of the original Big East Conference, the Orange-Wildcats rivalry was put on an indefinite hold when Syracuse moved to the ACC in July while Villanova stuck around for the new iteration of the Big East. Only an agreement struck in May kept the storied national powers on each other's slates.
In a stroke of fate, the rekindling of the rivalry will be one of the biggest non-conference games of the entire season. The second-ranked Orange could very easily leapfrog Arizona with a victory. Despite only two voters having Jim Boeheim's squad in the nation's top spot, the rankings are typically fickle at this point of the season, and a victory against a Top 10 squad might be enough of a swing vote.
It also helps that Arizona's only contest should be a snoozy win over 3-7 Northern Arizona on Monday night.
For the Wildcats, a win would be the latest piece of evidence that Jay Wright's team deserves some real national championship contender consideration. Villanova already has wins over Kansas and Iowa en route to an Atlantis title, but the Wildcats started the season unranked and are still facing some skepticism about their long-term viability. It has been four seasons since Wright made it past the second round in March, and this is an opportunity to prove those disappointments are in the past.
Speaking of teams in need to prove something, Kentucky will also get a shot on Saturday when it hosts sixth-ranked Louisville. The Wildcats are undefeated at home this season, but all three of their losses have come against Top 25 opponents. Ranked No. 1 in almost every preseason poll, John Calipari's squad has started receiving mass skepticism about its long-term viability.
Kentucky's a top 5 dunking/leaping/athletic team. Not sure it's a top 20 basketball team.— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) December 21, 2013
Rick Pitino's veteran Cardinals, meanwhile, are merely chugging along. Their only blemish this season was a 93-84 loss to North Carolina, and they've won every other game by double digits. Ken Pomeroy actually ranks Louisville as the nation's best team despite the loss.
For the second straight week, no team dropped out of the Top 25. The biggest riser in the Week 8 poll is San Diego State, which moved up from No. 24 to No. 20. North Carolina, which lost to Texas and needed overtime to defeat Davidson, dropped five spots to No. 19. The Tar Heels match Connecticut for the biggest drop in the polls.
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