Remember when I told y’all that every good team was actually bad? Last week was a pretty strong indication that that isn’t too far away from the truth. Seven of the top 10 teams in the country lost, and Kentucky and Florida State both dropped two games. UCLA couldn’t stop crosstown foe USC (not that the Bruins can stop anyone), and UNC had a woeful shooting night against Miami, dropping both teams with FSU out of the rankings. Louisville, West Virginia, and Wisconsin replace them. Let’s get into it.
10. Wisconsin (Last Week: Not Ranked)
It’s hard for me to completely trust a team whose best win is over Indiana (seriously, check the Badgers’ schedule), but based on attrition I can’t really keep Wisconsin out of the top 10. The Badgers keep winning close game after close game, most recently falling behind Rutgers before coming back thanks to the Scarlet Knights’ bold defensive strategy:
Rutgers’ eagerness in the 40th minute and OT to give a 52 percent FT shooter unfouled 1-foot shots was strategically innovative.
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) January 28, 2017
Ethan Happ outscored his teammates 32-29 in Wisconsin’s overtime victory, as the Badgers continue to sneak by bad teams. As much as it pains me to say, the Big Ten is a bad league this year. Assuming Notre Dame drops out of the rankings after losing to Duke, Indiana will be the only Big Ten team to have beaten a ranked out-of-conference opponent.
9. Kentucky (Last Week: 4)
Losing to Rick Barnes is never good, especially when he has an obviously inferior team. But John Calipari was able to do just that, dropping a road game to Tennessee before losing to short-handed Kansas at Rupp. Malik Monk has the greenest of green lights, and on nights when his shot isn’t falling he’ll just keep forcing three after three. In his defense, no one else on Kentucky is a consistent perimeter threat. However, his 3-13 outside shooting night allowed Tennessee to get long rebound after long rebound–which turned into fast break layups. Bam Adebayo was criminally underused against the Vols, and against Kansas Landen Lucas played him to a draw despite battling foul trouble all game. I wouldn’t say the Wildcats are in any danger in the SEC, but Saturdays game at Florida has become a bit more interesting.
8. Oregon (Last Week: 5)
A few weeks ago I highlighted Oregon’s turnovers and outside shooting as reasons for concern. When Colorado snapped the Ducks’ 17 game winning streak, both plagued Oregon. 34 of Oregon’s 57 shots came from behind the arc, and only 11 went in. Ball movement was a challenge as well, as the Ducks had as many turnovers as free throw attempts (16). Even with the loss to the Buffs, Saturday’s huge matchup against Arizona could vault Oregon back into a tie for first in the Pac-12.
7. West Virginia (Last Week: Not Ranked)
Bob Huggins earned another $25,000 for knocking off Kansas in Morgantown. Although the Mountaineers only forced 13 turnovers, they controlled the glass, shared the ball (22 assists on 29 field goals), and were extremely efficient (48/40/83 shooting splits). Esa Ahmad turned in his best game of the year with 27 points and five rebounds, and will need to have games like that on nights when the WVU press isn’t quite as effective as usual. Perhaps no team in college basketball has as large a gap between its ceiling and floor as the Mountaineers do. When they’re executing as well as they did against Kansas, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who can beat them.
6. Villanova (Last Week: 3)
The formula for Villanova is pretty simple: don’t settle for jump shots, and the Wildcats will be successful. True to form, Villanova settled for jump shot after jump shot against Marquette, blowing a 17 point second-half lead as Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, and Dante DiVicenzo combined to shoot 0-17 from three point land. Fortunately, Villanova followed that with a DiVincenzo tip-in at the buzzer to beat Virginia–in a game that the Wildcats were saved by their free throw proficiency. Providence and St. John’s are up next.
5. Louisville (Last Week: Not Ranked)
The ACC has been cannibalizing itself all year, and Louisville is the latest team that seems to be the best of the bunch. The challenge for Pitino-era Louisville teams also seems to be finding enough scoring to complement what is always a top-tier defense. With Quentin Snider and now Tony Hicks sidelined, Donovan Mitchell has taken it upon himself to shoulder the load. Mitchell scored 29 and 28 in blowout wins over Pitt and NC State, and is making it look easy. Even with Snider and Hicks missing, Louisville’s long frontcourt remains intact the clamp down defensively and give the Cardinals an advantage in every game.
4. Kansas (Last Week: 1)
The Jayhawks just can’t seem to win in Morgantown, and it’s hard to penalize them too much after they followed up that loss with a win at Kentucky. Josh Jackson is finally showing exactly why he is such a well-regarded prospect. After scoring 22 against WVU, he led Kansas with 20 points and 10 rebounds against Kentucky–and was clearly the best player on a star-studded floor.
3. Arizona (Last Week: 8)
Washington gave Arizona quite a battle, but Arizona was one of just three top 10 teams to escape last week without a loss. One of many reasons for the Wildcats’ success this season has been freshman Lauri Markkanen’s remarkable consistency. Markkanen scored 12 points and collected six rebounds against Washington. Save for an eight point, six rebound performance at Missouri, that was Markkanen’s worst performance of the season. That kind of consistency is unheard of for a freshman, especially a big man who can hit threes. A giant showdown with Oregon awaits, I hope Bill Walton is on the call.
2. Baylor (Last Week: 6)
Is it just me or is Baylor the least convincing 20-1 team of all time? I realize that’s an odd thing to say about the #2 team in these rankings, but after watching the Bears struggle to beat Texas Tech and Ole Miss, their move up is based on attrition more than anything else. Baylor struggles to put worse teams away, which leads me to believe that another Scott Drew team could be suffering an early exit from the tournament. After failing their last big test in a big way at West Virginia, the Bears have another mammoth test at Allen Fieldhouse.
1. Gonzaga (Last Week: 2)
If you’re one of the people who sees Gonzaga at the top of the polls and immediately feels the urge to say, “GONZAGA AINT PLAYED NOBODY PAWWWWWL!”, allow me to say this as sincerely as possible: fuck outta here. Mark Few does everything in his power to schedule a challenging non-conference slate, which is easier said than done because no one wants to play the Zags. It’s a Catch-22 of sorts. Even with that being the case, Gonzaga had a tougher non-con schedule than the following teams: Arizona, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Oregon, UCLA, Florida State, Creighton, Cincinnati, Duke, Notre Dame, Maryland, etc. And the WCC is better than usual, with another top-15 team (St. Mary’s) and two more top-100 teams (BYU, San Francisco). Of course, the most important thing is this: Gonzaga is damn good at basketball. After three victories by an average of 34 points last week, the Zags face a trip to BYU and a home game against Santa Clara.