Winners and Losers of AP College Basketball Top 25 Poll in Week 7
Outside of a couple of neutral-court gems on Saturday, it was another quiet December week of men's college hoops, resulting in minimal noteworthy changes in the latest edition of the Associated Press Top 25.
The top six teams in the country went a combined 8-0, which means Villanova remains No. 1 for a third consecutive week while UCLA and Baylor continue to receive a few first-place votes. No. 6 Kentucky beat North Carolina and gained some ground on idle No. 5 Duke, but it wasn't quite able to close the 114-vote gap from last week, leaving the top six in the same order as it was one week ago.
There was a fair amount of shuffling further down in the deck with Indiana and South Carolina dropping and Butler jumping up, but the 25 cards remain unchanged. Seton Hall picked up a good number of votes for its win over South Carolina, but without Nos. 22-25 suffering a loss, there wasn't any room at the inn for the Pirates to join the rankings.
Read on for the rest of this week's biggest winners and losers.
Winner: The AP Top 25
A total of 28 games this week involved a Top 25 team. Excluding the three pitting ranked teams against one another, they went a combined 24-1, with South Carolina's three-point loss at Seton Hall way back on Monday serving as the only loss of the bunch.
Most of those games weren't close, either. Five were decided by a single-digit margin, while eight were blowouts by 30 points or more.
Last week, No. 25 Cincinnati was already safely in the rankings with a cushion of 111 votes over the likes of Florida, Wichita State, Virginia Tech and Maryland. However, if there were any doubts about whether the Bearcats belong in the Top 25, they erased them by obliterating Texas Southern and Fairleigh Dickinson by a combined margin of 89 points.
As a Cincinnati sidenote, this team has mastered the art of impressing in the margin-of-victory metrics while doing little to bolster its RPI. The Bearcats are 1-2 against the KenPom.com Top 100 and are just barely in the Top 50 in the still-too-early-to-matter RPI rankings, but they are No. 18 on KenPom thanks to an average margin of victory of 28.6 points in their other eight games. They did this last year, too, finishing No. 55 in RPI and No. 32 on KenPom after beating their first five bad opponents by 184 points. They ended up with a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament, so Mick Cronin and company have clearly discovered a loophole in the system.
With the lack of upsets, every team that was ranked one week ago remains ranked today. There were plenty of minor tweaks throughout, but it'll be the same 25 teams attempting to assert their dominance through yet another weak slate of December games.
Loser: South Carolina Gamecocks
For the second straight year, South Carolina has been one of the biggest surprises at the beginning of the regular season. After going 15-0 to start 2015-16, the Gamecocks won their first eight games of this campaign, including quality victories over Michigan, Syracuse and Monmouth.
Playing without leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell—he has missed the past three games because of suspension—they took that perfect record on the road Monday for a physical brawl with Seton Hall. P.J. Dozier had 20 points, and Chris Silva (11 points, nine rebounds, four blocks) had one of the more impressive games of his young career, but it wasn't quite enough. Seton Hall dominated the glass en route to a 67-64 comeback win.
As was the case one week ago when Saint Mary's lost to Texas-Arlington, this wasn't a bad loss so much as it was a poorly timed one. Seton Hall is a good team with wins over California and Iowa and a near-win over Florida. The Pirates aren't necessarily a lock for the NCAA tournament, but they should be a challenger in the Big East.
But with no other ranked team losing to an unranked team, South Carolina felt the wrath of the AP voters desperate to make some changes to their ballots. The Gamecocks dropped six spots from No. 16 to No. 22 in advance of their big in-state showdown with Clemson on Wednesday.
Winner: Butler Bulldogs
As Matt Norlander of CBS Sports tweeted after Butler's win over Indiana on Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs suddenly have a resume worthy of consideration for a spot on the No. 2 line for the NCAA tournament.
Yes, they have an ugly-looking loss against Indiana State, but wins over Indiana, Cincinnati, Arizona, Northwestern, Utah and Vanderbilt put more than enough credits on their balance sheet to make up for that one debit. Outside of Villanova, Baylor and Kansas, no team has a better collection of quality wins with nonconference play quickly drawing to a close.
But can they keep it up this time around?
The Bulldogs are currently 10-1 with only a home game remaining against Vermont before the start of conference play. Barring an upset in that one, they'll have an 11-1 nonconference record for a second straight year.
The difference is their defense. Last year, it was more of a screen door than an iron curtain, as opponents routinely averaged better than one point per possession against them. After their great start, the Bulldogs went 11-10 the rest of the way and were on the tournament bubble until early March.
As Indiana found out the hard way, though, this year's team can get after you on defense. The Hoosiers shot just 6-of-21 from three-point range and finished minus-seven in turnover margin in Butler's 83-78 win.
For picking up one of the only impressive wins of the week, Butler catapulted five spots to No. 13 in this week's poll.
Loser: Indiana Hoosiers
It's a zero-sum game when ranked teams duke it out in their only game of the week. Butler jumped five spots for beating Indiana, while the Hoosiers had a roughly equal but opposite reaction, sliding seven spots to No. 16 for their loss in the Crossroads Classic.
In Indiana's defense, OG Anunoby was playing in his first game since injuring his ankle against North Carolina more than two weeks ago, and he didn't start to look comfortable out there until the second half.
With their star defender at less than full strength, though, the Hoosiers were unable to keep Kelan Martin from putting together a pair of back-breaking runs. In the final two minutes of the first half, Martin went on a 9-0 run, pushing Butler's lead to 14 at the intermission. And when the Hoosiers attempted to mount a comeback midway through the second half, Martin scored 10 points in four possessions to keep them at bay.
So, is this team great or average? Indiana has two outstanding wins over Kansas and North Carolina, but those are its only victories over KenPom Top 240 teams in a season that includes a loss to Fort Wayne. The Hoosiers have the type of tournament resume Northern Iowa had at this time one year ago—quality wins over North Carolina and Iowa State, buttressed by several head-scratching losses.
The early answer to the question appears to be that Indiana is going to look almost unbeatable when it shoots 40 percent from three-point range and is liable to lose to anyone when it shoots worse than 30 percent from the perimeter. As a result, best of luck predicting how the Hoosiers will fare from one game to the next moving forward.
Winner: Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue has been playing well, but we've been waiting a while for its first quality win.
The Boilermakers almost won their home game against Villanova back in the first week of the season and almost mounted an incredible comeback at Louisville in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. However, horseshoes and hand grenades. Prior to this past weekend, their best actual win came against either Arizona State or Auburn, neither of which is within a stone's throw of the NCAA tournament conversation.
Considering Purdue's only remaining nonconference games are against Western Illinois and Norfolk State, Saturday's neutral-court game against Notre Dame was a borderline must-win game that the Boilermakers were able to take by an 86-81 margin.
Against the undersized Fighting Irish, Caleb Swanigan was an animal in the paint, going for 26 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. Vincent Edwards was equally huge, coming off the bench for a double-double of his own (20 points and 10 rebounds).
It wasn't Purdue's best shooting night—Dakota Mathias went 0-of-3 from three to drop to a still absurd 52.8 percent for the season—but Swanigan and company put their size advantage to proper use, winning on the glass and getting to the free-throw line with regularity.
They didn't move any rungs higher in the AP poll, but they had massive gaps to make up and had to deal with Butler leapfrogging a bunch of teams. Thus, we had to read a bit between the lines to see how much ground they gained. Last week, Purdue was 127 votes behind No. 14 Wisconsin. The Boilermakers are now just 27 votes behind the Badgers and moved 35 votes ahead of Indiana in the battle for highest-ranked Big Ten team. Their total vote count increased by 16 percent.
Loser: North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels took part in the best game of the season.
Justin Jackson scored a career-high 34 points. Playing for the first time in two weeks, Joel Berry II returned from an ankle injury for an impressive line of 23 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals. The entire group of regulars on the front line (Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley) played well when they weren't busy getting whistled for fouls. Even Luke Maye came out of nowhere to drain clutch three-pointers on back-to-back possessions in the second half.
They put up 100 points in regulation, but it wasn't enough to withstand the scoring assault of Malik Monk and the Kentucky Wildcats in the 103-100 epic.
This game had a national championship feel to it. Two of the best teams in the country right now and two of the best programs in college basketball history exchanged haymakers for 12 rounds before a victor was finally determined.
Meanwhile, in Omaha, Nebraska, Creighton played an awful game against a worse team, escaping with a one-point win at home against Oral Roberts, which is currently 0-10 against D-I competition.
Per usual, KenPom treated these teams properly for those results. North Carolina entered the weekend at No. 6 and is still there today, despite the unfortunate reality that some team had to lose that game. Creighton was No. 17, but the Bluejays dropped seven spots to No. 24 for its ugly showing in a win.
But apparently all the AP voters care about are wins and losses. The gap between the Tar Heels and Bluejays was previously three spots in the poll (No. 7 compared to No. 10) and 179 total votes (1,222 compared to 1,043). That gap is all but gone now, as North Carolina dropped to No. 8, Creighton moved up to No. 9, and they're separated by just 112 votes.
Winner: Teams on the West Coast
The four losses suffered by ranked teams this week all came courtesy of schools east of the Mississippi River.
In other words, it was a good week for the teams on the West Coast who typically need to combat the undeniable East Coast bias in college hoops.
No changes for No. 2 UCLA, which improved to 12-0 with wins over UC Santa Barbara and Ohio State. It's hard to believe no Bruins player has recorded a triple-double this season. Lonzo Ball had eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists against the Buckeyes just three days after going for 13, 10 and seven against the Gauchos. Also in that game against UCSB, T.J. Leaf had 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. A few more dimes, and UCLA could've had a double-triple-double.
Gonzaga moved up one spot to No. 7, benefiting from North Carolina's loss despite getting a scare in its 86-76 win over Tennessee. The Zags jumped out to an early 27-6 lead but finished the game with 20 turnovers to keep the Volunteers in the hunt. Gonzaga is now 11-0 and doesn't figure to be challenged again until its mid-January showdown with Saint Mary's.
Further back in the poll, Arizona climbed one spot to No. 18 for its wins over Grand Canyon and Texas A&M. Still no word on if or when Allonzo Trier will be returning, but the Wildcats are treading water nicely without him. Their only losses of the season came by a combined margin of 11 points on neutral courts against No. 7 Gonzaga and No. 13 Butler. They've been kind of forgotten about down in the teens of the AP poll, but this team will be a contender to win the Pac-12, as always.
Also forgotten about in the Pac-12 is Oregon, which moves up two spots to No. 20 this week after extending its winning streak to eight games. Star big man Chris Boucher missed Saturday's game against UNLV with an ankle injury, but Dillon Brooks is starting to look like his old self, scoring 20 in his first game back in the starting lineup after missing the start of the season with a foot injury of his own.
Last but not least, Saint Mary's climbed one spot to No. 19 after comfortably taking care of business against Western Kentucky. The Gaels have responded well to last week's bad loss to Texas-Arlington with back-to-back excellent offensive outputs.
Loser: Virginia Cavaliers
According to KenPom.com, Virginia is the third-best team in the nation, trailing only Duke and Villanova.
What else is new? The Cavaliers have finished each of the past three seasons in the top six in the KenPom rankings, leveraging outstanding defense and efficient offense to consistently break the will of the opposition. Their stagnant pace of play helps make this factoid possible, but no team has beaten Virginia by a double-digit margin since December 2013.
Thus, it was business as usual when the Cavaliers suffocated Robert Morris 79-39 in their only game of the week. It was their fifth time in 10 games limiting an opponent to 41 points or fewer, as they're currently allowing an unreal 46.7 points per game—more than 10 points per game fewer than No. 2 on that list (57.2 by Miami).
But the AP voters aren't nearly as enamored as KenPom is with their incredible defense.
The Cavaliers moved up one spot to No. 12, but it still isn't enough. Given how good they have been for the past three-and-a-third years, they've earned some benefit of the doubt. It's a shame their only loss of the season came against a West Virginia team that also isn't getting the respect it deserves.
Go ahead and keep sleeping on the Wahoos, though. The rest of us will benefit from your skepticism in our bracket pools when this is the year they finally reach the Final Four.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.