College Basketball Rankings 2015-16: Bleacher Report's Week 11 Top 25
Willie Nelson's lyrics to "On the Road Again" do not apply to college basketball.
We're getting to the point in the season where we're reminded just how hard it is to go into another team's gym and win on the road.
This past week, 20 of the 25 teams from our poll last week played at least one road game, and those 20 teams went a combined 11-12. That's why all conference losses are not to be treated equally.
Kansas and Maryland, for instance, were both top-five teams a week ago who both lost on the road, and KU dropped two spots this week while Maryland dropped only one. Some road losses, however, do get harsher judgement. Kentucky was our No. 1 team throughout November and has now dropped all the way out of our rankings after falling on the road to Auburn on Saturday.
That raspy voice you hear is John Calipari singing "Oh, I can wait to get on the road again." Sorry Cal. You travel to Arkansas on Thursday.
And wouldn't you know it, the team with the jewel of all road losses this season—in triple overtime at Allen Fieldhouse—sits appropriately atop the poll this week.
Teams dropped from rankings: South Carolina (16), Kentucky (19), Gonzaga (25)
Others receiving votes: Notre Dame, Valparaiso, Arkansas-Little Rock, Dayton
25-21: Clemson-Iowa State
Record: 12-6 (5-1 ACC)
Previous rank: Not ranked
The Tigers had some bad losses in the non-conference (UMass and Minnesota were the worst of the bunch), but this team has come out of nowhere to beat Louisville, Duke and Miami. All three were at home, but that might just be the most impressive three-game stretch that any team has had this season.
24. Wichita State
Record: 12-5 (6-0 Missouri Valley)
Previous rank: Not ranked
The Shockers have won seven straight and appear to be back to the team that everyone expected in the preseason, now that they're healthy. In games they've played with senior point guard Fred VanVleet in the lineup, they're 11-2. This is a group that no one will want to see in the NCAA tournament.
Record: 15-3 (3-2 Big East)
Previous rank: 11
The Friars have lost two of their last three, and what's most troubling is that both of those losses (Marquette and Seton Hall) took place at home. They need to get their act together at home or they could find themselves playing catch up in the Big East race. The next three games are home against Butler, at Villanova and then back home against Xavier.
Record: 15-2 (4-1 ACC)
Previous rank: 18
I had a conversation with an NBA scout this weekend and unprovoked he brought up Pitt's frontcourt. He said he had no idea Michael Young and Jamel Artis were so good until he saw them in person.
He's not alone. That duo might just be the most overlooked wrecking crew in college basketball. They're not only efficient scoring machines—they combine for 33.3 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting from the field and 82.4 percent at the free throw line—but they also are excellent setup men. They both average better than three assists per game, and without researching, I'd venture to say that they're the only frontcourt in the nation pulling that off. (Hit me up on Twitter if there's another, and I will reward you with the utmost Twitter praise.)
21. Iowa State
Record: 13-4 (2-3 Big 12)
Previous rank: 15
It's crazy how close the Cyclones are to being in first place in the Big 12. A handful of possessions go their way, and they're 5-0 in the league. Instead, they lost two games (Oklahoma and Baylor) that they led by double digits at one point and another (at Texas) by three in overtime. The Cyclones have a chance to get feeling better about their current status, if they can can beat Oklahoma at Hilton Coliseum on Monday night. Be sure to tune in. That matchup has produced some unbelievably entertaining games over the last few years.
Record: 15-3 (5-0 Big Ten)
Previous rank: 24
The stink from the blowout loss at Duke is starting to fade, as the Hoosiers haven't lost since. In fact, the team that was embarrassingly bad at Cameron Indoor leads the Big Ten in defensive efficiency in conference play, according to kenpom.com. (Things I never thought I'd write for $800, Alex.)
The Hoosiers deserve some love for their current 10-game winning streak and the vast improvement on defense, although both come with a caveat: Only one of those wins has come against a team that will have a shot to make the NCAA tournament. That's Notre Dame, who Indiana beat on a neutral floor in Indianapolis. Including the next four opponents, Indiana will play a stretch of 14 games with only one opponent (Notre Dame) that ranks in the top 50 on kenpom.com.
Record: 15-3 (3-2 Pac-12)
Previous rank: 22
The loss of freshman wing Allonzo Trier hasn't been as troublesome to the Arizona offense as you'd think it would be. Trier, who is averaging 14.8 points per game, has missed the last two games with a broken hand, and the Wildcats have put up 189 points in those two wins.
The Wildcats are by far the best offensive team in Pac-12 play, putting up 13.4 points per 100 possessions more than the next-closest offense (USC), per kenpom.com. It's the defense, surprisingly, that has held the 'Cats back and hasn't been up to the Sean Miller standard, ranking eighth in defensive efficiency in conference games.
Record: 13-3 (2-2 ACC)
Previous rank: 9
The Hurricanes went 0-2 this past week, but there's no shame in losing to Virginia and suddenly-lethal-at-home Clemson. The next two weeks will determine if Miami can contend for the ACC title. The 'Canes have four straight winnable games: at Boston College, home against Wake Forest and Duke and then on the road at NC State.
Record: 15-3 (3-2 Big Ten)
Previous rank: 23
The Boilermakers have what should be two gimmes—at Rutgers and then at home against Ohio State—before a trip to Iowa next Sunday. The Hawkeyes won the last meeting by holding Purdue's inside duo of Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan to a combined 12 points and 11 rebounds. Purdue needs more out of those two to win in Iowa City.
Record: 15-3 (4-1 Pac-12)
Previous rank: Not ranked
Andy Enfield took only two years to get Florida Gulf Coast to an NCAA tournament and Dunk City's run to the Sweet 16 is one of the best college basketball stories in recent memory. The turnaround at USC cannot rival the story of his success at FGCU, but it's arguably just as impressive. The Trojans sit atop the Pac-12 after going 5-31 in conference play in Enfield's first two seasons.
Record: 14-4 (3-2 ACC)
Previous rank: 10
The absence of Amile Jefferson burned this week in losses to Clemson and Notre Dame.
The power forwards who Jefferson would have likely been guarding in those games (Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame and Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson) combined to drop 48 points on the Blue Devils. The offense is still humming without Jefferson, but his defensive presence is dearly missed.
Record: 13-4 (2-3 ACC)
Previous rank: 13
The Cavaliers have been less consistent than the program's previous two ACC champs, but even with three ACC losses, I'm not sure you can count them out of the ACC race. Their three conference losses (Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Florida State) were on the road, and this group has shown the ability to play at an elite level.
Virginia has wins over three teams currently ranked in this poll: West Virginia, Villanova and Miami.
The defense hasn't been up to the Tony Bennett standard, but let's remember that Bennett is still in charge of that unit. He's probably going to figure it out, and if that happens soon, this team could make a late run.
13. Michigan State
Record: 16-3 (3-3 Big Ten)
Previous rank: 3
The Spartans are starting to look like the team that most people expected them to be and not the juggernaut that steamrolled through the non-conference. Things started to look shaky when Denzel Valentine was out of the lineup, but Valentine has been on the floor for the latest two losses, at home against Iowa and on the road to a Wisconsin club that had lost three straight.
Sparty is not this bad, but may not be as lethal as it looked early on. The team is probably somewhere in the middle. Izzo has solid talent, but not on the level as some of the top-ranked teams. That said, it's a down year in college basketball and I wouldn't count out a team with a player like Valentine from going on another deep run in the tournament.
Record: 14-3 (4-1 Big 12)
Previous rank: 21
One underrated aspect of Scott Drew's program at Baylor has been the coaching staff's ability to develop talent, especially the bigs. Drew has sent five players to the NBA (Quincy Acy, Cory Jefferson, Ekpe Udoh, Quincy Miller and Perry Jones) and Jones was the only one who was a top-50 recruit, according to Rivals.com's rankings.
Drew's ability to develop post players has given Baylor arguably the deepest frontcourt in college basketball, and the latest impressive player development success story is sophomore Terry Maston. Maston is Baylor's fourth big and he played only 12 minutes in Big 12 play last year, but he's emerged as a great weapon off the bench. He's averaging 14.0 points per game over the last three games, which leads the team during that span.
Baylor has won four straight and finds itself in a four-way tie for first place in the Big 12. Point guard play has been a question mark, but Baylor's ability to overwhelm opponents with a platoon of big men could keep Drew's squad in contention.
Record: 14-3 (3-1 ACC)
Previous rank: 20
Rick Pitino's offenses these days aren't quite what they used to be, but the legendary coach has arguably become the best defensive coach in college basketball.
The Cardinals currently rank first nationally in defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com's numbers. If they finish in the top five, it would mark the sixth straight year in the top five.
To understand the stinginess of this particular unit, let's go back to Thursday night's 59-41 win over Pittsburgh. The Panthers have been one of the best offensive teams in the country and are carving up the ACC to the tune of 1.29 points per possession in non-Louisville games. The Cards held them to 0.65 points per possession, the lowest mark in the last four seasons of Pitt basketball.
10. Texas A&M
Record: 15-2 (5-0 SEC)
Previous rank: 12
The SEC appears on its way to getting better, based off some of the coaching hires that have been made the last few years, but the league is a cesspool of mediocrity this season.
That would make it easy to question the legitimacy of the Aggies, who are undoubtedly the class of the conference. I wouldn't. Billy Kennedy has done a great job of building this roster with transfers and recruiting. The veterans, who include three senior transfers (Jalen Jones, Danuel House and Anthony Collins), have made it so there's not too much pressure on the talented freshman class. The same cannot be said for what's taking place at Kentucky.
Jones (17.2 PPG) and House (15.9 PPG) form one of the best inside-out duos in college basketball. This team has the talent, depth and experience to get to Houston in April.
9. West Virginia
Record: 15-2 (4-1 Big 12)
Previous rank: 14
The scouting report on the Mountaineers last season was that their full-court pressure was a chore to beat, but if you beat the pressure, you could get some easy buckets.
In Year 2 of Press Virginia, Bob Huggins has created another kind of beast. The Mountaineers are still pressing and forcing more turnovers than anyone in the country, but now they've also ramped up the defense in the halfcourt and made life just as uncomfortable. That's evident by their adjusted defensive efficiency rank—they rank second this year and were 45th last season, per kenpom.com.
Kansas experienced how hard it is to get a good look last Tuesday. In an overtime win against WVU late last season, the Jayhawks capitalized after they beat the pressure and made 21 of their 36 attempts inside the arc. On Tuesday, they made only 10 of their 28 two-point attempts and an offense that runs out two point guards coughed the ball up 22 times. It was the first time all season the Jayhawks have committed more than 15 turnovers.
Record: 14-3 (5-0 Big Ten)
Previous rank: 17
Throw Fran McCaffery's name into the National Coach of the Year discussion and Jarrod Uthoff into the Player of the Year one while you're at it.
The Hawkeyes finished off a sweep of Michigan State this past week—this time with Denzel Valentine and on the road—and they now have four wins against teams ranked in KenPom.com's top 25, which is tied with Virginia for the most in the country. It would be five had the Hawkeyes held on at Iowa State, a game they led by 20 and eventually lost by one.
This is a squad that lost an exhibition game to a Division II team and started the season 3-2. It's still early, and Maryland is uber-talented, but at this point with the MSU road win, Iowa should probably be considered the favorite to win the Big Ten.
Record: 17-0 (6-0 American)
Previous rank: 6
The postseason-ineligible Mustangs have to be feeling sick this week. The reason they're postseason ineligible to begin with, Keith Frazier, made it official that he's leaving the program.
SMU is rolling through the American and has had only one game (a two-point win over Cincinnati) that was even close. It's becoming very real that this team could go undefeated, and the week to watch will be Feb. 13-18. That's when the Mustangs welcome Gonzaga to Moody and then go on the road to play UConn.
It's still not too late for the NCAA to come in and postpone the postseason ban. With Frazier no longer around, would anyone really complain if the Mustangs and their four seniors were allowed to play in the NCAA tournament?
Record: 16-2 (5-1 Big Ten)
Previous rank: 5
The two most complete teams in college basketball in terms of having both inside and outside scoring are North Carolina and Maryland. With the way Diamond Stone and Robert Carter are playing, I'd argue the Terps are right there with North Carolina for having the best A-game in college basketball as well.
So there's not a lot of reason to worry for Maryland right now, even with the loss at Michigan this past week and Melo Trimble in a bit of a scoring funk. Trimble was not himself in the loss to the Wolverines (two points, three assists and four turnovers), and he's scored in single-digits in three of his last four, but I wouldn't read too much into it.
Trimble had 21 points against Wisconsin and hit the game-winner in that matchup, and there's some nights where he's simply playing facilitator and not looking for his shot. He's good enough that he should be able to flip that aggressive switch when needed, and building up the confidence of Stone by playing through him more as of late should pay off down the road.
Record: 16-1 (4-1 Big East)
Previous rank: 8
It's time to call out college basketball coaches and my fellow sportswriters. We screwed up.
Xavier was not a part of the Bleacher Report preseason top 25 and also did not appear in either major preseason poll. From here on out, as long as Chris Mack is around, we should probably go ahead and earmark a spot for the Musketeers every preseason. Not only has Xavier proven to be a Top 10 team this season, but Mack also took the program to three Sweet 16s in his first six seasons as a head coach, including a Sweet 16 last year.
Things are on the up and up for this current team, who got blown out by Villanova on New Year's Eve in a game where their starting point guard, Edmond Sumner, was taken off the floor on a stretcher. Sumner returned Saturday at Marquette and looked great, going for 15 points and five assists in the road win.
Record: 16-2 (6-0 Big East)
Previous rank: 7
The red flag with the Wildcats earlier this season was that a mediocre three-point shooting team took too many threes. That got a lot of attention after the Wildcats got stomped by Oklahoma, and on a night when they were ice cold from distance, they insisted on jacking up 32 threes. (They made only four.)
This team is still attempting more threes than the average college basketball team, but it's come way down in Big East play. The Wildcats are taking only 37.1 percent of their field-goal attempts from deep, compared to jacking nearly half (49.5 percent) from long range during the nonconference schedule.
The lower attempts haven't really helped their accuracy—they made 31.0 percent of their threes in nonconference play, and that numbers is only slightly up in Big East play (31.9 percent). But since Villanova has been money inside the arc all season—ranking second nationally at 59.5 percent accuracy on twos, per KenPom.com—more shots in close is a very good thing.
Record: 15-2 (4-1 Big 12)
Previous rank: 1
The sentiment when Cheick Diallo was sitting out games was that the Jayhawks could really be something special when and if he was cleared by the NCAA.
The truth was that Diallo wasn't really ready to contribute once he was allowed to play, and the Jayhawks proved to still be pretty darn good without him. That has not stopped Kansas fans from clamoring for more Diallo. They got their wish Saturday against TCU when Diallo played a season-high 21 minutes and was extremely productive with a line of nine points, nine rebounds and five blocks.
It's still too soon to say Diallo has arrived or that Bill Self will (or should) trust him to play more minutes—Self has an army of veteran bigs to choose from—but this was at least a glimpse of what all the hype was about.
The Jayhawks have the goods to compete for a title with or without Diallo, but if he can figure things out and provide what he did on Saturday on a semi-regular basis, then it adds another weapon and boosts KU's interior defense more than anything else.
2. North Carolina
Record: 16-2 (5-0 ACC)
Previous rank: 4
Brice Johnson has been the hottest big man in college basketball over the past month, and his improvement makes the Tar Heels look even more dangerous than they did in the preseason. (And let's remember the AP Top 25 poll had them No. 1 in the preseason.)
But what really shows the strength of the Heels and why they should do well in a tourney setting is what happens when Johnson is off his game. That has taken place twice in ACC games—he scored only three points in the conference opener against Clemson and had only six points and two rebounds on Saturday against NC State.
In the first occurrence, the Heels had five players, led by Marcus Paige's 18 points, score in double figures. On Saturday against NC State, Kennedy Meeks owned the paint and went for 23 points in his second game back from a knee injury. The Heels have yet to put together a solid string of defensive performances, but with that offense and balance, it may not matter much when they're at full strength.
Record: 15-1 (4-1 Big 12)
Previous rank: 2
Congratulations, Oklahoma. You'll be No. 1 in every poll this week, and your reward is a trip to Hilton Coliseum on Monday to play a team that had you down by double digits on your home floor two weeks ago.
Such is life in the Big 12.
The Sooners may not hold this spot for long—they also have to travel to Baylor on Saturday—but this team, regardless of outcomes this week, should remain in the discussion as one of the best in college basketball. Lon Kruger has built a free-flowing offense that is close to impossible to stop, and he has the best scorer in the country in Buddy Hield.
And even when the Sooners are off, as they were against West Virginia on Saturday when they had their worst offensive game of the season, this veteran group knows how to guard and can win grind-it-out games. The Mountaineers aren't a juggernaut on offense, but they had their second-least efficient game on the offensive end this season at OU.
The Sooners will be constantly measured this season against Kansas, and by beating West Virginia this week and taking KU to triple overtime at Allen Fieldhouse, they currently hold a slight edge in the popular opinion.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.