The first month of the college basketball season has been one of the most awesome first months in recent memory for a few reasons.
- The teams at the top are a lot of fun to watch. You have the returning champs (Villanova) who shoot a lot of threes and play close to mistake-free basketball. Kansas, Duke, UCLA and Indiana have elite offenses that space the floor, also shoot a bunch of threes and make offense look easy. (You could also throw Creighton in that bunch.) Kentucky is playing faster than ever and has an uber fun backcourt.
- Teams like Baylor and Gonzaga are better than expected and could crash the blue-blood party at the Final Four, and they’re talented enough that no one would really have reason to complain.
- This elite tier is not avoiding competition like the plague. There have already been five games between the current top 10 teams in these rankings with a sixth taking place on Saturday.
But until then, if there’s a week to tune out, this is the one.
Finals week is the blahest five days of the year on the hoops calendar. Something about letting the kids focus on their studies. But Saturday brings the goods thanks to the CBS Sports Classic, which features Kentucky-North Carolina and UCLA-Ohio State, and the Crossroads Classic (more on both below).
The top 10 teams in last week’s rankings all went undefeated and remain unchanged. The group from about 13 to 25 is harder to figure out. And if this format looks different, well, you’re paying attention. We ditched the slideshow to give your index finger a clicking break for what we think is a more fun format.
|B/R's Week 6 Top 25 Poll|
|8. North Carolina||8-1||9|
|11. West Virginia||6-1||14|
|14. South Carolina||8-0||16|
|16. Notre Dame||8-0||18|
|21. Saint Mary's||6-0||13|
|24. Florida State||10-1||NR|
|25. Virginia Tech||8-1||NR|
|25. Wichita State||9-2||NR|
Going up: West Virginia and Wisconsin
West Virginia went up three spots this week after two blowout wins, and it was more about teams in front of the Mountaineers falling (see next section) than anything they did this week. So let's take a moment to recognize the absurdity of what Bob Huggins' crew is doing on defense...
The Mountaineers are forcing 26.0 turnovers per game, and opponents average 19.8 field goals per game. So it’s more likely a turnover occurs than a made basket on any given possession against the Press Virginia D. There are some marshmallow soft games cluttering the data, but it's still a fun stat.
Wisconsin keeps moving up the rankings—up four spots this week—by simply winning games it should and the fact its losses (at Creighton and North Carolina in Maui) are looking better and better. The Badgers also have three quality wins in the last two weeks, knocking off three opponents ranked in the kenpom top 50 (Syracuse, Oklahoma and Marquette).
Going down: Xavier and Saint Mary’s
Xavier didn’t get penalized a week ago when it lost at Baylor. The Bears have done enough that a loss at Baylor goes in the quality-losses department. But then Xavier followed that up with a loss at Colorado this past Wednesday, and now we have reason to question the legitimacy of Xavier’s resume. Xavier’s best wins are against Clemson (on a neutral floor) and at home against Utah.
Another bad mark on Xavier’s resume is its early-season win over Missouri. The Musketeers needed overtime that day, which could be overlooked with some better wins, but when a preseason Top 10 team has that on the resume and cannot win at Colorado, it’s time to grow skeptical. Xavier dropped from 11th to 20th this week.
Saint Mary’s was the other free-faller this week, going from 13th to 21st after losing at home to UT Arlington. The Mavericks are a solid mid-major team and the favorite to win the Sun Belt, so this one doesn’t fall in the catastrophic loss category. The Gaels have one of the country's best offenses and a handful of solid wins (Nevada, Dayton, UAB, Stanford), but there’s no way to justify leaving them in the top 15 after losing to Arlington.
Worth noting: How to rank Baylor...
All three voters are in agreement with the top nine teams but not the order. The team with the most variance on where they appear in each poll is Baylor. I have the Bears at seventh; Brian Pedersen has them seventh and Kerry Miller has them up at fourth—below Duke and above Kansas and Kentucky.
The argument could be made for Baylor No. 1 based exclusively off resume. Baylor’s best four wins (Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier) is better than any other team’s best four. I have three undefeated squads ahead of the Bears (Villanova, UCLA and Gonzaga), because I had those three higher than Baylor in the preseason and all three have strong resumes.
It gets tricky after that. I also have one-loss Kansas, Duke and Kentucky above Baylor, because the losses for those three—against Indiana (for KU), KU (for Duke) and UCLA (for UK)—were not bad losses and all three have shown enough otherwise to justify their lofty preseason ranking. And anytime it’s close between two teams or a group of teams, I use the “who would win on a neutral floor” argument. I believe in the Bears, but I still think those six other teams are better.
On the radar: Texas A&M
The Aggies are 7-2, and their two losses were close and against current Top 25 teams—by two points to USC and seven against UCLA.
They also have a win against a team currently in our top 25: Virginia Tech on a neutral floor. The case for the Hokies is they have three wins against kenpom top-100 teams (Nebraska, Michigan and Ole Miss), and the Aggies just have the one. I still have the Aggies ahead, but I understand not ranking them because of their lack of quality wins. Now if they win this Saturday against Arizona on a semi-neutral floor in Houston, the Aggies should get in next week.
What to watch for this week:
- Kentucky vs. North Carolina on Saturday at the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas
- Indiana vs. Butler on Saturday at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis
- Notre Dame vs. Purdue on Saturday at the Crossroads Classic
North Carolina looks like the bottom team of the clear-cut top-nine tier right now after just squeaking by on Sunday at home against Tennessee, but UNC gets a chance to poke a huge hole in that logic on Saturday in a neutral-floor game against North Carolina. If star point guard Joel Berry, who sprained his ankle on Dec. 4 against Radford, is still out, the result does not carry as much weight.
Notre Dame and Purdue are two teams that both impressed by playing current No. 1 Villanova close. Butler has some quality wins (Northwestern, Arizona, Utah and Cincinnati) and one bad loss (Indiana State). The Bulldogs could see the biggest rise next week if they’re able to knock off the Hoosiers.
Also receiving votes: Cincinnati, Texas A&M
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.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball and football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.