College Basketball

Winners and Losers of AP College Basketball Top 25 Poll in Week 15

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 15, 2016

Winners and Losers of AP College Basketball Top 25 Poll in Week 15

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Villanova remains the No. 1 team in college basketball's latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, but that's about the only thing that didn't change following a week in which ranked teams suffered a combined 16 losses to unranked teams.

    Upsets have run rampant through this entire season, but this was a particularly insane week.

    Or was it?

    Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina went a combined 8-0. Michigan State and Virginia continued playing extremely well despite each suffering a one-point road loss to another ranked team. And teams with deep, veteran rotations like those at Arizona and Miami were able to escape the week without a blemish.

    Though a ton of people have been mentioning ranked teams' combined record of 27-23 this week as further evidence that there are no great teams this season, you don't need to read too far between the lines to see things finally beginning to normalize.

    That may well change drastically in the next 96 hours, but for the first time in a long time, it feels like picking the blue bloods in the NCAA tournament might not be such a bad idea.

    Meanwhile, upstart teams like Texas A&M, Oregon, Xavier and Providence were among this week's biggest losers.

    Read on for the full list of winners and losers.

Winner: The Rivalry

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    Kansas vs. Oklahoma has made for an outstanding rivalry this season, but the time has finally come for the first round of college basketball's greatest rivalry. And thanks to a 4-0 week, Duke and North Carolina are both heading into the affair in pretty great shape.

    The Blue Devils were the biggest winners this week, putting an emphatic end to any notion of missing the tournament for the first time since 1995 and jumping all the way to No. 20 after receiving just 14 votes in last week's poll.

    Put a "Grayson Allen traveled!" asterisk on Saturday's buzzer-beating win over No. 7 Virginia if it helps you sleep under your bridge, but it still counts as the best win of Duke's season. Earlier in the week against Louisville, the Blue Devils also secured their second-best win of the year.

    Can they keep that trend going with a road win over North Carolina that would easily go down as one of the 10 most impressive wins by any team this season?

    If they do, it would be against the team ranked No. 5, as the Tar Heels climbed four spots in this week's AP Top 25.

    They certainly didn't look the part of one of the nation's elite on Tuesday, as they nearly lost to a Boston College team that has yet to win a single ACC game. Sunday's blowout win over Pittsburgh was a completely different story, though. They shot nearly 60 percent from the field, recorded an assist on more than 80 percent of those made shots and forced 19 turnovers in the 21-point win.

    If that team shows up Wednesday, Duke might need to shoot 80 percent from three-point range to have any hope of pulling off the upset. But regardless of the outcome, at least both teams will be ranked for the Tobacco Road showdown.

Loser: Texas A&M

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    Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

    What the heck happened to this team?

    Three weeks ago, Texas A&M was No. 5 in the nation, 18-3 overall, with only one loss in SEC play and legitimately on the fringe of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

    In what feels like the blink of an eye, though, the Aggies are now unranked and have lost five consecutive SEC games to drop into a four-way tie for fourth place in a conference they seemed certain to win. It must have happened before, but I can't recall the last time a team went from Top Five to unranked in a matter of just three weeks this late in a season.

    The interesting part of it all is that the Aggies aren't actually playing that poorly.

    In the three-point loss at Arkansas, the officiating was an utter disaster. In the three-point home loss to South Carolina, they shot 48.0 percent from three-point range only to watch the Gamecocks finally show up for a road game by shooting 57.1 percent from downtown.

    In the one-point loss at Alabama, Anthony Collinswho entered the game a 93.3 percent free-throw shootermissed two free throws with less than three seconds remaining that probably would have given Texas A&M the win. And in the five-point loss at LSU, the Aggies shot nearly 56 percent from the field while LSU attempted 22 more free throws than them.

    Really, the only game during this stretch where A&M looked bad was the 77-60 road loss to a Vanderbilt team that was in desperate need of a resume-building win. And if that was the only loss to occur in the past three weeks, we would probably be writing it off as no big deal for that very reason.

    Texas A&M dropped out of the AP Top 25, but we probably haven't heard the last from this team.

Winner: More Blue Bloods

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    We've already mentioned Duke and North Carolina climbing in the latest poll, but Kansas, Kentucky and Indiana are on the rise as well. Say what you will about the lack of elite teams this season, but 83.3 percent of college basketball's blue bloods are starting to look pretty darn good (sorry, UCLA).

    Kentucky, in particular, is playing staggeringly well at the moment. After beating Florida 80-61 last weekend, the Wildcats continued to display their dominance with a 34-point home win over Georgia and a 27-point road win over South Carolina. While most of the nation struggled, Kentucky looked completely untouchable and soared from No. 22 to No. 14.

    During that three-game winning streak, Jamal Murray shot 58.1 percent from three-point range while Tyler Ulis averaged an absolutely absurd 19.7 points, 10.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.0 turnovers. But don't forget about the continued contributions from Derek Willis, either, as the former benchwarmer has averaged 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds over his last 10 games.

    When those three are playing well together, the Wildcats have the goods to win it all. But UK might need to figure out how to get through KU to claim the title, as the Jayhawks climbed to No. 2 in this week's poll after what might have been the most impressive week any team has had since Miami went on a rampage through the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November.

    Kansas opened the week by avenging a January loss to West Virginia. Frank Mason and Wayne Selden combined for 13 turnovers in the first game, but they committed just four while scoring 25 in the rematch. And it was the third member of Bill Self's backcourt trio who shone extra bright in Saturday's marquee road win over Oklahoma, as Devonte' Graham scored 27 while playing suffocating defense on Buddy Hield.

    And like Kentucky, it has been the emergence of a junior forward who has really helped pushed Kansas to new heights. Landen Lucas has 32 points, 35 rebounds and six blocks over his last four games, during which the Jayhawks have been much more impenetrable on defense.

    Indiana can also thank a midseason breakout for its improved play. OG Anunoby barely even touched the floor during the first six weeks of the season, but with James Blackmon Jr. out of the lineup, Anunoby has averaged 6.5 points per game in Big Ten play while playing outstanding defense. The freshman is going to be one heck of a menace for the next few years.

    More importantly, the Hoosiers knocked off Iowa this week, picking up their biggest win of the season and hopping back into the AP Top 25 at No. 22 after a one-week hiatus.

Loser: Maryland

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Maryland was just one spot away from being ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history, but it looks like that dream will need to wait at least one more year after Saturday's 70-57 home loss to Wisconsin.

    Early on, it looked like Maryland had finally put an end to its nasty habit of getting out to a slow start in most games. After the first six minutes and 30 seconds, the Terrapins were up 14-7, had already blocked four shots and forced two Wisconsin turnovers. For a team that was on a five-game winning streak that included victories over Iowa and Purdue, it seemed the Terrapins were headed for a rout.

    Then the Badgers went on a 23-2 run as Maryland gave the ball away over and over again.

    Melo Trimble had just about the worst game of his career, and Robert Carter Jr. was nowhere to be found in what might have been a 30-point loss if not for some sharpshooting by Rasheed Sulaimon.

    Earlier in the week, Iowa lost to Indiana, opening the door for Maryland to win the Big Ten regular-season title. But the Terrapins handed those reins right back to the Hawkeyes in the process of dropping from No. 2 to No. 6.

    With road games remaining against Purdue and Indiana, Maryland may slip even further down the polls in the coming weeks.

Winner: Notre Dame

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    Associated Press

    Is there a better, more indispensable player in the country that fewer people are talking about than Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson?

    After losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton from last year's insanely efficient offense, Notre Dame could have been in serious trouble. Instead, the Fighting Irish are committing even fewer turnovers and currently have a nation-leading adjusted offensive efficiency that is higher than last year's, per kenpom.com.

    Just a couple of weeks removed from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss nearly two full games, Jackson hasn't missed a second, playing all 40 minutes in three consecutive games and averaging 21 points during that winning streak against North Carolina, Clemson and Louisville.

    Clemson has held 11 of its last 12 opponents to 76 points or less, but Jackson helped pace the Fighting Irish to 89 points in the road win over the Tigers.

    This offense is a wrecking ball right now, and don't forget about those earlier wins over Duke and Iowa. With a relatively favorable remaining schedule, Notre Dame could finish the regular season on an eight-game winning streak to slide into the conversation for a second consecutive No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.

    But with a month remaining until Selection Sunday, the Fighting Irish will have to settle for jumping back into the AP Top 25 at No. 19.

Loser: Big East

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Villanova held on to the No. 1 ranking in the nation, but it was a pretty brutal week for the Big East.

    Beginning at the top, yes, the Wildcats maintained their grip on the top spot, but their count of first-place votes only increased from 32 to 44, even though the teams previously ranked Nos. 2-5 each suffered a loss. Granted, Villanova's wins over St. John's and DePaul weren't anywhere near as impressive as Kansas' wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma, but this certainly was not a vote of confidence in Villanova from the AP.

    Staying near the top, but not quite as near as last week, Xavier slipped three spots to a tie for No. 8 after an ugly road loss to Creighton in which the Musketeers shot 1-of-21 from three-point range. Were it not for a bounce-back 17-point win over Butler, they likely would have dropped into the teens. It was a darn good time to pick up one of their most impressive wins of the season.

    Providence also dropped three spots to No. 23 after a double-overtime loss to Marquette, wasting a 42-point effort from Ben Bentil. For the Friars, it was their fourth loss in a span of five games. The only reason they're still clinging to a spot in the AP Top 25 is because they also have a road win over Villanova and a season sweep of Georgetown in the past month. (Good luck figuring out this team's floor and ceiling for the NCAA tournament.)

    Seton Hall was on the verge of breaking into the Top 25 with 14 votes last week, but the Pirates shot themselves in the foot with a home loss to Butler in their only game of the week. They didn't receive any votes this week.

Winner: A-10

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    Tony Tribble/Associated Press

    Not a bad week for the only mid-major conference with a realistic shot at sending three or more teams to the 2016 NCAA tournament. The media mock selection committee put five A-10 teams in its projected field on Friday, and the AP voters proceeded to show some extra love to the conference this week.

    Dayton was a huge winner thanks to a pair of nail-biting, come-from-behind wins. The Flyers trailed Duquesne by a dozen points in the final six minutes before storming back for a two-point victory. They followed it up with another two-point win at Rhode Island in which they trailed by a bucket with less than 30 seconds to go.

    Dominant victories? Not in the least. But in a week where 18 of the Top 25 teams suffered at least one loss, the Flyers entered Valentine's Day smelling like roses and climbed four spots to No. 15 in the new poll.

    Elsewhere in the conference, Saint Joseph's made a pretty big statement Wednesday with an 18-point road win over George Washington in which DeAndre' Bembry didn't even play that well. The Hawks also stomped La Salle on Saturday to improve to 21-4.

    Early in the season, it seemed Saint Joseph's was Bembry and Isaiah Miles and little more. However, young guys such as sophomore James Demery and freshmen Lamarr Kimble and Pierfrancesco Oliva have developed into valuable assets for a team that appears to be at least a year ahead of schedule in playing this well.

    Saint Joseph's didn't quite break into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2004, but the Hawks are No. 3 among the "others receiving votes" in advance of a massively important week of games against Dayton and Davidson.

Loser: Oregon

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    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    With the nation's best RPI and third-best strength of schedule, Oregon ascended all the way to a No. 1 seed in our projection of the NCAA tournament field this past Tuesday.

    After getting swept this week by California and Stanford, though, the Ducks can pretty well kiss that dream goodbye.

    But did they really deserve to drop five spots to No. 16 when so many of the teams previously directly behind them also suffered at least one loss?

    Winning on the road in the Pac-12 has been next to impossible this year. California has won each and every one of its 16 home games in 2015-16, and Stanford was absolutely desperate for a marquee win to maintain whatever sliver of hope it still has for a tournament bid. Oregon didn't play particularly well in either game, but what hope does any team have in a week in which its opponents shoot a combined 18-of-29 (62.1 percent) from three-point range?

    That isn't to say we should just disregard those losses as forgivable inevitabilities, but it sure seemed like the AP voters were looking for an excuse to pump the brakes on a team that had climbed from unranked to the brink of the Top 10 in three weeks' time.

    Fortunately for the Ducks, the rest of February should go swimmingly. They host Oregon State this weekend before getting home games against the Washington schools.

    It has been a wild and crazy season, but they should be able to avoid upsets in those games to at least get back into the Top 15 in advance of their season-ending (and possibly Pac-12 title-clinching) trip to UCLA and USC.

Winner: Arizona

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Arizona is on a tear since suffering back-to-back losses to California and Oregon in late January. The Wildcats have won five in a row and jumped five spots to No. 12 in this week's poll after victories over UCLA and USC.

    Perhaps most interesting about the winning streak is the pace at which they're playing as of late. In the last four games in January, Arizona averaged 74.8 points and 66.5 possessions per contest, but those numbers have climbed in February to 80.8 and 75.5, respectively, per kenpom.com.

    Making that shift particularly strange is that the Wildcats have averaged 4.6 more offensive rebounds per game during the most recent four-game stretchand an offensive rebound doesn't count as a new possession, so you would expect the calculated pace of play to decrease if offensive rebounds are increasing.

    Rather, they're simply pushing the tempo and putting their deep rotation to better use. In getting revenge on the Bruins and Trojans for road losses suffered in early January, Arizona averaged 83.5 points without getting more than 18 points from one player in either game.

    With Allonzo Trier back in the mix after a four-week absence due to a broken hand, all eight Wildcats in the primary rotation played at least 16 minutes in each game this week for what is rapidly emerging as one of the most complete teams in the country.

    As CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein wrote Monday morning, "The door is open for (Arizona head coach Sean) Miller to win yet another Pac-12 regular season title despite losing four starters from last year's team that reached the Elite Eight, along with freshman Ray Smith to an ACL injury in the preseason."

Loser: Wichita State

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    Gary Rohman/MLS/USA TODAY Sports

    Most of these teams are just battling for seeding in what will ultimately be a trip to the NCAA tournament.

    Wichita State, however, is in serious bubble trouble after suffering yet another loss this week. This one knocked the Shockers out of the poll from last week's spot at No. 25.

    Saturday's 53-50 loss to Northern Iowawhich also snapped a 43-game home winning streak dating back to February 2013leaves the Shockers with an RPI rank of 56, two bad losses and just a 1-5 record against RPI Top 50 teams.

    No matter how many times people insist the selection committee will consider the fact that most of those early losses occurred while Fred VanVleet was dealing with a hamstring injury, that's not a good resume by any stretch of the imagination.

    VanVleet and Ron Baker combined for just 20 points on 31 field-goal attempts against Northern Iowa. After the loss, VanVleet told reporters, "It's one thing to play your best and play really good and lose. It's another thing not to play good.”

    Wichita State will almost certainly still win the Missouri Valley regular-season title and will be the favorite to win the conference tournament, but who could have guessed three months ago that VanVleet and Baker would be in an "Auto Bid or Bust" situation for their fourth and final trip to the Big Dance?

     

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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