Winners and Losers from the AP College Basketball Top 25 Rankings in Week 9
The top five teams in the AP Top 25 remained unchanged for a fourth consecutive week, but losses by Louisville and Villanova added a bit of volatility to this week's rankings.
By dropping eight spots, Louisville was unquestionably the week's biggest loser, but there were others who didn't fare so well either. Saint Mary's had a horrendous week and didn't receive a single vote. Toledo was loss-free for an eighth straight week, but still couldn't crack into the Top 25.
One team's loss is another's gain, and Kentucky made the biggest upward jump this week in dispatching Louisville. Syracuse was unable to overtake Arizona for the top spot in the nation after defeating Villanova, but the Orange did close the gap a bit. And on the other end of the poll, Kansas State picked up its first few votes of the season.
Read on for the full list of this week's winners and losers in the new AP Top 25.
The Cardinals suffered easily the biggest drop of the week, falling from No. 6 to No. 14. Frankly, they're lucky they didn't fall further than they did.
When they win games, they look like the best team in the country. Louisville's 11 victories have come by an average of 29.2 points per game. Even against a brutally soft schedule, that's quite impressive.
However, this team has only played two games against teams worth mentioning (sorry, Southern Miss) and lost them both.
There's no particular shame in losing at Kentucky. It's going to happen to a lot of teams this season. But the Cardinals didn't even look good in the process.
Julius Randle ate them alive in the first half, and they were unable to capitalize on his absence for virtually the entire second half. Chane Behanan looked like he hadn't seen a basketball in six months, committing silly turnovers and fouls and just generally appearing to be lost on the court all game.
(Behanan was also dismissed from the team on Monday afternoon, according to Kenny Klein of GoCards.com, so things could be getting worse for Louisville before they get better.)
Perimeter defense was one of the Cardinals' biggest strengths last season, but that hasn't been the case in their two losses. They combined for 11 steals in the two games after averaging 10.7 per game last year. Marcus Paige scored 32 in their loss to North Carolina. James Young, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison combined for 46 on Saturday.
The particularly concerning thing is that the percentage of those points scored on three-point attempts was quite minimal. Not only were Russ Smith and Chris Jones unable to create a lot of steals, but they haven't been able to keep their men from driving past them to the rim.
Louisville is still in decent shape in the polls because of how high it was a week ago. However, if this was the first poll of the season, I'm not so sure it would even be in the Top 20. This team has a lot to prove in conference play.
It's very difficult to dethrone the No. 1 team in the nation without it losing a game, but Syracuse took quite a few steps toward that feat with its impressive win over Villanova on Saturday.
Last Monday, the Orange received just two first-place votes and sat 95 points behind Arizona—a gap made possible by the few voters who didn't even have Syracuse in their Top 5. They're still No. 2 in the country, but they've added three more first-place votes and are now separated from the Wildcats by 70 votes.
Syracuse is hosting Eastern Michigan and Miami (FL) in the next seven days while Arizona plays at home against Washington and Washington State. According to KenPom (subscription required), they have at least a 93 percent chance of winning each of those games, so barring a completely unforeseeable upset, expect to see these teams back in the same place next Monday.
In the following week, though, Arizona travels to UCLA and Syracuse hosts North Carolina. Perhaps that will be when we finally get some shakeup at the top of the polls for the first time in over a month.
Loser: Saint Mary's
With a grand total of 13 games played from Tuesday through Friday, few teams were even given the opportunity to do much winning or losing this week.
That didn't stop the Gaels from fully playing their way out of sight and out of mind.
Saint Mary's—participating in the Diamond Head Classic—followed in the footsteps initially lain by Xavier in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Each team entered its respective tournament with an undefeated record, only to emerge 72 hours later with three losses.
All three of Saint Mary's losses—against South Carolina, Hawaii and George Mason—were pretty inexcusable.
The Musketeers bounced back quite well, currently boasting a five-game winning streak. Saint Mary's, however, plays road games against Pacific and Gonzaga in the next three days.
Not only are the Gaels no longer anywhere near the Top 25, but they're one more rough week away from potentially playing themselves out of the NCAA tournament altogether.
Winner: Iowa State
Speaking of the Diamond Head Classic, look who continued its journey toward the Top 10 with three wins in four days.
The Cyclones took care of Akron and Boise State in the final two stages of the tournament in Hawaii, picking up a pair of wins better than anything that anyone else previously ranked between No. 3 and No. 17 can claim. As a result, they moved from No. 14 to No. 13.
Coupled with Villanova's fall from grace, Iowa State is now oh-so-close to becoming the highest ranked team among those which were not ranked in the preseason Top 25. As one of the nation's eight remaining unbeaten teams, the Cyclones picked up 65 more votes this week, climbing from 804 to 869.
Loser: Late December Basketball
By a show of hands, who actually watched any college basketball in the past seven days, excluding the Syracuse and Kentucky wins on Saturday?
There are lulls in every sports season, and I can appreciate the fact that schools are on their winter break so the student body isn't as present on campus as usual. But the fact remains that—including on Monday—there have been just four games in the past 15 days in which both teams are ranked.
Flash forward to January 5-7, and there are five such games scheduled in a span of less than 72 hours.
After a few weeks of inactivity, I'm worried I might pull a muscle in my thumb from needing to hit the flashback button so frequently.
Between the Champions Classic and the "preseason" tournaments, the NCAA has done a tremendous job of getting people interested in college basketball earlier in the year. However, the dearth of intriguing games in December leads to needing to get people amped up all over again.
A lot of it is probably due to the fact that they don't want college basketball fighting (and losing) a battle with the football bowl season, but it would be nice to see the NCAA space out those marquee early season tournaments to appease those of us who would like to watch good, competitive hoops for five consecutive months.
It hasn't always been raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens for the team that was allegedly supposed to go 40-0 this season, but the Wildcats scored a huge win over Louisville on Saturday.
Did they deserve to gain 224 votes and leapfrog Memphis, Kansas and Connecticut? That depends on the eye of the beholder. It's at least plausible that some voters preemptively boosted Kentucky's stock based on the fact that it doesn't play another ranked team for more than a month.
Regardless of where they are ranked today, though, if the Wildcats keep playing like they did this weekend, it's only a matter of time before they're back in contention for a No. 1 seed in the tournament.
The weird thing about the Wildcats' drop from No. 8 to No. 11 in the poll is that up until they took a 25-7 lead over Syracuse, not many people were actually expecting them to win that game.
We were amazed by their ability to take an 18-point lead on the road against one of the best teams in the country, and subsequently disgusted when they let it turn into a 16-point loss. Had it merely been a war of attrition in which Syracuse gradually mounted a double-digit lead over the course of 40 minutes, Villanova would probably still be ranked in the Top 10.
However, because the game left a sour taste in the voters' mouths—much like Pittsburgh's earlier loss to Cincinnati—Villanova was penalized a bit extra.
There's certainly no rest for the Wildcats either, as they travel to Hinkle Fieldhouse on Tuesday to open the Big East season against a Butler team looking to crack into the Top 25.
Winner: Kansas State
It wasn't all that long ago that we were laughing at Kansas State's ineptitude when the Wildcats opened their season with a two-point home loss to Northern Colorado.
Within two weeks, they were 2-3 after a close loss to Charlotte and a 27-point loss to Georgetown in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
They were left for dead, but have rattled off seven straight wins—most notably including a neutral-court win over Gonzaga and a home win against Ole Miss—to make their debut in the "Others receiving votes" category.
Their three votes are nothing to brag about just yet, but upcoming home games against George Washington and Oklahoma State could certainly propel them into the Top 25.
Shame on you, AP voters!
This was your one last chance to get the Rockets into the Top 25 before their undefeated season is unceremoniously dismissed by Kansas on Monday night.
Every other undefeated team is ranked in the Top 13, but you couldn't find it in your hearts to give the little guy a spot on the back end of your poll?
If you have no allegiance to Kansas, make sure you're rooting for Toledo tonight. If for no other reason, it would be hilarious to watch the voters overreact to a Toledo win and suddenly debut the Rockets at No. 17 after nearly two months of ignoring them.
Winner: The Back Half of the Top 10
Oklahoma State, Duke, Wichita State, Baylor and Oregon each benefited from losses by Louisville and Villanova.
None of them did anything particularly noteworthy this week—Oklahoma State and Baylor didn't even play one game in the last seven days—but the five teams gained a collective 295 votes because of their fallen comrades.
The climb is particularly noteworthy for the Big 12, as it now has two teams in the Top 10 and four in the Top 16. It's not easy to compete with the Big Ten's bragging rights of having three teams in the Top 5, but the Big 12's case for best conference in the nation is certainly growing.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.