What a start.
We’ve already had quite a bit of movement within these rankings. Wisconsin fell to Creighton on the road (no shame there) and Oregon has struggled mightily without a fully healthy Dillon Brooks–already dropping games to Baylor and Georgetown. I would expect both Wisconsin and Oregon to play their way back into the top ten, but for now they’re on the outside looking in. Louisville and Arizona make their first appearances of the season. Let’s get into it.
10. Louisville (Last Week: Not Ranked)
It’s still ridiculous that Louisville administration punished last year’s team with a postseason ban. Even so, this year’s team looks like its ceiling is just as high as it was a season ago. Rick Pitino will rely on talents like Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel, VJ King, Ray Spalding, and double-double machine Jaylen Johnson to once again frustrate opponents with one of the nation’s best defenses. The Cardinals will participate in the Battle 4 Atlantis this week, which could end with a matchup against Michigan State.
9. Arizona (Last Week: Not Ranked)
The Wildcats earned the first statement win of the season when Kadeem Allen went coast to coast to beat the buzzer and Michigan State. Sean Miller starts an imposing lineup with two 7-footers in Dusan Rustic and Finnish freshman Lauri Markkanen. Fellow rookies Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins have been tremendous as well. There is still a measure of uncertainty surrounding Miller’s squad. Ray Smith retired from basketball after suffering a third ACL tear, and it’s still a mystery as to when Alonzo Trier will be eligible (assuming he ever is).
8. Xavier (Last Week: 8)
The Musketeers took home one of the first early-season tournament titles by winning the 8-team Tire Pros Invitational, beating Northern Iowa in the final. Xavier remains exceptionally difficult to match up with. Despite playing a four around one offense, Xavier isn’t lacking height. All four perimeter players stand at 6-5 or 6-6, which is why the length of the Musketeers has made life extremely difficult for opponents. As talented as this team already is, it’ll be even better when Kaiser Gates and Myles Davis return.
7. Virginia (Last Week: 7)
So what was everybody’s favorite part of the Austin Nichols era in Charlottesville? After transferring from Memphis and sitting out all of last season, the junior forward lasted one game before Tony Bennett kicked him off the team. It’s a huge loss for an already offensively challenged Cavalier team, but really this just means we’ll see more Virginia games in the 50s. Twice already this season the Hoos have held their opponent under 40 points. No Nichols means there will be a lot more aesthetically displeasing basketball from Virginia, but don’t make the mistake of saying that the Hoos are bad for basketball. They’re still among the nation’s elite.
6. Duke (Last Week: 1)
Please, hop aboard the Luke Kennard bandwagon, there’s plenty of room. While Duke’s trio of freshman big men have been sidelined, the door has opened for Kennard to shine–and boy, has he ever. Through five games, Kennard is averaging 18.2 points per game on absurd 55/52/88 shooting splits. Grayson Allen hasn’t been completely healthy this season either, and Kennard has been carrying the nation’s most efficient offense (per KenPom). A loss to Kansas without four guys at full strength isn’t the end of the world, and Duke followed that up with double-digit wins over Penn State and a good Rhode Island team. The Blue Devils are still overwhelming national championship favorites.
5. Kansas (Last Week: 3)
Who put up a line of 30 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds against Indiana and hit the game-winner against Duke? BITCH I’M FRANK MASON.
4. Indiana (Last Week: 10)
Even I am shocked at how good Indiana has looked so far. The Hoosiers had every excuse to drag their feet through the first few weeks (or months) of the season: O.G. Anunoby, Robert Johnson, James Blackmon Jr., Juwan Morgan, Freddie McSwain, De’Ron Davis, and Collin Hartman were all dealing with injuries at various points of the offseason (Hartman is still sidelined) and Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams departed to the NBA, which meant that this team should have taken a while to figure out how to effectively play together.
This team is leaps and bounds ahead of where I expected it to be at this point, and the season-opening win over Kansas remains the best win any team has had in this young season. Blackmon has established himself as The Guy on offense, becoming the first Hoosier since Eric Gordon to score 20 or more points in each of the first three games of the season. Indiana has a pretty straightforward week before a huge clash with UNC on the 30th.
3. North Carolina (Last Week: 6)
The Tar Heels should finally be challenged at the Maui Invitational the week, although they won’t have to face Oregon. UNC has been feasting on mid-majors so far this season, and Roy Williams has been able to get plenty of playing time for everyone. Freshman forward Tony Bradley has been putting on a clinic in efficiency: averaging 10.5 points and 7.8 rebounds (as of this writing) in just 17.5 minutes per game. A potential Maui championship clash against Wisconsin could tell us a lot about this team.
2. Villanova (Last Week: 4)
The Wildcats have far and away the best road win of this young season, eking out a win over a much bigger Purdue team in Mackey. Less significantly, Villanova also won the Gildan Charleston Classic, taking down 7-6 Tacko Fall and UCF in the final. Josh Hart is playing like the Naismith candidate he is, dropping 24 on Purdue and following that up with 30 against Wake Forest. Few teams are as balanced as Villanova, and it’ll be a case of pick your poison for opposing defenses all season.
1. Kentucky (Last Week: 2)
Look, I’m not happy about it either, ok?