College Basketball Rankings 2016-17: Bleacher Report's Week 3 Top 25
Duke lost to Kansas Tuesday, so it’s only fair that there’s a new No. 1 in our rankings this week.
But as good as the Blue Devils have looked without their three injured freshmen, the new No. 1 figures to be a placeholder until Duke gets healthy.
Kansas was impressive at the Champions Classic, and while the "what if" game suggests Duke would have won, it’s not a given. The quickness of the Jayhawks likely would have given even the healthy Devils issues and will give Frank Mason III's crew an edge in at least one department if these teams meet again in April.
Kentucky also impressed at the Champions Classic and once again looks stacked. Villanova is proving to be a formidable defending champ early on. Those four teams made up our preseason Top Four, and they remain in the top four spots after two weeks of the season.
The first two weeks also told us Indiana and Gonzaga are flirting with that elite tier, Michigan has returned to relevancy and this freshman class is pretty darn good.
Thanksgiving is the best holiday week of the year because the food beats all other holidays, there’s no shopping involved and the college basketball schedule is as fun as it gets until conference season. If there are any pretenders left in our Top 25, they should be outed by next weekend.
Others receiving votes: Florida State, NC State, Maryland, Miami
Fell out since the preseason poll: Connecticut, Michigan State, NC State
Voters in the poll are C.J. Moore, Brian Pedersen and Kerry Miller. Our experts participate in weekly voting for B/R's Top 25. Once a vote is cast for a specific team, it's assigned a value—25 points for the No. 1 team in the rankings, 24 points for the second spot and so on. The point totals are then added up to create the Top 25.
25-21: Iowa State-Michigan
25. Iowa State
Previous rank: Not ranked
Monte Morris has the Cyclones playing fast and averaging 105.3 points per game. The senior point guard had his first triple-double on Sunday (17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds) in a 130-63 win over The Citadel.
24. West Virginia
Previous rank: 24
Press Virginia is back for its third edition and could be better than ever now that Bob Huggins has had a few years to recruit to this style. The Mountaineers have forced 91 turnovers through three games.
23. Wichita State
Previous rank: Not ranked
Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are gone, and this is a good time to remind folks that Gregg Marshall is one of the best coaches in the country. The Shockers blew out their first four opponents, and Marshall hasn't had depth like he appears to have this year since the group that went to the Final Four in 2013. Ten players are averaging double-digit minutes.
22. Rhode Island
Previous rank: 25
The Rams legitimized their preseason ranking at the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Tip-Off this weekend with a win over Cincinnati and by keeping it close with Duke. E.C. Matthews has returned strong off last year's ACL tear and is averaging a team-best 17.4 points per game.
Previous rank: Not ranked
Michigan is actually playing defense, as John Beilein has decided to abandon his small-ball approach in favor of playing two bigs. The Wolverines have been waiting a few years for Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. to become stars, and they’re looking the part early this year. Both played well in two quality wins this past week in New York over Marquette and SMU.
Previous rank: 20
The Baby Longhorns have six players averaging double figures, and five of those six are underclassmen. Shaka Smart was clever with a confidence-building early schedule. The average KenPom.com rank of UT’s first three opponents: 257.
19. Saint Mary’s
Previous rank: 18
The Gaels took care of business on Saturday at Dayton, where the Flyers had lost only three times the previous two seasons. The 2016 co-WCC champs returned all five starters this season and could end up one of the final unbeaten teams with a manageable nonconference schedule. Saint Mary’s will not be an underdog until a Jan. 14 visit to Gonzaga.
Previous rank: 7
The Badgers took a tumble down the rankings after losing at Creighton on Tuesday. Wisconsin needs to get the inside tandem of Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ going after a slow start. Happ is averaging just 7.7 points per game, and Hayes is averaging 11.0 points but shooting only 38.7 percent.
Previous rank: 14
No shame in losing by three to Villanova. The Boilermakers are going to be a problem in the Big Ten if they keep getting dominant play out of Caleb "Biggie" Swanigan and 7'2" giant Isaac Haas. Swanigan is off to a monster start, averaging 20.7 points, 13.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, and Haas is kicking in 18.3 points per game.
Previous rank: 22
The Bluejays have three straight wins over Power Five schools (Wisconsin, Washington State and NC State). Greg McDermott has followed the Fred Hoiberg model of building with a mix of transfers and solid four-year guys. Like Hoiberg, McDermott attracts those lost souls with some beautiful, free-flowing offense. The Jays put 112 points on the board on Sunday against NC State.
Previous rank: 10
Xavier responded from needing overtime against Missouri in the Tire Pros Invitational opening round to win the tournament with impressive victories over Clemson and Northern Iowa. The trio of Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Edmond Sumner is starting to find its rhythm.
Previous rank: 13
There’s still no word out of Arizona why Allonzo Trier is not playing and if he’s ever going to return. The Wildcats are thin on depth without Trier and Ray Smith, who stepped away from the game after his third ACL tear. But Sean Miller still has talent, led by potential lottery pick Lauri Markkanen, a skilled freshman big man who is averaging 20.3 points per game.
Previous rank: 6
Jordan Bell told the Oregonian that star Dillon Brooks "is very close to being back," and it’s going to be fun to watch this team at full strength. The Ducks should be every bit as good as they were last year, if not better, once Brooks returns.
Previous rank: 17
It was odd to see Andrew White III transfer from Nebraska. He led the Huskers in scoring last season and had already transferred once—he spent his first two years on the bench at Kansas. But White’s decision is looking wise early on. The grad transfer leads the Orange in scoring at 18 points per game. If he keeps that up, he should get a serious look from the NBA, which according to the Omaha World-Herald was his reason for leaving Nebraska.
Previous rank: 16
Lonzo Ball has brought the fun back to the Westwood. The freshman point guard is pushing the tempo and has freed Bryce Alford to focus on making jumpers. The Bruins are putting up a ton of points and deserve permanent DVR status.
Previous rank: 19
You might remember Manu Lecomte as the little Miami guard who put 23 points on Duke two years ago in a did-that-really-just-happen win for the Hurricanes at Cameron.
Lecomte left Miami following that season, and he’s looking like one of the best transfers in America thus far, as well as a major upgrade at point guard for the Bears. The Belgian is averaging 16.7 points and 7.0 assists per game, both team highs, while shooting 44.4 percent from deep.
Defensively, Baylor is benefiting from the addition of Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. Baylor’s zone is always best with a rim protector in the middle, and Lual-Acuil has 16 blocks through three games, including seven in the upset win over Oregon, and is averaging a double-double (10.7 PPG and 10.0 RPG). That Oregon win comes with the asterisk "the Ducks were without Dillon Brooks," but do not discount it.
As someone who loves Brooks and jumped on that hype train long ago, I’m not convinced the result would have been much different with him on the floor.
Previous rank: 11
The Cardinals have played three decent mid-major programs (Evansville, William & Mary and Long Beach State) and are winning by an average of 32 points.
We’ll get a better idea of Louisville’s potential after a Nov. 30 game against Purdue, but it’s safe to assume Rick Pitino’s team is going to once again be elite on the defensive end.
The Cards are allowing just 73.6 points per 100 possessions thus far with a roster full of length and athleticism. That’s a recipe that usually allows Pitino’s teams to take care of business against lesser competition. The ceiling for this team depends on the offensive end after losing its top three scorers. It’s way too soon to draw any conclusions there.
Previous rank: 12
The Zags had one of the most impressive performances of ESPN’s 24-hour marathon by breezing past San Diego State in a 21-point win.
It’s an annual tradition this time of year to say Mark Few might have his most talented team ever. Few had to replace the dominant frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis (left early for the NBA) and Kyle Wiltjer (graduated), yet somehow, he’s put together one of the deepest and best frontcourts in college basketball.
The return of everyone’s favorite immovable Polish big man, Przemek Karnowski, along with the addition of former Mizzou power forward Johnathan Williams was expected to make it so the Zags wouldn’t have a major drop-off down low. But you could argue they got better in the post.
That would be because of the addition of freshmen Zach Collins and Killian Tillie. The two youngsters usually play together, and the Zags got even better against the Aztecs when the bench duo were on the floor.
Tillie is another foreign-born gem the Zags have discovered, a Frenchman who can stroke the three. Collins is Mr. Fundamentals from the blocks and is averaging 14 points on 75 percent shooting through three games. Learn the names, because they’ll be killing it for years to come.
Previous rank: 8
Tony Bennett dismissed Memphis transfer Austin Nichols on Friday, and his dismissal lowers the ceiling for the Cavaliers.
Nichols was the most talented scorer on the roster, and his shot-blocking ability would have offered another dimension to Bennett’s pack-line defense. He was in line for what everyone assumed was a monster season.
But before writing off the Wahoos, um, Tony Bennett. Tony Bennett. Tony Bennett.
Bennett is a brilliant defensive mind, and the latest proof was Virginia’s performance on Sunday against Yale. The Bulldogs put up 98 points a week ago at Washington and managed only 38 against the pack-line. It's also a luxury that Bennett has a senior point guard in London Perrantes who should help him navigate this Nichols-less world.
Previous rank: 9
Tom Crean is all about positionless basketball. You could also call it unguardable basketball.
Let’s go back to the opener against Kansas, sure to have one of the best defenses in college basketball. In that game, Thomas Bryant scored the first six points by burying two threes. Bryant is a beast from the blocks, but apparently, he’s also a problem from the perimeter, and KU’s defense was never comfortable with center Landen Lucas pulled out of the paint.
Just about every player in Crean’s rotation can shoot, pass and dribble, and he can make life extra uncomfortable for defenses by unleashing weapons like OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan, small-ball power forwards who aren’t that small and can defend multiple positions. Morgan, at 6'8", occasionally slides over to point guard.
Crean’s offenses have ranked in the top 10 in adjusted efficiency four of the last five years, per KenPom.com, and he’s done a good job recruiting to his style. It also helps when a guy like James Blackmon Jr. has flames flowing from his fingertips. Blackmon is averaging 23 points per game and is 14-of-27 from deep. Keep an eye on him as a potential National Player of the Year candidate.
5. North Carolina
Previous rank: 5
The Tar Heels are kind of flying under the radar early on this year, and part of the reason is that they haven’t played a Power Five opponent yet. We’ll find out a lot more in the next two weeks, as UNC is in the Maui Invitational this week with a possible championship game against Oregon and then travels to Indiana on Nov. 30.
So far, Isaiah Hicks is filling in nicely as Brice Johnson's replacement in the starting lineup. Hicks is averaging 13.3 points per game on 67.6 percent shooting. He doesn’t need to put up Johnson-like numbers with both Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson looking comfortable with the evolution of their roles from complementary pieces to go-to scorers. Nate Britt, the Marcus Paige replacement, has also been solid in a facilitator/shooter role (3.3 assists per game, 5-of-11 from deep).
As long as Theo Pinson eventually returns from a foot injury—he broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in late October—and gives UNC another perimeter weapon, this group has the talent and experience to challenge Duke in the ACC and go on another deep NCAA tournament run.
Previous rank: 1
Let’s play the "what will Duke look like when healthy" game…
Jayson Tatum is the most talented scorer on the roster, and eventually, his presence will force Luke Kennard to the bench. That speaks to how ridiculously talented this Duke team is, because Kennard has been Duke’s best offensive weapon thus far, averaging a team-high 18.2 points per game and burying 52 percent of his threes.
The main thing the addition of Tatum, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden will do is give Duke actual depth—Mike Krzyzewski essentially has a six-man rotation right now—and strengthen the defense.
The eventual starting lineup of Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Tatum, Amile Jefferson and Giles is going to be super long—Allen and Jones, both 6'5", will be the shortest of the bunch—and Jefferson and Giles move well enough to defend guards, allowing Duke to switch everything. Bolden provides rim protection and some bulk against bigger front lines.
Krzyzewski hasn’t had this kind of lineup flexibility since his 1998-99 team, and at that time, small ball wasn’t in vogue. With Tatum, he can go that route, too. It could take some time for Coach K to figure out the rotations, but when he does, this team will be equipped for just about anything.
Previous rank: 2
The Jayhawks are shooting 23.1 percent from beyond the arc, opponents are shooting 43.7 percent from deep and freshman star Josh Jackson has yet to play a game when he wasn’t in foul trouble. Add all this together, and Bill Self should feel pretty good about KU’s 2-1 start.
Self has a team that is going to eventually shoot the ball well from deep, and Jackson has shown flashes of why three of the four major recruiting services (247 Sports, Rivals and Scout) rated him the top prospect in this class. Frank Mason III has been brilliant thus far, averaging 23.0 points per game and 5.7 assists, and the early eye test says the perimeter trio of Mason, Devonte’ Graham and Jackson is the best in the country.
Mason is thriving in KU’s version of the death lineup that moves either Jackson or Svi Mykhailiuk playing a small-ball power forward and opens up driving lanes for the jitterbug point guard. This is a style Self has never really employed, but early returns—and a thin interior—suggest the coach will keep going to it.
Previous rank: 4
Villanova’s offense put up record-setting efficiency numbers during its NCAA tournament run, and this offense is looking just as salty through the early stages of the season.
What made the Wildcats so hard to guard last year was the ability to spread the floor with four shooters around Daniel Ochefu. Jay Wright has one-upped himself with an unfair small-ball lineup that puts Fordham transfer Eric Paschall onto the floor to give the Wildcats five shooters.
Now, Nova misses the rim protection and occasional back-to-the-basket scoring of Ochefu. The Wildcats might not be quite as good on the defensive end without him, but the drop-off isn’t much. Nova’s perimeter defense plus Wright’s multiple defenses will keep this group near the top of the charts in defensive efficiency.
The talent of the blue bloods is improved, so the strength at the top should be more difficult to conquer this year. But for the first time since Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators, we have a team with a legitimate chance to repeat.
Previous rank: 3
Last year was an outlier in the John Calipari era because of a just so-so defense.
The swarming athletes are back in Lexington this year, as Calipari has a roster that could turn into one of his better defensive teams. The first good example was what the Wildcats did to Michigan State—or primarily, what they did to Miles Bridges.
Sparty’s freshman forward is one of the best talents in the country, and the Cats made life miserable for him. Bridges produced more scowls than points. He made just one field goal and had nine turnovers.
The UK offense could end up being a little too reliant on Malik Monk to get buckets. He’s taken over Jamal Murray's never-shy-to-shoot role. So far, the offense is running through Monk, speedster De’Aaron Fox and a more confident version of Isaiah Briscoe. The talented UK guards cannot forget about Edrice "Bam" Adebayo and need to establish him as an inside force to form an elite offensive attack.
But Calipari’s pieces are so talented they tend to figure it out, and that defense has the potential to carry the Cats when their guards go cold.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball and football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.