It looked like it was going to be a quiet week, and then came Sunday. Two ranked teams took losses that knocked them off my ballot, and a top-five squad suffered an embarrassing pratfall at home. We also saw a smattering of conference games last week, which means some teams were forced to prove their worth in that scariest of all places … the road.
Don’t be frightened. Your eternally wise balloter is here to sort out this blessed mess. Below you will find the correct order of the top 25 teams in men’s college basketball. Meet ya in the comments section. Please be kind!
Seth Davis’ Top 25 for Monday, Dec. 5
Dropped out: Michigan State (17), North Carolina (21)
Notes on the votes
• There’s no shame in losing to Arizona by a deuce in Maui or to Texas by five points in Austin. But Creighton followed up those losses by getting embarrassed by Nebraska, 63-53, in Omaha on Sunday night. That’s the same Nebraska team that came in ranked No. 78 on KenPom and has lost this season to St. John’s by 20, Oklahoma by 13 and Memphis by 12. I understand the vagaries of human nature, especially with respect to college kids, but the fact that the Bluejays played so poorly at home against their in-state rival after back-to-back losses tells me that they need to reset their competitive mindset. I still think this team can do great things, but they have some soul searching to do.
• Arizona lost, 81-66, at Utah on Thursday night, but seven spots is not a big drop considering the Wildcats trailed by 20 points with seven-and-a-half minutes to play and never made a game of it. It’s natural for a team to get tripped up like that in its first road game, and the Wildcats did beat San Diego State and Creighton in Maui. They play Indiana on Saturday in Las Vegas in a critical test for both teams.
• Even though Illinois lost at Maryland on Friday, the Illini were competitive against a ranked team in a hostile environment. I would have dropped them a spot, but Creighton’s plunge bumped the Illini back up. Indiana also lost at Rutgers, but the Hoosiers were playing without freshman point guard Jalen Hood-Schifino, and they looked awfully good beating North Carolina earlier in the week.
Kravitz: Hoosiers are here to win with statement victory over North Carolina
• Kentucky finally got a good win on Sunday when it beat Michigan, 73-69, in London. The Wolverines played the last 8:40 without their starting point guard, Jaelin Llewellyn, who injured his knee. Still, the Wildcats had yet to beat a top-100 KenPom team, so they’ll take the win any way they can get it. They only have two games over the next two weeks, but one of them is against UCLA in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17. That will be an important gauge for both of those teams as the Bruins also got their first top 100 wins last week, over Stanford (road) and Oregon (home).
• Arkansas moved up five spots mostly due to reshuffling, but the Razorbacks finally got their prized freshman Nick Smith Jr. back on the court. He sat out the first six games because of knee inflammation. Smith played two games last week, including a 16-point, five-assist performance in Saturday’s home win over San Jose State. The Razorbacks beat San Diego State in Maui without Smith and only lost to Creighton by three points. That tells you how high their ceiling is.
• Maryland is another feel-good story, as the Terrapins are off to an 8-0 start in Kevin Willard’s first year. They jumped eight spots for beating Illinois at home. Maryland is No. 19 on KenPom, but it has some great opportunities coming up against Wisconsin (road), Tennessee (in Brooklyn) and UCLA (home).
• Baylor took a tumble thanks to its 96-70 loss at Marquette. Yes, the Golden Eagles are a good team (they lost at home in overtime to Wisconsin on Saturday) and the game was in Milwaukee, but that was a pretty embarrassing display for a team with championship aspirations. Give Baylor credit for coming back to beat Gonzaga, 64-63, in South Dakota, and the Bears have that win over UCLA in Las Vegas. They’re ranked No. 15 on KenPom, but in Bart Torvik’s in-season rankings they are 43rd. The Bears are heading into the easy part of their schedule before their Big 12 opener on New Year’s Eve at Iowa State.
• I was ready to keep North Carolina on my ballot despite its loss at Indiana, but when the Tar Heels followed that up by losing at Virginia Tech, I had to take them out. They have now lost four straight. We’ve paid so much attention to the way this team finished last season that we forget a) how poorly they began it and b) they are looking to replace the outside shooting and toughness they got from Brady Manek. Northwestern transfer Pete Nance has the former, but I’m not sure how much of the latter he provides. It also doesn’t help that Armando Bacot is battling a shoulder injury that limited him against the Hoosiers and forced him to miss the game against the Hokies. North Carolina’s next chance to get back into the rankings will come against Ohio State on Dec. 17 in Madison Square Garden.
• By the transitive property, North Carolina’s slide has brought Iowa State down a smidge. The Cyclones beat North Dakota and St. John’s easily at home last week, but they are No. 40 in KenPom and No. 26 in Bart Torvik’s in-season rankings. They probably need to win at Iowa on Thursday — no easy task — to keep that number next to their name.
• I was prepared to leave Michigan State at No. 25 despite its 70-52 loss at Notre Dame, because the Spartans have played a tough schedule and they are down two key injured players. But they followed that up with a 70-63 home loss to Northwestern on Sunday, so they’re out. We’ve seen this movie lots of times before, and we all know where the plot is headed. The Spartans will be back.
• TCU is only No. 37 on KenPom, but it is finally at full strength and showed its potential in dominating Providence, 75-62, at home on Wednesday. They also beat Iowa on a neutral court on Nov. 26. The Horned Frogs don’t make a lot of 3s, but they are old, tough and physical, and they defend like some of Jamie Dixon’s best teams in Pittsburgh. As long as they stay healthy, I believe they’re going to be ranked for much of the season.
• As for my Almost Famous list, keep your eye on Chris Jans’ Mississippi State squad. The Bulldogs are 8-0, and their neutral-court wins over Marquette and Utah look a little better now than they did a week ago. They could very well be undefeated when they open SEC play at home against Alabama on Dec. 28.
(Photo of Purdue’s David Jenkins: Justin Casterline / Getty Images)