The top of the Associated Press Top 25 may be unchanged once again, but for the first time in nearly a month, there has been significant change throughout the rest of the rankings.
Arizona (15-0) remains the top team in the country for a fifth straight week. The Wildcats, who opened their Pac-12 schedule with consecutive wins over Washington and Washington State, are followed by Syracuse, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
A week after gaining a little bit of ground on the top spot, the Orange's closer-than-expected victory over Miami rendered them unable to usurp Arizona for the second straight week. The Big Ten continues to look like the most loaded conference in the nation at the top, with the Buckeyes, Badgers and Spartans combining for a 43-1 record this season.
More than a month has now passed with the exact order of the Top Five teams unchanged. Once you get past the steady national powers, though, an undercurrent of change becomes obvious as we head into the first full week of 2014. Here's a look at how the rest of the Top 25 played out:
|Rank||Team (First-Place Votes)||Record||Votes||Previous|
|13||San Diego State||12-1||823||21|
The first and most obvious changes come at the No. 6 and No. 7 spots, where both Oklahoma State and Duke suffered frustrating defeats on Saturday, Jan. 4.
With Marcus Smart battling foul trouble, the Cowboys stalled to a 74-71 loss to Kansas State in their Big 12 season opener. Smart, an expected top-10 NBA draft choice next June, was the only starter who didn't top the 30-minute mark in playing time. After starting the season on a torrid pace, highlighted by his 39-point performance against Memphis on Nov. 19, Smart scored 13 points or fewer in five of his last seven contests and hasn't been consistent with his shot.
The Blue Devils were also without a star for long stretches of their 79-77 loss to Notre Dame, but for a completely different reason. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made the controversial decision to keep leading scorer Jabari Parker on the bench down the stretch, after the freshman forward struggled to a 2-of-10 shooting performance and made multiple defensive gaffes.
“He wasn’t playing well," Krzyzewski said of his decision, per a Duke release. "For any kid who is not playing well, you should try to find a kid that is playing well. But that happens. Sometimes kids don’t play well throughout the game. He just wasn’t having a good game.”
Parker did not speak to the media after the game. Notre Dame's victory was its first as a member of the ACC, having joined the conference full-time for 2013-14 after an extended stay in the Big East.
Duke fell to No. 16, while Oklahoma State moved back to No. 11. Kansas State parlayed its victory into its first Top 25 ranking of the year, coming in at No. 25. Though the Blue Devils and Cowboys represented the biggest changes at the top of the food chain, several other ranked teams suffered upset losses.
North Carolina dropped its fourth game against an unranked opponent this season on Sunday, Jan. 5, getting knocked off 73-67 by Wake Forest. Roy Williams' squad has struggled in particular with its free throws all season long, but the problem against the Demon Deacons came from the field. The Tar Heels shot a frustrating 38.7 percent on their 75 field-goal attempts, highlighted by a combined 6-of-25 performance from guards Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald.
SportsCenter's Twitter feed painted a dreary picture regarding the Tar Heels' propensity for playing down to their opponents:
Wake Forest upsets No. 19 North Carolina, 73-67. Tar Heels are 3-0 vs. ranked teams, 7-4 vs. unranked teams.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 6, 2014
With the loss, North Carolina drops out of the Top 25 for the second time this season. The last time the Heels were knocked out of the rankings, however, they came back with a win over top-ranked Michigan State and vaulted right back into contention. A matchup against No. 2 Syracuse looms this coming week, so the Orange need to make sure they avoid taking the game lightly.
Memphis also suffered a frustrating defeat in Week 9, as Cincinnati pummeled the Tigers in the second half to give them their first loss to an unranked opponent. Sean Kilpatrick scored 18 points for the Bearcats, who just barely missed out on entering the Top 25.
"I told our guys that this is the American, and it is going to be tough," coach Josh Pastner said, per a Memphis release. "If they play the way we did today, then it is not going to work. We have to trust the process out there and play the way that I want them to play."
Also headed backward in the American Athletic Conference is Connecticut, which drops out of the rankings after consecutive losses to Houston and SMU. The Huskies' hot start always felt like a bit of a mirage, so perhaps Kevin Ollie's squad is merely regressing to the mean.
On the positive side of things, perhaps now would be a good time to stop doubting San Diego State. The Aztecs went on the road Sunday to defeat Kansas in Lawrence, 61-57, and have now reeled off 11 straight wins since their loss to Arizona on Nov. 14. Kansas is the third opponent that San Diego State has defeated that was ranked at the time of their matchup.
Steve Fisher's team moved up to No. 13 following the victory and should be able to continue reeling off wins against the relatively down Mountain West. At the very least, the team looks well on its way to a fifth straight NCAA tournament berth.
San Diego State's eight-spot jump is the biggest among Week 9 Top 25 teams. Duke's nine-spot backtrack is the worst among ranked teams. After two weeks of not having anyone move in or out, No. 23 Illinois joins Kansas State as new entrants. Their rankings came at the expense of North Carolina and Connecticut.
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