We had lots of great action last week, and especially over the weekend, which meant I had plenty of reshuffling to do on my ballot. Things will be a lot quieter this week, but as we head into the New Year, conference play will commence in full, and we can start the slow, steady, riveting march to March.
In the meantime, here once again is correct order of the top 25 teams in college basketball, as submitted to the Associated Press on Sunday night. Meet ya in the comments section. Please be kind!
Seth Davis’ Top 25 for Monday, Dec. 19
Dropped out: Maryland (19), TCU (21)
Almost Famous: Arizona State, Auburn, Boise State, Creighton, Iowa, Miami, New Mexico, Penn State, Providence, San Diego State, Utah State, West Virginia, Xavier
Notes on the votes
• The general narrative of the season has been “no great teams” and “no separation,” but for this week at least, we have a very clear top two. Purdue and UConn are two of the five remaining unbeaten teams, but their schedules, and performances against them, have been exponentially more difficult than the other unbeatens. It’s a safe bet neither will run the table through the NCAA Tournament a la the ’76 Hoosiers, but while there are plenty of places on Purdue’s Big Ten schedule where I can imagine the Boilermakers losing, the Big East will not give UConn the same type of test. The Huskies’ toughest games will be at Xavier Dec. 31, at Marquette Jan. 11, and at Creighton Feb. 11. Those are all very winnable games.
• I had a fascinating mess to sort out with the rest of my top nine. There’s never any single piece of criteria I use, but this was the general order of priority: head-to-head result (with location heavily factored), overall results (giving extra attention to bad losses), injuries (both to the team and opponents), rankings in the metrics (as of Sunday afternoon), and recency bias. Tennessee beat Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but the Volunteers also lost to Colorado in Nashville, while the Jayhawks have no other losses. Arizona beat Tennessee on Saturday, but that was at home, the Vols were still without Josiah-Jordan James, and the game was close. Plus, the Wildcats lost by 15 at Utah. Still, Arizona’s win over Tennessee happened the day before I voted, whereas the Vols’ win over Kansas was more than three weeks ago. I went back and forth a bunch of times and decided to give Arizona the nod.
Gonzaga, meanwhile, has three losses, but all of them were Quad 1 NET games. The Zags beat Alabama in Birmingham on Saturday, so I felt strongly the Zags needed to be ahead of the Crimson Tide. Houston went on the road and beat my No. 2 team, Virginia, but the Cavaliers have been far from dominant even in their wins, and their best player, Reece Beekman, was hobbled by a hamstring injury. Alabama won at Houston on Dec. 10, so putting it, Houston and Virginia in order was pretty tidy. For what it’s worth, of this group, the metrics like Houston the most (No. 2 NET, No. 2 KenPom, No. 1 BartTorvik) and Virginia the least (17, 11 and 20).
• UCLA had a great week, drilling Maryland in College Park and then controlling Kentucky in Madison Square Garden, which left the Bruins a few spots ahead of the two teams they lost to in Las Vegas right before Thanksgiving, Illinois and Baylor. Illinois and Baylor have since notched some good wins (over Texas at Madison Square Garden, over Gonzaga in South Dakota) and some not-so-good losses (Penn State at home, by 26 points at Marquette).
• Arkansas is not an easy team to rank. The Razorbacks’ only loss came by three points to a full-strength Creighton team in Maui, and their best win was the next day over San Diego State in overtime. They didn’t have their star freshman guard Nick Smith Jr. for those games, and while he is back and Arkansas has won six straight, only one of those wins came over a KenPom top 100 team (Oklahoma on Dec. 10 in Tulsa). The Razorbacks also recently lost one of their best players, sixth man Trevon Brazile, to a season-ending knee injury. They are No. 18 in the NET, No. 13 in KenPom and No. 21 on BartTorvik. We’ll have a better idea of just how good this team is when it plays at Auburn on Jan. 7 and Alabama at home four days later, but in the meantime the Hogs are treading water.
• Do me a favor and hold your “how can Indiana stay in the same spot after getting blown out” questions. In the first place, that game was on the road against this week’s No. 3 team. Second, the Hoosiers lost starting guard Xavier Johnson to an ankle injury in the first half, and 6-6 freshman point guard Jalen Hood-Schifino was returning from a three-game absence because of a back injury. It would be foolish to penalize a team under those circumstances.
• Wisconsin is this year’s Providence — a team that wins a lot of close games, which leads it to be ranked extremely low by the metrics. The Badgers have two really good road wins, over Marquette and Iowa by three points each in overtime, and a five-point win at home over Maryland. They lost on a buzzer-beater to Kansas at the Battle 4 Atlantis and by three points to Wake Forest at home on Nov. 29. Because of all these close games, Wisconsin is No. 43 in the NET, No. 35 on KenPom, and No. 38 in BartTorvik, but it’s clear the Badgers are way better than those rankings suggest.
• As for the bluebloods, North Carolina got back on my ballot thanks to its great escape over Ohio State on Saturday. The Tar Heels dropped out of the rankings because of a four-game losing streak, but those games were all close and came against good teams. That includes a four-overtime loss to Alabama in Portland and a road loss at Virginia Tech without Armando Bacot. North Carolina showed in the last eight minutes against the Buckeyes just how good it can be when it’s committed to defending and sharing the ball. Kentucky needed to drop after losing to UCLA, but the Wildcats were in contention late in the second half, and the Bruins were ranked ahead to begin with. Kentucky doesn’t have any great wins, but it also doesn’t have any bad losses, so there’s no reason to drop the Cats out of the rankings — yet.
• As for the rest of my ballot, I’ve liked TCU all season (at least on the few occasions when the Horned Frogs have been healthy), but their metrics rankings are awful: No. 84 NET, No. 43 KenPom, No. 57 BartTorvik. I felt compelled to rank Marquette after its home win over Creighton, even though the Bluejays were without their best player, 7-foot junior Ryan Kalkbrenner. (Check out Hoop Thoughts for my rant on that topic.) Marquette also won at Notre Dame and drilled Baylor at home, and its three losses came to ranked teams by a total of 11 points. Three of the Golden Eagles’ next four games are conference road games, and then they host UConn on Jan. 11.
• As for my Almost Famous group, keep your eye on Arizona State, which is a buzzer-beating tip-in by Texas Southern from being undefeated. This is the best defensive team that Bobby Hurley has had in Tempe, and the Sun Devils open Pac-12 play with a home game against Arizona on New Year’s Eve. That oughta be fun.
(Top photo of Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, center: Rich Schultz / Getty Images)