- What happens when more than half of the teams in the top 10 loses in one week? The Wildcats reclaimed their grasp on the top spot, while Duke, Arizona State and Arizona continue to drop down in the rankings after rough losses.
After another upset-filled week saw four of our top five and plenty of other top teams lose, college basketball is quickly becoming a tangled web with little separation between many of the nation’s best. Some of this week’s biggest risers are not necessarily entirely the result of impressive wins, but also a product of playing well enough to keep winning while other teams had off nights or saw their weaknesses exposed. Additionally, the blanket chaos meant that some teams that had a rough loss didn’t fall as much as you’d normally expect. Without further ado, here’s the new-look top 25:
1. Villanova (14–1)
Last Week (3): beat Marquette
Next Week: vs. Xavier, at St. John’s
The Wildcats slide back into the No. 1 spot, but it’s more by default after the carnage around them. Villanova is being led by its incredibly efficient offense right now while its defense has opened Big East play as a sore spot. It’s early, but through their three conference games the Wildcats rank dead last in the Big East in adjusted defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com. The offense, meanwhile, has been head and shoulders above the rest of the league behind Jalen Brunson, who is posting the nation’s highest offensive rating among players being used on at least 20% of possessions.
2. Purdue (16–2)
Last Week (6): beat Rutgers, beat Nebraska, beat Michigan
Next Week: at Minnesota, vs. Wisconsin
The Boilermakers kept their 12-game win streak alive by eking out a one-point road win over Michigan on Tuesday. It may not be the flashiest win, but that’s a notable victory in a tough road environment for a team that’s currently in the driver’s seat at 5–0 in the Big Ten (and, outside of a trip to East Lansing, may have gotten its next-toughest road contest out of the way). Purdue has greatly improved its free-throw rate this season but had just seven attempts from the line against the Wolverines—by far its season low—and still found a way to get the W.
3. West Virginia (15–1)
Last Week (8): beat Oklahoma, beat Baylor
Next Week: at Texas Tech, vs. Kansas
After Tuesday’s win over Baylor, the Mountaineers are the only Big 12 team yet to suffer a conference loss as they sit atop the league at 4–0. Over the weekend, WVU picked up an important win over Oklahoma by holding Trae Young to his lowest offensive rating of the season. Young scored 29 in the loss, but committed eight turnovers, made just 3 of 12 three-point attempts and tied his season-low with five assists. Then against the Bears, the Mountaineers used their trademark defense to force 21 turnovers and overcome a subpar offensive performance, which included making just nine of their 36 two-point shots.
4. Michigan State (15–2)
Last Week (1): beat Maryland, lost to Ohio State
Next Week: vs. Rutgers, vs. Michigan
The Spartans’ stay at No. 1 didn’t last very long. After a 30-point home rout of Maryland, they went to Columbus and got handed a 16-point loss to snap their 14-game win streak. MSU couldn’t slow Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop, who poured in 32 points, including seven in the Buckeyes’ pivotal 19–4 run to end the first half. Normally a very reliable shooting team, Michigan State had its third-worst shooting night from behind the arc this season despite attempting 25 threes, and Ohio State was able to hit 54.5% of its two-pointers—20% higher than opponents have averaged against the Spartans on the year.
5. Virginia (15–1)
Last Week (10): beat Virginia Tech, beat North Carolina, beat Syracuse
Next Week: vs. NC State
The Cavaliers continue to be one of the surprises of the season after getting off to a 4–0 ACC start. What’s not surprising is that they’ve been doing it with their No. 1 ranked defense. UVA held Luke Maye to a season-low six points on 2-of-10 shooting and UNC to 0.83 points per possession and 49 overall in a double-digit win, one game after holding Virginia Tech to a season-low 0.76 PPP. Offensively, the Hoos have now had a different leading scorer in four straight games, including Kyle Guy’s 22-point effort against Syracuse where he knocked down five threes.
6. Duke (13–2)
Last Week (2): lost to NC State
Next Week: at Pittsburgh, vs. Wake Forest, at Miami
The Blue Devils suffered their second ACC loss to a team not expected to contend in the league, and it’s only been three games. It’s clear now that their defensive issues won’t just be a problem when they face the conference’s best, and that’s a big concern considering nine of their remaining 16 ACC games will come against teams with more efficient offenses than Boston College and NC State. Three years ago, Mike Krzyzewski was able to turn what was a dubious defense for most of the season into a juggernaut just in time for an incredible run to the national title. While that shows it can be done, it’s something that should be far from expected to happen again.
7. Oklahoma (13–2)
Last Week (7): lost to West Virginia, beat Texas Tech
Next Week: (13–2): vs. TCU, at Kansas State
Trae Young showed his first glimpses of being mortal over the last week, and considering he still scored 29 and 27 points against two top-10 defenses, that tells you all you need to know about how good his season has been. His struggles against West Virginia were detailed above, but the freshman also got off to a slow start at home against Texas Tech, missing 11 of his first 12 shot attempts. Young recovered to finish with 27 points, nine assists and four steals to lead a crucial win over Texas Tech, but it was the Sooners’ defense that was the team’s MVP on the night, holding the Red Raiders to 0.84 PPP and a 37.3% mark from the field.
8. Xavier (15–2)
Last Week (5): lost to Providence
Next Week: at Villanova, vs. Creighton
The bubble mentioned here last week as something that may be close to bursting after a string of close games indeed burst in a road trip to Providence. A number of things went wrong for the Musketeers, who lost despite posting a 16-plus rebounding margin: they shot just 35.5% in the first half to fall into an eight-point hole, Trevon Bluiett went scoreless in the second half, Kaiser Gates was a non-factor with zero points and one rebound and they committed 15 turnovers, 10 of which came in the first 20 minutes. Now, a potentially Big East race-altering week awaits with a road trip to Villanova and a home matchup with Creighton.
9. Arizona State (13–2)
Last Week (4): lost to Colorado, beat Utah
Next Week: vs. Oregon, vs. Oregon State
In 15 games this season, there’s been two times when the opponent posted a higher PPP than Arizona State. Not coincidentally, those two games have been the Sun Devils’ two losses: at Arizona and at Colorado, the latter of which is far less excusable. It’s a reminder that just like Duke, ASU has a major flaw right now with its defense, which ranks three spots behind the Blue Devils at 109th in adjusted efficiency. When Arizona State’s offense is humming, like it has on so many occasions already this season, it has shown it can compete with anyone. But if it’s not having the most efficient night, it doesn’t take a world-beating effort by the other team to walk away with a win.
10. Wichita State (13–2)
Last Week (16): beat Houston, beat USF
Next Week: at East Carolina, at Tulsa
In three AAC games so far, the Shockers have taken 72 threes and hit 50% of them. While that number is not sustainable, it’s hard to ignore the 52.7% clip Landry Shamet has posted on 74 perimeter attempts on the season so far. Shamet has found a way to be even more efficient than last year, when his 129.6 offensive rating on kenpom.com ranked 18th in the country. It’s currently up to 136.0 this season, and his effective field goal percentage has grown from 59.5% to 68.9%, his true shooting percentage from 62.7% to 72.0% and his assist rate from 22.2% to 28.5%. Not too shabby.
11. Texas Tech (14–2)
Last Week (11): beat Kansas State, lost to Oklahoma
Next Week: vs. West Virginia
The Red Raiders went 3–1 across a challenging opening two weeks of Big 12 play, and now their “reward” is getting to host No. 2 West Virginia this weekend (the Big 12 grind never stops!). Texas Tech was unable to take better advantage of a poor first half by Oklahoma star Trae Young on Tuesday, leading by only two at halftime before succumbing to Young and Co. in the second half (and was, it should be noted, playing without senior Zach Smith). The Red Raiders have built much of their success this season on their defense and by creating turnovers, and while they did a pretty good job limiting the Sooners’ talented offense, they didn’t get enough offense themselves outside Keenan Evans to fill in what was needed.
12. Cincinnati (14–2)
Last Week (18): beat Temple, beat SMU
Next Week: at South Florida, at UCF
The Bearcats picked up two important AAC wins in beating Temple on the road before defeating SMU by 20 at home. Cincinnati can be a legitimate challenger to Wichita State in the American, but for as good as its defense is, its offense, currently ranked 52nd in efficiency, is what may be key. It needs more showings like the one it had against SMU, when Gary Clark and Jacob Evans each scored 18 and the Bearcats won by 20 despite the rest of the team shooting 31.4% from the floor, and less like their 55–53 win over Temple in which the offense gave the defense no breathing room and little margin for error.
13. Arizona (12–4)
Last Week (9): beat Utah, lost to Colorado
Next Week: vs. Oregon State, vs. Oregon
After knocking off Arizona State in overtime, Colorado completed a stunning 1–2 punch against the Pac-12’s desert schools by taking down Arizona. The Wildcats squandered a golden opportunity gain another game on their in-state foe, instead dealing with their own questions after the surprising loss. DeAndre Ayton and Allonzo Trier combined for just eight points in a critical first half as the Buffs built a 45–29 lead that would be just enough cushion to hold on. Who is Arizona when its star duo is struggling or non-factors on offense? The Wildcats need to find a more cohesive identity outside the pairing.
14. Kentucky (13–3)
Last Week (13): beat LSU, lost to Tennessee, beat Texas A&M
Next Week: at Vanderbilt, at South Carolina
Even with a starting five of all freshmen, the Wildcats couldn’t shake their predecessors’ demons at Thompson-Boling Arena in the program’s third straight road loss to Tennessee, but Kentucky returned home to rebound with a one-point win over Texas A&M after a controversial no-call in the final seconds. If you haven’t watched UK play recently, you’re missing out on seeing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s been emerging as perhaps the team’s best and most important player. Gilgeous-Alexander does a little bit of everything, and it’s not a coincidence that his worst game of the season came in the loss to Tennessee. Take that game out, and over his last four, of which Kentucky went 4–0, he’s averaging 19.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks on 53.0% shooting.
15. Kansas (13–3)
Last Week (22): beat TCU, beat Iowa State
Next Week: vs. Kansas State, at West Virginia
The Jayhawks had exactly the kind of week they needed, notching close wins on the road at TCU and at home over Iowa State. Svi Mykhailiuk had a pair of strong games, scoring 20 and 23 points, respectively, and knocking down a combined 11 of 16 from three. The Ukrainian guard has become a steady leader on offense in his senior year and has notably improved his perimeter shooting, hitting 47.9% this season after a 39.8% mark as a junior. He’s also currently leading the team—even Devonte’ Graham—in both shot attempts and percentage of shots taken when on the floor.
16. Clemson (14–1)
Last Week (21): beat Boston College, beat Louisville
Next Week: at NC State, vs. Miami, at North Carolina
At 14–1, the Tigers have continued their best start since opening 16–0 in 2008–09, and we’re about to get a real good look at the makeup of this team. After a road trip to Raleigh, Clemson enters a four-game gauntlet of facing Miami, UNC, Notre Dame and Virginia, a brutal stretch that will ultimately show whether this team could actually be a serious surprise contender in the ACC. The Tigers are a veteran team that start five upperclassmen and are powered by their defense, which currently ranks 11th in adjusted efficiency, a big step up from 86th last season.
17. TCU (13–2)
Last Week (15): beat Baylor, lost to Kansas
Next Week: at Texas, at Oklahoma
The Horned Frogs’ defense has had a harsh welcome to conference play, posting the Big 12’s worst defensive efficiency in league action early on. Opponents are shooting at a higher clip than TCU is from both two- and three-point distance, and posting a considerably higher free-throw late. The offense has held its own amid the step up in competition, but when your three conference games have been decided by one, three and four points, you need to be able to trust your defense to get stops, and right now, TCU can’t do that.
18. Gonzaga (14–3)
Last Week (19): beat Pepperdine, beat Loyola Marymount
Next Week: vs. Portland, at San Francisco
It’s no surprise that the Bulldogs’ four conference wins so far have all been blowouts, as the only real tests they should get in WCC play will come from Saint Mary’s and maybe BYU. Johnathan Williams had his second 30-point game of the season against Loyola Marymount, while freshman Zach Norvell has now scored double figures in five straight while hitting 43% of his threes. If there’s anything negative of note about the Zags’ WCC start, it’s that their free-throw rate of 25.2% has been unexpectedly low and second-worst in the league.
19. Auburn (15–1)
Last Week (25): beat Arkansas, beat Ole Miss
Next Week: at Mississippi State
The Tigers continued their surprising ascent with double-digit wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss to move to 15–1 on the season. Their road win over Tennessee and victory over the Razorbacks are a better pair of wins than anyone else has in SEC play at this early juncture, and they’re now the second-ranked SEC team on kenpom.com at No. 21. Can Auburn keep this up? That answer likely depends on whether it can keep up the significant defensive improvement it has made so far this season. Opponents’ effective field-goal percentage against the Tigers has been 46.8%, down from 50.6% in 2016–17, and their 43.4% defensive two-point mark ranks 19th in the country.
20. Seton Hall (14–3)
Last Week (14): beat Butler, lost to Marquette
Next Week: vs. Georgetown
The Pirates had a trip to BMO Harris Bradley Center to forget in a 20-point loss to Marquette on Tuesday night, their first in Big East play. Seton Hall let the Golden Eagles have their way in transition, giving up 25 fast-break points and 18 points off turnovers, and couldn’t overcome a combined 10-for-27 shooting mark from Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriguez, continuing the trend of the Pirates struggling when Rodriguez doesn’t hit the 17-point benchmark (he scored 11). After back-to-back games of giving up 1.24 PPP and an overall efficiency mark outside the top 50, defensive improvement is an obvious area where Seton Hall would benefit.
21. North Carolina (13–4)
Last Week (12): lost to Florida State, lost to Virginia, beat Boston College
Next Week: at Notre Dame, vs. Clemson
The Tar Heels suffered a 1–2 week, and while road losses to Florida State and Virginia aren’t reason to hit the panic button, their showing against UVA again exposed deep struggles against an elite defense. UNC’s worst offensive outing of the season came in an ugly loss to Michigan State, and against the Cavaliers it wasn’t able to generate much more, scoring 0.83 PPP, shooting 29.6% and turning it over 19 times in a 61–49 loss. Those two games have also been Luke Maye’s least efficient of the season, but the junior did respond in a big way with a 32-point, 15-rebound effort against Boston College.
22. Florida (11–4)
Last Week (24): beat Missouri
Next Week: vs. Mississippi State, at Ole Miss
The Gators won their only game of the week as they continue to build momentum after getting through their four-losses-in-five-games stretch. They’re 3–0 in the SEC despite opponents shooting 44.9% from three in that span, an extension of their overall 287th-ranked perimeter defense, but Florida’s three-point prowess itself has helped offset that. Despite the nonconference bumps, the Gators can still contend for the SEC crown, especially given Kentucky’s growing pains and the fact that expected challenger Texas A&M has practically knocked itself out of the race already by starting league play 0–4.
23. Miami (13–2)
Last Week (17): lost to Georgia Tech, beat Florida State
Next Week: at Clemson, vs. Duke
An ugly 10-point road loss to Georgia Tech isn’t exactly the way the Hurricanes were hoping to open the new year. Losing to the Yellow Jackets, whose own losses include Wofford, Grambling and Wright State, is hardly something Miami can afford if it wants to compete for the ACC title. But the most concerning aspect was its pitiful 0.77 PPP offensive performance in the loss, the second time in four games the ‘Canes failed to score 0.80 PPP against an opponent outside the kenpom.com top 40 defenses. Miami has a defense itself that should keep it in most games, but the offense needs to find more consistency, particularly from Bruce Brown. Was freshman Chris Lykes’s 18-point breakout against FSU a sign of things to come?
24. Notre Dame (13–3)
Last Week (NR): beat NC State, beat Syracuse
Next Week: at Georgia Tech, vs. UNC, vs. Louisville
How about the Irish, who have started ACC play 3–0 despite having Bonzie Colson for just one of those wins and Matt Farrell for one and a half? Their three wins may not be against the class of the conference, but they routed an NC State team that would go on to beat Duke and edged Syracuse on the road without their two best players. Without those two, there’s far more pressure on TJ Gibbs and Rex Pflueger, as well as freshman DJ Harvey, and right now they’re weathering the storm. Pflueger had his second-most efficient game of the season while Harvey scored a career-high 17 against the Wolfpack, and Gibbs posted a combined total of 40 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists on 43% shooting in two games in the last week.
25. Tennessee (11–4)
Last Week (NR): beat Kentucky, beat Vanderbilt
Next Week: vs. Texas A&M
The Vols rebounded from back-to-back losses to open SEC play by beating Kentucky in Knoxville for the third straight season and taking care of Vanderbilt on the road. Even with four losses, Tennessee is up to No. 15 on kenpom.com behind a balanced offense and defense, a big improvement after starting 43rd. Against the Wildcats, Grant Williams was able to come alive in the second half to lead the comeback, and the big man exploded three days later against Vandy, pouring in a career-high 37 points on 12-of-20 shooting.
DROPPED OUT: Texas A&M, SMU
NEXT FIVE OUT: Creighton, Ohio State, Saint Mary’s, Florida State, Nevada
(For this exercise, the definition of ‘mid-major’ is any team outside the Power 5, Big East, American and Atlantic-10.)
1. Gonzaga: Don’t expect the Bulldogs to potentially budge from this spot until their Jan. 18 showdown with Saint Mary’s in Spokane.
2. Saint Mary’s: With the nation’s No. 3 adjusted offense and No. 143 adjusted defense, the latter of which is a big drop off from a year ago, the Gaels are a fascinating study.
3. Nevada: Former NC State transfer Caleb Martin has improved his three-point percentage from 36.1% two years ago to 48.1% to help the Wolf Pack start 4–0 in the Mountain West.
4. New Mexico State: The 13–3 Aggies have a big road game at preseason WAC favorite Grand Canyon on Thursday.
5. Middle Tennessee: The preseason C-USA favorite has started league play 3–0, including a road win over one of its biggest challengers in UAB.