Merry Christmas after Christmas! I trust that the holiday treated everyone well, though there were a few precious college basketball games that caught our eye. As a result, there wasn’t much movement on top of the polls. The good news is that there are plenty of great matches to be shown this week, which top the list for Saturday’s packed New Year’s Eve. In the meantime, allow me to spread my usual holiday cheer by presenting the correct ranking of the top 25 college basketball teams, as presented to the Associated Press this past weekend. Remember, no man is a loser with surveys.
Seth Davis’ Top 25 Team for Monday, December 26th
drop out: Illinois (13), Iowa (21), Virginia Tech (23), Mississippi State (24)
always famous: Auburn, Boise State, Creighton, Maryland, Penn State, Providence, Saint Mary’s, San Diego State, UAB, Utah State, West Virginia
Notes on voting
• Because of the light roster, my top eight teams remain in the same ranking from last week. I’m sure it will be the last time this season that I will be able to say that. The only team to fall out of my top 10 was Virginia, which lost in Miami. There’s no shame in losing to a top-ranked team by a narrow margin, and Reese Beckman still has a sore hamstring. And although this was the Cavaliers’ second straight loss, the previous one was at home against Houston. So the Cavs only dropped three points. They have four winnable games ahead, and then they play North Carolina at home on January 10th.
• I didn’t have Miami on my ballot last week even though the Hurricanes were 11-1, because their Quadruple 1 wins were over UCF (road) and Rutgers (home), although in my eyes, the most impressive win was over Providence, 74- 64, in a neutral court. But Miami proved the confidence of my fellow AP voters by defeating Virginia. Metrics don’t like this team (No. 48 NET, No. 38 KenPom, No. 52 BartTorvik), but Canes passed the eye test. They could be 18-1 when they play Duke on January 21st.
• As I’ve stated countless times in this field, nothing makes a voter’s decisions more complicated than injuries, illnesses, and other employee issues. I pointed out last week in Hoop Thoughts that Creighton was a very different team without Ryan Kalkbrenner, who missed three games (all losses) with a non-COVID-19 illness. Kalkbrenner returned for the Bluejays’ home game against Butler, which they won, 78-56. They followed that up with an 80-65 win over DePaul on Christmas Day. Hopefully Kalkbrenner can stay healthy and effective, because Creighton is having a big week with matches against Seton Hall (home) and UConn (away).
The College Basketball Panic Scale: How Freaking Should Kentucky, Indiana, and the Others Be?
• Indiana moved up two spots because two teams that were ahead of the Hoosiers last week dropped. But this team has a major injury problem with 6-3 senior guard Xavier Johnson, who had surgery on a foot he injured early in the loss at Kansas. It doesn’t make sense to penalize a team for an injury when they haven’t lost a game, but by the same token we can’t give the Hoosiers any rest on this front because it looks like Johnson will be out most of the season. , at least. And who knows? Indiana is probably just as good if not better with Johnson out. I’ll be interested to see if second year guard Tamar Bates gets more playing time, and if so, what he does with it.
• Iowa was a real pickle. The Hawkeyes suffered a shocking loss at their home Wednesday to Eastern Illinois. Yes, they didn’t have Chris Murray, who has now missed four straight games with a left foot injury, and Connor McCaffrey, who has missed with an injured hand. But we’re still talking about an opponent who came in at 3-9 and is ranked 347th in KenPom even after this win. The Hawkeyes had to give up some spots, and since they finished 21st last week, they’ve run out of real estate. They play Nebraska and Penn State this week, so even if they win both games, they’ll likely remain unranked on my ballot for at least another week.
• I was actually a bit surprised North Carolina wasn’t ranked in the AP Poll last week. I was more than surprised that the Tar Heels were behind Charleston in the “others receiving votes” section of both polls even though the Tar Heels beat the Cougars by 16 points on November 11 and hold a 75-point lead over KenPom. The Tar Heels validated my vote by defeating Michigan in Charlotte last week. I realize the Wolverines are unranked, but as I mentioned before, none of North Carolina’s four losses were bad losses, and their current four-game winning streak includes an overtime victory over Ohio State at Madison Square Garden.
• What do you do of Duke? The Blue Devils suffered a bad loss at Wake Forest, but were playing without two key starters, Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead. I based it on the metrics for this. Duke is No. 17 on NET, No. 14 on KenPom, No. 14 on BartTorvik and No. 20 on KPI. That’s pretty consistent across the board, so I limited them to the 18th. The Blue Devils’ next five games will be against lower-tier ACC teams, so another loss in that span will likely knock them out.
• Illinois, on the other hand, is about to become a disaster. Yes, Missouri might be better than we thought, but it was amazing to see the Illini hit the ground running like that at Braggin’ Rights. We never know what’s really going on inside the team’s locker room, but there are some troubling signs that internal divisions are becoming an issue in Illinois. After the Illini lost at home to Penn State on December 10, Brad Underwood answered a question about Terrence Shannon Jr.’s leadership by blasting a big blueberry. After the team beat Alabama A&M, senior forward Matthew Meyer said vaguely that the players and coaches weren’t on the same page. Illinois was fortunate to be able to come back and beat Texas in overtime on December 6, otherwise the Illinois team would have now lost four of their last five games. Anyway, this team is No. 43 on the grid, No. 31 on KenPom, No. 37 on BartTorvik and No. 56 on KPI. This is not a classified team profile.
• Virginia Tech and Mississippi State also dropped me because they lost to Boston College and Drake, respectively. In doing so, I opened some holes at the bottom of the ballot paper. The scales love West Virginia, but it’s hard to vote for a team whose only win was in Quad 1 in Pittsburgh. So I went with Xavier, which is one of the two teams that beat West Virginia (Purdue was the other). The riders were great and consistent. All three of their losses were in Quadruple 1 – Indiana (by 2 at home), Duke (by 7 at Portland) and Gonzaga (by 4 at Portland). They’ve also won three in Cincinnati, and last week they beat Seton Hall, 73-70, at home.
• I’ve also been high at TCU all season. The metrics say otherwise, but the Horned Frogs had a slew of injuries all season, yet they still managed 10-1 wins over Iowa (neutral), Providence (home) and Utah (home). They open the Big 12 game on Saturday at home against Texas Tech, and things get tougher from there.
• The two highest-ranked KenPom teams left in the ballot are Auburn (#17) and St. Mary’s (18). Like I said before, I think Auburn has some talent and will undoubtedly improve as the season progresses, but I don’t understand how the Tigers stayed in the standings after their loss at USC on December 18th. Northwestern, at a neutral court, also lost to Memphis in Atlanta. However, Auburn was ranked No. 23 in the AP poll last week while Memphis remained unranked. Does not make sense. The Gaels’ metrics are stronger than those of Auburn (No. 16 NET, No. 18 KenPom, No. 31 KPI, No. 7 BartTorvik), but they also lost at home to an undefeated team from New Mexico. So at the very least, St. Mary’s should be behind New Mexico. Also, the Gaels lost on December 18 at home to Colorado State, who lost their next game to USC in Phoenix.
• Did you notice, by the way, that USC beat those two teams? Keep an eye out for Trojans. They’ve won six in a row and should win two more in Washington State and Washington this week. This makes for an exhilarating matchup at UCLA on January 5th. Andy Enfield has Mick Cronin’s number to date. I suspect that will be part of the pre-match conversation.
• As for New Mexico, the Lobos are one of three remaining undefeated teams. (The others are Purdue and UConn — just as we all expected.) I ticked them at #25 largely because I didn’t have any compelling candidates, but you have to tip your hat to what they’ve done so far, especially given that win at St. Mary’s. However, this remains the Lobos’ only quadruple win. Their next foursome is on January 14th at San Diego State, but there aren’t many easy wins in the Mountain West, so we’ll soon find out just how good Richard Pitino’s team is.
(Photo by Armaan Franklin for Virginia and Isaiah Wong for Miami: Jacen Finlove/USA Today)