Winners and Losers from the AP College Basketball Top 25 Rankings in Week 14
After eight long weeks of playing second fiddle to Arizona, Syracuse advanced to the head of the class this week, making its season debut at the No. 1 spot in the latest AP Top 25 and serving as one of the week's biggest winners.
The Orange headlined a great week for the ACC, as Duke jumped six spots to No. 11 and Virginia reappeared in the Top 25 at No. 20.
Well, maybe it wasn't a great week for everyone in the ACC. Pittsburgh lost both its games this week, dropping from No. 18 to No. 25. That was nothing, though, compared to the plummets Oklahoma State and Wisconsin experienced. The Cowboys and Badgers each dropped more than 10 spots after both suffering a pair of losses.
And how about Cincinnati? The Bearcats' road win over Louisville and close call against South Florida were enough to vault them six spots to No. 7. Anyone still viewing Cincinnati as that team that barely beat Pittsburgh in the ugliest game of the season might need to get their vision checked.
All in all, we had quite the potluck of winners and losers in this week's AP Top 25.
Winner: Syracuse Orange
The Orange are 21-0 for the first time in school history and have gotten back to the No. 1 spot in the country for the third time in the last five seasons after receiving all 65 first-place votes this week.
Many had doubts about Syracuse over the past several weeks, as it struggled to score against some good but not great defenses. That's no longer the case after C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant led the charge to put up 91 points against Duke on Saturday night.
"I was able to not force things once I got going," Fair told reporters after the game. "I felt I was the hot hand and my teammates kept giving me the ball."
Of course, the win over Duke isn't what propelled the Orange to the top spot.
If Justin Cobbs ever decides to pay a visit to Syracuse, his first few drinks will be on the house. Cal's senior guard was the only Golden Bear to score in the final 11 minutes on Saturday night, but he scored 12 points during that stretch, including the game-winning fade-away dagger to put an end to Arizona's reign of nearly two months at No. 1.
Loser: Oklahoma State Cowboys
What has gotten into the Cowboys?
Their first three losses of the season were understandable. Memphis was out for revenge. Kansas State was heating up, while Oklahoma State had just lost Michael Cobbins for the year and didn't have Stevie Clark for the game. And come on, nobody beats Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
But the two losses this week? A 12-point loss at Oklahoma that felt more like a 25-point loss to anyone watching and a six-point loss at home to a Baylor team that was on a five-game losing streak and playing without its starting point guard?
The AP voters certainly took notice, dropping the Cowboys from No. 8 all the way to No. 19.
Aside from a road game against Texas Tech, things aren't about to get any easier either. In the next two weeks, Oklahoma State faces Iowa State and Texas and gets rematches against Oklahoma and Baylor.
News also broke on Sunday that Clark was arrested for the second time this season—this time for "outraging public decency." We'll have to wait and see if the team even welcomes him back this time.
Winner: Cincinnati Bearcats
What more do you want, America?
The Bearcats are on a 14-game winning streak and are 10-0 in conference play. A pair of those wins came on the road against Memphis and Louisville—the two teams most expected would win the American Athletic Conference.
Still, it feels like the non-voting public doesn't want to believe Cincinnati is the seventh-best team in the country.
Perhaps it's because the Bearcats don't score a ton of points, didn't play a great nonconference schedule and don't play in one of the really elite conferences.
However, they do have more RPI Top 50 wins than San Diego State, Villanova or Wichita State and have one of the 10 best defenses in the country no matter how you slice it.
It might be time to start taking Cincinnati seriously as a Final Four threat.
Loser: Wisconsin Badgers
If such a thing existed, Wisconsin would be in the basketball ICU right about now.
Despite winning the turnover battle and attempting 11 more free throws than Northwestern, the Badgers lost at home to the Wildcats by nine points thanks in large part to a 26.3 field-goal percentage for the night.
Making matters even worse, they went on to lose a third consecutive home game on Saturday in the battle of who could care less with Ohio State.
I'm not sure if a team has ever started a season with a 16-0 record and proceeded to miss the NCAA tournament—and I highly doubt it's going to happen to the Badgers—but they're certainly threatening to find out if it's possible.
Since climbing to No. 3 in the country on Jan. 13, they went from No. 9 to No. 14 to completely out of the rankings in just three weeks.
Winner: Texas Longhorns
After bringing Kansas back to Earth with an 81-69 win over the Jayhawks on Saturday afternoon, the Longhorns have now won three of their last four games by double digits.
That doesn't sound like a particularly noteworthy stretch, until you remember that all four of those games were against ranked opponents. Save for a narrow home win over Kansas State on Jan. 21, Texas isn't just winning games against Top 25 teams.
No, the Longhorns are sending a message.
"(Coach Rick Barnes) told us to keep our foot on their throat and don't let up," Isaiah Taylor told reporters after the game.
On Saturday morning, Kansas was widely regarded as one of the teams most likely to win the NCAA tournament. Early in the second half, the Jayhawks trailed Texas by 20.
Cameron Ridley was a bit hit-or-miss early in the season, but the big man is averaging 12.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks over his last five games, helping carry Texas to the No. 15 spot in the nation.
Loser: Memphis Tigers
Memphis has played just eight games this season against the RPI Top 150—as compared to a team like Kansas that has played 18 such games.
In those eight games, the Tigers have a 3-5 record and are 1-4 since beating Oklahoma State back on Dec. 1. They lost by double digits at home to both Cincinnati and Connecticut and added a 15-point road loss to Southern Methodist this week.
Long story short, it has been quite some time since Memphis really resembled one of the 25 best teams in the country. But the Tigers still haven't quite dropped out of the AP Top 25, coming in at No. 24 this week.
Should they beat both Rutgers and Gonzaga at home this week, they might remain in the polls next Monday.
Based on the way they have been playing for the past two months, though, that's a pretty tall order.
Winner: Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia should have been ranked a long time ago, but better late than never, right?
In the past seven days, the Cavaliers picked up road wins over Notre Dame and Pittsburgh—the latter of which was their fifth RPI Top 50 victory. Only five teams in the country have six or more such victories, and all five of those teams were ranked in the AP Top 10 last Monday.
So where was the love for Virginia?
Saturday's game for the ages between Duke and Syracuse was billed as a battle between the ACC's top teams, but last time I checked, Virginia has but one ACC loss. Syracuse and Virginia only play once this season, and it's a home game for Virginia on March 1—where Virginia is 27-2 dating back to Nov. 17, 2012.
If you thought Syracuse won the conference last weekend, think again. They may not score a ton of points, but the Cavaliers are the real deal at No. 20 in the latest poll.
From an RPI standpoint, the road game against Clemson (RPI: 68) is the most challenging game remaining on Virginia's schedule outside of that showdown with Syracuse.
Get used to this team being in the Top 25, because it might not lose again during the regular season.
Loser: Massachusetts Minutemen
Apparently, overachieving for two months and then losing a bunch of games in a short span of time in conference play is all the rage these days.
Massachusetts was the latest to take part in the fad set forth by Oregon, Ohio State, Wisconsin and others, losing games against Richmond, St. Bonaventure and St. Joseph's in less than two weeks.
Individually, none of the losses were terrible. All three games were on the road against RPI Top 100 teams with an outside shot at making the NCAA tournament.
But the Minutemen have been struggling for quite some time. Except now, instead of close victories against average teams, they're coming up a few points short against that same caliber of teams.
Should you choose to assign blame, junior forward Maxie Esho has averaged 3.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 personal fouls in Massachusetts' four losses. In the team's last 10 wins, however, he has averaged 12.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 fouls per game.
The Minutemen reached their apex in the AP Top 25 on Jan. 20.
On Feb. 3, they didn't receive a single vote.
5 Other Winners
Creighton played just one game last week, narrowly defeating St. John's with Doug McDermott scoring 62 percent of the team's points in the game. Still, the Bluejays somehow managed to jump from No. 20 to No. 12. Sure, teams ahead of them lost, but there was also an undeniable element of AP voters realizing they messed up last week by not already having Creighton higher.
After a four-week hiatus from the Top 25, the Huskies reappeared at No. 22 this week. They played just one game, but they made quite the impression, beating Houston by 37 points despite playing reserves for most of the second half.
Duke Blue Devils
It's not often that a team can lose a game and almost unanimously move up in everyone's ballot—Seth Davis had Duke at No. 23 last week and had the Blue Devils at No. 10 this week—but that's exactly the luxury that was afforded to Duke after a big road win over Pittsburgh and a thoroughly entertaining loss at Syracuse. The Blue Devils jumped from No. 17 to No. 11.
Saint Louis Billikens
George Washington lost to Dayton, and Massachusetts is in a nosedive. That leaves Saint Louis as the class of the A-10. The Billikens aren't exactly flush with quality wins—they have an 0-2 record vs. RPI Top 50—but they haven't lost a game since Dec. 1. This week, they made a sizable leap from No. 19 to No. 13.
When the teams ranked Nos. 6-8 and Nos. 10-12 all lose in a given week, that No. 9 team sure does look pretty. Villanova fell out of our graces last week after a blowout loss to Creighton and a near loss to Marquette, but the Wildcats climbed back up three spots this week after road wins over Georgetown and Temple.
5 Other Losers
We'll have an entire feature coming later today about just how much Arizona lost when it was announced that Brandon Ashley is likely done for the season, so for now, we'll just focus on the fact that the Wildcats' undefeated season finally came to an end. These things happen when Nick Johnson makes just one of his 14 field-goal attempts on the road.
Green Bay Phoenix
Green Bay is unquestionably my adopted mid-major team this season, so it was thrilling to see the Phoenix pick up five votes in last week's poll—even if all five votes were courtesy of Drew Doughty ranking them 21st. Playing without leading big man Alec Brown, though, they were convincingly beaten on the road by Valparaiso this week, immediately losing the votes it took them so long to achieve.
The Tigers have their flaws, but they also have four RPI Top 100 wins in their last five games. They probably don't quite deserve to be in the Top 25, but I would like to think that a win over Kentucky and a blowout win over Arkansas would be worth more than three measly votes.
Michigan State Spartans
Few would disagree that Michigan State is pretty much a lock for the Final Four if the roster is actually healthy for the NCAA tournament. Playing without Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson this week, the Spartans picked up an incredible road win over Iowa and added a disappointing neutral-court loss to Georgetown. They only dropped two spots, but they likely would have jumped a rung or two if they had beaten the Hoyas.
There were a lot of winners in the ACC this week, but boy howdy was current No. 25 Pittsburgh a loser. The Panthers lost at home to both Duke and Virginia, dropping to 0-4 vs. RPI Top 40. The home game against Syracuse on Feb. 12 might be their last chance to prove that they're actually capable of beating a quality team.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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