At the end of my post from last Friday, I gave a quick look at who I believed were the Top-25 teams in the country. I did not expect much of that to change over the weekend, but to my surprise, it definitely did.
Most teams are only about five games or so into their conference schedules, so it’s still a little tough to determine which teams are for real and which are just pretenders. I don’t submit an AP ballot (yet…), but if I would, here is an extensive look at what I believe are the Top-25 teams in college basketball.
The Wildcats are the real deal ladies and gentlemen! The Big Ten is wide open, as there are just two teams left with one conference loss (Maryland, Wisconsin). Northwestern sits at 4-2 in the conference, including an 89-54 drubbing of a solid Iowa team on Sunday night. Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey lead a great backcourt, and they showed what they are capable of against Iowa (20 pts 10 ast for McIntosh, 22 pts 8 reb 5 ast for Lindsey). Northwestern is looking to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, and I believe they are well on their way to accomplishing that feat.
This Week: Sun 1/22 @ Ohio State (1:00 pm, BTN)
Xavier is an interesting team right now. Many expected them to be the biggest threat to Villanova in the Big East, but right now they sit as maybe the 4th best team in the conference. They have legit stars in Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett, but they have struggled against top competition. They have a poor resume, and some experts think they need to get a couple big wins, or they could be in danger of missing the Tournament. I would find that very surprising, and I still think they are capable of figuring it out. They have a great chance as they look to stay undefeated at home today against Creighton. A win over the Blue Jays could go a long way for the Musketeers.
This Week: Mon 1/16 vs Creighton (2:00 pm, FS1); Sun 1/22 vs Georgetown (2:00 pm, CBS)
- Kansas State
Bruce Weber’s Wildcats had a terrific chance for a blockbuster win Saturday against Baylor, but the Bears were able to pull it out 77-68. Despite the loss, which dropped them to 2-3 in the conference, I believe Kansas State is quietly a very good team, and should give the top teams in the Big 12 a lot of trouble this season. They’ll get another chance to knock off a top opponent in Manhattan next weekend when they host West Virginia.
This Week: Wed 1/18 @ Oklahoma State (9:00 pm, ESPNU); Sat 1/21 vs West Virginia (6:00 pm, ESPN2)
- Saint Mary’s
The Gaels could have put the whole nation on notice if they could’ve ruined Gonzaga’s quest to enter March undefeated. Unfortunately, they were dominated in a 79-56 home win for the Zags. Don’t look too much into that though, because Gonzaga is a legitimate title contender. Saint Mary’s will be a team that nobody wants to face in the Tournament. Jock Landale is one of the top players in the country, and the Gaels will get another crack at Gonzaga in February, the next time at home. That will be a game to look forward to for any basketball fan.
This Week: Thu 1/19 vs Pacific (11:00 pm); Sat 1/21 vs Pepperdine (11:00 pm)
The SEC is extremely weak this season, and that is why every conference game will be important for the top teams. Florida needed overtime to defeat Georgia in Gainesville this past Saturday, and that could easily be seen as a knock on this team. KenPom has Florida ranked 13th in the nation. I don’t think they’re quite on that level, but they have a few games this week that could help their case, including a huge trip to Columbia to take on Frank Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks. If Florida can win that game and improve to 6-0 in the SEC, they could begin to make a believer out of me.
This Week: Wed 1/18 @ South Carolina (6:30 pm, SECN); Sat 1/21 vs Vanderbilt (12:00 pm, CBS)
The Bearcats are without question the best team in the down American Conference this season. Mick Cronin’s team is 15-2, and already have wins over Houston and SMU, the two teams with the best chance to keep them from a conference title. They’ll play each of those teams again before the season is done, and they also have a non-conference tilt with in-state rival Xavier in a couple weeks. So despite the conference being weak, Cincy will have plenty of opportunities to improve their resume.
This Week: Wed 1/18 vs Temple (7:00 pm, CBSSN); Sat 1/21 @ Tulane (4:00 pm, CBSSN)
Remember how I mentioned that the Big Ten is wide open right now? Well, Wisconsin is a team that certainly has an argument that they are the best team in the conference. Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ and Bronson Koenig are a legit Big Three, and by the end of the season, they could certainly end up on top of the Big Ten. Their three losses this season are to Creighton (a top ten team), North Carolina (another top ten team) and Purdue (who I think is the best team in the Big Ten). That just proves how good this team is. The Badgers do not have to face Purdue again this season, and they won’t take on Northwestern and Michigan State until February, so they have plenty of time to become one of the top teams not only in the conference, but in the country.
This Week: Tue 1/17 vs Michigan (9:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 1/21 @ Minnesota (4:30 pm, BTN)
The Wildcats are flying a bit under the radar right now, but I think that’s exactly how Sean Miller wants it. Arizona is a classic West Coast power, and they will be a factor in the Pac-12 race this season. Their two losses this year are to a very good Butler team and to undefeated Gonzaga, both on neutral courts. This week coming up will probably be the biggest of the Pac-12 season for Zona, as they make the LA trip to take on USC and UCLA. If they could find a way to win both of those games, they could skyrocket up my rankings, and the official rankings as well.
This Week: Thu 1/19 @ USC (9:00 pm, P12N); Sat 1/21 @ UCLA (4:00 pm, CBS)
Oh Duke. You all know that I love to hate Duke, and I love to cheer against their success, and you probably think I’m crazy to have them ranked this low, but consider all the factors. Back-to-back losses, 2-3 in the conference, Grayson Allen’s issues, Amile Jefferson’s injury, Coach K’s absence. I’d be willing to bet that they will go up my rankings as the season wears on, and I do still believe that this is a National Title contender, but as of this writing, the Blue Devils have a lot of issues that they need to solve. Talent can only get a team so far, especially in basketball.
This Week: Sat 1/21 vs Miami FL (8:15 pm, ESPN)
The advanced stat darlings, as I like to refer to them. I’ve watched numerous Virginia games this season, and I have been less than impressed. They play great defense, as every Tony Bennett team does, but they can look anemic at times on offense. KenPom has them rated as the 5th best team in the country. I don’t see it. They are one of the top teams in the ACC, that’s for sure, but they are going to lose their fair share of conference games this season based on what I’ve seen. They have an easy week coming up, but the following week they will play back-to-back road games against Notre Dame and Villanova. That week could be the turning point for the Cavaliers’ season, whether it’s a positive turn or a negative one will be determined by the outcome of those two games.
This Week: Wed 1/18 @ Boston College (8:00 pm, ESPN3); Sat 1/21 vs Georgia Tech (2:00 pm, ESPN3)
- Notre Dame
Raise your hand if you had the Fighting Irish as the last undefeated team in the ACC! Anybody? Nope? Okay, that’s kinda what I figured. It was expected to be a somewhat down year for the Irish after losing Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste, but this year’s team might actually be better than last season, as crazy as that is. Matt Farrell has become one of the best point guards in the country, and along with Steve Vasturia, VJ Beachem and Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame has a legit chance to win the super-competitive ACC. They need to learn how to put away teams though, as it seems like every game they build a lead, and then let the opponent get back into it. I know a lot of ND fans, and they are tired of sweating out every game.
This Week: Wed 1/18 @ Florida State (7:00 pm, ESPN3); Sat 1/21 vs Syracuse (12:00 pm, ESPN)
Confession… I love Purdue. They are one of my favorite teams to watch this season. Their size is incredibly difficult to deal with, between 7-2 center Isaac Haas and 6-10 forward Caleb Swanigan. Swanigan, a Wooden Award front-runner, has four games this season with 20-plus points and 20-plus rebounds. That is absurd. He is an incredible basketball player, and is probably capable of single-handedly leading the Boilermakers to a Big Ten Championship. They were upset in the First Round of the Tourney last season, but I expect them to go much further this year. This team is legit, you heard it here.
This Week: Tue 1/17 vs Illinois (7:00 pm, BTN); Sat 1/21 vs Penn State (12:00 pm, BTN)
I’m not always sure how, but it just seems like Butler always finds a way to be one of the top teams in the country. On paper, they are nothing special. They’re led by junior forward Kelan Martin (6-7) and senior center Andrew Chrabascz (also 6-7). Yeah, their center is only 6-7. They don’t have much size, and they don’t do anything spectacularly, but what they do is win basketball games. They’re the only team to defeat Villanova so far this season, and they also boast wins over Arizona, Northwestern, Cincinnati, Indiana and Xavier. But they have losses to Indiana State and St. John’s, so that makes me think that they are just as capable of reaching the Final Four as they are of losing in the First Round. We’ll see how it goes!
This Week: Mon 1/16 vs Marquette (12:00 pm, FS1); Sat 1/21 @ DePaul (2:00 pm, FS1)
The Ducks entered this season with very high expectations, but didn’t get off to the best start with star Dillon Brooks on the shelf. They lost two of their first four games, and then needed overtime to beat Tennessee. Well, that win over the Volunteers was the first of what is now 14 wins in a row for Dana Altman’s team. Brooks is healthy, Chris Boucher is healthy and Villanova-transfer Dylan Ennis is healthy. Oh yeah, and they still have Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell. This is one of the most talented rosters in the nation, and they will once again be one of the top teams come March, mark my words.
This Week: Thu 1/19 vs California (9:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 1/21 vs Stanford (6:00 pm, P12N)
Rick Pitino is doing a great job once again. Louisville is rated as the 2nd most efficient defensive team in the nation by KenPom, and after suffering losses in their first two ACC games (vs Virginia and @ Notre Dame), the Cardinals have rattled off three conference wins in a row to remind everybody that they are going to be a factor in the race for the ACC crown. Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider lead the way offensively for the Cardinals, while Mangok Mathiang, Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding lock down the interior on defense. This is another extremely talented team that you’ll want to keep a close eye on this season.
This Week: Thu 1/19 vs Clemson (9:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 1/21 @ Florida State (2:00 pm, ESPN)
Now that I think about it, maybe I have Creighton ranked a little low, considering their lone loss this season is at home to the defending National Champions. Experts thought that Creighton had some serious potential this season, but I don’t think anybody expected them to start 17-1 including wins over Wisconsin and Butler. They are one of the top offensive teams in the nation, led by Boston-transfer Maurice Watson and Kansas State-transfer Marcus Foster, two of the best guards in the Big East (and the Big East has a lot of great guards). They have a huge game today against a desperate Xavier team. If they can win that one, it would be a huge feather in their cap.
This Week: Mon 1/16 @ Xavier (2:00 pm, FS1); Sat 1/21 vs Marquette (2:30 pm, FS1)
- North Carolina
The Tar Heels, for the most part, have been a little quiet this season. They have had great showings in wins over Wisconsin and Florida State, and also in a 103-100 loss to Kentucky, but they’ve also struggled mightily at times, needing overtime to top Clemson, and falling to Georgia Tech. They have one of the best frontcourts in the ACC, led by Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, but their guard play will need to improve if they are going to make a return to the National Championship game.
This Week: Mon 1/16 vs Syracuse (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 1/21 @ Boston College (12:00 pm, ESPN3)
- Florida State
If the Seminoles could have gone into Chapel Hill and knocked off the Tar Heels, they would have been 5-0 in the conference and solidified themselves as a legitimate title contender. Despite the loss, I still believe this is one of the best teams that you are not paying attention to. Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon are fantastic scoring guards, and they have Jonathan Isaac, a surefire lottery pick, manning the middle. They have already beaten Florida, Virginia and Duke, and they have two more massive games this week against Notre Dame and Louisville. I’m hoping they can win both of those games so that everyone will join me in viewing this team as one of the best in the nation.
This Week: Wed 1/18 vs Notre Dame (7:00 pm, ESPN3); Sat 1/21 vs Louisville (2:00 pm, ESPN)
Well, being ranked #1 in the country isn’t going to last very long, but this is still one of the best teams in college basketball. West Virginia created all sorts of matchup problems for the Bears, and I think that played a huge factor in the big loss. Being able to bounce back with a road win against Kansas State showed a lot of grit. Kansas has a few teams standing in their path towards another Big 12 Championship, and Baylor is definitely one of those teams. The Bears are four games out from their trip to Lawrence, and if they can enter that game 20-1, it will end up as one of the biggest games of the season. I sincerely hope that happens.
This Week: Tue 1/17 vs Texas (7:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 1/21 @ TCU (8:00 pm, ESPNU)
The Bruins have one of the most crowded bandwagons in the country, but that’s for good reason. When they went into Rupp Arena and knocked off Kentucky 97-92, everybody hopped on board. Led by senior Bryce Alford and star freshmen TJ Leaf and Lonzo Ball, UCLA is one of the top three teams in the Pac-12, and have the potential to make a Final Four run in March. The Bruins have a great combination of talent and experience, and that should do them well down the stretch. They have a huge game this weekend against Arizona, that will be one to watch.
This Week: Thu 1/19 vs Arizona State (11:00 pm, FS1); Sat 1/21 vs Arizona (4:00 pm, CBS)
I mentioned earlier that the SEC is not very strong this season, but that doesn’t mean that Kentucky, the undisputed best team in the conference, isn’t easily one of the best teams in the nation. I don’t expect the Wildcats to be tested very much in the conference (although they do host Kansas in late January), as they should pretty well cruise into the postseason. They have a lot of inexperience, as they are led by freshmen DeAaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo (who all could wind up lottery picks in next year’s NBA Draft), but John Calipari has proven in the past that he can take an inexperienced team to the promised land.
This Week: Tue 1/17 @ Mississippi State (7:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 1/21 vs South Carolina (6:00 pm, ESPN)
- West Virginia
There’s still plenty of room on the Mountaineer bandwagon if anybody wants to join me! This is the most fun team to watch this season without question. They don’t have a true superstar, but they play as a team better than most. Nathan Adrian, Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip, and Daxter Miles lead the way for a team that forces turnovers on a whopping 32.7 percent of their opponent’s possessions (according to KenPom). Fordham is 2nd best at 27.3 percent. So yes, West Virginia plays a suffocating form of defense, and that gives them a chance to win every time the step on the floor, regardless of the team they are facing. They’ll have a tough road game against Kansas State this coming weekend, and then next week they host Kansas in what could be a battle between Top-5 teams. Mark your calendars for that one!
This Week: Wed 1/18 vs Oklahoma (7:00 pm, ESPN2); Sat 1/21 @ Kansas State (6:00 pm, ESPN2)
Gonzaga and the NCAA Tournament are just a given at this point, but it’s not every year that the Zags are a legit title contender, and any team that starts out 17-0 is a title contender. This may be the best team Mark Few has had at Gonzaga, and he’s had a lot of really good teams. They put a stamp on that this past weekend when they obliterated Saint Mary’s, their only competition in the West Coast Conference. They have to travel Moraga, CA later in the season to battle the Gaels one more time, but that is probably the only thing standing between them and an undefeated record entering the Tourney.
This Week: Thu 1/19 @ Santa Clara (11:00 pm, ESPNU); Sat 1/21 vs Portland (8:00 pm, ESPN3)
I am willing to acknowledge that Kansas is one of the top teams in the country, but from what I’ve seen of them, I’m not sure that they’re even the best team in their own conference. They most certainly have the talent, between guards Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham and star freshman wing Josh Jackson. But after a season-opening loss to Indiana, they have now won 16 in a row, but the only victory of note is over a now-struggling Duke team. They head to Ames to take on Iowa State tonight, a game I could easily see them losing, and then next week they start a brutal three-game stretch (@West Virginia, @Kentucky, vs Baylor). I could easily see them losing three of their next five games, which would drastically change their ranking for me.
This Week: Mon 1/16 @ Iowa State (9:00 pm, ESPN); Sat 1/21 vs Texas (2:00 pm, CBS)
It’s crazy to consider, but I believe this Villanova team is better than the National Championship team from last season. Josh Hart has taken a massive step in his development, adding a great outside jump shot to his already fantastic repertoire. Jalen Brunson kind of took a backseat to Ryan Arcidiacono last season, and now the restraints are off and he’s showing why he was once considered a one-and-done type player. Kris Jenkins still shoots the lights out and Mikal Bridges is slowly but surely becoming a Round 1 draft prospect. They still struggle some on the interior, as Darryl Reynolds is the lone physical presence in the middle, but when it come to talent and experience, there’s no team in the nation that compares to the Wildcats. This team has a very real chance to repeat as National Champions.
This Week: Mon 1/16 vs Seton Hall (6:30 pm, FS1); Sat 1/21 vs Providence (12:00 pm, FOX)