In a week where four of the top five teams lost, Villanova withstood the carnage and further established itself as the nation's best.
The Wildcats received 44 of a possible 65 first-place votes, easily topping second-ranked Kansas in the latest Associated Press rankings. Jay Wright's team has won five straight since a Jan. 24 loss to Providence.
"It's one of those years, if you look at the top 20, anybody could beat anybody," Wright said, per Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune. "As long as you're playing (well) at the end, that's what our goal is."
Oklahoma, Iowa and North Carolina round out the Top Five after an upset-filled week. Kansas, North Carolina and Villanova were the only Top 10 teams to not drop at least one game, and 18 of the Top 25 went down. Here is a look at how the last seven days affected the rankings, per AP.org:
|Associated Press Rankings - Week 15|
The biggest changes obviously begin at the top, as the Top Five went through a surprising shuffle. Maryland saw its five-game winning streak go by the wayside Saturday night in a frustrating loss to Wisconsin. Melo Trimble made just one of his 14 shots, struggling mightily as part of a 21-point first half for the Terps. The Badgers continued righting their season's ship by knocking down 12 shots from three-point range.
"I just felt we came out with our foot in the mud," guard Rasheed Sulaimon said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We were slow to everything. We started the game decently and then during that lull period couldn't get out of it for one reason or another."
Saturday also played host to the biggest head-to-head showdown of the week, as Kansas held on for a 76-72 win over Oklahoma in Norman. Devonte' Graham hit six threes on his way to a 27-point evening, and Kansas held the Sooners to 33.3 percent from the field. Buddy Hield's 24 points came despite a 5-of-15 shooting performance, while Jordan Woodard was an equally disappointing 3-of-12. Oklahoma stayed in the game by getting to the free-throw line and pounding the offensive boards, but its shooting woes proved insurmountable.
"I just tried to make every shot tough on him," Graham, who was also Hield's primary defender, said of guarding the National Player of the Year favorite, per the AP (via ESPN.com). "He still knocked down five trey balls. He still got his shots off. He had a good game. I just tried to lock up and play the best defense I could."
Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com is already ready for a third (and maybe fourth) matchup:
Kansas swept the regular-season series between the Big 12 favorites but did so by a combined seven points. The Jayhawks have now won five straight games since beginning conference play with a shaky 5-3 start.
Iowa and Xavier were left reeling after dropping conference games on the road. The Hawkeyes suffered an 85-78 defeat against an Indiana team that's arguably been underrated all season. The Hoosiers had an inside track for a regular-season Big Ten championship after taking down Iowa, only for their momentum to halt in a blowout loss to Michigan State a few days later. They're still just one game behind Iowa in the loss column.
Xavier's loss at Creighton was much less excusable. The Musketeers were held to 30.0 percent shooting, including an abysmal 1-of-21 rate from beyond the arc. Bluejays guard Maurice Watson Jr. went off for 32 points, scoring nearly half of Creighton's offensive output in the 70-56 win.
Virginia (Duke), Michigan State (Purdue) and West Virginia (Kansas) rounded out the losses for Top 10 teams, each coming on the road.
The Cavaliers' loss in Durham paved the way for Mike Krzyzewski's team to return to the rankings after a one-week absence. Grayson Allen's buzzer-beater gave the Blue Devils their fourth straight win, including two against ranked opponents. They appear to be turning things around after a stretch of four losses in five games earlier in ACC play.
“To say that was a hard-fought game would be underselling it,” Krzyzewski said afterward, per Ava Wallace of the Washington Post. “Look, they’re a really good team and it was one play. They could’ve won, but we did. I thought we earned it, but if they’d have won, they would have earned it. I thought both teams were deserving of winning, and that’s what makes a great game.”
Among the other notable results of the week, Oregon, Louisville, Texas A&M, USC and Texas all suffered two losses each. The Aggies have lost five of their last six games since reaching their season peak of a No. 5 ranking. Louisville's two-week loss comes amid the announcement the school implemented a self-imposed ban on postseason play in 2016.
As it stands, though, it's hard to know how much that decision weighed on Rick Pitino's team. The landscape has been so fractured throughout the season that any team can go down twice in the blink of an eye. As we head toward March, the only certainty is to expect uncertainty.