Arizona and Syracuse may have remained unscathed, but after a week of closer-than-expected contests and surprising upsets, it's clear that the established hierarchy of college basketball is on shaky ground.
The Wildcats are nearing two full months atop the Associated Press rankings, with this their eighth straight Monday safely above the fray. The same goes for the Orange, who are as steady as ever defensively under Jim Boeheim. Wichita State, the nation's only other undefeated team, comes in at No. 4 this week, behind No. 3 Florida and ahead of No. 5 San Diego State.
Just because the three undefeated teams stayed that way did not mean Week 13 was without changes, however. Here is a look at how the rest of the Top 25 played out:
|Rank||Team (First-Place Votes)||Record||Votes||Previous|
|5||San Diego State||18-1||1337||7|
It's easy to gloss over Arizona and Syracuse because they won, but both teams came dangerously close to being a party in the season's biggest upset over the weekend. The Wildcats needed a 22-point performance from Nick Johnson to overcome a surprisingly game Utah team on Sunday. The Utes, unranked and not considered a threat coming in, had a 47-45 lead with 11 minutes remaining before Johnson spearheaded a 12-2 run to help Arizona escape.
Arizona has now won a school-record 20 straight games to start the season, and with the Pac-12 almost entirely bereft of elite competition, it's hard to see an obvious upset upcoming.
“It means a lot," coach Sean Miller said, per Arizona. "Anytime that we have an opportunity to accomplish a goal, I shouldn’t say goal, but to set a record at Arizona, it’s so meaningful because of the history here. It’s so special."
A similar story played out in Miami, where the Hurricanes were within two baskets right until the final minute but couldn't convert offensively. Syracuse held the upset-minded squad without a field goal from the 8:20 mark in the second half until there were just 46 seconds remaining to get a 64-52 victory.
The methodical pacing played into the strategy of both teams—they are both among the 10 slowest-paced teams in the nation, per Ken Pomeroy—but the Orange were just plain better. While some clamored for a takeover at No. 1 following Arizona's scare Sunday, ESPN's Jeff Goodman noted that the current chasm is far from undeserved:
For those Syracuse fans saying Orange more deserving of top spot, resumes aren't even close. Arizona clear-cut No. 1 right now.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) January 27, 2014
Being scared quickly turned to being upset for Michigan State and Villanova, the former third- and fourth-ranked teams in the country respectively.
The Wildcats were victim to one of the best shooting displays in college basketball history in their 96-68 loss to Creighton last Monday. The Bluejays hit a Big East-record 21 three-pointers, knocking down shots no matter what adjustments Jay Wright made defensively. Ethan Wragge's 27 points all came beyond the arc, and National Player of the Year contender Doug McDermott added 23.
"I've seen him shoot better in practice," McDermott said of Wragge, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). "I've seen him hit 11 or 12 3s in an open gym, that's normal. So not a lot of us are shocked. The outside world, everyone's kind of shocked. But that's just another day at the office for Ethan."
Creighton went up by as many as 41 before a late run in garbage time brought the final toward respectability. Coupled with a victory over Georgetown, the Bluejays were one of the week's biggest benefactors, moving back into the rankings at No. 20. Villanova, which needed overtime to beat Marquette over the weekend, drops to No. 9.
An interesting dichotomy also played itself out in Michigan over the weekend, as the Wolverines' three straight victories over Top 10 opponents have them vaulting up the Top 25. They opened Week 12 with a 75-67 win over Iowa in Ann Arbor, putting an end to the Hawkeyes' Top 10 ranking after just one week.
That helped set up another upset, this one coming in East Lansing against the third-ranked team in the country. Nik Stauskas, often the third-mentioned returning sophomore in the preseason, continued his stellar campaign with 19 points, including five conversions from long range. Gary Harris did his best with a game-high 27 for the Spartans, but injuries to stars like Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson finally caught up.
Never the easiest person to please, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was "crushed" but at the same time beaming with pride about how his kids battled, per a team release:
In the 30 years I’ve been here, I’ve never been more proud of a team. I played guys that haven’t played in a month. Keith Appling—I can’t tell you how much that kid sucked it up. If (Gary) Harris isn’t the best player on both ends of the court in the league, God bless whoever is. I had some guys who stepped up.
The Wolverines' recent run set up an interesting dilemma for rankers. Sitting atop the nation's best conference with wins over top competition, they were certainly in for a bump. But Michigan also struggled to the tune of four losses in nonconference play, including an embarrassing defeat to Conference USA outfit Charlotte.
Stauskas and Co. eventually settled at No. 10, still behind No. 7 Michigan State but ahead of every other Big Ten team.
No. 25 Texas finds itself in a similar situation to the Wolverines. After giving then-No. 24 Baylor its fourth straight loss on Saturday, the Longhorns have now won three consecutive games against ranked opponents for the first time in school history. Their inability to hit outside shots has somehow not backfired in any of those contests, though this week's matchup against No. 6 Kansas might put a halt to that.
Behind Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, possibly the No. 1 and No. 2 NBA prospects in the country, the Jayhawks are firing on all cylinders in conference play and could be building toward a Final Four run. After hanging at No. 18 earlier in the month, it's amazing how much can change in a couple weeks.
Michigan, moving up 11 spots, was easily the biggest jumper this week, followed by relatively modest three-spot bumps from Florida, Oklahoma State and Kentucky among the teams ranked in Week 12.
No. 21 Massachusetts (eight spots) and No. 24 Ohio State (seven) were the biggest losers this week, followed by a triad (Villanova, Wisconsin and Iowa) that each fell back five places.
Kansas State and Baylor were the only two ousted from the Top 25 in Week 13, replaced by Creighton and Texas.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: