While the changes atop the Associated Press Top 25 were minimal once again, the groundswell of subtle shifts could make the college basketball hierarchy awfully interesting to watch come 2014.
For the fourth straight week, Arizona comes in as the top-ranked team in the nation. With a win over Northern Arizona on Dec. 23, the Wildcats ensured they would head into intraconference play undefeated for the second straight season. Spearheaded by the steady leadership of Sean Miller, leading scorer Nick Johnson and spectacular freshman Aaron Gordon, Arizona arguably has the most well-rounded squad in the nation.
That being said, Miller and co. don't quite have the same stranglehold on the No. 1 spot they did a week ago. Syracuse remains in the No. 2 spot, but following a win over Villanova in Week 8's biggest matchup, the Orange received five first-place votes—up three from the last rankings.
The rest of the Top Five remains the same as well, with Ohio State coming in at No. 3, Wisconsin No. 4 and Michigan State No. 5. The true rankings of those teams will start being determined soon with the beginning of Big Ten conference play.
Here is a look at how the rest of the Top 25 played itself out:
|Rank||Team (First-Place Votes)||Record||Votes||Previous|
|21||San Diego State||10-1||371||20|
Following their win over Villanova on Saturday, there were many who thought the Orange would take over the top spot. After a dreadful start of the game that saw Syracuse go down 25-7 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half, Jim Boeheim's squad battled back for a surprisingly dominant 78-62 win.
Trevor Cooney (21 points) and Tyler Ennis (20 points) each had stellar outings, helping cancel out a 25-point night from James Bell. Where Syracuse really won the game was in the frontcourt. C.J. Fair (17 points) alone nearly tripled the Villanova starting frontcout's scoring output (six points), and Jerami Grant added in 11 points and six rebounds off the bench.
"This was really obviously a very physical, tough game and I think we started slow, who knows why," Boeheim said, per Syracuse. "We haven’t played a lot, but we just got off to a slow start and they got off to a great start. But it’s a great win and we think about it and get ready for Eastern Michigan.”
Though they were underdogs coming in, the loss dropped the Wildcats back to No. 11. Jay Wright's squad will try moving back into the Top 20 in next week's rankings after trysts with Butler and Providence in the new Big East.
Syracuse has one more non-conference matchup against Eastern Michigan before starting the most important part of its schedule versus Miami on Saturday, Jan. 4. The Orange are playing in their first season in the ACC after leaving the Big East.
This past Saturday's other most notable result brings the rankings its biggest two-way swing. Kentucky moves up to No. 15 following its 73-66 defeat of rival and then sixth-ranked team Louisville. The Wildcats had previously lost all three of their matchups against ranked opponents, but their brilliance at Rupp Arena seemed to override those struggles. They are now 9-0 in games played at their home court and 1-3 in contests played anywhere outside Lexington.
Still, John Calipari was happy with the way his guys battled. Julius Randle, the team's leading scorer and early National Player of the Year contender, sat out much of the second half while dealing with cramps. But despite facing a massive experience disadvantage, Kentucky stuck it out down the stretch.
"Again, guys, this is the youngest team I've ever coached, ever," Calipari said, according to Kentucky. "I'm learning. Believe me when I tell you, I've never coached a team this young and so there's so many things that we're doing, trying to figure out, as we go."
The Cardinals' loss drops the defending national champions down to No. 14. They won't have much time to recover either, as their first AAC matchup comes against Central Florida on New Year's Eve. Rick Pitino will need to use that contest and his team's Jan. 4 visit to Rutgers to fix its biggest bugaboo: games against ranked opponents.
No. 18 Kentucky def. No. 6 Louisville, is 5-1 vs Cardinals under John Calipari. UK is 1-3 vs ranked teams, LOU is 0-2 (11-0 vs unranked).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 28, 2013
Elsewhere, the notable results were minimal. Most teams finessed their schedule so that the student-athletes could spend the Christmas holiday with their families—or at least away from the hectic college basketball travel schedule. Most of the matchups that did take place featured elite teams merely taking care of business against undermanned counterparts.
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With intraconference play finally getting underway in Week 9, though, the Top 25 is seemingly due for a shakeup. Michigan State will face one of its biggest tests of the season on Saturday when it visits Indiana, while Wisconsin takes on Iowa a day later. It will be the first time in two months the Badgers have taken on a ranked opponent.
For now, though, the college basketball world remains in a state of inertia. No teams dropped out of the rankings or moved in for the third straight week—an almost unprecedented stretch of calmness for the early season.
Louisville's eight-spot backtrack was the biggest drop of any team. Kentucky's three-spot jump was the best of the week.
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